Have the Italian Riviera all to yourself
Beyond the shops and market, Ventimiglia’s dining options are vast. The seaside promenade is lined with everything from casual cafes serving pizza and pasta on plastic tables to upscale seafood restaurants offering ocean views, white tablecloths and extensive wine lists.
Ristorante Marco Polo (2 Lungmore F Cavallotti; 01-84-35-26-78) is the classiest establishment in town. Right on the seafront with its own private beach, the family-run restaurant has been serving a seafood-heavy, classic Italian menu for more than 50 years. Once through the bevelled glass doors, diners are greeted by a smartly dressed maître d' and the intoxicating scent of homemade almond and cream desserts emanating from the kitchen. Owner Marco Pani grew up working here and eventually took the restaurant over from his parents. Located right on the ocean, seafood is naturally the restaurant’s specialty, and Pani said people come back year after year for the octopus risotto and the handmade pasta with lobster and fresh basil.
Outside of Ventimiglia
With Ventimiglia as a home base, the rest of the region is at your fingertips. The mountain town of Dolceacqua is 7km north and easily reachable by bus (tickets at the train station cost 1.50 euros, one euro cheaper than if you buy them on the bus). The 15-minute ride will take you past terraced olive groves and hillside vineyards that produce the distinctive Rossese wine the region is known for.
Situated in the Nervia Valley, Dolceacqua is dominated by the striking 12th-century Doria Castle and stone bridge that was immortalised in a series of paintings by Claude Monet including one titled The Castle At Dolceacqua, completed in 1884. While the interior of the castle is empty, it has recently been refurbished for local events and weddings and is open to visitors daily in the summer and on weekends the rest of the year.
The old city, called a Tera has been beautifully maintained, its narrow alleyways dotted with pristine stone archways, inviting bed and breakfasts and quaint wine tasting cellars.
For some local flavour, Enoteca Re (21 Via Patrioti Martiri; 01-84-20-50-51) is a small, friendly wine shop and tasting room on the town’s main road with a good selection of local vintages. One street over, Ristorante a Viassa serves seafood and pasta on a lovely sunny outdoor patio.
Six kilometres east of Ventimiglia, the seaside resort town of Bordighera, also easily reachable by bus or train, has a smattering of trendy cafes and organic produce markets, a long ocean promenade lined with beach bars and glass-walled restaurants, plus a wide shoreline for sunbathing and swimming. The shore is more rocky than sandy, but many restaurants rent umbrella-covered loungers.
About 16km east of Ventimiglia, San Remo is the most well-known city in the Riviera dei Fiori and marks the western boundary of the region. With its grand casino, fabulous weather almost year round and famous music festival, which inspired the Eurovision Song Contest, San Remo rivalled Cannes as a glamorous beach destination for starlets and millionaires in the 1950s and 1960s.
Maintaining some of its glamour, the car-free main shopping street of Via Matteotti is lined with upscale boutiques selling furs, designer handbags and evening gowns. At the end of the wide pedestrian boulevard is the San Remo Casino, reminiscent of Monte Carlo with its Rolex stores and luxury cars.
Behind the shopping streets, the medieval old town of La Pigna is a maze of winding narrow streets and steep covered alleyways. Il Mulattiere (11 Via Palma; 01-84-50-26-62), a charming, family-run trattoria tucked into the steep streets, serves home-cooked Ligurian specialties such as spicy tomato soup, antipasto of local market vegetables and cured meats, and a variety of hearty, homemade pastas – the perfect end to Italy’s lesser known Riviera.