Liguria Property: Ventimiglia
Italy’s Liguria coast has fewer more spectacularly festive sights than Ventimiglia’s La Battaglia dei Fiori (the Battle of the Flowers).
Film legend Cary Grant is said to have called it “the greatest show in the world” when he saw it in the mid-50s. Half a century on, it’s hard to disagree.
Ventimiglia, a few miles from the French border, is an alluring mix of medieval and modern Italy that looks out gloriously over the Ligurian Sea.
The Battle of the Flowers is one of its most famous celebrations of Ventimiglia’s past and stems from a time when medieval Ligurians would joyfully usher in the advent of Spring.
The pageant, which draws crowds of thousands, sees districts of Ventimiglia compete to build a series of giant figures several metres high and made entirely of flowers.
A procession of floats parades through the town, accompanied by folk musicians, as contestants and spectators throw blooms at one another.
At the end of the competition, held in June, sheer spectacle is the winner as the streets lie strewn in a mosaic of flowers. Not for nothing is this part of Italy's Liguria coast called the Riviera dei Fiori (Coast of Flowers).
Ventimiglia can be split into three main sections. Its oldest dates from a Roman settlement here called Albintimilium and has the Porta di Provenza (Gate to Provence), symbolising its historic position on the route between Liguria Provence.
This part of archaeological Ventimiglia also has a 5,000-seat Roman theatre – between the main road and the rail line – that dates from the second century AD.
Then there is its medieval district, one of the most important in all Liguria, which sits high above the east bank of the Roia River.
The key sights inside its 16th century walls are the Cathedral of the Assunta (with an eight-sided baptistery thought to have been built atop a temple to Roman god Juno) and the Convent of the Canoniche. The convent has an imposing double staircase linking it to the Baroque Church of St Antonio Abate.
The area’s steep cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and covered passageways are typical of Ligurian old towns.
Its main thoroughfare, Via Garibaldi, is lined with imposing palazzi. It is also home to the Civica Biblioteca Aprosiana, formed in 1649 as Liguria’s first public library.
A short stroll from Via Garibaldi lies the 10th century Church of San Michele. One of the columns supporting its vault roof was formerly a Roman milestone while two of the crypt’s pillars were salvaged from an ancient temple to Roman gods Pollux and Castor. And the western edge of the old town has the 13th century Porta Canarda gate.
Then there is modern Ventimiglia – just to the west of where Albintimilium once stood – which has a scenic seafront lined with palm trees and gardens and packed with restaurants and nightclubs.
For its best boutiques, stores and hotels, head to the main thoroughfare Via Cavour as well as Via della Repubblica and Piazza Martiri della Liberta.
This part of Ventimiglia also hosts an open-market every Friday, which is a real magnet for tourists as well as day-trippers from across the French border.
But even in this part of modern Ventimiglia you are never far away from its enchanting past, be it the 16th century Porta Piemonte, the ancient gateway to Piedmont, or the Girolamo Rossi archaeological museum .
Even more spectacular reminder is staged in the old town – the not-to-be-missed Medieval August tournament. It sees different quarters of the town compete against one another and features parades, races and regattas.
Some four miles east of the town are the Hanbury Gardens, established by British 19th century merchant Sir Thomas Hanbury and now Europe’s largest botanical site. The sloping gardens have 5,800 different species of plant and boast stunning views over the sea.
A mile further along the coast is the Balzi Rossi cave complex. Artefacts and remains left by Neanderthal Man, including weapons, tools, fertility symbols and five human skeletons, can be seen in the cave museum.
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