There is a ‘secret’ fairytale valley in Italy that not many people know about, where hill towns are piled on top of one another and tumble vertically down mountains.
Apricale is the showpiece: one of those audacious towns that stun you when you come around a corner.
Castelvittorio was the most intriguing for me, however, perched directly above Pigna – I’ve never seen a hilltown so tiny and dinky that is almost sitting on the rooftops of the one below:
This is the Val Nervia in Liguria. It’s resplendent with a string of hilltowns that are more or less within sight of each other, and it also has spectacular countryside. The laghetti di Rocchetta Nervina are crystal-clear, turquoise pools a short hike away from the craggy village of Rocchetta Nervina:
There are swimming and paddling opportunities for everyone, including some incredible dive spots and gorgeous picnic areas.
Hilltown cat, Apricale:
Buggio is one of the more northerly towns and is an amazing drive up into the clouds:
Dolceacqua is perhaps the most touristy of the Val Nervia towns and the most well-known; it’s an ancient settlement with a strategic castle and old narrow streets.
A peculiar feature of Val Nervia towns are lamp-lit stone passageways like the ones below; they link the medieval streets of the historic town centres and are incredibly atmospheric and very ‘hilltown-Dickensian’:
Centro storico di Dolceacqua:
Il ponte di Dolceacqua:
One of the smallest hamlets is Isolabona (below), where we based ourselves. We stayed in an agriturismo, which was great, but I would go self-catering if I ever returned as restaurants are relatively limited and the local food wasn’t the best that I’ve had in Italy (rabbit, goat and beans; mountain fare).
View of Apricale:
One of the villages that is a bit off the tourist track is Vallecrosia Alta, worth a short detour to hunt out the brightly-coloured doors and windows painted by artist Imelda Bassanello – the theme is imaginary or long-gone shops and about thirty old doors of the ancient village are painted thus.
The painted doors and colourful crannies of Vallecrosia Alta:
There are plenty of manageable treks of varying lengths linking the villages, so the Val Nervia is ideal for a walking holiday interspersed with views and swims.
Trekking in the Val Nervia -the trail above Rocchetta Nervina:
Castelvittorio seen from Pigna:
The approach to Buggio:
Villages of Val Nervia:
Where is the Val Nervia?
It’s really close to France: you can fly cheaply to Nice and drive to Apricale in 1 hour. If you want the sea, you can stop at beautiful Menton, which is 44 minutes’ drive from Apricale. The valley itself, whilst feeling isolated and rural, is only 24 minutes’ drive from busy Ventimiglia on the main road between Italy and France.
Villages in the clouds
We stayed in Isolabona at Agriturismo La Molinella, which has nice rooms in a super-relaxing setting and its own restaurant:
Val Nervia views:
Another Hilltown cat:
Bring on the summer FFS!