We Depart East From Nice Toward Italy and Imperia
Time to get out of overcrowded Nice. Drive the little rental diesel stick machine along the coast of the Mediterranean to get the feeling of what the Riviera is like. Up over the hills, and down into Villefranche Sur Mer…
The old men hanging out by the park, talking, surprised at us walking in thongs – – on our feet. Who else wears those things in March around these parts? Tina Turner lives up the hill behind 30 foot walls and drives a Hummer, is what Brenda sez. Not too functional in these narrow streets. Oh, and she still no speaka da francais.
This town is basically a hill going down to the sea. We buy some oversized Fuji apples that end up tasting full of pesticide, but the green pepper and endive are OK. We wander around for a while, then scoot off to the northeast, curving eventually onto the rock of Monaco.
Lunching there by the port, watching the yachts, and all the locals dressed up to the nines, not looking too concerned about the everyday. All kinds of vehicles from Ferraris to Mercedes to Lambourginis to Bentleys. Not much space tho. Ultra-urban environment. Have a panini with mushrooms, olive oil, tomato, onion. Tastes pretty good. And share a water “with gas” and a slice of lime. Write some poems and postcards, watching the world relaxedly sink into the moment. Nice mountains above Monaco, but where is the soccer field and the bicycle track? Eat small, dress exquisitely. Gamble at night.
Onward along the curves of the French section of the Riviera, all lovely, but lots of buildings on the sea. The roads high up on the walls of the mountains, banking round and back and down to Menton. Prosperous town, but way overbuilt too. Water that azure blue, even with all the population and infrastructure. These towns apparently all taking extreme care not to kill their golden goose: the cleanliness of the water. Though surf reports do tell of pollution still being a problem.
We read about the caves of Balzi Rossi, but with the high speed roading, and no real places to park we forego’d it. Tunnels immaculately cared for as we eased into the Italian portion of the Riviera. This side of the story not so clean and prosperous, surprisingly. Getting tired of the twist and turn driving, at Ventimiglia we decide we have seen a lot of beauty never to be forgotten, but it mid-afternoon: time to find a place to stay. Imperia sounded good, with its medieval centre mentioned as being intact in Fodor’s Italy, love walking through those old European carrugi, OK off to the A-10 Autostrada we decide to climb, up through the hills. The Roman road building more in evidence by the way they laid the elevated structures across valley after valley, from tunnel to tunnel. That would be the way they constructed the Autostrada. Lucky we decided to enter it at Ventimiglia, because the next entrance was maybe twenty kilometers further ahead, at Imperia itself.
Imperia turns out to have two parts: the industrial side of Oneglia, which has about zero charm, and then there is the old town part of Imperia, also called Porto Maurizio. We kept trying to get up toward the top of the village in a car, but we kept having to take the same road over and over again: “Via Felice Cascione,” the centre’s main strasse. Finally, after asking a policeman by the Piazza Duomo, we discovered there is a hidden road that comes out of a parking lot on its west side. So, taking that at last we rode to the top, and walked down. Lots of foot-only streets, and a mindblower that is built into a monastery, and people actually live in it in various apartments and villas : Via Monastero. The view of the coastline is spectacular through the pillars. Three teenagers were hanging out here, sitting on the low wall, the sun setting behind them, Mediterranean sunlight streaming against the concrete – that does have its share of writing by lovers and such upon it, like the writing carved into the prominent tree.
After a lovely walk through all sorts of alleys and streets back to the Duomo, of the Church of San Maurizio, we go down toward the beach where we find a hotel right on the water for 90 Euro, 2 single beds pushed together to make it look like a beeg one. But the beach is right outside, with the waves crashing, and the sea breeze delightful. The Hotel is called Croce di Malta. We liked its location so well we came back two days later to spend our last afternoon and night there. If I had my surfboard, I would’ve surfed right there. Not real big stuff, but a fun or longboard would have been rather loverly to add that flavor to a surfer’s travel anywhere anytime.
We ate dinner both nights at the same place: the Olio Grosso way up top of the town on the Piazza Parasio – telephone 0183/60815. Everything perfect. Pasta with artichoke and anchovies and mushroom and olive oil. Delicious local “blue” fish cooked tenderly and unoilily, white meat. The restaurant’s own locally produced red wine served in a pop bottle unlabelled with a little cork with a flat black top. Tasted so good. Had three glasses, and on the last night’s visit, we mentioned the name of the hotel and they served us a delicious white/yellow post dinner aperitif, slightly sweet, and wunnerful. Good way to go out, in Italy, last night. Oh, the desserts were terrific too: we sort of shared three for our final moments in Imperia’s local unheated stone buildinged restaurant, open kitchen. A white mousse. Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm. And two different fruit mixed cakes with ice cream for Brenda, au chantilly for monsieur [un-bovine growth hormoned whipped cream]. Yes, I did gain 6 pounds for the trip. But where else can one eat such delicious creative fare?
Walking up through the village from the beach is rather easy, by the way, if you wish to do so, and are not impaired by bad lungs or heart or whatever affliction might ail ye. Just a magic trail upward upward upward, take whichever way attracts your feet or sight, and soon you will be up by Olio Grosso and see the sea and the mountains, and at night, the stars over the Mediterranean. Imperia. Which turns out to be a cultural and political center of Liguria, which is this coastal part of northeastern Italy. Next time I go back with my surfboard. Water about sixty degrees Fahrenheit: required a full wetsuit for end March, early April. No boots, no gloves. And the sound of the waves, and the view on our second stay from the fourth floor, corner room, at sunset, room 407. Nice sleeping too…..
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