Bordighera and Ventimiglia – Part III


Vallecrosia was originally an inland village. Over the years many of its inhabitants moved to the sea and settled along the Via Aurelia near the railway, founding the new Vallecrosia. The name Vallecrosia comes from the layout of the valley (“valle chiusa” – closed valley) which was once filled with vines and olive-groves but is now an important flower-growing centre (the first commercial flower market opened here). Old Vallecrosia (Vallecrosia Alta) is a typical fortified Ligurian village with an imposing watchtower. The parish church is home to two monumental wooden statues of the Madonna, attributed to Maragliano. Vallecrosia Piani (the modern Vallecrosia, a bustling town with its heart in flower-growing) stands out for a highly unusual attraction which owes its presence to dedication and passion of a lover of music in all its genres. The Museum of Italian Song is housed in an old steam engine, the “Cirilla” (an “835-157” tender, serial number 83657, with three double axles, 23 examples of which were produced in 1910 by Officine Meccaniche di Milano), and a number of “centoporte” carriages (literally “one hundred doors”) which were used by the Italian State Railways until the 1970s. Inside, the wooden seats, luggage compartment and lavatories have been taken out to make way for rooms with “Orient Express” style furnishings and display cabinets and cases. Space is given to the history of Sanremo’s Italian Song Festival, antique instruments, the story of the first ever recorded music and a collection of rare records. San Biagio della Cima As the name would suggest, San Biagio della Cima stands atop a hill. According to legend – there is no factual proof to back it up – it was once a Roman colony. The rural village is made up of a muddle of stone houses which are built – seemingly at random – on the ridge of the hill. Here and there it is beautified by facades washed in pastel colours and naïf paintings along the lanes. The layout of San Biagio della Cima is star-shaped; at the centre stands the long, narrow main square which is overlooked by the elliptical-plan parish church of Santi Fabiano e Sebastiano. Roses and broom abound in the village.


Soldano was built at the turn of the 13th century as a castrum to defend the area from attack. Its dark, damp appearance belies its fame as one of the leading producers of the highly prized Rossese, an outstanding wine which is ruby red in colour when young and garnet when aged. A dense web of lanes weaves in and out of the houses (some of which are painted with trompe l’oeil murals) and crosses high archivolts to reach the square on which the baroque parish church of San Giovanni Battista stands (the original polygonal apse and dome of the bell tower can still be seen today). Behind the altar of the church there is a surprise for the visitor: a sixteenth century polyptych by an artist from Nice, thought to have been produced in Brea’s workshop.


Last of the ville which make up the “Magnifica Comunità degli Otto Luoghi” is Camporosso. Standing on the banks of the river Nervia, Camporosso is the first town in the valley of the same name. Originally, it is thought, a group of huts used during the farming season by workers from nearby Ventimiglia, the town may take its name from the reddish local soil, the colour of the oleanders which once flourished there or the lush carpets of scarlet anemones which were grown beneath the olive trees. The parish church of San Marco (built in the 15th century and refurbished in the 18th century) houses three painted wooden tablets which are worthy of interest. The works can be dated between 1436 and 1553. On the village square stands the oratory of the Suffragio or Confraternità dei Neri. Camporosso is the setting for a solemn procession held every year on 20th January (the feast day of the patron saint, Saint Sebastian; the religious holiday is celebrated in the same way and at the same time of year in Dolceacqua). A large laurel wreath covered in coloured Communion wafers is carried along the streets of the village by members of the Confraternities. The wafers are distributed to the villagers and kept safe for the rest of the year. The ceremony commemorates the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian who, having been refused Communion by his gaolers before being put to death, was saved by an angel who brought the consecrated wafer to him in his cell. On the way out of the village along the road which leads up the valley stands the old church of Santi Pietro e Paolo (on the site of the modern cemetery) with its enchanting small bell tower and Roman apse.


The great turning point for the village, now a fully-fledged town, came with the arrival of the railways in around 1872. From a tiny village atop the promontory of Sant’Ampelio and a fishing bay in the hamlet of Arziglia, the new Bordighera spread out to the open plain (bordered by the massif of capo Ampelio as far as the valley of the Roia) to embrace its new inhabitants who built eclectic palazzi and villas of all shapes and sizes surrounded by gardens and parks. The town is crossed by wide roads and avenues, including the picturesque Via dei Colli and, halfway up the hillside, Via Romana. Beyond the railway line, an elegant promenade runs almost the entire length of the beaches. Bordighera’s excellent position – protected to the north by high ground and facing south over the sea – means that the temperature is stable all year round, with many hours of sunshine during the Summer. The town’s vocation as a peaceful, restful holiday destination which affords a very warm welcome (hotels, residential areas and apartments of all standards) was first discovered by English visitors in the late 1800s. At certain times of the year, these long-term holiday-makers outnumbered local inhabitants. It is no coincidence, then, that Bordighera was the site of Italy’s first tennis club, set up in 1878 at the behest of the large British community. In 1888 the English scholar Clarence Bicknell founded the museum of Ligurian palaeontology which now bears his name (the extensive collection includes impressions of stone carvings from the Valle delle Meraviglie on the slopes of mount Bego). The museum on Via Romana houses an international library with over 20,000 volumes and the International Institute of Ligurian Studies, the driving force behind the cultural life of the entire region. France was the original home of the architect who oversaw urban development in Bordighera from 1870 onwards. Charles Garnier built his villa right at the edge of the sea, influencing the style of the town’s most exclusive residences for years to come. A distinguishing feature of Bordighera and the whole of the surrounding area is its extraordinarily lush vegetation and abundance of palm trees. A particularly fine example is the Winter garden, a vast collection of palms, olives, citrus trees and other Mediterranean flora. Then there are greenhouses full of stunning multi-coloured flowers, stretching beyond Bordighera to the outskirts and inland. As a result of its increasingly prestigious reputation, Bordighera was the favoured destination of Queen Margaret of Savoy. The Queen stayed in a delightful villa on Via Romana for long periods of time and died in the town in 1926. Today Bordighera is a popular holiday resort. It is famous for its ability to offer the very best of all worlds with an infectious charm and a touch of English-style humour. This might explain why the town has decided to adopt a slogan-cum-quality mark all of its own: Bordighera – Città dell’Umorismo (“Bordighera – Capital of Humour”). Those visitors that wish to get to know the town better are recommended to choose one of the elegant side streets that sweetly climb from via Vittorio Emanuele II to via Romana, flanked by villas, mansions and comfortable hotels. From here one can reach the old part of the town and admire its powerful late-medieval walls, the monumental gates, the 17th century parish church (with the marble sculpture of Maddalena in Gloria, attributed to Bernini’s pupil, Filippo Parodi), the loggia of piazza del Popolo and the 16th century bell tower of the Oratory of San Bartolomeo. Leaving behind oneself the old town, along via dei Colli, one reaches the villa of the Lombard painter Pompeo Mariani (1857-1927), surrounded by olive trees and exotic plants. The main works by this artist are housed in the Bicknell Museum on via Romana. Returning to the modern part of the town, after the esplanade of Sant’Ampelio (an extremely evocative panoramic point), one finds the coast road and, standing on the rocks, the little Romanesque church, whose crypt contains the mortal remains of Bordighera’s patron saint Sant’Ampelio, the anchoret from Thebaid , who had landed here in the 6th century, bringing with him the seeds of the first date palms.   back to part 2 next to part 4