A gateway to the treasures of Tuscany, and a lively port city in its own right, La Spezia wears its maritime heritage proudly. Vividly photogenic, the colour-splashed coastal beauty of this region is an all-out assault on the senses, best observed from the deck of a boat, bobbing on the calm sea waters. Sometimes overlooked en-route to the impossibly scenic Cinque Terre's precipitous, kaleidoscopic fishing towns - it pays to linger longer in La Spezia, to discover the capital of Liguria, a city of flavours, personality and salty promenade strolls.
Castello San Giorgio's 14th-century castle is a four-towered Genoese fortification, of rectangular chunky stone walls, which watches out over the waves and the city below. La Spezia retains a major navy presence, and a rich maritime tradition is alive here – visit the expansive naval museum to find out more. Wander the sweeping, palm-tree salute of the Passeggiata Costantino Morin waterfront, where you can absorb the comings and goings of the busy port, and breathe in the salty tang of sea air, before catching a rest on a bench in open waterfront parks. Settle into a restaurant to try crisp pizza, drizzled with olive oil, or prawn tangled pasta in bustling restaurants.
The Cinque Terre - a chain of five towns which spreads like a necklace south along the coastline, is a true treasure of Italy, and you can set sail on a boat ride from La Spezia's port to reach them. Each of the interlinked towns has a slightly different character and set of traditions. Land ashore to wander the steep streets and rocky beaches of the scattered towns that nestle between fertile vineyards and olive groves. You can also venture from La Spezia to the renaissance art and architectural splendour of Florence - or to Pisa's leaning tower, should you be inclined.