Ventimiglia is a lively and vibrant city with a clear commercial soul that makes it very popular even by the inhabitants of nearby France who frequent it very often. The covered market and the Friday market are a fixed stop for those who love the best food and wine products.
Behind this commercial and dynamic face hides a city that has an ancient and fascinating history that begins with prehistoric man, of which we still have evidence today in some of the city museums and in the caves of the Balzi Rossi.
The story tells of the life here of the ancient Romans who bequeathed a theater in plain sight and the ruins of the old Albintimilium.
Ventimiglia alta is instead a monument to the Middle Ages that once again tells a completely different story.
Today Ventimiglia offers a varied gastronomy and here many restaurants stand out for being among the best in Liguria. There is no shortage, especially in summer, of events that trace the history of the city that entertain visitors.
But those who know the city well know that in many corners of the city nature is the real protagonist.
In Ventimiglia you will discover unexpected views that will leave you amazed: hidden corners of unspoiled nature, such as the famous Hanbury gardens. Relaxing beaches such as the Calandre or Balzi Rossi. Pleasant views like the oasis of Nervia.
Where is Ventimiglia located
Beauty has no boundaries
Ventimiglia is located right on the coastal border between France and Italy, in the extreme Western Liguria .
Like the entire Riviera of Flowers Ventimiglia enjoys in a very favorable climate every day of the year.
The proximity to the border and to the Principality of Monaco make Ventimiglia an extremely lively and commercial city where the inhabitants of the Alps are assiduous frequenters of the markets and shops of the city.
Behind Ventimiglia there are two valleys rich in medieval villages : Val Roya and Val Nervia.
What to visit in Ventimiglia
Those unfamiliar with Ventimiglia would never expect this city to have so many points of interest to visit. Just take a look and choose, there really is something for everyone: for lovers of history, culture, nature or shopping.
The Caves of the Balzi Rossi
Near the border between Italy and France, in the suggestive coastal stretch of the hamlet of Grimaldi, there is one of the most important Paleolithic sites in Europe, the caves of Balzi Rossi with the attached prehistoric museum.
In the caves, which owe their name to the red color of the rocky walls, the remains of prehistoric burials of the cro-magnon man were found, but also animal remains belonging to very interesting species, such as the rhinoceros, the ancient elephant and the hippo.
Inside the museum you can also admire objects from the daily life of primitive man such as blades, arrowheads, stone statuettes and engravings.
The Theater and the Roman City
The Roman city of Albintimilium was founded at the beginning of the 2nd century BC and had an important role as an Italic center before the western provinces of the empire.
Today it is possible to see the walls in which the doors equipped with circular towers open and the theater, which dates back to the end of the second century AD. The Ancient Roman Theater is still used today for shows and entertainment.
It is also possible to see the remains of the thermal plant and its floor mosaics, the urban districts and some private villas, the domus.
It is one of the most important historical centers of Liguria which, like an extraordinary and fascinating open-air museum, preserves almost 10 centuries of the city’s history.
From the 8th century AD, with the arrival of the Lombards, the population abandoned the Roman city and the inhabited center was moved to the highest and most protected hill beyond the Roja river.
The upper town remained the center of Ventimiglia’s life until 1800, when the arrival of the railway favored the development of the city as we know it today.
Inside its walls and among its alleys there are churches, oratories, convents, noble palaces and an exceptional artistic heritage.
The best way to visit the city is to choose one of the streets that from the river level lead, between short climbs and steep stairs, to the top of the hill: in this way you will fully experience the labyrinthine sense of the urban fabric, marked by ups and downs, vaulted passages, dark corners and sudden bright squares.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
The cathedral of Ventimiglia is considered one of the best examples of the Romanesque architecture of Liguria. It rises above the remains of an ancient medieval church whose crypt can still be seen today.
The three-nave structure dates back to the 11th century. The apses and the extraordinary portal of the facade, built with the stone of the turbie, date back to the end of the 12th century. The interior of the cathedral, of great charm and suggestion, preserves very interesting paintings.
Next to the cathedral there is also the Romanesque octagonal baptistery dedicated to San Giovanni, perfectly preserved but not its original forms.
Church of San Michele
The church of San Michele was built in the 10th century by the Counts of Ventimiglia: despite the troubled history, marked by collapses, destructions and renovations, the interior still retains its cozy medieval atmosphere.
One of the peculiarities of the church is that some Roman columns dating back to the Emperor Caracalla have been reused. Just two of them are placed at the entrance of the church as a holy water font.
The Aprosiana Library was founded in 1648 by Father Angelico Aprosio from Ventimiglia. It was the first public library in Liguria and today it is located in via Garibaldi in the historic center of Ventimiglia Alta.
The original collection, of which about 7000 volumes are preserved, constitutes one of the most important Baroque nuclei in Italy with very rare editions of considerable value.
In the same venue are also exhibited 9 large canvases, including the portrait of the astronomer Gian Domenico Cassini, a native of Perinaldo, called in 1669 to the court of Louis, the fourteenth king of France where he spent the rest of his life.
The Hanbury Gardens
The Hanbury Gardens they represent the most famous acclimatization garden of the Riviera and one of the most important in Europe.
Thanks to the favorable climatic and natural position of Punta Mortola, the surface of this extraordinary park of 18,000 hectares and its interior coexist with exotic plants from all over the world and examples of Mediterranean flora.
The result is a grandiose ensemble that harmonizes with the villa, the other buildings and the ornamental elements such as fountains, stairways, benches and pergolas and the terracing sloping down to the sea.
The Fort of the Annunziata
The Annunziata fort is a fortress overlooking the sea with phenomenal views of the French Riviera and beaches as far as Bordighera.
Today it is a museum named after Gerolamo Rossi, famous for his archaeological research: it was in fact he who discovered the Roman theater of Albintimilium.
Indeed, it is in these very halls that one can see pottery from the Roman period and glassware from Albintimilium: perfume bottles, glasses, cups, and spice aroma bottles.
In addition to Roman artifacts, there are documents related to the fortress, a collection of prehistoric terracotta figurines, and sculptures collected by Thomas Hanbury in the late 1800s.
Porta Canarda is a fine example of a medieval fortification built in the 13th century.
It was one of the 8 medieval defense and access gates to the city of Ventimiglia.
This historic monument is ideal to visit for those who want to savor a testimony of Ventimiglia’s past, not to mention that you can enjoy an incredible view of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Ventimiglia Market
The covered market of Ventimiglia originated in 1922 as a flower market. It was the first construction in Europe for the marketing of cut flowers.
Today the Ventimiglia covered market is very famous, in Italy and in neighboring France, for the variety and quality of its products: fruit and vegetables, cold cuts and cheeses, typical gastronomic products and of course flowers and plants.
Ventimiglia is also famous for its Friday market . If you want to deepen the topic, I invite you to read the dedicated article.
Oasis of Nervia
On the eastern border of Ventimiglia there is the Oasis of Nervia, an important wildlife oasis managed by the WWF of about 6 hectares.
This magical place can be easily reached from the Ventimiglia seafront or following the cycle / pedestrian bridge that connects the city to that of Camporosso.
Protected Marine Area of Capo Mortola
The Marine Protected Area of Capo Mortola is a natural park between Italy and France with a surprising natural environment.
This marine area is located right in the sea area where the Hanbury gardens overlook. This area is of considerable geological and paleontological interest. In fact, there are important fossil deposits and its seabed rich in shallows is extremely precious to guarantee an incredible marine biodiversity.
During a dive you can admire the rocky and sandy bottoms rich in sponges, gorgonians, molluscs and extraordinary fish. At a depth of 36 meters, a fresh water spring hides in a crack in the rocks, inside a mysterious underwater cave.
What to eat in Ventimiglia
There Pisciadella it is part of the large family of pizzas and focaccias. But woe to call it pizza or red focaccia: pisciadela is the result of an ancient tradition of Ventimiglia that has been handed down from generation to generation.
This dish, similar to the Sardenaira di Bordighera, is a focaccia with a rich tomato sauce prepared with onions and extra virgin olive oil, garnished with garlic, olives, anchovies, capers and a sprinkling of oregano.
In the past, the Pisciadela was prepared daily by all the families and cooked in the common wood-burning ovens: each hamlet had one and some are still in existence. He was always present during village festivals and workers’ packed lunches.
Today pisciadela can be found in all the best bakeries and typical restaurants in the city.
La Pisciadela is part of the Deco of the city. The quality certification that attests its provenance and origin.
There Castagnola it is a dessert of nineteenth-century origin that originated from the imagination of Popular Cuisine: it was born to replace and imitate the most refined marron glacé that only the richest families could afford.
Despite the name it does not contain chestnuts or chestnut flour.
The name derives only from the shape of the color reminiscent of the chestnut.
The dough of this traditional dessert contains cocoa, chocolate, coffee and various spices such as cinnamon, cloves and orange flower water. In the original recipe there are no animal or vegetable fats.
Angela Castagnola Estathé enhanced by the Deco brand.
Many of the restaurants in Ventimiglia can easily be considered among the best in Liguria. Surely fish cuisine is the predominant one.
However, there are some small, lesser-known specialties that are steeped in the history of tradition. Now here are some tips for you:
- Brandacujun: a cream of stockfish creamed with potatoes, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil;
- La Turta de Lurè: typical local dessert that recalls panettone and is consumed at Christmas, Easter and the most important holidays;
- U Bernardu: a sweet that was once very popular and is a sweet bread with polenta that dates back to the sixteenth century;
- U Buiabasciu: an extraordinary local fish soup.
Events in Ventimiglia
The Battle of Flowers
The battle of flowers is a parade of flowered floats that takes place annually in Ventimiglia in the second half of June.
The first editions date back to the beginning of the twentieth century and were held to celebrate the carnival or the beginning of Spring.
Each edition is attended by an average of ten wagons set up by as many wagon companies who compete to create the most spectacular flowery wagon. Each edition has a theme to be inspired by when designing the wagon.
Every year during medieval August Ventimiglia plunges into its past and dresses up with an extraordinary medieval atmosphere.
You will meet soldiers, ladies, Knights who parade through the city and compete in the alleys and squares of the historic center. The background is painted with brightly colored flags, drum rolls and trumpet blasts.
Naturally, there is no lack of food and wine corners, markets and guided tours of historic sites.
Among the most awaited moments of medieval August there is the historical procession and the regatta of the sestieri: a maritime Palio in which six of the six districts of Ventimiglia compete in a regatta of Ligurian goiters.
The patronal feast of San Secondo, which takes place every year on August 26, is a very heartfelt moment for the people of Ventimiglia.
The winner of the city prize, the “San Segundin D’Argentu” is proclaimed, mass is celebrated and the procession takes place in the historic center.
In the evening it is an explosion of colors with fireworks on the waterfront accompanied by background music.
How to get to Ventimiglia
The easiest way to reach Ventimglgia is by car with the A10 Genoa-Ventimiglia motorway . After the exit, at the Ventimiglia toll booth, there is a road with several lanes that leads right into the center.
It is also very easy to get to Ventimiglia by train: all trains from Milan, Genoa and France stop at the city’s station.
The airport the closest is Nice and, by car, without traffic, it is just 40 minutes away. To reach the airport, city taxis (cheaper than French ones) and taxi services are recommended car rental with driver , extremely professional.