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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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 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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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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Liguria rannuvolarsi

This being an Alpine region, mist, clouds and fog are never far away. On a clear day, clouds can suddenly appear over the peaks and literally fall into the valley and within minutes the sky is totally covered. It adds to the drama of this already spectacular landscape.


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David and Toby are, of course, pathetic. By which we mean we are not super-confident, hurly-burly let’s-paint-the-town-red kind of people, at least not in the throws of a blossoming love affair (with Badalucco, that is). We prefer to let things grow organically. Having said that, the biggest obstacle in just getting chatty with the locals – we do chat, but so far it is, although very friendly and amiable, rather limited – are our Italian language skills. At least we have the basics and we never resort to French or English. And some locals talk in dialect and/or mumble, and here your average acquired Italian is of little use anyway. But we often feel we want to ask the locals about their village or the surrounding countryside or their activities as olive oil farmers or shop owners or whatever, but we get all mushy and timid. But: perhaps the locals sense our genuine affection for this place (in that respect we are not shy) and that’s why they are genuinely sweet and, a real bonus, totally lacking in overbearing curiosity. At least we can say that we’re not being coy or deliberately hiding out in our flat all the time: we are a regular presence in the village’s hotspots (the bar, the deli-café, the bakery, the piazza duomo, the butcher, the pizzeria, the tabacchi and our various walks in the surrounding countryside), and we are also, in our humble opinion, not your typical ignorant and un-sensitive tourist. In our own humble way, we are inquisitive and try to convey how much we enjoy our residency here.

Anyway, today there has been a breakthrough!

A short preamble: we had planned to have lunch at a restaurant just outside Badalucco which we had peeked into a few weeks back when we couldn’t understand the many cars parked on the highway with only an apparently abandoned country house nearby; well, we soon realised all you had to do was open an unassuming door and you entered into a raucous, super-cosy restaurant with open fire and a friendly vibe. The place being (understandably) fully booked, we vowed to return soon. This we did today, only to find it was closed for holiday until March! We were really confused, because most other establishments had closed for December in order to re-open for January – we had noted a perceptible increase in activity in January in contrast to December. Not to be defeated so quickly, we retraced our steps (idiots that we are we had walked from the village to this restaurant – no-one here walks anywhere, and for good reason, you have to walk along the highway!) and this time got the car to drive just beyond the other side of Badalucco to try a restaurant which we had also earmarked for quite a while now. (We don’t go out to restaurants willy nilly as we have to watch our budget. But this month we have been diligent in our budgeting and a break in home-cooking was called for.)

Although this has nothing to do with our breakthrough, we would like to mention that on our way to the second restaurant (there are three in total, one we’ve tried and were very happy with, plus the pizzeria within the village) we chanced upon a procession in occasion of La Santa Messa in onore di Sant’Antonio Abate e la Benedizione delle Castagne in our village. This featured a small procession with an effigy of what we gathered was Sant’Antonio (or the Madonna? or Jesus?) of villagers and a brass band; the procession ended by entering the main church where mass was in full swing (the doors were open); a few villagers not part of the procession were standing in the wings, as it were.

Charming as this was, we were hungry and continued our own little procession to the car and hence to the restaurant in question, La Capanna dei Celti (The Celtic Hut). Reverting momentarily to our usual patheticness, we hovered outside the restaurant because we were a bit early and so far the place was empty. But when the first people came we overcame our stupid timidity and went in.

The place, run by a chef with a French-sounding name, immediately felt homely and welcoming. The menu was interesting in that it featured dishes that were not exclusively Ligurian (French chef in the kitchen, we suppose). Soon after we arrived and placed our order (David: a brandade-style mash of stoccafisso (stockfish) and potatoes, oven-baked lamb; Toby: pan-fried foie gras and salsiccia (Italian sausage) and a gorgeous Tyrolean Gewürtztraminer), a group of three relatively burly men sat down at the table next to ours. We are always suitably impressed and slightly in awe when locals enter the scene. We enjoyed our lunch and talked about food and wine and, of course, the other people lunching in this restaurant. Even though we are not fully-bitched-up gossip-freaks we do like to analyse our partners-in-crime: a delightful table of two American-Italian couples of a certain age, a table of three consisting of a mother (funny hair but simpatica), daughter (atrocious black nail varnish and even more atrociously bad make-up) and a man whose connection to the two remained a mystery, but who sported an index finger in plaster, which provided us with yet another torrent of tittle-tattle), plus others who shall remain unmentioned due to lack of interest.

As time went by Marcello, he of the fabulous enoteca in Badalucco, appeared, to animated and warm greetings by the three men at the table next to ours. He sat down with them and lively chatter ensued about – what else – wine. It soon transpired that Marcello was not happy with the choice of wine the three men had made. His response was to leave, return after a short while and bring them a bottle from his own cellar. This alone would be unthinkable in a UK restaurant! As they went about trying the new wine accompanied by many expressions of appreciation, Marcello spotted us, remembering us vaguely, we gathered, from one of our (too few) visits to his enoteca (we will remedy this at once!!). When he rose to leave, he came over and shook our hands briefly. We did feel rather chuffed, we don’t mind reporting.

After Marcello had left we continued to enjoy our lunch and were absorbed in conversation when suddenly, out of the blue and without warning one of the three men turned to us, holding the bottle of wine Marcello had bought them, gave us an impromptu introduction to the wine, pointing out how delicious it was, and then, after we agreed that it must surely be good if it came from Marcello, he poured us a taster into our by now empty glasses. Gobsmacked yet really touched by this sudden and unexpected gesture of generosity we sampled the wine (a 2001 Langhe red of an estate whose name we sadly forgot) and continued to have a brief and lively chat with the three guys about wine, Badalucco village life and other things, and answered the most genuinely curious and well-intended questions about our stay here in Badalucco while at the same time gleaning information about the activities they were involved with (construction, olive oil producing). When we thanked him for sharing their wine with us he beamed a smile in our direction, raised his shoulders and said that he believed it was a privilege and joy to share pleasures with others, and that it was too easy to always share annoyances with your fellow men. Indeed.

We suspect that they felt it appropriate to share some of their wine (and, therefore, establish some sort of friendly contact) because Marcello had said hi to us on his way out. But equally, they may have been aware in their subtle and cunning ways that we were quite fascinated by their deliberations about wine and food (that much we could understand – and anyway, few Italians talk about much else except food and wine).

We’d had our first proper chat with a bunch of super-friendly über-locals and they were the initiators, in as sudden a manner as it was charming. As we rose we said thanks for the wine and buon appetito (their mains had just arrived – a succulent-looking arrosto di manzo, roast beef) and they cheerily said their thanks in return. As we left the premises after paying the bill (not cheap but boy did we not care, our food was sublime) and a quick chat with the very very charming (and cute) chef we turned once more to say good-bye and were again greeted with raised hands in warm and expressive salutation by the three men.

We were so chuffed by this amiable exchange so totally devoid of any cynicism or we-are-locals-you-are-not snobbery that we went straight to the village bar to have a coffee and a grappa. The bar was packed, as usual, with a mix of young and old watching a football match (David noted: no-one was actually drinking any alcohol!! Can you imagine this in the UK?!?) and we had our drinks (2 grappa, 1 dble espr, 1 espr, 1 capuc = €8.30). As the match remained at 0:0 (Juventus vs Sampadoria) we left to go home to our cosy little flat, grinning with joy until our jaws hurt.

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Mare mosso

We couldn’t believe the Med was capable of such ferocity! Normally so calm and not bothered to put up a fuss, this time it was licking the coast furiously, and it was loud, proper loud. Maybe our prejudices against what the Med is capable of need to be reviewed.


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