All of us at the Relais del Maro have a passion in common, which perhaps many of you have noticed: good eating and drinking!
But that’s not all. We especially like to discover those products hidden in the centuries-old traditions of our valleys. During our research, the Natural Park of the Ligurian Alps was among the first we explored; its area stretches between the Arroscia Valley and the Argentina Valley, both rich in unique products.
Among these, the king is undoubtedly the Vessalico Garlic: a Slow Food presidium for its unique characteristics such as its delicate aroma, an intense almost spicy flavour and, above all, its extreme shelf life: when my grandfather brings me some, I can keep it in the fridge and use it for months! (Did you know that… the first weekend of July there is the Garlic Festival in Vessalico – 15 minutes from Relais del Maro)
Another product not to be missed is Brigasca sheep’s milk toma cheese, a Slow Food presidium in this area: its production has been linked to this territory for hundreds of years and its unique processing characteristics give it a strong flavour.
If the first two products are perhaps better known, you have to be a little more local to get to know Carpasina: it is a barley bread typical of Carpasio (a small village in the Arroscia Valley half an hour from Relais del Maro), similar to the more famous Apulian frisella. A bread as hard as stone, ‘pan d’ordiu‘, barley bread, indeed, stone-ground.
It is eaten in the fields, in the mountains, with a head of garlic (strictly from Vessalico) rubbed in before being soaked in spring water mixed with red wine vinegar. Then it is crumbled and mixed with tomato, anchovy, capers, onion, basil… a sort of pan bagnà from the Ligurian Alps.
And these are just some of the products we offer at the Relais, where the watchword is always: GO LOCAL!
Upper Bordighera: a marvellous balcony over the sea in western Liguria
The municipality of Bordighera consists of two distinct parts: the nucleus of the old town gathered on the Capo Sant’Ampelio (a must-see place in the town), and the new town between the Capo and Vallecrosia. The old town, also known as Bordighera Alta, has preserved its medieval charm almost intact. The writer Edmondo De Amicis described it as follows: ‘A few houses piled on top of a hill, forming a labyrinth of uphill and downhill alleys, where the boredom of the ancient fortress erected in defence of the Saracens emanates’. A century later, not much has changed. Overlooking the sea, the old town is a maze of alleyways opening onto small squares and is surrounded by mighty late-medieval walls reinforced in the mid-16th century.
Even the famous French painter Claude Monet, considered one of the founders of Impressionism, was enchanted by it. He first visited Bordighera in 1883 with his friend Auguste Renoir, with whom he had quite a time. During his short stay, he was so enchanted by the landscape that he decided to return in January 1884. He was supposed to stay a couple of weeks but stayed three months, producing over fifty canvases. To his dealer in Paris he wrote: ‘Everything is admirable, and every day the countryside is more beautiful, and I am bewitched by the country’. What enraptured him most of all was the Moreno Garden, of which he said ‘a garden like that resembles nothing, it is simply phantasmagorical, all the plants of the universe seem to grow there spontaneously’. Only a few traces remain of the Giardino Moreno in today’s garden named after Monet, along Via Romana.
The old town is entered through three gates: the 17th-century Porta del Capo, or New Gate, to the south; the Porta Soprana, or Porta della Maddalena, opened in 1780, to the east; and the Porta Sottana, built in 1470 and rebuilt in the Baroque period, to the west. The picturesque historic centre is characterised by pastel-coloured houses, flights of steps, small squares and narrow alleys, distributed around two main streets: the Via Lunga and the Via Dritta.
If you are looking for information on where to eat in Bordighera Alta, know that there is no shortage of restaurants where you can enjoy typical local cuisine. One of them is the Magiargè, an osteria with a really rich wine cellar.
The heart of Bordighera Alta is Piazza del Popolo, overlooked by the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena. It was erected in the 17th century, although its current appearance is due to renovations carried out in the second half of the 19th century. The modern façade is decorated with Rococo stucco work, while the bell tower, detached from the church, rises above a beautiful late-medieval loggia. Inside are the relics of Saint Ampelio, patron and protector of Bordighera, and several works of art, including a valuable marble group sculpted by his son Domenico from designs by Filippo Parodi.
Another building of historical interest is the 15th-century Oratory of San Bartolomeo, located a few steps away from the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena. Here, as testified by a plaque on the façade, the meeting of the consuls of Camporosso, Vallecrosia, San Biagio, Soldano, Borghetto, Vallebona, Sasso and Bordighera took place, which decreed the separation from the city of Ventimiglia and the proclamation of the Magnifica Comunità degli Otto Luoghi (Magnificent Community of the Eight Places). Among the works of art present is a wooden statue of St Bartholomew from 1865, attributed to Agostino Vignola.
Several nature trails also lead from the old town. One of the most beautiful of these is undoubtedly the Sentier du Béodo, a walk along the route of the old aqueduct canal (béodo) that brought water to the city. The famous French architect Charles Garnier, who lived in Bordighera for a long time and designed many buildings, said of the path: “Here is one of the most exciting walks in Bordighera, which every artist cannot forget […] an uninterrupted succession of many corners in which form and elegance are harmonised”.
Liguria is a beautiful strip of land between the sea and the mountains, with a succession of landscapes that are nothing short of stunning and enchanting views that seem to have been specially created to be photographed. So, if you are an Instagram addict, there is no better destination to take spectacular and like-catching photos. In this article, we reveal some of the most Instagrammable places in Liguria. All you have to do is follow our advice, add the hashtags and post.
The Church of Sant’Ampelio in Bordighera
Among the most Instagrammable places in Liguria, the Church of Sant’Ampelio in Bordighera could certainly not be missing. For its beauty and its characteristic position overlooking the sea, it is undoubtedly one of the wonders of the Riviera di Ponente. The promontory on which it stands is the southernmost in northern Italy. The archaeologist Nino Lamboglia called it ‘a palimpsest of ten centuries of history’. The current building dates back to the 11th century although it has been modified and restored several times. It has always been a place full of charm and mystery, around which ancient legends hover. The best time to take a photo is at sunset.
The carruggi of Albenga
Albenga is a delightful little town where past and present coexist in a unique atmosphere, in a symphony of visual contrasts and magnificent scenery. It is also known as the ‘city of a hundred towers’ for its spectacular and unmistakable towers that dominate the landscape. It has one of the best-preserved historic centres on the Riviera di Ponente. Photographs of its carruggi, where, in addition to the many monuments to be discovered, one can also admire works of art hanging on the walls and real murals, get a lot of likes on Instagram. Over the last few years, a group of artists has changed completely the image of some of these alleys, transforming them into a small open-air exhibition.
It is impossible not to include Bussana Vecchia in this list: it is one of the most picturesque villages in Liguria, if not in Italy. Its history is very special, since it was a quiet village until 23 February 1887, when a violent earthquake marked the village’s destiny forever, forcing the inhabitants to migrate towards the sea, where they founded the municipality of Bussana Nuova. The old village, since then called Bussana Vecchia, remained in a state of total abandonment until the late 1950s, when it was brought back to life by a community of artists, who worked and still work there. Its narrow streets are full of potentially Instagram-perfect views.
The Bay of Saracens in Varigotti
Another of the most photographed, and Instagrammable, places in Liguria is the marvellous Baia dei Saraceni located in Varigotti, a hamlet and historical village of Finale Ligure. Its name has very ancient origins; it is said to have been the landing point for merchants arriving from Byzantium. It is a wild oasis where nature has been particularly generous. The beach, about 400 metres long, is a handkerchief of golden sand and fine gravel, squeezed between rocks, overlooking a stretch of crystal-clear sea. Due to the abundance of fish, it is perfect for snorkelling and diving enthusiasts. Moreover, thanks to its shallow waters, it is ideal for families with children.
The Balzi Rossi Beach in Ventimiglia
Another beach, which attracts Instagrammers from all over the world, is the Spiaggetta dei Balzi Rossi in Ventimiglia. Forbes magazine called it ‘one of the seven most spectacular beaches in Italy’. This small cove of rare beauty, set among the rocks, is bathed by incredibly crystal-clear waters. It is located just a few steps from the border, on the Côte d’Azur, and derives its name from the colour of the limestone walls, which, rich in ferrous materials, appear reddish (from the Ventimiglia dialect ‘bàussi russi’, meaning red stones). The entire area is dotted with prehistoric caves, where numerous finds dating back to the Palaeolithic period have been discovered.
The crêuze of Borgio Verezzi
Finally, if you want to impress your followers, you cannot miss Borgio Verezzi, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Set along the Riviera delle Palme, it owes its name to the two centres that make it up: Borgio at sea level and Verezzi in an elevated position. The ‘Saracen’ village, perched on the Orera hill, is composed of four hamlets (Crosa, Piazza, Poggio and Roccaro) connected by narrow carruggi and ancient mule tracks (called crêuze in Ligurian dialect), preserved in their original integrity. Along the carruggi and crêuze there are many corners rich in history and truly wonderful views to photograph. The likes are guaranteed!
Just over 25 kilometres from Relais del Maro is the picturesque village of Cervo, where time seems to have stopped in the Middle Age. The village, included in the prestigious club of “The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”, is nestled on a spur that slopes down to the sea and is able to amaze and fascinate in every season of the year thanks to its extraordinary historical, artistic and architectural heritage.
Cervo boasts an evocative historical centre, enclosed by ancient walls and characterised by a labyrinth of narrow alleys (in Ligurian dialect called carruggi) that descend towards the coast, lined with typical pastel-coloured houses. As you lose yourself in these shady glimpses, you can savour the village’s still entirely medieval atmosphere. Its coastline consists of small bathing establishments, wide stretches of free beach and quiet rocky inlets.
At the highest point of the village, precisely in Piazza Santa Caterina, stands the Clavesana Castle, from whose terrace one can see both the mountains and the sea at a glance. It was built around the 13th century by the Marquises of Clavesana (from whom it takes its name) as their residence, incorporating the original high-medieval tower. The structure has been used for various purposes over the years: seat of the municipal parliament, defensive bulwark against the Saracens, Oratory of the Disciplinants of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and hospital. It is currently home to the Tourist Office and the Museum Centre, which houses, on the first floor, the Ponente Ligure Ethnographic Museum and, on the second floor, the permanent exhibition ‘Women of Liguria – A Century of History 1850/1950’.
Another feather in the village’s cap is the majestic Church of San Giovanni Battista, also known as ‘dei Corallini’ because it was built with the proceeds from the coral fishing that the people of Cervo practised in the seas of Corsica and Sardinia. Begun in 1686 to a design by architect Gio Batta Marvaldi and completed in 1734 by his son Giacomo Filippo, it is one of the main examples of Baroque architecture in western Liguria. The elegant bell tower was instead erected in the second half of the 18th century to a design by painter Francesco Carrega. The church houses several valuable works of art, including the wooden crucifix by Maragliano, the high altar by Pittaluga and the choir frescoes by Carrega. From the square in front, one can enjoy an enchanting view of the entire gulf.
In the immediate vicinity of the Church of St John the Baptist is the former Oratory of St Catherine, a classic example of a Romanesque structure originally built on a Latin cross plan. The building was built in the 13th century on the initiative of the Knights Hierosolimitani as a church, but around the 18th century, when the Church of the Corallini was consecrated, it was demoted to an oratory. Inside, some 16th century works can be admired, including a large fresco of St George slaying the dragon above the main entrance. The building is now deconsecrated and used as a hall for art exhibitions, concerts, conferences and cultural events.
At the foot of the village is Palazzo Viale, the residence of one of Cervo’s most important families. Built in the 18th century, it is distinguished from other buildings by the Baroque decorations that adorn its façade. Inside, walls and ceilings are embellished with remarkable frescoes by Carrega. The palace is now owned by the municipality, which carries out cultural initiatives there. Other buildings of some value are: the 17th-century Palazzo Morchio, today’s Town Hall; the Tower of Sant’Antonio, built around the middle of the 16th century; and the Church of San Nicola da Tolentino, Cervo’s oldest and first parish church, located just outside the walls.
Among the major events in Cervo, we recommend the International Chamber Music Festival, born in 1964 from a happy intuition of Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh. The prestigious kermesse, scheduled on evenings between July and August, owes its success to the fame of the performers who take part.
A tip for the gourmand: an aperitif with a breathtaking sea view at Bar Ariel and a dinner accompanied by good wine at Ristorante San Giorgio or San Giorgino wine bar
On a hill behind Sanremo, about 40 kilometres from the Relais del Maro, lies a charming medieval village, now known as the ‘artists’ village’, built on the ruins of a village abandoned long ago after a terrible earthquake. We are talking about Bussana Vecchia, a place with a controversial history, where you can breathe art at every corner.
Its origins date back to Roman times, but only in the 12th century it began to develop as a village inhabited by farmers and shepherds. Life in the village remained relatively quiet until 23 February 1887, when a very strong earthquake struck the hinterland of Sanremo, seriously damaging the small town, until then simply called Bussana. Within seconds, the earthquake killed many people and destroyed most of the buildings. The survivors, after living for years in the destroyed houses, moved a few kilometres further down the valley. Thus, between 1889 and 1894, a new Bussana (called Bussana Nuova) was built, while the old village (since then called Bussana Vecchia) was definitively abandoned, becoming a real ghost town.
Uninhabited for decades, it began to come back to life at the end of the 1950s, when the great ceramist Mario Giani, known by his stage name Clizia, decided to settle in the village with a dozen other artists, attracted by the particularity of the place. A statute was also drawn up to regulate village life. Bussana Vecchia became a destination for painters, sculptors, craftsmen, musicians and poets, not only from Italy but from all over the world, who renovated and made the less damaged buildings habitable again. In the late 1960s, the first workshop was also opened, where it was possible to buy the works created by the artists. Over time, the community continued to grow.
Today, the village is an authentic open-air museum and, although it has changed a great deal since the 1960s, it remains a magical place that offers emotions and enchanting views at every turn. In Bussana Vecchia it is pleasant to get lost in the narrow streets, to walk without a precise destination and to be surprised step by step. The village is inhabited all year round by about sixty people and up to two hundred in summer.
The old stone houses, some of which are still in ruins, house workshops and ateliers selling a wide variety of handicraft and artistic products: paintings, sculptures, ceramics, costume jewellery, lithographs and countless other handicrafts. In spring and on warm summer evenings, the village comes alive with theatre performances, exhibitions and live music.
The symbol of Bussana Vecchia is the church of Sant’Egidio, where most of the inhabitants were at the time of the earthquake, which has left only the original part and the bell tower on the side of the building intact. Never restored, it still retains traces of the original stucco and paintings.
Another impressive site is the ruins of the castle, built in the 12th century by the Counts of Ventimiglia, feudal lords of the village. Among the wonders to visit are: the garden among the ruins, a well-kept green space in the middle of the ruins, dotted with geraniums and various species of flowers; and the miniature railway, more than 350 linear metres of tracks arranged in three rooms of an old house. And if you get peckish during your visit, you can stop at the Osteria degli Artisti, the oldest restaurant in the village, serving excellent local cuisine!