The Italian Riviera has plenty to offer the holidaymaker or tourist in the way of beaches, small ports and marinas, spectacular coastal scenery. But it would be a pity to spend all one’s time by the sea and miss the treasures hidden in the nearby mountains. Villages such as Borgio Verezzi, Dolceacqua, Triora are enchanting, Realdo is unbelievably perched on a cliff-top, Verdeggia with its grey slate roofs and cultivated vegetable allotments is an oasis of peace, Toirano has it’s famous “Grotte”, caves lined with alabaster, running through the mountainside. Close to the sea-side resort of Pietra Ligure, you must visit:
composed of two tiny townships, Borgio on the sea and Verezzi at 250 mt. above sea-level, up a few hairpin bends. Cars must be left in the square just in front of the entrance to Verezzi. Roads lined with cobblestones, pinkish and shiny as alabaster, lead through the village, matching the stone walls and arches, reminiscent of North African villages. In fact, this part of the Ligurian coast was subject to attack by the Saracens, and it’s said that Saracen pirates, conquered by the beauty of Verezzi, settled there building their own tiny “borgo”.
Borgio Verezzi, like Toirano, has wonderful “Grotte” (caves) – 800 meters through the mountainside, known as the most colourful in Italy, thanks to the presence of difference minerals dissolved in the water that slowly has formed the stalactites and stalagmites – red colour where the water contains iron oxide, grey from manganese, etc.
not far away, has an even longer (1300 mt.) string of caves, which can be visited with a guided tour to be booked on-line (www.toiranogrotte.it) or at the entrance. In some of the chambers at Toirano can be seen fossil footprints of homo sapiens, dated back to 12.000 years ago, as well as bones belonging to bears. Both must have sought refuge in these caves both from the cold in winter and from the heat in summer. In fact the internal temperature is a stable 16° C, with a high humidity (98%). Water drips everywhere; the stalactites/stalagmites that still have a drip and growing by about 1 cubic cm. every 20 years. There is still life in these caves, apart from the caravans of tourists taking the one-way walk-climb through: in one of the ponds there are minuscule prehistoric crustaceans about 7 mm long, and sometimes a tiny fern can seed itself from who knows where and grow for a while, taking advantage of the artificial light provided for visitors.
Triora, Realdo and Verdeggia
are all villages in the valley of the Argentina, reached driving inland from Arma di Taggia, further in the direction of the French border. The road leads up through Mulini di Triora (Triora mills) where the best bread in Liguria is made. As in Verezzi, cars are left outside the town walls, and tourists proceed on foot over cobbled roads, under archways which often contain dwellings, up and down steps, with the inevitable sensation of leaving the centuries behind. Blackened stones mark the back of the oven where all the villagers would take their bread from home to be baked. Even the most ancient part of the village is still inhabited, although there are abandoned buildings fallen into decay. Triora with about 400 inhabitants has two fine restaurants, the Colomba d’Oro, which also has rooms, on the road into the village, and the “Erba Gatta” in the historical main street. Triora is sadly infamous for its witches, or rather for the witch-trials that took place in the second part of the 16th century, medieval example of “men who hate women”. Now the village bases much of its tourist lore on its witches.
Two smaller villages,“fractions” of Triora as the Italians say, are the old arch enemies Realdo and Verdeggia.
While Verdeggia, like Triora, was a proud part of the Genoese republic, Realdo belonged to La Brigue (now in France). Realdo is a spectacular eagle-nest of a village, perched incredibly on a cliff-top, always ready to defend itself against the enemy Verdeggia. Verdeggia marks the end of the road, although footpaths and unpaved roads lead over into France, to La Brigue in fact, and the dialect in both Realdo and Verdeggia is Brigasque. Verdeggia is an oasis of peace, with its grey slate roofs (quarried nearby) and cultivated vegetable allotments, tucked under Monte Saccarello, the highest peak in Liguria, just out of this world. For adventurous spirits, prepared to leave the beaten track, the hill routes towards La Brigue and running along the French border are wonderful opportunities to see Alpine flora, marmots, eagles, far from tourist attractions and amenities. (The mention of Triora’s restaurants is a suggestion. Otherwise, take a picnic.)
Approaching the French border, near Ventimiglia, is the village of Dolceacqua, dominated by its medieval castle, home to a fine red wine Rossese di Dolceacqua, and to the legend of Lucrezia, the maid who “flew” to her death from the castle ramparts on her wedding day, rather than submit to the intentions of the feudal overlord to exercise his “ius primae noctis”.
Any one of these villages will remain in your mind’s eye and your heart, long after the beach has been confused in your memory of other beaches!
First published on Suite 101