Whether you enter the Ligurian village of Portovenere via land or sea, it’s a captivating sight. Tall, narrow houses painted in pastel shades line the waterfront, restaurants and bars at their feet; brightly coloured fishing boats bob in the busy harbour; and in a commanding position on the hillside, high above the village, is the imposing 12th-century Andrea Doria castle.
At the end of the harbour’s mouth is Le Bocche, built into the rock beneath the Genoese Gothic church of San Pietro. The path to it has been trodden by many a famous foot: David and Victoria Beckham, Mick Hucknall and Roman Abramovich have all dined here after dropping anchor in the marina.
More often than not, it is warm and the sun is shining, so you can pull up a canvas chair |at one of the many tables on |the decked patio and enjoy a |delicious fish meal al fresco.
If the weather happens to |be unkind, the stylish interior of Le Bocche has floor-to-ceiling windows to ensure that nothing spoils the view.
Naturally, the à la carte menu is all incredibly fresh seafood, with just three meat dishes – two beef, one veal – to cater for those who aren’t fish fans.
Starters are split into “warm” and “raw” – the former including shrimps with yellow-pepper purée, red mullet with asparagus cream, and oyster gratin with herbs; the latter featuring oysters, marinated tuna with pistachio sauce, and sea-bass carpaccio with pine nuts.
Pasta can be taken as a starter, middle or main course, with the options ranging from the typical Ligurian trofie (small pasta twists made from chestnut flour) with red mullet and saffron, to lasagne with shrimps and clams, and penne with swordfish, rocket and almonds.
For the main event, there’s tuna with an anchovy and caper sauce or monkfish rolls with shrimps and aubergines. Or shellfish, selected from a tank.
Desserts might include a |pastry basket filled with Chantilly cream and seasonal berries, chocolate mousse, or a warm chocolate tart.Wines are all Italian, with a wide selection from Liguria.
Le Bocche (which translates as “the mouth”) appropriately takes its name from the stretch of water separating the village of Portovenere from the small, |verdant island of Palmaria.
Little boats leave Portovenere and cross the azure Le Bocche to take visitors to the island, while other vessels – fishing boats, small passenger ferries, flashy motor cruisers and yachts – enter the narrow straits from the open sea and sail past into the harbour.
Looking inland, the masts |of hundreds of yachts in Portovenere harbour fill the view, and as evening draws in, the lights of the port city of La Spezia twinkle in the distance.
A three-course meal excluding drinks costs between ¤65-¤80 (£50-£62) per person. A glass of local wine costs €¤5 (£3.80).Le Bocche, Calata Doria, 102 |Portovenere, La Spezia, Liguria, Italy (00 39 0187 790622; www.|lebocche.it). Closed on Tuesdays.