When you live in a grey world with clouds threatening to burst and rain drizzling more often than seems possible, cold and damp permeate your bones, unless you are rich in which case you become very good at finding the very best spots to escape to. If the British aristocracy excelled at anything in the 19th century it was this. And Bordighera was one of their finds – a sunny climate, the Mediterranean gently lapping its shores, a garden paradise, colours to brighten anyone’s day – unrivalled displays of Bougainville, pink, orange and above all brilliant bursts of magenta. And because of its micro-climate and its special light (from the hills above it seems blessed by a special aura) artists and painters flocked there to – among them Claude Monet who lived in Bordighera and painted numerous pictures of the town.
Fast forward to today and Bordighera is the same delightful seaside town on Italy’s Ligurian coast where the Alps plunge into the Mediterranean, just over the border from France. It sits peacefully on a lush promontory with panoramic views across the northern part of the Italian Riviera and to Monte Carlo. The popular resort of San Remo is a few kilometres to the east of here.
A promising way to start your exploration of this jewel of a resort is to walk along the seafront which, at two kilometres long, is one of the longer promenades in Liguria and is lined on one side by mature Mediterranean plants and trees. All four seasons beckon, not just Summer.
Promenading in Spring and Autumn (and even in Winter)
Not all promenades are born equal. Stroll down Bordighera promenade and you will feel the magic. It is the magic of authenticity – of a promenade that is quintessentially Italian, but so special it has attracted painters like Monet, British, European and Russian royalty and today Hello Monaco. Take any Sunday; choose a sunny day, of course. We have many of them even now in November. And you can feel that almost unique Italian family atmosphere of warmth, and friendliness bubbling in anticipation of engaging anyone they meet to share their week-end joy.
“Am I in Buenes Aires” you ask yourself, as you stroll past signs saying Lungamare Argentina. This coastal wonder wears its beautiful disguise well. You can imagine yourself singing “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” as it was indeed Eva Peron who inaugurated the promenade in 1947 and named it Lungomare Argentina. This promenade should not exist in such a pure unspoiled form. It basks radiant against the pull of gravity of exotic Riviera development. It is exotic but natural and relatively undeveloped – no high rises, no rows of brand name boutiques – just natural beauty, the vista of the sea, the curve of the bay, the backdrop of the lower Alps. All an unspoiled feast for the senses.
Promenading in Summer
The same contrast awaits your visit in Summer – if the French Riviera is so very French, together with a large cosmopolitan influx, then Bordighera is as Italian as Italian can be.
Compare a day at the beach at Cannes or Monaco with Bordighera in Summer. Be adventurous try it.
Coffee, water, little treats all day and the constant temptation of that bar/restaurant with its gelato and gigantic bowls of ice cream and fruit desserts – one bowl would feed a family for a day! For a more luxurious feel try the charming bourgeois Hotel Parigi with its private beach enclave. Affluent while still feeling intimate and special.
Grand Royal Palaces
The promenade if not the eighth wonder of the word always delights. What else is there here to charm my senses? Let’s explore where those aristocratic adventurers first built their nests starting our short journey on foot in Corso Italia in the centre of the town and not far from the shoreline. Corso Italia runs north to the places where the Grand Royal Palaces of the 19th century overlook the town. And it is exaclty where Corso Italia joins Via Romana that the origins of Bordighera as an aristocratic resort can best be seen. Via Romana has that relaxed royal feel to it and is indeed a very pleasant road with shady trees and lots of turn of the century villas, including Villa Regina Margherita built as the Winter Residence for Queen Margherita of Savoy. Pretty streets with palms and bougainville run off it with romantic names that evoke Queen Victoria and Shakespeare.
And now back from the tranquillity of the palaces on Via Romana to Corso Italia in the centre of town. Corso Italia is both a pretty street and a lively street, with all the expected attractions, tea-houses, restaurants, boutiques, festivities and themed markets and not surprisingly, gelato, gelato, gelato – the best! It is lively during the day for coffee, tea and pastries and shopping and it is particularly lively at night. The street is so popular it is often cordoned off and is a pedestrian paradise with music and outdoor diners revelling in their good fortune with the weather, Italian cuisine and ambiance.
Last but by no means least for you to take in the best this gem of a town has to offer is Bordighera Alta. You would be forgiven sometimes on the coast forgetting about ancient architecture and medieval villages. Take a car ride less than 5 minutes slow drive from the Beach or the centre of town to the Bordighera of old – a rabbit warren of alleys and medieval arches and cupolas. Park your car infront of the imposing fortress-style arched entrance to this maze and wait for a treat. There are still residents there but the majority of the space is given over to piazzas and restaurants.
Many of the restaurants serve pizza and pasta and simple Ligurian fare. There is seriously good dining to be had also. One of the best is a Michelin “Bibe Gourmand” restaurant Magiarge. The food is excellent as are the prices for the quality. And the wine – wow – you have the choice of the local red Rossesse, or for a local white a crisp Vermentino or a subtle fruity Pigato. And remembering how close you are to Piemonte you can go to heaven with a Barolo or Barbaresco.
Pallanca Exotic Gardens
You can reach the east end of the promenade again on foot should you want to enjoy a stroll after a lunch at Magargeor any other wonderful restaurant in Bordigheera Alta. There are still two delights in store for you to experience.
Head to the headland of Saint-Ampelio (the most southerly point of the town) to see the church there and finally for lovers of exotic gardens and particularly mature cacti visit the Pallanca Exotic Gardens.
This garden is typical of the gardens in the Liguria region with extensive planting on steep terraces overlooking the sea that includes a remarkable range of plants – it is said there are more than 3000 species here and among the best are the large collection of cacti and succulents, many of which are a remarkable size and very artistic with the blues of the sea as a backdrop.
Just for fun, on alternate Sundays, go for an outing on the sea-front in Monte Carlo and then do the same in Bordighera. If you like the best of all worlds, there you have it, contrasting and both special in their unique ways.