Reading like a literary Who’s Who, a Bay of Poets guest book records the visits of well known writers, painters and artists, ranging from Dante and Petrarch to D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller. It is truly a spot that inspires.
The Gulf of La Spezia, re-christened the 'Bay of Poets' by Sem Benelli in 1910, is surrounded by a chain of mountains that shelters it from powerful southwest winds and ensures a relatively quiet sea throughout the year. The Bay is bounded on the west by the promontory of Portovenere, with its islands of Palamria, Tino and Tinetto, and on the east by the coast of Lerici. Add to the gentle waters the sheer beauty of its coves and beaches and the charm of the small towns along the coast and it is no wonder poets and artists came to stay.
It is said that Lerici’s castle inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Percy Shelley used to sail on his boat called Don Juan, a homage to his friend Lord Byron, who lived nearby in Portovenere, along the Bay of La Spezia and down to Tuscany.
Sadly, on 8 July 1822, just days before turning 30 years old, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm on the Gulf of Spezia while returning from Leghorn (Livorno) to Lerici in his boat. His drowning may have caused Byron to cry “Oh Italia! Thou who has the fatal gift of Beauty” but most retained a brighter association with the Bay and its villages and many found the place stimulated their art.
In 1914 D.H. Lawrence, who lived in nearby Fiascherino, “a tiny bay half shut in by rocks and smothered by olive woods that slope down swiftly”, began work on The Rainbow and Women in Love.
Other visiting writers and artists include: Virginia Woolf, who called Lerici 'the pearl of the gulf', Baroness Emma Orczy, author of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who commissioned a villa in the hills overlooking Lerici, William Turner, Henry James, George Sand and Henry Miller.
Naturally, Italian writers and artists have visited as well among them writer/director Mario Soldati, journalist Indro Montanelli, poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and poet and playwright Gabriele D'Annunzio.
The reasons they came are the same they have always been.....