We headed east today to explore some small Italian villages in the hills above the Italian Riviera. It took about an hour on the A8 autoroute from Antibes (which turns into the A10 autostrada once you reach Italy), exiting at San Bartolomeo al Mare and following the SS 1 Aurelia for about 3 kilometers, to our first destination, Cervo, in the province of Imperia in the region of Liguria. This medieval village of about 1200 inhabitants sits atop a 66-meter high cliff overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean, which seemed a bit moody today, with a little bit of gray fog floating by once in while. The colorful 18th-century Baroque Church of San Giovanni Battista dominates all the winding, arcaded walkways and piazzas throughout the village. The church is sometimes referred to as Chiesa dei Corallini in reference to the fact that the church was built primarily with the offerings that the local fishermen donated from the proceeds they received from the sale of their coral. The piazza in front of this beautiful church is the venue for the Festival Internazionale di Musica da Camera (International Chamber Music Festival) held here each summer.
We didn’t have a lot of choices for lunch today. Things are pretty quiet this time of year and many restaurants have their annual closures, so we didn’t get to try the Ristorante San Giorgio ( Via A. Volta 19, tel: +126.96.36.199.01.75), as we had hoped. We did, however, get a perfect table right next to the large windows overlooking the sea at Ristorante Serafino (Via Matteotti 8, tel: +188.8.131.52.81.85), where we received no menus, just an oral description of what they were offering today. We noticed that not everyone got the same offerings, but we were happy with what we ordered: a local white fish shredded and drenched in lemon juice and a flavorful local olive oil, nero di seppia (cuttlefish cooked in its ink), spagetti with shellfish, ravioli stuffed with local seafood, and everything was accompanied by a local white wine called Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino 2005. The proprietor even presented me with an orchid upon our departure – maybe he was just happy to have our business during this slow time of year.
After a hike just above the village of Cervo, among groves of beautiful olive trees and beautiful views, we returned to the car and headed back toward the west to our next destination in the hills above the Riviera dei Fiori (the Flower Coast), this time avoiding the autostrada in favor of the coastal road.
Badalucco in the Argentina Valley is another small fortified medieval village of about 1200 inhabitants, which sits at 179 meters high along the River Argentina. From the autostrada A10, you take the Arma di Taggia exit, and continue up the valley for about 12 kilometers. It was even more quiet and deserted than Cervo today, but very interesting to stroll around. In the process of restoring the village, it has been turned into an open-air art gallery with the walls and sides of buildings displaying large murals, painted ceramics, wooden art objects, sculptures, frescoes, etc. The sunlight was diminished by clouds today, but I would love to return when the sun is bright and more conducive to viewing all the artwork along the winding pathways of the village. Maybe we’ll make a return visit in September for the Festival dello Stoccafisso (Stockfish Fair), where they pay tribute to the dried fish whose stock provided nourishment to the locals as they fought off their attackers in a 17th-century siege.
Our last stop on our Italian Village Tour today, was a larger town of more than 13,000 inhabitants, which you pass on your way to Badalucco when you take the Arma di Taggia exit off of the A10 autostrada. Taggia is actually split into two parts. Along the coast is the seaside village of Arma di Taggia, while three kilometers into the Argentina Valley is the medieval village of Taggia. We only had time to visit the medieval Taggia, and not really much time for that even because it was starting to get dark. It was much livelier than the previous two villages, maybe because it was ten times larger. We only spent enough time there for a quick look around, and to pick up a few things for tonight’s dinner (bresaola with rucola, shaved pecorino, a generous drizzle of truffle oil, with a crisp white Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino vino). So, once again, we have to plan a return trip to do some real exploring of both the old town of Taggia and the newer seaside part of Taggia di Arma.