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Leaving the sea behind at Ventimiglia you enter the Val Nervia, which stretches for 20 km/12 miles up toward the Maritime Alps. The River Nervia winds through the bottom with many of the valley's towns dotted along its banks. The first is Camporosso--now a bedroom community for the coastal resort towns. It was once part of the Magnifica Comunita degli Otto Luoghi. The road then leads to Dolceacqua, divided in two by the river. The old town, Terra, dominated by the Doria castle, is attached to the new town, Borgo, by a medieval bridge that Claude Monet (who painted it several times) called "a jewel of lightness." Traveling farther, you arrive at Pigna, a hillside village whose churches house several precious works of art. From the town you can spot Castel Vittorio, Pigna's ancient archrival, high atop a hill overlooking the valley. Time seems to stand still while walking its cobbled streets. Doubling back and then detouring to a side road at the junction town of Isolabona, you arrive at Apricale, known as the "village of the artists" for its many craft workshops and the murals that adorn its inner sanctums. Then it's on to Perinaldo, birthplace of the astronomer Cassini, who is honored in his hometown with an observatory.
Considering the short distance one travels to get there, the inland towns have little in common with the coastal resorts. Ancient architecture reigns supreme, and the surrounding hillsides--covered with Mediterranean maquis to nearly 1,000 feet of altitude, then giving way to pines--are quiet and bare of development. Some of the towns themselves seem scarcely populated. More and more residents have shuttered their homes and moved in search of employment on the coast.
At the lower altitudes around Camporosso and Dolceacqua, flower cultivation for the market at San Remo is a mainstay of the economy, but higher up the more traditional activities of winemaking and olive growing are pursued. The famed wine of the valley is Rossese di Dolceacqua, though the vines are cultivated throughout the Val Nervia, and there are ample opportunities to taste it at quaint osterie throughout the area. Olive oil (especially that from Castel Vittorio and Apricale) dresses simple dishes at such places. Perhaps the best way to work up an appetite is to hike the beginning of the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri, the High Ligurian Trail that starts at the mouth of the Nervi and ends at the Tuscan border.
Getting to the Val Nervia
By Train: The nearest FS station is at Ventimiglia. >From there you'll need to proceed by car, foot, bike, or bus. For schedules, see www.trenitalia.it.
By Car: Exit the A10 autostrada at Ventimiglia, then take the SS64 that leads to Camporosso, Dolceacqua, Pigna, and Castel Vittorio, minding the road signs. For Perinaldo and Apricale, return to Isolabona (between Dolceacqua and Pigna) and follow the signs.
By Bus: Bus service in the area is provided by Riviera Trasporti. For fares, schedules and information see www.rivieratrasporti.it.
For Active Travelers
Hiking the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri
Trails 1-3 of the High Ligurian Trail pass through this part of the Val Nervia, with link-up trails that lead to Dolceacqua and Pigna. These are fairly demanding, uphill hikes (with sections of downhill), passing through the maquis in the low altitudes (trail n1 and part of n2) and through pine forests at higher elevation (rest of n2 and n3). For more information, see www.altaviadeimontiliguri.it. The entire Alta Via is described starting on page 212.
* Starting Point: Ventimiglia.
* Ending Point: La Colla.
* Distance: Roughly 10 km/six miles.
* Average travel time: 3 1/2 …