There are still places like this. Where life is slow, people are friendly and locals trust strangers. It is reassuring and faith-restoring.
The thing is, sometimes you’ve just got to get off the motorway. Get behind a tractor and follow it. Trust your GPS when she insists you take the weird tiny roads seemingly leading to the middle of nowhere. Because sometimes the middle of nowhere is exactly where you want to be. And sometimes the middle of nowhere holds a surprise or two. Let us head to some of the middle-of-nowheres in Liguria, Italy.
The Principality of Seborga
Sounding like a name out of a book or a movie – and it certainly is picturesque enough to be a movie setting – the Principality of Seborga claims the small territory of their commune. Prince Marcello I, formerly a real estate promoter, reigns over around 320 inhabitants. He took over from the very first Prince of Seborga, Giorgio I a.k.a. His Tremendousness, who had reigned since 1963. Before that, Giorgio was a local flower grower. Prince Marcello I has a government with nine ministers to help him, following their own Constitution. Still sounding like a book or a movie? Let’s go there to prove it’s not.
After quite a steep climb from Bordighera on the Ligurian coast, the view getting more splendid by each curve of the road, the Seborgian flags waving freely and plentiful will be a sure sign you have reached your destination. Along with the mailboxes, the flags are the most visible signs of Seborga’s independence, adding an air of peculiarity to your visit here. But Seborga also issues its own stamps, license plates, passports and currency, and they have consulates in several countries.
You might still question if the place is real – or if you’ve walked into a Sleeping Beauty snow globe. Seborga is a drowsy, tiny bubble of a village with the cutest little houses and a view to die for, where time seems to work differently – and those places are not necessarily that easy to find in Liguria, and certainly not along the coast. However the village wakes up and shakes it up in June for their annual beer festival “Seborga Tutta Birra”, and in August for their big village feast celebrating their National Day on August 20. That’s when you should go for the real feel – but then again maybe the unreal feel is just as good.
For your authentic Italian meal, try Marcellino’s and try to get a table on the terrace to enjoy the view. On a clear day you’ll see Monaco.
Another Ligurian favourite charmingly perched on a hill, quite like Seborga only without a prince, is Apricale. This medieval village is on the list of “I Borghi più belli d’Italia” – the most beautiful villages of Italy – and well worthy of it. It is peaceful, sunny and beautiful, and you can watch the tomatoes sundry and enjoy them later along with other traditional delicacies at a local trattoria. Stay the night at one of the charming B&Bs such as Apricus Locanda – in their heart room or shoe room (this is Italy!) – with a stunning view of the valley. If you catch the bus from Ventimiglia to get there, don’t be surprised if the driver measures you (very approximatively) to see whether you’re tall enough to pay or not.
Now it might be that you prefer to be by the sea. And so another favourite, that perhaps ought to remain as much of a secret as possible (oh well) is Noli, surrounded by green, lush valleys and with charming beaches that you have to share with colourful wooden fisherman’s boats. This tiny town has enough charm to make you want to come back again and again. If you come by train, you have to get off at Spotorno and take a bus, a taxi – or why not walk over the hills – to Noli.
You should definitely treat yourself to a Michelin star restaurant while here. Take the cable car from the beach to the top of the hill to dine the Michelin way with a superb view at Il Vescovado. Why not stay the night there as well? Or at another really nice hotel on the beach such as Hotel Italia. Or at a charming B&B such as Villa Salvarezzi.
Another oh-so-cute town on the coast is Laigueglia, where the charming town centre is more or less on the beach. Don’t worry if the regular Italian summer guests scowl at you when you try to take their table for your meal at your hotel, or if you happen to walk in on them during their 5 o’clock card game – they don’t mean it like that!
Text and photos by Unni Holtedahl, May 2015