The “Rock Villages” of Western Liguria Part One
See unsung secret spots: leafy valleys, Apennine nature reserves of astonishing beauty

Monte Bignone, San Romolo, San Remo, Italian Riviera

by David Downie

The corkscrew two-lane road from the seaside in San Remo via Coldirodi to Perinaldo winds among the Riviera dei Fiori’s tiered greenhouses.

Fiori means flowers in Italian. That’s why this long and scenic stretch of the western Ligurian coast famous for its flower-growing industry goes by the name of Riviera dei Fiori.

Known primarily for its fishing and resort villages such as the Cinque Terre and Portofino, the “Riviera” leaves out of its name the pleated, mountainous interior of the Liguria region. It covers nine-tenths of Liguria’s territory. There are no casinos or luxury yacht marinas here: this is a vertical landscape abounding in unsung secret spots: leafy valleys, Apennine nature reserves of astonishing beauty and dozens of perched villages.

Three of the most alluring villages on the western Riviera are Perinaldo, Apricale and Baiardo.

This trio of medieval aeries clings to mountain peaks a few miles inland as the seagull flies from San Remo, Bordighera and Ventimiglia. But each is ten times that distance by coiling road. Getting to them is part of the fun.

The hillside hamlet of Coldirodi looks like a Cubist jumble of stone and glass houses. There are plant nurseries at each turn.

Beyond the panes of the hothouses at most times of year you will typically see roses, peonies, lemon trees, lilies, orchids and other flowering or green plants. The form manmade jungles, each plant ready to be exported to cold climates in Northern Europe.

Lush yellow, orange and red poppies often paint panoramic terraces. If you’re wondering how florists can get floppy poppy blooms to market before the poppy petals fell off, here is the answer. “We harvest the pods still closed,” an obliging horticulturalist told me after providing driving directions. “The secret? You scald the poppy stems in boiling water and score the pods so they open right when they arrive at the florist’s shop.”

The local floral industry – the economic mainstay in many a western Ligurian village – is impressive indeed. But Mother Nature does an even better job delighting the eyes and tickling the nostrils of visitors.

Slalom along to a hamlet called San Romolo, windows down. You might feel you’ve been sewn into a potpourri bag. Sprouting thick and growing fast on cliffs and crags is a heady blend of pine, white heather, rockrose, broom, wild thyme and rosemary.

San Romolo is little more than a colorful cluster of houses poised at nearly 3,000 feet directly above sea level. Once an impoverished place, it is now a weekend get-away for wealthy coast and city dwellers. Drive up another 1,500 vertical feet to the belvedere a few miles above San Romolo, atop Monte Bignone, for an even more impressive perspective on the region—and an isolated chapel possessing homespun beauty.

“Breathtaking” is understatement. In clear weather you might very well spot Corsica floating like a ship on the southern horizon. Provence lies to the west. The mauve Maritime Alps, snowcapped much of the year, rise due east.

Come back soon and read part 2 of this 4 part article!

For addresses and opening hours, and much more on Liguria, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, keep reading WanderingLiguria and pick up our books, Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa and Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera

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Read about other Rock Villages in Liguria

The “Rock Villages” of Western Liguria Part One originally appeared on Dec 06, 2011, © David Downie

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