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In the heart of LIGURIA


In the heart

Article published in Motoitalia magazine in 2006.

Liguria is a long jagged coast in the shape of an arch open to the sea, inaccessible inland where hills and mountains seem to want to throw themselves into the sea.

It was the home of famous sailors such as Columbus but also of anonymous sailors and fishermen and has always drawn prosperity and fame from the sea; however, there is an impervious hinterland, difficult to cultivate, whose winding roads connect the valleys by means of passes known since ancient times.

The itinerary connects the mountains to the sea starting from the SS1 Aurelia and then entering narrow, winding and lonely streets.

Read the story published in the magazine.We start from Imperia, which rises in a beautiful landscape of hills planted with olive trees. The city was created by uniting in the 1920s the two towns of Porto Maurizio, perched on the top of a promontory, and Oneglia, a port town. Here was born the writer Edmondo De Amicis, whose book 'Heart' is in the memory (or nightmares) of several generations of Italians.

The SS1 can be very busy in spring and summer, all the towns are tourist resorts like Diano Marina where the writer went on vacation as a child, with his family. We looked for the pension where we 'used to go down' in the 60s: unfortunately it's no longer there.

We continue along the coast marked by Capi Berta, Cervo and Mele, which are part of the route of the Milan-Sanremo cycling race.

The road remains close to the sea but rises a few meters, passing each of the chiefs. We soon arrive in Alassio with its 3 km beach of fine quartz sand and the villas and gardens on the hills, a reminder of when it was discovered by English tourism in the 19th century. The famous 'Muretto' in Corso Dante leaves us a little disappointed, it is one of those places where the people who frequent it live.

The long stretch of houses in Alassio takes us almost seamlessly to Albenga, while the Aurelia runs along the sea of ​​the Riviera di Ponente in a truly spectacular way.

We arrive in Albenga, a town founded by the Ligurians in the 5th century BC. and which preserves in the beautiful historic center the memories of when it was Roman and then an independent and proud city until it succumbed to the expansionism of Genoa, of which it shared the fate from 1251.

In the city the best point for a stop is the suggestive Piazza San Michele, with the Baptistery and the Cathedral of San Michele. The Roman Naval Museum is also definitely worth a visit, set up in the Palazzo Peloso-Cepolla which, with its corner tower, clearly demonstrates its medieval origins.

We leave Alberga for the SS582 which goes up the course of the Neva stream in a landscape that immediately becomes mountainous. This was one of the most important communication routes between Piedmont and the sea and its control caused several conflicts between the Savoy kingdom and the Republic of Genoa.

Past Martinetto the road winds through a narrow gorge where the remains of the Central Fort still stand, dismantled after the Second World War and then opening onto the view of the conical hill where the remains of the Castle of Zuccarello are. it still has the aspect of a medieval fortified village.

From here the road begins to climb, the olive groves thin out and from the scattered village of Erli begins the climb towards the Colle di San Bernardo. The road climbs with wide bends among the chestnut woods that give way to the pastures just before the summit of the Colle, at 957 meters above sea level.

From here the view is spectacular, with the whole Neva Valley up to Albenga and the sea and on the opposite side the descent towards Garessio.

We are in Piedmont and we begin the descent towards the valley of the Tanaro river, which we reach in Garessio. The town is made up of three inhabited areas, where there are still medieval houses.

We now enter the SS28 of Colle di Nava which will take us back to Liguria. The road runs along the Tanaro, the valley becomes progressively narrower in a landscape of rocks overlooking the river. After Ormea, another village of medieval origin, the valley narrows further and the road winds through chestnut groves and high bastions of whitish limestone rocks.

At Ponte di Nava we cross the Tanaro and return to Liguria by going up the Rio di Nava valley, the road is steep and then flattens out by running between wide grassy slopes.

After passing the Colle di Nava with its meadows (and those who have a grandmother will remember the 'Lavanda Colle di Nava') and the fortresses that dominate it from above, we leave the state road to take the winding and panoramic SP3 that passed Cosio d'Arroscia, from the characteristic covered roads in defense of the harsh winters it arrives in Mendatica winding through dense chestnut woods and pastures, they are roads that make you forget how close the sea is so much they are meandering in dense woods and so much are dominated by the mountains.

From Mendatica we take the sea route again, the road goes down steeply. After a few km. With twists and turns, a detour to the right takes us to Montegrosso Pian Latte, a village that was on the ancient itinerary of the Pian Latte Pass. Modern streets have marginalized it and it is now a sleepy village in the middle of a network of mule tracks.

We retrace our steps and quickly arrive at Pieve di Teco with a fast road that makes you forget the endless previous turns. Pieve di Teco is a town whose medieval structure has been preserved almost intact to remind us of the time when it was an important commercial center and a Genoese outpost in the centuries-old battles against the Savoy. Characteristics of the town are the black stone architecture and the slate portals.

Shortly after Pieve di Teco we turn right to go up the narrow and recessed Rezzo Valley, covered with dense woods on the right side, characterized by olive groves on the left. We go up towards the village of Rezzo along the road of one of the special stages of the San Remo car rally, that of Ponte dei Passi. The Rally today no longer has worldwide validity but remains in the memory of enthusiasts as one of the most beautiful car competitions on the road. After all, these roads we travel on are a real joy for driving. We stay on very tortuous roads going down towards Imperia and passing through Prelà surrounded by olive groves, we take the last portion of curves of the day going up among the tiny villages that make up the town of Vasia. From here it is only a quick descent into the valley, along the course of the Vasia stream until returning to Imperia through Porto Maurizio.

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