Swim with Lord Byron in the Bay of Poets
Many British writers stayed in Italy for extended periods of time. Finding inspiration to write some of their best works. But perhaps the most famous one was George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) a second-generation Romanticism, and thanks to his colorful private life, he was certainly the most controversial.
There are many stories revolving around Lord Byron’s stay in Portovenere. One says that he often spent time in a cave meditating and it was there that he drew inspiration for many of his works. Another story says he swam across the bay of Portovenere to visit his fellow English muse, Merry Shelley (writer of ‘Frankenstein’), who lived in the village of San Terenzo. This is where the name of the cove, The Bay of Poets comes from. Byron’s Grotto, called Grotta Arpaia, now collapsed, bears a plaque honoring Byron’s courage and strength in tackling the often wild waters.
Byron had many water escapades during his lifetime. A sportsman at heart, he was born with a club foot, which only inspired him to be more proficient in the water. He was the first person to swim across the Hellespont in 1810, known as the Dardanelles, the stretch of water that separates Europe from Asia. Later, after a night of revelry in the Lido, he swam across the Venice lagoon and down the entire length of the Grand Canal in three and three-quarters hours. Daring, dashing, and bold, he proved himself unhindered by his physical lameness.
The Byron Cup swimming challenge commemorates Lord Byron’s legendary swim across the Bay of Poets in 1822. A large number of swimmers register to swim the 7.5 km between Portovenere and Lerici, usually held in August
The Church of San Pietro stands majestically on the cliff overlooking the sea just above Byron’s Grotto. Fashioned in Gothic style with external markings of black and white stripes, it was built over a 5th-century Palaeo-Christian church. The Church of San Pietro has a beautiful view of the Cinque Terre coastline and is just a short walk from Villa Claudia.
When next you arrive in Portovenere, go down to Byron’s Bay and put a foot in the water for the old poet. Chances are you will be compelled to slide into the comforting warmth of the blue-green Mediterranean Sea… or get inspired to write a poem.
About Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron was educated at Cambridge, where he is rumored to have kept a pet bear in his college rooms. After he graduated he traveled widely, wrote poems, and ramped up eye-watering amounts of debt, thanks to his extravagant lifestyle. He attracted controversy through his various affairs, the breakup of his marriage, and rumors that he was involved with his own half-sister.
Byron managed to get vast amounts of money for new installments to his long comic picaresque narrative poem Don Juan (whose character is a disguised version of Byron himself). This helped him out of debt, but eventually, his lifestyle caught up with him. Seeking to make up for a life of scandal and profligacy, Byron traveled to Greece to fight for Greek independence, but he contracted a fever and died, aged thirty-six, in 1824.
Byron’s best-loved and most widely anthologized lyric poem, ‘She Walks in Beauty' is quoted in Dead Poets Society as an attempt to seduce a young woman, and it epitomizes the Romantic poem idolizing (and idealizing) a woman’s beauty,
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
~ Lord Byron
Step into Lord Byron's footsteps and find your inspiration while staying at Villa Claudia at Portovenere.