Walking the Riviera dei Fiori

I’m mopping up the last puddle of olive oil with a chunk of flavoursome focaccia bread. It’s become a habit over the last few days and I seriously start to wonder how many carbs is “too many”…
But who would be able to resist? A warm autumn sun, stunning views and good company: this and the tempting Italian food are the perfect ingredients for a Ligurian holiday!

I’ve been invited to participate in a study called Timon Lepidus to find out if the Ligurian coast is ready for a long-distance hiking path, similar to the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Not that there isn’t one already: the Via della Costa connects Ventimiglia with La Spezia, passing every single chapel on its way.  Alessio, the project leader of the Timon Lepidus-trip, would like it to be less of a religious thing however and with a few adjustments, he’s convinced that the trail could appeal to many more hikers and people interested in the culture of Liguria.

Let’s find out, shall we?

On day one we start off from Balzi Rossi, where the Italian border meets the French Riviera. It’s weird to see border patrol, but with recent immigration problems, (Ventimiglia, a mere 10km away, was home to a big refugee camp with a lot of migrants trying to make it across the border with France) it’s easy to understand why.

Balzi Rossi is home to a few beaches and after a refreshing dip, we start our walk along some sandy paths and unfortunately a long stretch of busy roads and tunnels towards the botanical Hanbury Gardens. The plants and general maintenance of the gardens look rather shabby to be honest, but I do enjoy the astonishing views across the Ligurian Sea.

The walk takes us further across poorly maintained trails until we reach the old gateway into Ventimiglia where lunch awaits.  And what a lunch! The local “alimentari” or grocery store has thrown together a proper feast, full of Ligurian specialties: there’s stuffed olives, anchovies, pisciadela, polpette di baccalà, … I can’t decide what to try first!

On a more than full stomach, we try to keep up with our guide who’s going to show us around Ventimiglia Alta, the upper and old part of town. Little “carruggi” (covered alleyways) lead to picturesque squares, home to the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the “Ex-Convento delle Canonichesse Lateranensi”. Apparently modern Ventimiglia has built up quite a bad reputation, but I love the dilapidated charm that the old town oozes!

Apart from discovering the architectural heritage of the area, we are also here to learn more about the culture. And a big part of the local culture is the importance of olive oil. In the tiny village of Lucinasco we visit the “Azienda Agricola Cristina Armato”, a family owned small olive oil producer.
You know the typical Italian TV-commercial where a large family sits around the table displaying an array of well-presented tasty dishes? That’s the kind of treat we were in for! Cristina, her husband, son and parents all welcomed us into their family home; it was Italian hospitality at its best! We also got an insight into the life of a local family producing the olive oil the area is so famous for, a stark contrast with the bigger cooperative we were to visit the next day…

Alessio wants to show us various possibilities for slow travel along the Riviera dei Fiori, so on day 2 we exchange our hiking boots for a bicycle. We cycle from Ospedaletti to Arma di Taggia. The first part of our cycle ride takes us to San Remo, probably the best known town of the Riviera dei Fiori. During the 9th-10th century a “town” was formed around the original castle and developed from there. The old part of the town and the one we are interested in, is called Pigna, meaning “pine cone”. It was formed around the castle and little by little walls were built in a concentric way around it. You can still see some of the medieval arches like the Porta Palma.
History boards are dotted around the medieval part to make the most of your visit. Make sure to check out the Piazza Oratorio dei Dolori, with its vaulted arches, the Piazza del Capitolo with the ancient jail and courthouse and the Piazza della Cisterna.

The hinterland of the Italian Riviera is just full of stunning medieval villages as our next stop, Taggia, shows us. Taggia was an important commercial port during the Roman domination. The ancient Roman stone bridge with its perfectly preserved arches still spans across the Argentina river nowadays and is one of the must sees of Taggia. The medieval town with its narrow alleyways and piazzas (check out Piazza Santissima Trinita!) is another one of these Ligurian treasures not to be missed! I loved the row of vaulted covered shops on the main street as well. Apparently the vaults are there to protect against earthquakes!

In the evening, it’s back to olive oil! “Fratelli Carli” in Imperia is one of the biggest olive oil producers in the area, founded in 1911. If you’d like to learn everything there is to know about olive oil, from its origins to its various practical usage, then this is the place to visit! They take olive oil really serious here, as you will learn when you do one of their tastings! The open-plan kitchen that doubles up as a restaurant gives us the opportunity to taste local specialties as “ trofie con salsa di noci” and even olive oil cake!

Day 3 and we’re back to hiking again! This time it’s a long one: 23 km from Castellaro to Porto Maurizio. To me, it’s also the most beautiful section: we are high up in the midst of nature with only the sound of our own footsteps and the chirping birds below. After this lovely hike, we stumble upon the typical Ligurian hamlet of Lingueglietta where the local community has prepared a selection of pizza and focaccia to give us the much needed strength up the hill to Civezza.
Upon arrival a German couple can hardly believe we walked all the way! It’s definitely worth the effort though: wine and food already await us as we arrive on the main village square.
The last stretch into Porto Maurizio takes us along a rather unconventional type of road: a disused railway track!

If we hadn’t understood by now how hospitable the people of Liguria are, then we definitely will tonight! Alessio’s friends have invited us over for dinner. The conversation is flowing, as is the wine, while we taste the delicious appetizers and a delectable fish stew. I just can’t imagine this happening anywhere else! This is what Italian hospitality is all about!

Italian hospitality

It’s not all sun and hot weather in Liguria, as our last day shows us. A wet walk through Porto Maurizio and along some of the empty beaches paint a rather bleak picture of the Riviera dei Fiori. Is there anything more depressing than a beach resort in the rain?
Luckily, by the time we arrive in San Bartolomeo al Mare, in time for lunch, it’s back to bright skies again.
Time for a last view over the Ligurian Sea and hills before we head down via the Parco Comunale del Ciapà into Cervo, our last Ligurian town. It is officially classed as one of the most beautiful villages of Italy! What comes next is a rather unusual way of visiting a place though. How else would you describe a visit during which you are followed by an amateur photograph so he can capture you and the village of Cervo at its best? All part of being a blogger I guess?
Tonight’s dinner is hosted in an atmospheric cellar by a local politican. The perfect farewell to no doubt one of the most interesting trips this year!

 

Have you visited the Riviera dei Fiori? Or done some walking in Liguria? Tell me about your adventures in the comments!

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