As you some of you already figured out, I am from a small town near Cinque Terre so for me it is very easy to reach these places, I usually spend here my summer bathing and enjoying the hot days on a beach. But there are some nice activities that I can join during ligurian summer like concerts, food or religious festivals. One of my favourite is definitely the festival of Madonna Bianca, which means White Virgin Mary. The festival takes place in the beautiful fishing town of Portovenere, located something like 30 minutes away from La Spezia and a bit more if you are staying in one of the Cinque Terre. The town is lovely and picturesque: many narrow alleways, which in Ligurian are called Carugi, and houses attached to each other, so attached that the neighbours can call each other just knocking on the window. Portovenere is not just made up of colorful and cute houses but here you can find a beautiful tiny church on a cliff overlooking the open sea. You know the list of the couples that want to get married here is endless, you need to wait for at least one year or even two! So the place already has a special charm on its own but imagine all of this in the evening with myriad of small candles on cliffs and walls, it is more than magic!
How To Reach Portovenere
Okay, let’s talk about concrete stuff now! I must say that the festival is crazily beautiful and if you passing by La Spezia or Cinque Terre, I highly advice you to stop by and enjoy it BUT I warn you, it is overcrowded. Before it was not so famous and only locals would bother to go and attend this festival but now it is quite famous also for people that live a bit further than Cinque Terre or La Spezia, like Genoa or Massa-Carrara. The number of people coming is skyrocketing in these recent years, so be prepared to find a big crowd. Luckily the city of La Spezia boosted the public transporting just for this event: you can find more buses leaving from La Spezia every 10 minutes but still, they are overcrowded and the most of the cases you have to stand up and fight for survival. Another good alternative is taking the boat from La Spezia harbour. Of course, for this occasion, you can find more boats starting from 5 o’ clock in the afternoon until midnight. The round trip ticket is just 10 euros and the landscape you will enjoy is much better than the landscape you see from the bus (if you really can see something from such an overcrowded bus) so it is totally worth it. Furthermore, the boat in the evening, before leaving Portovenere, will go out of the bay and reach the open sea where you can clearly see the innumerable candles scattered around on the cliffs in a absolute darkness.
The Origins Of The Festival
First of all, I must say the Madonna Bianca festival takes place on 17th august, why? I researched a little bit and I found out that the origins date back to 1399 when in the house of this guy called Luciardo, a miracle happened. He was just worshipping a picture portraying Madonna when suddenly the colours in the holy image starting spreading, making it coloured again. The hands of the Virgin Mary joined as if she was praying and between the hands of Jesus Christ a paper appeared, it incited people to convert and believe more. The miracle lasted for a few hours and gathered a lot of people came there to witness the miracolous event. According to some rumours, the picture of the Virgin Mary reached Portovenere in the 1200 via sea: at that time some boats used to go or come back from the Holy Land and they also used to bring such art masterpieces but in order to avoid pirates stealing them, they used to hide them in different kinds of containers so that they could throw them in the sea in the event of a pirate attack. This is what happened to this picture, which reached Portovenere treasured inside a Liban cedar trunk. Despite all these legends and stories, the picture really exists and after the peculiar event, which occured in that house, was brought and is still treasured nowadays in the church of San Lorenzo, located at the top of the town.
What To Do During The Festival
It is mainly a religious festival so do not expect discos, loud music or many activities to do, but if you want to see something special and want to blend into the culture of the place, it is obvious a good to idea to stop by and have a look. The festival’s main point is to bring around the relic of the Madonna around the village, this practice is called procession. Everyone is free to join: tourists, locals, kids etc This is the turning point of the evening, so after the procession, the festival is about to end and people tend to head towards the places where they can get on the bus or the boat. But before the procession takes place, you are free to wander around the town; if you are a foodaholic and if you have a huge amount of money to spend, I advise you to eat in a seafood restaurant here in portovenere because they are delicious but your wallet will cry afterwards. If you do not have much money, I advise you to take away from some restaurants in the city or place you are staying and bring there so you can eat the meal sitting down on a bench at the seaside or on the beach, very romantic <3 or else, you can have an aperitivo at the bars but for this, you should come a little earlier. I also suggest to buy some foccaccia from a local shop, especially the shops in the narrow alleyways, or buy an ice cream because they are very yummy here 😛 Bonus place: if you visit, make sure to have a look at the Byron Cave, there the candles give their best!