Early summer in Liguria

After the dampest New Year period anyone can remember, Spring quickly made way for Summer and by the middle of May things were hotting up nicely. We took a rare day out to go to the Monday market in Savona. This town is about 100km away, an hour on the motorway. It’s the kind of place you drive past thinking “that looks a bit grotty; we’ll carry on”. Its chief landmarks are a pair of power station chimneys painted in red and white stripes, looking bizarrely like an upturned pantomime dame, and some blocks of flats designed by someone with no colour sense, a truly awful mixture of pastel shades covering the entire spectrum. Not a promising place from the motorway. But get into town and things are rather different. The market is like any other market, but unlike Ventimiglia it’s a completely Italian affair, of course; no catering for ex-pats here. On the day we picked it was busy, rather jolly and friendly.

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From the market we walked into town, and here was a pleasant surprise. Though not particularly grand it’s actually a spacious and quite attractive place. Some of the major streets are colonnaded, like in Turin, with useful shops underneath. Everything is in fairly easy reach; the shopping area gives way to the old town, which in turn lies alongside the marina. Not the grand superyachts of Monaco but a pleasant inlet surrounded by the town, with places to park and eat. Once you tire of that there’s the Fortezza del Priamar, a substantial pile dating back for centuries and built on a hill adjacent to the sea. Some of it carries an entrance fee but there’s a huge amount of space for visitors to just stroll around and admire the views.

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If you leave Savona on the coast road you first negotiate the container port at Vado Ligure. Quite a depressing sight really but then it suddenly ends and gives way to the Riviera, in the shape of two quite wonderful places; Spotorno and Noli. Strange sounding names to English ears but quite enchanting. Spotorno is the larger of the two but both feature elegant palm-lined promenades well separated from the heavier traffic, so unlike Nice or Menton. Noli has an old town directly across the road from the promenade, typically Ligurian and charming with little restaurants in which to spend a restful evening. On the beach the old fishing boats still come in with the night’s catch if you’re into that kind of bargain hunting. Once you’ve seen the sights of Spotorno and Noli, head south-west along the coast road, one of the most spectacular in this area with sheer rock faces towering over the road and a glittering sea beneath. After a couple of smaller towns it gradually gives way to the more usual conurbation but for the first few miles it’s a delight. So if you fancy a day out to do some shopping, walk around town in an unhurried way and take in some sights, consider Savona. It’s a lot better than you might think from just driving past.

A night visitor

Up on the roof terrace the tomatoes are growing rapidly and the first fruit is appearing; green as yet but in this heat it won’t be long before they’ll be in the salad bowl. The other morning I discovered this chap, the size of my hand, clinging to one of the plants:

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Not wanting to be overrun with caterpillars we decided to shoo him away but he clung on and I had to clip off the branch he was on. Down in the piazza we argued with the locals about whether it was a butterfly or a moth; my money is on the latter since it was dark and furry and resting rather than fluttering about. Eventually the subject of the discussion got bored – well who wouldn’t – and suddenly flew off for some peace and quiet.

Real people getting together

And finally, the day of the Ligurian get-together arrived. This story started a way back, with the local AngloINFO Liguria forum being taken over by announcements about obviously imaginary social events run by and for a mysterious group of expats living in the border area. The author never replied to messages and it became obvious after a while that the posts were being made by someone desperate to prove he has a life but unable to see how pathetic he looks doing it. A few of us add teasing or challenging replies to these messages, which usually get taken off the forum, but on the last occasion about a month back we got into a discussion among ourselves about holding a real rather than imaginary event. One thing led to another and finally today we all met up in Dolceacqua for lunch. A week ago we booked a table for fifteen people and arrived early today, standing nervously by the roadside waiting for our first companions to turn up. What if they didn’t? What if we were the only ones? Could it be that everyone is imaginary? But our fears were unfounded; only one person couldn’t make it, that through illness, so we achieved a magnificent fourteen, with two more joining us for coffee at the end. The lunchtime and most of the afternoon passed in a most agreeable fashion. The weather was ideal and so was the company. To those of you who came along and are reading this, it was great to see you all. I’d be delighted to meet some or all of you again in any combination, and would only ask someone else to organise it.

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