About North-west Coast: The Riviera of Flowers
The Ligurian mountains rush down to the gulf and stop on the brink of the sea. Nevertheless, the Romans managed to squeeze a highway, the Via Aurelia, between rock face and water’s edge and 19thC Italy went one better with a railway. Multum in parvo should be the motto of every town along it: the Italian genius for cramming a great deal into a small space was never more dramatically expressed. With rock-cut steps, lifts and elevators, tunnels and jutting balconies it is astonishing what can be done with a sheer drop.
They call this coastline the Riviera di Ponente (‘going down’ – west) to distinguish it from the Riviera di Levante (‘rising up’ – east). Genoa is the midpoint. The most popular route follows the Aurelia – the alternative between Genoa and the French frontier is the autostrada, a remarkable road but expensive to travel on and much of it in tunnels. However, it is always alongside you if you feel you can take no more of a road built for two-wheeled chariots rather than 32-wheeled auto-treni. The coastal towns run into each other. You will not easily park on any sea front, but turn inland at a town-centre crossroads (every town has one) and you may find a flowery piazza, a car-park and an oasis of hotels, restaurants and bars.
This riviera faces south-east. That gives it a climatic advantage over the two rivieras on either side, the French and the Levante. That explains why, before the flower markets of Nice have their spring blooms, you see carnations and gladioli by the truck-load at the railway stations of Savona and Alassio. It also explains why foreign invalids, especially the British, first made Sanremo and Bordighera their Italian winter quarters. A lingering air of elegance and leisure, not yet extinguished by modern tourist impatience, is one of the charms of the best places to visit.
Hotels come in two types: palazzo-style of fading dignity; and brash new blocks slotted into narrow spaces. Restaurant food is seafood-based but different stretches of the coast have different specialities. In the Ventimiglia area creamed stockfish is a delicacy. Savona is famed for chick-pea pancakes, Noli for fish soup, Alassio for baci (‘kisses’ or sweets), Taggia for sardenaira (a salty sardine pizza). Inland villages are blessed with mushrooms, chestnuts, honey and raspberries.
The regional airport is at Genoa (Cristoforo Colombo).
The main railway between Genoa and Nice in France runs along the coast. Local trains stop at all stations, fast trains at Savona, Imperia and sometimes Sanremo. All trains stop at the frontier (Ventimiglia). From Ventimiglia a spectacular line goes through the Ligurian hills and across the Colle di Tenda to Cuneo in Piedmont. From Savona there are roundabout rail routes to Turin and Milan.
The principal bus company is A.M.T. in Genoa, www.amt.genova.it. A useful feature for the not-very-mobile is the frequency of town buses to viewpoints and places of interest within towns, or in the immediate vicinity.