In the westernmost part of Liguria, a few kilometres from our beloved Relais, stands the Riviera dei Fiori, a rich and varied territory of great naturalistic and landscape interest where sea and mountains, splendid villages and green and luxuriant nature alternate. Renowned for its mild climate, the Riviera is dotted with beautiful places just waiting to be discovered.
Let yourself be inspired and surprised by the charm of this enchanting area, and you will undoubtedly end up happily surprised. The itinerary we propose is quite long, therefore you can decide to cover it in stages, or you can choose to your taste the most interesting destinations among the ones we collected for you.
Leaving the Relais and going beyond Imperia, the Via Aurelia runs along the coast touching two small centres: San Lorenzo al Mare – a fishing village founded in the Middle Ages that follows along the San Lorenzo stream – and Santo Stefano al Mare – an older town, where still remains a parish church of Romanesque origin and the houses are full of colour.
The scenic cycle path of the Riviera dei Fiori runs along the entire coast from San Lorenzo to Ospedaletti
After crossing the Argentina stream, you can enter the seaside town of Arma di Taggia, a hamlet of the slightly more internal Taggia, a charming medieval village included in the circuit of “I Borghi più Belli d’Italia” (“The most beautiful towns in Italy”). Hidden between the sea and the mountains, this lovely town welcomes visitors with monuments and architectural structures of great importance. After a walk among the numerous historic buildings along via Soleri, you cannot miss a visit to the San Domenico Monastery, a true treasure trove of art that preserves interesting paintings by Ludovico Brea, one of the major protagonists of the Ligurian Renaissance. Another architectural masterpiece is the monumental Ponte Antico (Ancient Bridge) with 15 arches built entirely of stone from the thirteenth century onwards.
At the end of your tour among the narrow alleys, don’t forget to stop in one of the many bakeries and taste the famous canestrelli, typical crackers “with a hole” made with extra virgin olive oil.
Going north into the Argentina Valley, just over 10 km from the sea, you will find the rural villages of Badalucco and Montalto Ligure, which preserve precious works from the past. Continuing further, you will reach Triora: a beautiful village that boasts remarkable examples of rustic medieval architecture, also known as “the witches’ town” for the events related to witchcraft that occurred here during the years 1587-1589, which led to the death sentence of a group of local women. Here, are undoubtedly worth a visit: the grandiose Collegiata dell’Assunta, where you can admire valuable works of art, among which a panel on a gold background by the Sienese painter Taddeo di Bartolo stands out; and the Ethnographic and Witchcraft Museum, where a large number of ancient objects is collected.
To delight your palate as well, don’t forget to visit the small shop “La Strega di Triora” full of goodness and typical products and the Asplanato bakery where the true and unique Triora bread is produced.
Returning on the coast and driving further towards west, you will reach Sanremo, the town of flowers, known for the Italian Song Festival and the Casino, which also welcomes visitors with remarkable memories of the past. The real heart of Sanremo is the old town, called Pigna, which retains all the charm of the Middle Ages. Among the things to see, there are: the Co-Cathedral of San Siro, the oldest religious building in the city and one of the greatest examples of Romanesque architecture in western Liguria; the Madonna della Costa Sanctuary, richly decorated with marble, stucco, frescoes and sculptures; the Cristo Salvatore Church, better known as the Russian Orthodox Church, with its characteristic onion domes; and finally the historic residences Villa Nobel and Villa Ormond with their wonderful gardens.
If you love shopping, do not miss a walk along Via Matteotti and Via Palazzo, full of boutiques of all kinds.
Continuing further along the picturesque Ligurian coast, you will find the renowned Bordighera which is definitely worth a stop, for both a pleasant walk on the magnificent Argentina Promenade and a visit to the Church of Sant’Ampelio, built on the rocks in the eleventh century in pure Romanesque style: certainly one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the entire Riviera. Right here, you will also find a small beach with a delightful bar and restaurant overlooking the sea: la Reserve.
Also not to be missed here is the Clarence Bicknell Museum, which investigates the prehistoric past of Liguria.
At this point, continuing towards the border, you will reach Ventimiglia, the last Ligurian city in the west before entering France. The city is full of things to see: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, built between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, which is a splendid example of Romanesque art; the Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista, adjacent to the cathedral; the sumptuous botanical gardens of Villa Hanbury, among the most renowned in the world; and the Balzi Rossi caves, one of the most important prehistoric sites in the western Mediterranean area. But the most beautiful part is certainly the coastal area towards Menton, full of hidden beaches bathed by a crystal clear sea. Right here is the most beautiful and VIP beach of the whole Riviera: the Spiaggetta dei Balzi Rossi. In this small area are also two renowned restaurants: in Ventimiglia the Balzi Rossi restaurant and in Menton the Mauro Colagreco’s Mirazur, designated as the best restaurant in the world.
Entering the hinterland in this area you will then encounter the small villages of the Nervia Valley: the first and most famous is Dolceacqua, a typically medieval town visible from afar thanks to the massive outline of the Castello dei Doria, an ancient fortification in which various kinds of exhibitions are currently set up. The town is made up of two parts connected by an ancient humpback bridge: the older one, called Terra, is on the left bank of the homonymous stream; the more recent one, called Borgo, stretches out on the opposite bank. In addition to the famous castle, several religious buildings deserve attention: from the ancient Church of San Giorgio to the many sanctuaries located on the hills overlooking the town. Claude Monet was also bewitched by the magic of this village. Among the typical products that we recommend to try here there are the typical “michette”, local sweetcakes perfect for breakfast, and one of the best Ligurian wines: the Rossese di Dolceacqua.
The next stops are the towns of Apricale and Pigna.
Apricale offers a fairytale atmosphere, with its narrow paths that climb up the hill. Almost all the streets lead to the main square called Torracca, the pulsating centre of Apricale’s life, where cafès and restaurants serve local food. Among the monuments not to be missed there is the Church of the purification of the Virgin Mary, whose entrance, rebuilt during the second half of the eighteenth century, today overlooks the Torracca; and the castle of the Lizard: built on a spur of rock, in the past the castle dominated almost the whole village from the top of its towers which made it very similar to the castle of Dolceacqua. The only tower still standing has become the bell tower of the nearby church. The name of the castle perhaps comes from the shape of the structure, which resembles a lizard basking in the sun. In August every year, a famous travelling show of the Teatro della Tosse in Genoa takes place here.
Pigna is completely immersed in the upper Nervia Valley and is a centre with a characteristic medieval look, crossed by a dense network of alleys that connect the streets arranged concentrically on the steep slope. Here there are a few spots worth a stop: the fifteenth-century Church of San Michele Arcangelo, which boasts a remarkable marble rose window on the façade and inside a monumental polyptych by Giovanni Canavesio; and the small Church of San Bernardo, where other splendid frescoes by Canavesio are preserved. A little further on, in Castelvittorio, we recommend the Italia restaurant, a historic place of the town now back in vogue thanks to the love for the territory of the new generation.
Whether you are thinking of spending just a weekend in Liguria or an entire summer, the Riviera dei Fiori will never cease to amaze you and give you unique emotions!