To many, Liguria is seen as a region to rush through en route to the rolling hills of Tuscany from the glitzy French Riviera, or vice versa. A place where the highlights are strictly coastal, from the port city of Genoa to the picture perfect villages of Cinque Terre and beach resorts like Alassio where Italians flock every summer.
Yet this often overlooked province in Italy’s north-west hides many a secret gem and those willing to stray off the beaten track will succumb to Liguria’s numerous charms. Think sundrenched hills, verdant valleys, medieval villages, and endless terraces of olive groves. Do I need to say anything more? Oh, the wine! Ligurian wine is a perfect match for local specialties, such as pesto.
So, next time you travel to Italy, don’t forget to add this little slice of paradise to your itinerary. To kickstart your Liguria wanderlust, here are three of my favourite villages:
The ‘sweet water’ of Dolceacqua may be only a stone’s throw from the French border but it feels a thousand miles away, if you know what I mean. The perfectly preserved medieval village, with its dominating fortress, is set on the curve of the River Nervia in the heart of the valley which bears the same name. Step back in time with a leisurely wander through the narrow, shaded laneways of the old town, accessible across a stone bridge which the French artist Monet captured with his Impressionist brush.
When it’s time for lunch, there’s nowhere better than La Locanda degli Ulivi. You’ll need your own transport to navigate the windy road leading to the summit of the valley’s eastern ridge. The view from the restaurant’s terrace, however, makes it all worth it, a sweeping panorama of azure blue Mediterranean Sea. The set menu, at last count 13 courses, will cost you less than a three course menu on the coast. Plus, it’s all homemade and delicious!
You’ll realise that Seborga’s not just another cute Ligurian hilltop village as soon as you arrive. The sky blue and white flags proudly flying are definitely not typical Italian colours. Yes, the Principality of Seborga considers itself an independent state of Italy thanks to some quirk in history and proudly boasts its own leader. Called ‘Sua Tremendità’, or ‘His Tremendousness’, he’s clearly a modest creature.
Yet Seborga isn’t worth a visit just to try and spot local royalty. The village itself, high up in the Ligurian hills behind Bodighera, offers spectacular views of the coast, great summer festivals and a selection of B&B’s and restaurants. My favourite is Osteria del Coniglio and its shaded terrace is the perfect spot to feast on the local speciality: rabbit, of course!
An earthquake in 1887 destroyed the village of Bussana Vecchia, and viewed from afar, this village in the hills behind Sanremo still appears a maze of ruins. Yet venture inside and you’ll feel how living the Bussana Vecchia of today is. For, in the 1960’s, artists and hippies from all over the globe arrived and constructed a lively village amongst the rubble and haven’t left. They may still be considered squatters, officially, but they’ve breathed life into this village again. You’ll be amazed how art galleries, restaurants, and homes have been crafted from buildings missing roofs, walls or staircases.
There’s a selection of tempting restaurants to pick from, however I’d recommend Osteria degli Artisti. The terrace is hard to beat, surrounded by bright magenta Bougainvillea and with a view down to the sea. Especially in summer, when the atmosphere is only improved with live evening music.
About the author: Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian wine specialist who has been living in Nice, France for the past seven years. You can follow her travels at www.rivieragrapevine.com or on Twitter @RivieraGrape.
(Main photo by Jilly Bennet Photography)