La Riviera di Ponente:
From France to Genoa

[Regions of Italy] [Back to Liguria]

Book Lodgings Online in San Remo
   Arrival Date
    Departure Date

Ponente means "spot on the horizon where the sun sets," which in northeastern Italy corresponds to the narrow strip of coast and precipitous alpine foothills that you first encounter upon arriving from Monte Carlo or the French Riviera. This part of Liguria is also known as La Riviera dei Fiori (the Flowering Coastline), cut flowers being among its most lucrative exports. The air is alive with the heady scent of some 20,000 tons of roses, carnations and mimosas exported annually. Silvery olive groves or terraced grape vines blanket the hillsides. Whitewashed walls are draped with purple bougainvillea and flaming trumpet flowers. Palm trees shade the broad seaside promenades. Originally brought here from Egypt by St. Ampelio in the fourth century, there were once as many as 20,000 of them in just the half dozen miles from Ventimiglia to Bordighera alone, and it is the latter town that supplies the Vatican with fronds every year on Palm Sunday.

In such a fertile environment it is hardly surprising to find Villa Hanbury, the vast, extravagant gardens that a 19th-century Englishman built just a few miles from the French border. With more than 6000 species of plants, it is now considered one of the most important spots in Europe for the cultivation of exotic plants.

Albenga
If you are traveling in summer, you may wish to use the A10 autostrada for this itinerary, because local traffic can be extremely slow. But if it's any month other than July and August, or if you are a patient sort, we suggest you drive along the Aurelia, one of the ancient Roman consular roads, which skirts the coast and passes through all the elegant resort towns and ancient fishing villages. Traveling east from Villa Hanbury, take a detour onto the provincial road that follows the Nervia River north about five miles to the picturesque town of Dolceacqua. A lovely arched bridge spans the river at the foot of the small town, which is dominated by the ruins of a 12th-century castle. Stretch your legs for a stroll past colorful pastel houses and a peek at the lovely Romanesque church, then cross back over the bridge to the Gastone restaurant for lunch, accompanied by a glass of rossese, the renowned local wine.

Returning to the autostrada, drive three more miles to the noble turn-of-the-century resort town Bordighera. The small medieval quarter is worth a visit, but plan to spend an hour or more strolling along the palm-lined lungomare (seaside promenade), soaking in the Belle Époque atmosphere of the resort, with its large ornate buildings in the art nouveau style (called "Liberty" in Italy).

San Remo
San Remo
The next autostrada exit is at San Remo (pictured at right), the famed resort town which springs to life each February for the pop music festival that is about as popular a media event in Italy as the Oscars are in the US. Climb the hill to visit the medieval quarter, a warren of winding streets and staircases nicknamed La Pigna. The houses are protected from earthquakes by adjoining arches and the benevolent protection of the Baroque Nostra Signora della Costa church. Back by the shore, stop in at the Casinò, where you can try your luck at the games or just watch the high rollers from all over Europe and the Middle East. By the way, if you ask for directions be sure to emphasize the accented "ò" at the end of "Casinò"! The English pronunciation of the word means "house of ill repute" in Italian.

Albenga
Albenga


N
ow drive two miles east on the Aurelia, to Bussana Vecchia, a medieval village that was leveled by an earthquake about a hundred years ago and is now being carefully restored by a group of artisans. If you have chosen the A10 option, get off next at the Andora exit and continue east on the Aurelia, reveling in the beautiful coastal views of rocky outcrops, sandy coves and broad bays. Alassio is the perfect place for an afternoon dip, with two miles of fine sandy beach (though it's crowded in those nasty months of July and August). Just beyond it is Albenga (pictured at left), a thriving market town with fifty brick towers and western Liguria's most important early Christian monument, the 5th-century baptistry in the 13th-century cathedral. Behind the church is the charming Piazzetta dei Leoni. Albenga has a trio of museums, one for prehistoric relics, one for naval history and the other for Roman artifacts.


Capo Noli
If you like winding mountain roads, spectacular views and friendly villages, drive up the provincial road toward Cisano, then return and continue east to Capo Noli (pictured at right), then on to Finale Ligure to visit the castle, the colorful old quarter of Finalborgo, or the very nice beach. From here to Savona, suspense mounts as the road goes through one tunnel after another, past the old fishing villages of Noli and Spotorno and the world-class golf course at Garlenda. If you're ready for an art museum by now, make it Savona's civic picture gallery, which has a nice collection of 14th- to 18th-century Italian works.


Alassio
Between Savona and Genoa, the coast is crowded with the kind of industrial activity that always heralds a major harbor, so we'll travel inland from Albisola on the provincial road to Sassello, a lovely hill town with two fine churches. From here, take a deep breath and start off on the small road toward Urbe and Tiglieto. You'll be rewarded with wonderful views across the valleys, close encounters with out-of-the-way villages, perhaps even a glimpse of a wild boar or roe deer. After about thirty miles you'll come to Rossiglione, where you'll want to visit the astoundingly ornate church of Santa Caterina and the lovely Nostra Signora Assunta. Follow route 456 south to Campo Ligure, which has an unusual museum dedicated to the art of metal filigree, as well as a haunting castle. Farther south is the medieval town Masone, where the quaint local museum is dedicated to iron working tools.

Villa Pallavicini


At this point, you'll have earned yourself a brief spell on the A26 autostrada, which heads south to Voltri to reconnect with the A10 or the Aurelia. Lovers of regal country villas should stop off in Voltri to see Villa Duchessa di Galliera, then at Pegli for Villa Pallavicini (pictured at left), which has a glorious park complete with artificial lake. Genoa is just two miles away.

Villa Hanbury is in Mortola Inferiore (tel. 0184-229-507). Closed Wednesdays.
The Doria castle in Dolceacqua is closed Tuesdays and 12-3 p.m. daily.
Gastone restaurant is at Piazza Garibaldi (tel. 0184-206-577). Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and 15 days in November.
San Remo's Casinò Municipale is at Corso degli Inglesi 18 (tel. 0184-534-001). There is a dress code and admission fee for the gaming rooms, open 2:30 pm to 3 am. The slot machine rooms have no dress code or admission fee and are open 10 am to 3 am. You must have a picture ID to enter the building.
The museums in Albenga are in Piazza San Michele. All are closed Mondays and for three hours at midday.
Garlenda Golf Club (Via del Golf 7, Garlenda; tel. 0182-580-012) is an 18-hole course that closes on Wednesdays from September through June.
Pinacoteca Civica (Via Quarta Superiore 7, Savona; tel. 019-838-7391, email). Open Tuesday-Saturday 9-1 and 4-7, Sunday morning.


Book Lodgings Online in San Remo
   Arrival Date
    Departure Date



[Regions of Italy] [Back to Liguria]