A Matthew Daub Watercolor of Portovenere

A Matthew Daub Watercolor of Portovenere

I first heard of Portovenere from an Italian bus driver in the mid-nineties. He raved about the beauty of the little coastal town that sits at the tip of a peninsula in the Mediterranean, just south of its more famous Cinque Terre cousins. When Barbara and I finally paid our first visit to Portovenere we were stunned. The driver was not exaggerating, in fact, I wondered why so much attention was paid to the Cinque Terre and relatively little to Portovenere. I think that a great case could be made for adding a sixth town and renaming the entire group, Le Sei Terre.

Portovenere is a little harder to get to than the towns of the Cinque Terre. There is no train line so it can be accessed only by car or bus from nearby La Spezia or the various tourist ferries that travel up and down the coast. The layout of the town reflects Portovenere’s maritime history. At the mouth of the harbor sits the weather-beaten thirteenth century church of San Pietro. One can easily imagine the countless families that have prayed there for the safe return of seafaring loved ones. The sheltered harbor is backed by a block of tall houses with very few openings in between, creating a formidable defensive wall, and from there, a winding web of narrow streets climbs the steep hillside to a Genovese fortress and the silence of the town cemetery.

A Matthew Daub Watercolor of Portovenere

A Matthew Daub Watercolor of Portovenere

Even though it is not as well-publicized as the Cinque Terre towns, Portovenere does get very busy these days, particularly on summer weekends. Many Italians from inland come to work on their tans, but a flood of foreign tourists also pour into the town from the frequent tour boats, but most tourists never venture any farther than restaurants along the busy dock area and the single main street. Just as in the other five towns, Portovenere empties out as night falls.

One of the things that I like most about being an artist and working en plien air is the way it forces me to slow down and linger in one place. I spent a week in Portovenere on my last visit with our Arts Sojourn group. This allowed me explore nearly every inch of this tiny town and study some locations intently for hours as I painted them. Not every painting that I made in Portovenere is wonderful, but the experience I had making them certainly was.


Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.

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