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”.