Three things to see and do in the town where Monet developed his “mature style”
If you holiday on the French Riviera, you should not miss the opportunity of making the short hop across the border to visit Italy. (If you are a regular visitor of this blog, this piece of advice will sound familiar by now.)
Most people do make that trip, but fail to get past Ventimiglia, the town (more or less) immediately behind the frontier which is extremely easy to reach from France – whereas you have to make a bit of an effort to go further.
Now, Ventimiglia is undoubtedly an Italian town (bubbly, vivacious and a bit dishevelled), but it is equally fair to point out that it shares much with border towns all over Europe. Visiting it to get a flavour of Italy is like going to Tijuana to experience Mexico.
Just a few kilometres down the road, however, the real Italy begins – or, at the very least, the real Liguria, the Italian province which covers the thin strip of land from the French border to Genoa and beyond.
Bordighera, in many ways, is the first “real” Ligurian town on that road, easy to reach from Ventimiglia either by local train, by bus (buses to Sanremo stop on Via Cavour, a five minute walk from the station), or, at a push, on foot. Bordighera, you will immediately notice, is a starkly different place from Ventimiglia – for one, because there are no French housewives crowding the streets who are looking for a bargain, and for another, because, even if there were, they would not find many.
Bordighera quite obviously considers itself a cut above its neighbour: it is quiet, elegant and genteel, in a way that was once fashionable but no longer is. The town looks a little stuck in the 1940s or 50s, and it comes as no surprise to hear that one of its most famous visitors was Eva “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” Peron – the seaside promenade, called Lungo Argentina, has been named in her memory.
Things to see and do in Bordighera
1. The Old Town
One big difference with Ventimiglia is the Old Town, which is far better kept and really pretty. It is the Anglo-Saxon tourist’s instinct always to head for the Old Town first when exploring an unfamiliar destination, but in many Italian towns of the area, these Old Towns are not bijou centres of urban life, full of art galleries and interesting restaurants, but seriously deprived poverty hot spots, with dark, humid and rat-infested buildings where only people would want to live who cannot afford the better and brighter apartments in the downtown areas.
In many places, including Ventimiglia, a gentrification of sorts has been going on over the past few years, but Bordighera has never been in need of such a process – its Old Town pulls off the trick of being densely atmospheric without appearing mean or menacing. It is not particular lively, so do not expect to find an abundance of cafés and places to eat, but there is enough to see and explore to keep you busy for an hour or so.
2. Monet trail
Long before Bordighera became a fashionable seaside resort (and before it earned itself a footnote in the Eva Peron saga), it entered world history (of art) when the French painter Claude Monet visited the place in 1884, fascinated by the Mediterranean light and the lush colours. You could actually make the case that it was here, on the coast of the Italian Riviera, where he developed his mature style that would, eventually, make him rich and a household name all over the world.
Monet came to Bordighera mainly to paint the once famous Moreno gardens, which no longer exist, but many of the villas that featured in his townscapes are still standing, including the Villa Garnier, the home of the architect who built the Monte Carlo Casino and the Paris Opera and who spent most of his life in this town.
If you want to find out more about Monet’s time in Bordighera and perhaps are interested in retracing his steps, read it on Easy Hiker for more detailed instructions.
No visit to any Italian town is complete without a trip to the local ice cream parlour – the best local ice cream parlour, I should say, of which each town always has more than one: it all depends on who you ask. The Universo Del Gelato opposite the train station on Corso Italia has some good reviews on Trip Advisor, but we went to Cocos on Via Vittorio Emmanuelle (on the other side of the Tourism Office), because it had been recommended to us, and we were not disappointed. Just one word of advice: when in Italy, do it like the Italians and be adventurous in your choice of flavours and pick something you will not find at home. Such as zuppa inglese (trifle), for example, or the all-Italian favourite – Nutella.