New horizons in retailing

Over recent weeks, signs have been appearing advertising a new retail outlet near Mondovì in Piemonte, half-way between Torino and Savona. Called Mondovicino, which in Italian means “near Mondovì”, it’s right on the A6 motorway junction. So on a sunny Sunday it seemed appropriate to check it out. We took the route up the Roya valley, which leaves Ventimiglia, passes into France through Breil-sur-Roya and Tende, then re-enters Italy at the Tunnel du Tende, at the ski resort of Limone Piemonte. From there you continue down to Cuneo, skirt the city and head east for about 30km. The journey from Ventimiglia is a little over two hours. The alternative route, along the motorway to Savona then north, may be a little quicker but is a lot further and of course there are the motorway tolls to consider.

The retail park consists of a large supermarket and a cluster of factory outlets, arranged spaciously rather in the manner of an uncovered mall. There’s plenty of free parking, both at ground level and in an underground car park. The whole place creates a relaxed feel, even when busy, and at every junction there are fountains and places to sit and relax. Prices are below normal retail, often significantly so.

080428-1The shops are a mixture of well-known international brand names and smaller Italian companies, covering a wide range of goods including clothing, shoes, housewares, electronics and food. For the incurable chocaholic there’s a huge Lindt shop, groaning with piles of naughty tidbits. Although I managed to resist the lure of the cocoa bean I couldn’t help buying a copy of the book Chocolat (yes, that of the film with the same name), which was available as part of a chocolate-related library. In Italian, of course; it’ll help with learning the language.

080428-2We spent a couple of pleasant hours wandering around, stopping for a pizza and picking up a few essential items, then retrieved the car and headed into Mondovì itself, about 5km away. The town is located on its own hill right next to the Ligurian Alps, that rear up without any preamble from the plains of the Po valley stretching all the way from Torino to Venezia. I would guess the hill on which the town was built is an old volcanic plug, left behind as the rivers eroded the land around it. The old town occupies the top of the hill and is approached by driving round the main town centre.

Old Mondovì is well worth a visit. The Piazza Maggiore is most attractive, currently laid with artificial turf and with plenty of places to sit and idle an hour or two or take a snack at one of its cafes. The church, a large edifice at the top of the town, is notable for its pink and blue marble columns and frescoed ceiling. Behind it is the Belvedere; a small park surrounded by a wall over which are spectacular views in all four directions. To the north lie the flat plains of the Po valley and Torino, beyond which on a clear day can be seen the Alps. To the west are the Maritime Alps behind Cuneo, then looming close to the south the Ligurian Alps, at this time of year still well covered by snow. And to the east the folds of the Langhe, itself well worth a visit.

080428-3In the centre of the park is the Torre Bressani, a substantial brick clock tower of some 70m height. Each of its four sides has a huge clock face with a single hand that never shows the correct time. Anna immediately dubbed it “Big Benito”. If you have the energy and three euros to spare you can climb the steps to the top for even better views, but yesterday was a little hazy and we were lazy.

080428-4On the way back home we stopped briefly at Limone Piemonte to look at the ski slopes, now rapidly losing their remaining cover. I guess there won’t be much happening there until next winter.

For the whole journey back there was little traffic going our way, but the road going north was crammed with cars and campers heading back to Cuneo and Torino from the French Riviera. Last Friday was an Italian public holiday and people had obviously made the best of the first good long weekend of the year.

Finally, Spring has definitely arrived. While walking along the riverside in Ventimiglia the other day we suddenly heard loud chittering noises above the general roar of traffic. Sure enough, down among the discarded litter the frogs were mating.

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