Thursday, May 25, 2006

Day 22: Bordighera

Another beautiful morning in Bordighera and another extremely pleasant breakfast on the lungomare.

Today--feeling a bit a short on "culture" so far this trip--we are heading to Taggia, a town just to the east of San Remo. It is known for the collection of 15th century Ligurian art at the Convent of San Domenico as well as having a very picturesque centro storico. After getting turned around at the autostrada exit and almost ending up back in San Remo, we right ourselves and find a parking space just outside the town walls. The first thing that we encounter is a large tour group made up of Italian pilgrims who are standing in the piazza outside a big church. However, our first priority is to find the convent (somewhere outside the town walls) before it closes at noon. We ask for directions in a bakery and the woman tells us that the convent is about a 10 minute walk outside the walls and in "that direction". En route, we ask one more time and confirm that we are on the right road...and, in about 10 minutes, we arrive at the large church of San Domenico set in a large piazza overlooking the valley.

The caretaker lets us in--after collecting the Euro 5.00 admission price--and escorts us to the sanctuary where most of the paintings are hung. The church is very restrained and it is light enough to see the paintings reasonably well. The collection's prizes include paintings by Ludovico Brea and his sons, and frescoes by Giovanni Canavesio....not familiar names to us but certainly working in the same style as artists in Tuscany and Umbria. There is even another Last Supper for me to enjoy. The caretaker shows us from the sanctuary to the sacristy to the refectory and we then take a look at the fresco cycle based on the life of San Domenico that is painted all around the pretty cloister.

After our walk back to the center of Taggia, we follow one of the "suggested itineraries" along some of the main streets. We stay mostly in the lower town and I think that we miss some of the best streets which are in the upper town but the hills look a bit daunting. The church where the pilgrims have gathered--SS Giacomo e Fillippo--is supposed to be based on a design by Bernini and it is dedicated to a local miracle whose 150th anniversary is being celebrated next month. Posters in the church detail all the festivities and masses that are being celebrated to prepare for the event and the pilgrims all seem very devoted to the wooden statue of the saint carved by a local artist and kept on the high altar.

The part of Taggia that we do see is not that attractive, and we decide to leave town. On the way out of town, we pass by the multi-arched medieval bridge that spans the Taggia River (Taggiasca is the variety of olive grown here which is an important component of the very highly prized Ligurian olive oil). Our next stop is the "ghost village" of Bussana Vecchia but before we get there, we drive along the sandy beachfront of the resort town, Arma di Taggia. However, the beach is hard to see because of the solid line of beach establishments that block the view of the water. (We are lucky that in Bordighera the lungomare is set slightly higher than the beach which allows for clear views of the water, even where there are beach clubs.)

The road to Bussana Vecchia climbs sharply; it is quite narrow and has some unwelcome, tight hairpin turns. At the top of the hill, you can see the "skyline" of the town that was devastated by an earthquake in 1887 and was never "officially" rebuilt. A new town was built nearer the water and the old village went to ruin. You can still see the damage in the church and towers at the top of the town, but in recent years, artists have reclaimed the town, gotten "unofficially" hooked to electricity, gas and water and Bussana Vecchia is something of a tourist destination, especially on weekends.

The road up to Bussana Vecchia ends abruptly at the entrance to the village forcing a tight u-turn. We park and take a short walk into the village but most everything is closed on this weekday. I climb to the top and see the still unrepaired church and fortress and pass numerous closed artists' studios and souvenir shops. Just before we reached the village, we had passed a restaurant with tables set up on the road with a view to the water and a charcoal grill where someone was cooking steaks. It is lunch time and they have a table, so we decide to eat. The restaurant--La Casaccia--is in a pink stucco building covered with a thick blanket of vibrant purple bougainvillea. Lunch is a lot of fun...the staff are very accommodating and the food is very good. Diana has some bruschetta with tomatoes that looks better than it tastes and her tagliata (steak) is good. Her salad of finocchio with oranges and olives is delicious. I have a pasta dish (strozzapreti) made with pancetta and zucchini that is nicely prepared and a tasty grilled sausage with a wonderful "cole slaw" made with shredded savoy cabbage and caper pesto dressing.

The drive down is a lot easier than the drive up and we make it through San Remo with little delay. After a break at the hotel, we decide to take a late afternoon ride up to the hill town of Apricale that we had passed by on Sunday. We hit the usual traffic through Bordighera and Vallecrosia (in effect, Bordighera, Vallecrosia and Ventimiglia have one continuous two lane street which is both the main road and the commercial district, so delays are frequent) and pass Dolceacqua on the way up to Apricale.

We drive past Apricale heading for the parking lot that you reach after you pass the town. The road narrows as it goes around a tight curve and we meet a large truck coming down the hill. We have been waiting for this happen....and it finally does. There is no way that the both the truck and car can pass each other at this point in the road. The truck can't back up because there are two cars in back of him and we have two cars in back of us. Much as I hate to drive in reverse, I have no choice. The cars in back of me have backed down the hill around the curve and found a wider part of the road to wait on. I gingerly back the car down hugging the inside of the road and trying to avoid the preciptious dropoff on our right. Finally, there is a narrow outcropping on the right side of the road with barely enough room for the car. The truck driver motions to me to put the car there and, when he judges that he has enough room, maneuvers the large truck between our car and the side of the road. We breathe a large sigh of relief and continue on our way.

Apricale is somewhat anti-climactic after that experience, but we park the car and walk into the center of town. There are lots of tunnels and steps in this impossibly narrow town which then abruptly opens up to a small attractive piazza which is sunk below the level of the churches and the castle that ring it. Unfortunately, some of the effect is lessened because both the piazza and the castle are "in restauro" and there is scaffolding and fencing everywhere, but it is not hard to imagine the scene without the surrounding construction.

Before going back down to Bordighera, we drive up the steep road to La Favorita, a well known restaurant with a terrace that has views back to Apricale and down to the sea. Perhaps we will make it to eat there on our next trip.

Back on the lungomare, we stop at a cafe for a drink before going back to the hotel. We are not too hungry after our substantial lunch so about 9 pm we decide to go back to the Pizzeria Napoletana and have their antipasto for our dinner. It works out very well--the plate includes salami, seafood, onions, artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, and various kinds of fried vegetable preparations--peppers, eggpant, vegetable flan, potatoes as well as stuffed sardines. We also have some focaccia (basically white pizza) hot from the oven. The meal is very good and very filling and I don't have room for the good looking plate of spaghetti with clams and mussels that I see going to another table. Dessert is very good gelato at a place down the street and we drive back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we leave for Torino.


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