Between greenhouses, olive groves and lush woods, over the sinuous Ligurian hills, next to the French border, many ancient medieval villages fuse the memories of olden times with the energy of small towns looking for a new dawn.

Curiosities to discover, vibes from post times, artistic installations, creative workshops and enthusiasm: these are the perfect ingredients for a relaxing and surprising weekend!

A stroll in the Ancient Principality of Seborga

Let’s start from Seborga, that made willfulness its own strong point.
Through centuries, it has been both an Italian and French village, but one thing has never changed: its wish to show its own peculiarity beyond the political borders.

Since the second half of the twentieth century, Seborga has wanted to become an independent principality and indeed it has its own prince, whose name is Marcello I, elected in 2009 after the death of his predecessor Giorgio I, the first prince of Seborga.
They are princes with a symbolic function, but still princes, with nine counselors.

Seborga hasn’t only got its own prince, but also its flag, its license plate (to be shown beside the national one), its passport (that has a symbolic meaning), its currency (to be spent only inside the village borders), its history and its magical view.
The landscape is ruled by olive groves and by every single shade of green imaginable. Its special position on top of a hill completely bowled me over!

Pass under the low stone arches, go up the narrow steep steps, take in the views of the sea from the sunny terraces, walk along the alleys until the quaint little squares, like piazza San Martino, where you can find the church and the coin factory.

Let alleys, stone houses, knights’ and crusaders’ boards, hidden artisan workshops and welcoming taverns take you back to Medieval times.

Here you can appreciate the typical Ligurian food: first of all, the worldwide beloved pesto, made with the local basil, the most incredibly smelling I’ve never tasted.
Try also the sardenaira, San Remo’s focaccia, made with tomato, onion, anchovies, olives and the genuine olive oil. But don’t call it a pizza, Neapolitans would get immediately angry!
If you want to have more than a snack, you have to try the ravioli di borragine, a special type of dumplings filled with ricotta, parmesan and the edible plant borage.
This vegetable is also used to fill another very special dish, the pasqualina cake, typical of Easter time. It’s kind of an extremely tasty quiche, with eggs, cheese and vegetables (borage, but also spinach, chards or Albenga’s artichokes).

Having a stroll through the alleys of Seborga would be a more entertaining experience if combined with some delicious bites of Ligurian unique flavours!

Seborga: how to get there

To get to Seborga, you must take the Autostrada A10, a motorway that connects the town of Genova (North-West of Italy, south of Turin, on the coastside) to France through the town of Ventimiglia.

If you get on the motorway in Italy, you must follow the direction to Ventimiglia and take the way out that is called Bordighera, just one exit after San Remo. If you come from France, take it to Genova and go out after Ventimiglia.

Once out, take the direction to Sasso and Seborga, going up to the top of the beautiful hills. It takes about 20 minutes from the motorway to the village.

The entrance is from Piazza Martiri Patrioti, an oval square where lots of white and light blue flags are always waving in the wind.
Don’t keep your left into the Medieval village, but go down to the right, where you’ll find a parking area with an amazing view on the valley to the sea.

The artistic village of Bussana Vecchia

I’d need to write several pages to do any justice to this surreal place, but I’d rather take a leaf out of Bussana’s inhabitants’ book and paint few stunning scenes to provide some idea of the charm this oasis of creativity gives off.

The first image I have to describe to jump back into time to the history of Bussana is Saint Aegidius’ church, without a vault, and its uneven walls that end abruptly and contrast with the blue sky.

In Bussana, the pulsing energy quickens the heartbeat and time flows into the cracked stones suspended over past, present and future.

But in its history there’s a sudden jolt, which abruptly signed the flow of time. It’s the violent earthquake of 1887, that brought the majority of the houses and the vault of Saint Aegidius down, while the citizens were celebrating Ash Wednesday.

Strong and determined, they didn’t want to leave and were ready to rebuild everything and, in so doing, to find the force to rise up and keep on going. But the military authority was sure it wasn’t a good – nor a safe – idea, and forced them to move two miles down, by the sea, where the village of Bussana Nuova (today simply Bussana) was founded. The old houses, mainly damaged, stood destroyed for long time, as the background of a true ghost town.

In preparation for any possible earthquakes, the inhabitants built arches to support the houses, which are still standing today. They have a prominent role as subjects in a large number of paintings and photos of Bussana. Have you seen them?

The Bussana of today is a boundless comunity, with no similar all over the world, with an artistic and intensely hippie atmosphere, unexpected colours and a surreal scene. Bussana was re-born in the Sixties, when some artists decided to come and stay in the ancient ruins, rebuilding and renovating the old houses.

The second sketch I’d like to draw for you is about a white-bearded-artist whose name I heard while he was having a coffee next to me at the café. After the coffee break, Vlad went and sat in the tall grass of a field looking Eastwards, over the green mountains. His huge dog was crouched down by his feet, with its nose on its big paws. Was he looking for inspiration or enjoying the view?

Two or three hundred meters behind him, his workshop rises from the middle of the renovated ruins: the blue door stands out in contrast to the stones the house is made of, and it’s crowned with a shiny green ivy arch. His paintings, which are mainly faces, tell stories of emotions and contrasts of light. His tall narrow house is next door and has got a violet curtain and a plump cactus pear in front of the entrance. An hand-written message asked tourists not to take photos.

The morning I drove to Bussana, the weather was bad and I thought I would arrive in a deserted place, among the mist and the clouds: nothing could be more wrong!

Getting closer to Bussana, I left the clouds behind me and I sneaked up into a sunny day, with the sunbeams painting wonderful shades upon the sky, the hills and inside the winding narrow streets, called carruggi.

The thing that will be stuck in my head forever and ever is the power of Bussana’s colours!

Last but not least, I’ll always remember the wall leading to the entrance, fully covered with colourful mailboxes, with the inhabitants’ names. You can read them and you easily understand that artists from every corner of the earth come and stay here.

They chose to live in an oasis of freedom and creativity, where the doors are open and you can glance at the small living rooms inside, full of artisan objects and paintings, which hang up on the wall or on the easels, waiting for colours, lines, impressions or inspirations.

Spend two hours wandering around the carruggi and let it take you back in time, look at the original stones, at the arch-filled narrow alleys, at objects and masterpieces in open-air spaces, at the wooden signs outside the workshops, at the cobblestone square and at the bursts of colours provided by the local vegetation: the green of the leaves, the violet of the buganvilleas, the red, the blue, the light blue…
They all work as symbols of life that have survived bad moments with a renovated power.
Well worth a visit!

Bussana Vecchia: how to get there

To get to Bussana Vecchia, you must take the Autostrada A10, a motorway that connects the town of Genova (North-West of Italy, south of Turin, on the coastside) to France through the town of Ventimiglia.

If you take the motorway in Italy, you must follow the direction to Ventimiglia and exit at Arma di Taggia, the one after Imperia. If you come from France, follow it to Genova and go out after San Remo.

Once you have left, take the direction to San Remo and Bussana (the new village built southernmost by the sea), and then continue to Bussana Vecchia. It takes about 20 minutes from the motorway.

It’s impossible to take your car inside the village, where you can only walk: you have to leave it outside, along the street.
You can get to Bussana Vecchia by strada Bussana Vecchia, and park 400 or 500 meters from the village.
Try to park here and get to Bussana Vecchia from the side where the café, the Osteria and the mailboxes are.

If not, you can find a solution if you turn right in the road called via delle Fonti. Park in the area near Parodi’s florist shop and take the path via del Mulino Olivetti (you can see the sign from the main road).
You’ll be in Bussana Vecchia in 5 minutes, walking on a steep track, and arriving from the side of La Barca house and the small church ruins.

A shelter between the river and the sky: Dolceacqua

If you’re looking for a quick escape somewhere around here, you must visit Dolceacqua: you’ll never forget the glimpse of the old bridge, which introduces you to the medieval borough, with the houses popping up from the rocks.
And on the edge of the highest rock, overlooking the blue river, you will find the legendary Doria’s castle.

The worldwide famous painter Monet himself was captured by this image, during his many trips to the West Coast of Liguria at the end of the Nineteenth century. He dedicated some paintings to the castle on the top of the cliff and to the characteristic 33-metre-long bridge that links the two banks of the Nervia. We can find the same subjects also in Mario Raimondo’s paintings. This artist (1923-2010), born in Dolceacqua, was called Barbadirame, that means “Copper Beard“, and isn’t well known in Italy, but he was one of Picasso’s most appreciated pupils.

To cut a long story short, it’s easy to understand how Dolceacqua is, as its name says, dolce, that means sweet, yes, a sweet vision that cannot be but enjoyed over and over again, like an adorable picture.

It’s composed of two boroughs: the one of the Medieval village, where the castle of the Doria and Saint Anthony’s church are, that is called Terra, and the modern part, on the opposite bank, called Borgo.

In the Borgo there are many typical restaurants and cafés, like Minico, where I had a delicious hot chocolate, but it’s the Terra that definitely deserves a visit.
Stop and take a selfie near San Filippo’s church, where it’s thought that Monet sat up his easel, and then slowly cross the charming old bridge to the Terra.

Once on the other bank, you’ll find a wonderful fresco in front of you, showing a scene of daily life in the past, it introduces the visitors to the ancient village.

Pass through the arch on your left and enter a gorgeous hidden world: the houses, the B&Bs, the workshops, the shops, everything is tiny and cozy, built using rocks that look like they have been stolen from the river or the mountain.

Climb up the cliff at Christmas time, when the ancient village looks like a living nativity, dressed with colourful lightening and trinkets. Get lost through the winding narrow alleys, imagine how living here in Medieval times was, among knights, maids, princesses, servants and minstrels, and let the rocks tell you the rest of the story.

And now, because a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll leave you some photos taken the last time I’ve visited Dolceacqua. I hope the charm of the place could get the better of my poor photography skills!

Dolceacqua: how to get there

To get to Dolceacqua, you must take the Autostrada A10, a motorway that connects the town of Genova (North-West of Italy, south of Turin, on the coastside) to France through the town of Ventimiglia.

If you get on the motorway in Italy, you must follow the direction to Ventimiglia and take the way out that is called Bordighera, just one exit after San Remo. If you come from France, take it to Genova and go out after Ventimiglia.

Once out, take the direction to Camporosso and Dolceacqua. It takes about 15 minutes from the motorway.

The parking areas in the village are well organized, but it’s not very easy to find a place when lots of tourists visit.
If you’re staying here, look for a B&B in the Medieval part, there are some rooms dug into the rocks that will provide a unique experience.
If you want to visit the castle, the opening times are from 10am to 4:30pm everyday, with the only exception of Monday during the winter season.

Backpacking in West Liguria: why not? Sentiero Liguria

Sentiero Liguria is an hiking route that crosses the whole region of Liguria, from Luni in the East, in La Spezia province, to Grimaldi in the West, in Imperia province.
The route can be walked in both directions and has many different paths for every type of hiker, from the coastal one to the ones that climb up and down the hills: you can choose which is the best for you.

Every path has an amazing view over the Ligurian Gulf, but landscapes and trails can be very different: cliffs, shores, olive groves, woods and the characteristic creuze, the stone tracks between stone walls built for the mules, the animals that have always helped farmers.

Sentiero Liguria is part of the Ligurian Hiking Network (REL), it’s linked to the Ligurian Biking Network (RCL), to the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri (AVML), to the religious Via Francigena and to French Grandes Randonnées (GR), that are themselves linked to the Camino de Santiago.
For more info, this site has some good maps and advices.

I mentioned the circular route that goes from Taggia to Grimaldi and back in the section “New Ground”, because I collected some pieces of information but I haven’t walked it yet.
If it’s on your list, jump here and share your projects!

Has anyone ever been there? Let me know what you think in Comments below!

Also available in: itItaliano