Five hours after leaving Vicenza in the rearview mirror, with 474 km (284 mi) logged, a half tank of diesel drained and €41 spent on highway tolls, Ms. Garman happily announces, “Arrived at destination,” as my German-engineered Audi A3 Sportback pulls into a vacant slot in the steeply sloping parking lot of Hotel Villa Elisa.
It’s a Belle Époque period, three-star hotel that’ll serve as our temporary digs while we pull back a few fronds on Liguria’s City of Palms, better known as Bordighera, our first stop on this leisurely road trip along the Italian and French sides of the Riviera.
With only one night booked at this elegant villa, with an Edwardian-period interior, before we cross over into France tomorrow — we’ll come back to Villa Elisa for three more nights at the tail end of this journey — we’re on the clock to get checked in, spruce up a bit, then head back out for our first taste of the Riviera.
We’ll start with a twilight aperitivo (cocktail), followed by dinner in full view of the Mediterraean that fronts the seaside known as Riviera dei Fiori (Riviera of Flowers), and cap the night with a leisurely stroll along the lungomare (boardwalk) to work off the calories that we’ll undoubtedly consume. Hey, this is Bella Italia for cryin’ out loud, where la tavola rules.
Bordighera, THE vacation destination of the late 19th-mid 20th century rich and famous of Europe — think French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and Queens Victoria of England and Margherita of Italy, not to mention Evita Peron of Argentina, who stayed in Bordighera just long enough for the townspeople to cry for her and name the aforementioned boardwalk Lungomare Argentina to commemorate her visit — is a living, breathing floral garden, with scents of oranges, lemons and countless exotic plants filling your nasal passages at every corner. Add to that, the abundance of Mediterranean palm trees.
Did you know that Bordighera for years has served as the proud supplier of fronds for the annual Palm Sunday observance at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome? Well, now you do.
Not just any street, Via Romana follows the path laid down for the ancient Via Julia Augusta, built by Roman Emperor Augustus way back in 13 B.C. that connected Liguria with Gaul.
It’s an elegant avenue shaded by those marvelous palm trees that cast their multi-fingered shadows across stately villas and early 20th century Liberty style hotels where royalty and the upper crust, dressed all in summer white, once whiled away their days as Old World money and property deeds exchanged hands.
A quick right at the corner, and we’re now heading down the equally impressive Corso Italia, a wide pedestrian-only boulevard that stops just short of the train station, the lungomare and the brilliant blues of the Mediterranean Sea.
Did I mention the large plate of stuzzichini (small bites, snacks) of savory focaccia (oven-baked flatbread) is complimentary? That’s how Ligurians do sundown. I could really get used to this. You?
Just one of the best seafood eateries along the Lungomare Argentina: AmAreA.
A restaurant, bar and private beach rolled into one, AmAreA is ideally positioned at the end of the lungomare, overlooking the rocky shoreline and just around the bend from the small port of Bordighera.
The food is upscale and prepared to perfection by proprietor Romolo Amarea and staff.
I’ll have the skewer of fresh tuna encrusted with pistachio nuts dipped in a mango-chutney sauce.
What’s that? You’ll have the sea bass? Excellent choice.
Whaddya say we split a dessert? That truffle cake filled with creamy dark chocolate looks terribly decadent. Two spoons, per favore.
Bellies full, we flip for the check. I lose. A complimentary digestivo (digestive), to ease the pain, is on the house, and then the great debate ensues on whether or not we should take that long walk down the boardwalk back to Hotel Villa Elisa.
I’ve got a better idea. Let’s hail a cab.
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