Liguria like a local: Dolceacqua

One of my many New Year’s resolutions for my blog, The Riviera Grapevine, is to start documenting all the wonderful villages that can be found in the hinterland of the French Riviera and Liguria. I started writing a list with my sister and brother-in-law over a glass of rosé and soon after the list was some 20 names deep. I’m really looking forward to getting out and about and sharing some of my favourite spots along this wonderful coastline.

So it’s time to stop talking, start writing and get at least one resolution off the ground.

I thought it fitting to start off with my favourite spot of all: Dolceacqua.

DolceacquaImpressionist Claude Monet was one of Dolceacqua’s earliest fans, and on canvas captured local scenes, such as the arched bridge that has come to symbolise the village.

Where is it?

Dolceacqua is set back from the Ligurian coastline between Ventimiglia and Bordighera in the Nervia valley.

The village is split in two by the Nervia river; the historic centre (Terra) is presided over by the imposing 12th century Castello dei Doria, a great post-lunch climb even though the castle itself is rather ruined.

The pedestrianised Terra is connected to the more modern Borgo by a charming arched bridge that has come to symbolise the village. French Impressionist Claude Monet was one of Dolceacqua’s earliest fans, and captured local scenes on canvas on more than one occasion.

Why I love it

Whereas the cobbled streets of France’s Saint-Paul de Vence or Eze are teeming with tours and tourist shops, in Dolceacqua you have a similarly preserved medieval village (in a similarly spectacular setting, just without the water view), refreshingly free from crowds. Take some time to explore the shaded, narrow streets, which are wonderfully cool in summer, and you’ll quickly realise that it’s still very much a lived-in village, with a strong local community and a proud heritage and culture.

Eat

Dolceacqua streetIn contrast to the bus loads of tourists congesting the cobblestone in Saint-Paul de Vence, Dolceacqua’s shaded, narrow streets remain refreshingly free from crowds, even in summer.
Photo © Jilly Bennett/jillybennett.com
Clustered around the Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, across from the Terra, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants. Many offer standard pizza-pasta fare, which, if I’m honest, can be a bit hit or miss. I’d recommend a firm favourite, Casa e Bottega (www.ristocasaebottega.it). Visit in summer and dine al fresco with the wonderful view of the village as a backdrop, or in winter, amongst the cosy, vintage inspired interior. The menu focuses on Ligurian specialities, such as rabbit in a Rossese di Dolceacqua sauce, and uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients. When it comes to wine, they don’t need to look far, and the list is overflowing with locally made whites and reds.

Save space, however, for the local dolce, the Michetta. The history of the Dolceacqua’s Michetta dates to the Middle Ages and is a beloved tale: the tyrannical Marquis demanded every bride pass their first night of marriage … in his bed. Cue the local beauty who refused and consequently sacrificed her life. The uprising that followed saw the law overturned. The heroic Lucrezia is commemorated by this sweet treat, which has come to be known by a word for a lady’s more intimate parts!

Drink

Dolceacqua is synonymous with wine, which shares its name: Rossese di Dolceacqua. This indigenous grape (and Liguria’s first ever DOC), is grown in the hills that surround the Nervia river. There are a dozen or so producers in Dolceacqua and along with the vibrant, fruity, light-to-medium bodied red, which the village is famous for, white wines are also made from two of Liguria’s other great grapes, Pigato and Vermentino. In the Terra, I’d recommend a visit to Maixei on Piazza G. Mauro (www.maixei.it). This local co-op produces some outstanding wines. Across in the Borgo, Enoteca Re (Via Patrioti Martiri, 19) is an excellent wine shop, offering an extensive selection of local wines and more.

Explore

If you have a car, and a keen sense of adventure, wind your way up to the western ridge and the vineyards of Terre Bianche (www.terrebianche.com) to discover one of Liguria’s finest producers. On the eastern ridge, La Locanda degli Ulivi (www.lalocandadegliulivi.it) is an institution, a farmhouse high in the hills offering panoramic views and a set menu of homemade Ligurian specialities. Be hungry, as you’ll be served a ten course gourmet extravaganza … for €23! Wash it down with a bottle of homemade Rossese, and nominate someone else to drive home!

Getting there

Car: Dolceacqua is an easy 45-minute drive from Nice. Take the Ventimiglia exit, then cross through the town centre along Via Cavour to the coastal road to Bordighera. Follow the signposts inland to Dolceacqua at Strada Provincal 64.

Public Transport: The best bet is to take the train to Ventimiglia and then hail a taxi at the station. It’s about €20 one way, but the bus which serves the village from the train station appears to run to a rather irregular and unpredictable timetable. For the brave, look up Linea 7 (www.rivieratrasporti.it).

Excursions

Club Vivanova are hosting an Experience Liguria Wine and Lunch Tour on Saturday February 7th. Highlights include a tasting at Maixei in Dolceacqua, as well as visits to other vineyards in the area and a 4-course Ligurian lunch in the nearby village of Apricale. A full itinerary and booking details can be found at www.clubvivanova.com

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

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