The winding streets of the old town are hugely atmospheric and there are plenty of cosy trattorias showcasing the best of Ligurian cuisine, while the coastal scenery is spectacular.
While La Spezia is a delight all year round, the beginning of August sees the city come alive with the Palio del Golfo, a raucous race of handmade rowboats.
The 13 villages that border the Gulf of La Spezia – also known as Gulf of Poets – participate in the historic regatta, which takes place on the first Sunday of August.
The tradition is deeply rooted in the local maritime culture and the first recorded race took place in 1925.
The first official edition of the Palio del Golfo was held in 1932, but the fishing boats were only substituted by racing boats in 1934.
The boats are handmade by local artisans with unique characteristics that make them fast and agile.
The traditional and main category is the one of the Seniors, but there are also the Juniors and the Ladies categories, introduced in 1964 and 1995 respectively.
The festivities begin in the days leading up to the main race, with a display of the boats and a dinner, plus a concert at the local theatre.
Each village also participates in a colourful masked parade, complete with floats.
The district with the most creative costumes, choreography and concept wins the title and gets bragging rights until the following year rolls around.
The race traditionally starts at 7:25 pm on the Sunday, when 13 boats challenge each other, one for each borgata marinara (seaside district): Portovenere, Le Grazie, Fezzano, Cadimare, Marola, CRDD (a sports society representing La Spezia’s historic centre), Canaletto, Fossamastra, Muggiano, San Terenzo, Venere Azzurra, Lerici and Tellaro.
The boats – carrying four oarsmen and one helmsman each – travel two kilometres, rounding the mark three times, with the first to the finish line crowned the winner.
The prize is the prestigious palio, a decorated banner that the winning borgata can showcase for the year.
The evening ends with a spectacular fireworks display which lights up the coastline.
The big day also features a beautiful tribute to those who’ve died at sea.
This year, the 95th edition was set to take place from Friday, July 31, to Monday, August 3.
Sadly, spectators won’t flock to La Spezia’s promenade for the 2020 edition, as the event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While this age old-tradition is put on hold for now, we’re sure its return will draw even more crowds and celebrations than usual.