Baiardo: Heart-rending, Spectacular Rock Village
Enzo and his hound enjoy the view from Baiardo
To get to the other most-spectacular “Rock Village”—Baiardo—you have to climb again from Apricale, driving back up to nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.
What you notice most as you chase your tail up the hairpins are the bizarrely receding views – an infinite regress of ridges and valleys seemingly foreshortened by an architect for theatrical effect.
The other astounding landscape feature is the drywall terrace. From valley floor to mountaintop as far as the eye can see terraces tier the steep slopes like staircases. In valley bottoms spread kitchen gardens, vegetables and citrus fruit orchards. Above, the olive groves and terraced vineyards begin. There are fruit tree orchards, yellow mimosa plantations and caterpillar-like hot houses, each snaking along for hundreds of yards and bursting with flowering plants.
Total up the terraces of the Italian Riviera and you get an estimated 25,000 miles of dry walls contouring the region. Each terrace averages ten to fifteen feet wide and is held up by walls six to ten feet high, built by umpteen generations of anonymous subsistence farmers in the days before modern plenty. Leave the seaside resorts and this kind of vertical farming, with some tourism thrown in, is a way of life. That’s why if you talk to most inland Ligurians they seem uninterested in the natural beauty of the region. They want you to understand how they’ve turned “useless” cliffs into a roughshod agricultural paradise.
A paradise it may be, but it has experienced hellish times. The 1887 earthquake hit Perinaldo hard enough (see part two of this series), but it devastated Baiardo. Paradoxically, the unrepaired damage makes this the most soulful and atmospheric of the perched villages hereabouts.
A Romanesque porch fronts the ruined church at Baiardo’s highest point, built in the Middle Ages atop a pagan temple. Stepping through it I could see how most of the structure had collapsed in the local Big One. That earthquake killed a quarter of the population at a stroke. Daisies and grass pave the nave. A Baroque chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, beautifully maintained, turns its altar to the sky.
From the north and northwest sides of the belvedere behind the church you see the border with France and can trace the distant roads scoring the mountains, many of them ancient salt routes linking the seaboard to Turin, former capital of the Kingdom of Savoy. Hiking trails link the village with the Alps, country churches and other aeries.
But like many visitors I was drawn back to Baiardo’s half-ruined houses. Up the damp, rotting staircases the furniture of those killed in the earthquake sits among cobwebs, left as a memorial to the victims. The eerie silence, broken by the sounds of chickens scratching and rabbits rustling in tumbledown courtyards, gave me gooseflesh. Outside the village I came upon a ruined olive oil mill, its massive millstone still in place.
For something completely different, but still in the area, head downhill to Dolceacqua—and come back soon to read about Dolceacqua and the Nervia Valley.
For a modest but comfortable hotel up in the Rock Villages, we recommend this Apricale Albergo Diffuso as a base:
For addresses and opening hours, and much more on the Riviera dei Fiori and the Rock Villages, plus sites throughout Liguria, its history, culture, food, wine, hiking trails, treks, guided tours, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia and more, check out our articles archive and weather page, 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