Sunday, May 21, 2006

Day 18: Bordighera

The wind has died down by the morning after blustering all night long. The sea is calm and the sun is out. The beach is deserted as we take a pre-breakfast walk on the stones and take a close look at the sea. We are able to eat our breakfast outside on the lungomare at the small tables that the hotel has set up. We sit next to a guest who turns out to be American (from Florida) and is looking to buy some property in this area of Liguria. She tells us that she is tired of hurricanes and wants to escape.

We take a post-breakfast stroll down the lungomare and enjoy the sun and the Mediterranean as we watch the early arriving beach-goers get set up for the day. We then get in the car and head for the nearby town of Dolceacqua, a Ligurian hill town about 25 minutes away. We stop at a gas station and have no problem filling up using the self service pump. Either the system is getting simpler or we are getting smarter. Dolceacqua is a "hill town" set in a valley, next to the Nervia River. It dates back to 1270 (the "modern" medieval town is across the river) and sits under one of the many Doria family castles in the area. This one, like many of the others, was severely damaged in a major earthquake that hit Liguria in 1887. From a distance, the town seems to grow out of the rock and when you get inside, the streets, steps and passageways all interconnect on a number of levels. There are numerous support arches that keep the tall buildings from falling in on each other and walking through the dark and narrow streets, you get the feeling that you are in a three dimensional maze.

The Maze

Today there is a special fair being held to promote local products and there are stands displaying and selling all sorts of produce, food stuffs and local crafts. Sunday is always a busy day in a town like Dolceacqua but the fair has brought even more people so that parking is difficult. We sample some cheeses and, succumbing to a very persuasive cheese salesman who presses various samples on us, we buy a delicious baked ricotta. We also taste some of the local olive oil but can't carry any more home.

Walking through the old town, we meet a number of tourist groups and there are the usual artist studios, souvenir shops and local merchants who are capitalizing on the "touristic attributes" of Dolceacqua. But it does have some real atmosphere and appeal and we enjoy our visit.

Before we leave town, we stop for a look at the picturesque old bridge that spans the Neriva River. This bridge is actually a copy but the original bridge was painted by Monet during his stay in Bordighera in summer, 1884.

Monet's Bridge

After Dolceacqua, we start climbing and head for Apricale, one of the best known of the hill towns in this area. The road gets narrower and curvier as we ascend and as you round one turn, you are suddenly face to face with Apricale. It is set on a ridge and seems to grow out of the rock. It appears impossibly dense and it is hard to believe that there is enough room between the houses for even very narrow alleys. As we drive around the town (there is a lot of traffic since it is a big Sunday drive destination), we can't seem to find either a place to park or a convenient place to enter the town. So we decide to continue further up into the Ligurian Apennines and to come back to Apricale on a weekday.

Apricale Gallery

Beyond Apricale (which is only 750 ft high), the road narrows even further as it hugs the sides of the impossibly steep hillsides. Luckily there is not much traffic coming the other way because there are many places where two cars can't get past each other. The scenery is incredibly dramatic.....rugged, green, towns perched on ridges above the road, vineyards in steep terraces. We finally reach a major town--Bajardo--and stop to look around. We are now at about 3300 feet and above most everything in the immediate area. We follow a sign that promises a panoramic view point and, after walking about 15 minutes, on a "regular" city street, we find it. There are wide open views to the south down to the Mediterraean and to the west--to the tall, rocky, snow-covered mountains of the French Alps...pretty magnificent. We admire the view for a while and decide to head back down to Bordighera for lunch. We take a different route down--this road is somewhat wider, in much better condition and through thick woods. The dropoffs are less precipitous and the hairpins are gentler. But it is still quite steep and we are amazed to see bike rider after bike rider climbing up the grade.

The road hits the water at San Remo, a few miles east of Bordighera. We have a momentary start when we see road signs in a town just above San Remo saying that the road that we are on will be closed due to a race and that the alternate route is go halfway back up the mountain and down another road. But we ask a carabinieri who is there and he tells us that the road will be closed "subito" (very soon) and that we can proceed down to San Remo.

We hurry through San Remo--fearing that the road might close any minute--and get back to Bordighera around 1:30 pm. The lungomare is now full of weekenders and the beach is busy. No-one is in the water - everyone is sunbathing. There are sailboats and fishing boats and occasionally something bigger- a yacht or maybe a ferry to Corsica off in the distance. We decide to eat at one of the waterfront beach clubs/bar/restaurants but the first two we try are full and can't seat us. The third place we try--Il Bistrot--does squeeze us in (it is on the other side of the street) but has good views of the water and the passing scene. We have a very good meal--although the service is spotty; my sense is that they are breaking in a new waiter. Diana continues our "comparative tasting" of gnocchi with pesto (the pesto is very good but the gnocchi are a bit heavy) and likes her orata (sea bream) done Ligurian style and served with potatoes and olives. The local olives - the Taggiasche variety, are small and a little bitter, but supposedly make a very superior oil. I have one of the best spaghetti with clam dishes I have ever had and an eggplant and zucchini sformato (a cross between a pudding and souffle). We have a half-bottle of a local white (Vermentino) and are very satisfied.

After lunch, we sit on the balcony and rest and then I take a long walk to the end of the lungomare (it goes on for about a mile). The beach gets wider after the lungomare ends and it seems to continue unbroken through the next town. At this end of the lungomare, there are a couple of places for cars to gain access and they are allowed to park near the beach establishments, restaurants and bars. I walk back through the town's long main street but things are very quiet in Bordighera on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

One store that is open is the supermarket so I think that--since we had lunch so late--we could buy some bread and fruit and have a picnic on our terrace instead of going out. But when we walk over there about 7 pm, the lines at the two open registers are very long and their produce selection is very meager so we abandon that plan. We ask at the hotel about buying some rolls from the restaurant but they say that they have just enough for their dinner guests, so we decide to make this a pizza night.

We go to a pizzeria that had been recommended to us as having wonderful antipasti and the display in the window does look very appealing. Other diners in the crowded restaurant are eating large individual portions of the house antipasto, but we really don't have the appetite for so much food and are tired so we just order two pizzas. The pizza is mediocre and we don't have the patience to order anything else, so we pay quickly and go back to the hotel.

It has been a long day and we have gotten a lot of sun so we are asleep quickly. Tomorrow we are off to France for a visit to Nice.


Post a Comment

<< Home