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G - 40 : Ligurian Road Trip

Preparing our annual sailing trip takes time. Finding ancient sailing routes, researching the history of an area, writing it up, looking for bays or harbors to stay requires a good three months of research – of course part time only. Usually start working on a trip by November and finish a draft plan by February. Most research is done on the net with results a tad superficial. Luckily, many universities now publish the doctoral thesis of their students on the web. Online publications of history journals also help - specifically when they come which search engines. But, reading about something is one thing. Seeing it for yourself a necessary reality check. Every plan I made so far had to be adjusted

Cervo, the Coral Fisher Town, was the biggest Surprise

Thus, all sailing trips are preceded by a road trip. This week, to the Ligurian coast. The trip started in Noli near Genoa and ended in Ventimiglia at the French border. There were so many unexpected discoveries, it is impossilbe to list them all.

The old Fortress Town of Ventimiglia completely lost

its Purpose - but is there if you do not mind to climb!

The medieval towns I found are still lively neighbourhoods. The houses are inhabited. On street level, there are small mom and pop’ s shops which offer everything you need. Bakeries are followed by green grocers, small coffee shops by a butcher. On one corner household goods are sold, on the next it is flip flops and noodles for the visiting tourists. What a difference to the coastal towns of Sicily, Calabria and Apulia which were semi-deserted and decaying! Towns in Liguria live. Old and young make a living from tourism starting in June and ending in September. Rents are affordable; families and senior citizens can live here. The medieval towns of Noli, Cervo and San Remo are a definitive must - Cervo the biggest surprise.

The Town Center of Noli is already busy in June!

The second observation relates to architecture. It seems that urban development stopped in the 1970s. There are few modern buildings. The beaches are lined with apartment blocks from the 1960s and 1970s. These must have been the peak investment years. Since then tourism changed. Modern aircraft put farther destinations into reach and the middle class now also holidays in Egypt, the Maldives, Thailand or the United States. Even though investments stagnated, lower incomes keep coming to Liguria. Finding an affordable hotel over a weekend is a challenge. Less investment money has its upside. Medieval centers like Noli, Cervo, Albenga, Porto Maurizio, Borghera or Ventimiglia are not only lively but pretty intact. They were not gentrified like St. Tropez or Cannes which were converted by foreign money to Disney like ghost towns with luxury shops.

Porto Maurizio, today part of Imperia, was another unexpected Surprise

The next observation is closely related to the one above. Due to its lower cost base western Liguria is a holiday place for families and students. We heard a lot of Italian, German and French on the streets. Very little English. Each restaurant has tables for eight and baby seats are available everywhere. The streets parallel to the beaches are pedestrian. Children can run around as they please. Have not seen any of the glitter places so familiar from the Côte d’Azur. But lots of German, French and Italian families. The German children being the loudest and the most unruly. Finding a table for eight or ten is never a problem. We won’t have to do any pre-bookings.

Alassio has only one Saracen Tower - but plenty of Beach Space for visiting Families

Another observation relates to food. The Ligurian coast is not Haut Cuisine where you go for 7-course dinners. It is hearty cuisine with traditional food - tasty and good quality. You won’t be disappointed even when ending in a modest restaurant. A plate of shrimps or spaghetti vongole is EUR 15.- only. A good bottle of Vermentino between EUR 20.- and 30.-. Liguria offers affordable and delicious local cuisine. And friendly, cheerful service. In Switzerland, my home country, only foreigners work in restaurants. There are no Swiss in the hospitality business. In Liguria, locals run the show. With their loud Italian way of life. What a delightful difference. Plus, all waiters speak French, German and English – fluently. We will probably eat dinner more often on shore than in any previous trip.

La Pigna, San Remo's old Town, is definitely worth a visit

Last but not least, the beaches are rather different from the ones we are used to. Most are pebble beaches. The drop-off of the Ligurian coast is so steep that pebbles don't grind to sand. Most of the beaches are thus dark grey, reflecting the colour of the rocks they were cut from. Being on a boat, it won't matter to us. We have our own beach - right into the sea

San Remo's Senior Citizens love the Park above la Pigna - once the Town's Fortress

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