For this next instalment (see Liguria like a local: Dolceacqua) in my series on the wonderful villages hidden in the hills of Liguria, I enlisted the help of my trusty partner in crime – and fellow Italophile – Michaela, who can always be relied upon to join in on a voyage of discovery across the border, especially when food and wine are involved. It’s easy to see why we’re such good friends! We didn’t have to go very far.
Where is it?
Classified as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages (I Borghi più belli d’Italia), the medieval Apricale is a further 5 kilometres inland from Dolceacqua, along the SP63, the rather windy road which links Isolabona with Barjado in the western Ligurian hinterland.
From the first glimpse, as you round the bends from Isolabona, it’s hard not to be impressed by Apricale, a real statement village that sits regally across a ridge surrounded by the Ligurian hills.
Why I love it
Overflowing with history, the commune was founded in the Bronze Age and boasts buildings dating back to the ninth century. The name Apricale is taken from the Latin word Apricus, which translates to something along the lines of “sun-drenched”, a more than apt name as on this particularly glorious afternoon we were able to enjoy an al fresco meal on a village terrace bathed spring sun.
I’ve heard lots of good things about the home cooking at La Favorita (www.lafavoritaapricale.com), which is just before the village itself when arriving on the road from Isolabona. We preferred to soak up some of the atmosphere inside the pedestrian streets of Apricale on this occasion, however, and were easily seduced by the setting at Apricale da Delio (www.ristoranteapricale.it). It was quintessential Liguria, with a terrace overlooking the mountains down through the valley towards the coast.
Luckily, the food lived up to the standard set by the location. The menu, despite being on the pricey side for Italy (€23 for three courses), was less than what we would have paid if we’d sat down for an equivalent meal in Nice. Local food, done to perfection using fresh ingredients; an artichoke and potato flan, pasta with a ragù of fresh veggies and a divine Michete di Dolceacqua tart, with a delicate mandarin and white chocolate sauce.
A mere €23 for a 3-course meal: artichoke and potato flan, pasta with a ragù of fresh veggies and a Michete di Dolceacqua tart, with a delicate mandarin and white chocolate sauce.
And of course there’s an extensive local wine selection.
Look out for pansarole, a local specialty – and equivalent to the donutesque ganses you’d find in Nice during carnival: dough fried in olive oil and dusted in icing sugar, except here it’s accompanied by a generous serving of zabaglione, a foamy egg-yolk custard combined with Marsala wine and sugar.
The Ligurian favourite, Rossese di Dolceacqua, is an appellation that includes the valleys surrounding Apricale. Local exponents to seek out include Danila Pisano (www.danilapisano.com), who established an organic farm in 1990. Today she produces both a Rossese wine from vineyards located across the valley towards the ridge-top village of Perinaldo and a pure olive oil made from the highly regarded indigenous variety, Taggiasca. Visit her inside the village at 64 Via Martiri.
Sadly, Apricale’s rather novel microbrewery, Piccolo Birrificio, which you still find many references to, is no longer in operation.
Leave enough time to wander the maze-like alleys of the village leading to and from the sun-drenched piazza and nearby ancient castle. Not only to discover the brightly painted doors and mosaics adorning the medieval walls, but also to work off your meal! Even in spring the streets are crowded with French day-trippers, so I can only imagine a weekend afternoon come mid-July.
Save the date
As with most Ligurian villages, Apricale plays host to a selection of traditional festivals throughout the year. The highlight of which is from September 8th -10th, for the annual Apricale Festival (www.apricale.org), when celebrating the pansarole takes centre stage.
Car: Apricale is just over 50 kilometres from Nice, a scenic hour’s drive. As with Dolceacqua, take the Ventimiglia exit on the A8, then cross through Ventimiglia town centre along Via Cavour to the coastal road to Bordighera. Follow the signposts inland to Dolceacqua along the Strada Provincal 64 and continue straight through, direction Isolabona. From there, take the Strada Provincal 63 to the right towards Apricale. The village itself is completely pedestrianised; however, there is ample parking outside.
Public Transport: You could always catch the train to Ventimiglia and then hail a taxi, but you’d be looking at the price of lunch (or more) in fares each way. Buses between Liguria’s hillside villages are fairly irregular. If your Italian is better than mine, you can try to navigate the maze of timetables that is the Riviera Transporti website (www.rivieratrasporti.it/ShowOrari.asp).
Chrissie McClatchie is an Australian wine specialist who has been living in Nice for the past seven years. You can follow her travels at www.rivieragrapevine.com or on Twitter @RivieraGrape