Buggio

One of our first proper Spring-time forays: on the vast hillside panorama fresh bright green suddenly appears among all the dark green of the conifers, and the flora is going wild with colour. We checked out Buggio, which is at the end of a very short road (3 km) into a valley which is framed by an enormous, craggy and quite intimidating alpine mountain range. The village is the usual mix of very old, very charming but completely lacking in any facilites (a bar!!, a shop/kiosk!!) but the setting is pure picture postcard, only nicer. A path leads upwards to some small caves – the setting is extremely romantic and idyllic as the entire mountain is covered in dense forest, so that the waterfalls coming out of the caves don’t just drop into the void but amble along through the trees.

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Monte Bignone

Monte Bignone is, according to most guides, a popular day-trip from Sanremo; it’s very close to the shore yet it’s 1,200 metres high. We went in March. Off-season it is decidedly spooky, almost a bit Eastern European in its abandoned and weirdly unfinished and decaying state: there’s a group of transmission masts, a really, really spooky church, an unfinished building (hotel?) and a decommissioned cable car. This is a top tourist-destination? The view, however, is magnificent and actually it’s very nice to have such a great spot under- rather than over-developed.

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Visitors

Following our settling-in period we have now had no less than 4 visits! Some came while it was still cold, while the latest arrival, Melanie, got the full spring treatment, including the year’s first application of sun screen.

We have had Claudia and Bjorn from Munich, who popped up for a Blitzweekend in early February. We managed a healthy circular hike and the remainder of their stay we spent in either of the two fabulous bars here in Badalucco.

Then Sophie Lord from London came in mid-February. Alas, she and David got food poisoning from the Mussels we cooked (Toby got away Scott-free) and they therefore had limited time to enjoy her visit. But we did manage a sunny and almost warm, extensive coastal walk.

Recovering from mussle poisoning...

Then Sebastian came with his daughter Greta from Hamburg for a slightly longer stay, so they got the full mountain-hike and seaside-fun treatment. This was in March, and the hikes up the peaks revealed that the snow there had not yet melted, and it was still cold enough for puffer jackets. So off to the coast to warm up and hire one of those ridiculous family bikes on 4 wheels with a little roof to saunter along the Sanremo coast. When Sebastian was involved in conference calls with far-flung clients and colleagues we took Greta to have ice-cream or a soft-drink at the bar.

Finally weve had Melanie come to stay with her daugher Irma (Tobys god-daughter), and this was the first visit that did not involve layers of protective clothing, returning home at 5pm in the dark or sitting in the bar outside in full ski gear – we had one perfect sea-day and one perfect mountain day. Although our stay on the mountain was extended when the only road back home was closed off for an oldtimer ralley – we had taken that road on the way up and not a single sign announced its imminent closure. The other road home from the mountain was still covered in snow (!), too much to risk with summer tyres and no 4-wheel drive – as a (local!!) driver  discoverd who had got stuck. We tried to pull him out but it was muddy and steep and wouldnt work (we did try for one hour to get him free). In the end we had to return home and left the guy waiting for a friend of his to pull him out with a proper 4×4. We then had the privilege of following the last of the ralley oldtimers all the way back home, who were in turn followng the truck picking up all the crashed cars (2 or 3, nothing major, but quite funny).

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Spring

Spring has sprung in Liguria – about time too! There is still snow on higher ground, but down below it is reassuringly too warm for two layers most of the time – shorts and t-shirt are go! Symbol for spring awakening round here: the incredible mimosa tree!

A quick update on our social status in Badalucco: we now know most people by name; we now talk to the young people as well (they’re usually in groups, so penetration was more tricky). We are going to our first party (a meat-grill, NOT a barbecue) tonight. We’ve been invitied by two girls to join them on a high-alpine trek in a few weeks (waiting for the snow to melt). All in all, we now feel much more at home than before, because a genuine if not teribly profound contact has been established to a very nice mix of people. They always told us that in summer everything gets more lively, and it looks that way, too. What we can confirm from earlier observations: Badaluccans are very very friendly, hospitable, open and generous.

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Valle di Verdeggia

We discovered this little valley only recently – it’s the source of the river flowing through our village, Badalucco. It is a small but very dramatic, sort of high-alpine, dead-end valley, surrounded by ‘proper’ mountains that are part of the French and Italian Alps. It is very remote, the few villages even quieter than usual (and that’s saying something here).

One of these is a very, very old and incredibly rustic village perched high on a precipice. We will return later with a report, as we want to return to what looks like a great hike at high altitude, which starts in the village.

This valley is totally different from anything we have seen so far – no broad vistas, no tree-covered and gently undulating mountains, no sea view. But: beautiful bright yellow butterflies – in early February! – and lots of them.

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San Bernardo di Conio

Remote, alpine, deserted and provider of spectacular views across gently undulating valleys towards the sea and the snowy peaks of Piedmont: the area around tiny hamlet San Bernardo di Conio is one of our favourite Ligurian spots. The panorama changes dramatically depending on what time of day or in what weather you happen to be there. But one thing always remains the same: the San Bernardo cow herd. They roam a huge area of varying terrain and their lovely, evocative bells can be heard far across the land.

Looking towards Imperia, the sea just about visible in the haze of dusk

Looking south towards Sanremo

The road to San Bernardo at its highest point

Looking south to Sanremo

After a tumble in the snow

Looking west towards France

Looking south towards Sanremo

Looking north towards Piedmont

Looking south-east towards Genova - the East-Ligurian Alps in the distance, petering out towards the right into Tuscany, at dawn

Looking north towards Piedmont, at dawn

Looking west towards France, with the only building for miles on the right

Looking southeast towards Imperia

The San Bernardo cows

 

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Torino

We drove to Turin on a crisp, sunny and very cold day, but on approach the city was hidden in dense fog. Once we had parked the car, though, the milky winter sun had reemerged to reveal a city so beautiful, elegant and vibrant – unlike any city we have ever seen. First stop a quick coffee and pastry at the bar of elegant Caffè Platti, a Turin institution (there are many of those!) with normal prices (there are not many of those!). Onwards into the heart of the centre through the most gorgeous arcades and within 30 minutes of having been in Turin for the first time we were ready to move there lock, stock and barrel. But this was before we saw the rest.

Arcades on Via Vittorio Emanuele II

Endlessly long streets given a surreal and ethereal appearance by the low winter sun throwing ridiculously long shadows and wrapping the scene in a gohstly, cloudy, very bright light. Lots of very ornate arcades, incredible food shops and those famous grand cafés in varying degrees of opulence and luxury. When you sit in Caffè Torino amongst fur-coated 90-year-olds in a rich and sumptuous décor, eating your excellent tramezzini brought by a liveried waiter, you don’t mind paying €5.50 for your cappucino. We found the vibe in Turin on this normal working day busy (but not hectic), friendly, urban and quietly confident.

Then we stumbled upon the holy grail: the Caffè Mulafsano is a small, intimate and supremely elegant bar with an eccentric mix of mirrors, gold, dark wood, marble and beautifully ornate and rather heavy metal fittings. It is staffed by absolute old-school types in white wrap-around aprons with impeccable bar etiquette. Everything in this bar – the glassware, the tableware, the tramezzini and little sandwiches, the drinks, the staff, the lady at the till, the other guests, the ambiance and the décor – is just perfect. We went for a pre-lunch drink and went back for a pre-dinner drink later. This bar is a small piece of heaven on earth.

On Liz and Giorgio’s recommendation we had lunch in Caffè San Carlo, on the stunning Piazza San Carlo. This is another one of those opulent, high-ceilinged Turin staples, with a grand salon and a more intimate dining room; and they have a lunch menu for €14! The crowd was smart Torinese, many of them lunching alone (we llike) and the food was very good. We were a bit sniffed when the head waiter gave us menus in English – just a trifle presumptious. The other waiters made up for it by being very charming. We made the mistake of not ordering their cakes for pudding, because we didn’t know that they are famously good. Next time!

Then we took the brand-new metro (nice) and a very rackety old bus through what looked like Soviet-era Eastern Europe (what a contrast!) to visit the Castello di Rivoli (another Liz & Giorgio tip), located just out of town. This is the ruin of a huge former hunting lodge (it may be called a lodge but it is vast) on a hill overlooking the plain of Torino with the Italian Alps in the distance. It now houses a modern art collection that sits perfectly within the old castello, which has been restored with the ruined bits untouched. Inside, it is simply amazing (not ruined at all, intricate interior details to die for) and the art pieces, some of which are fantastic, are expertly installed to really stunning effect within the old structure. Very much worth a second visit.

Not the castello, but its stripy neighbour.

When we woke up back in our lovely Badalucco the next morning we realised that we were actually in a state of shock – we felt like we had been hit over the head by the incredible charm, beauty and bourgois grandeur of Turin. What are we going to do about it now?

Tram track worker

 

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