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Day Trip to Ancient Ventimiglia, Italy

If you're looking for a day trip off the beaten path when you're in southern France or northern Italy, I highly recommend the ancient town of Ventimiglia in the province of Imperia, Liguria. Only 4 miles from the French/Italian border, it's an easy day trip from Nice where we were staying. The train takes about 50 minutes and much of it hugs the beautiful Mediterranean coast. And it was a special way for my daughter to celebrate her birthday!

Aside from the market, the draw is the old town which doesn't look like it's changed much throughout the centuries. The Roia River divides the town in half. To reach the old town, just walk up! Those were the most detailed directions we had, so when we crossed the river we turned left toward the sea and started our trek upward.

The Roia River creates a distinct separation between modern and ancient.

The route we took afforded a beautiful view of the coast.

The beach was getting ready for sun bathers on the early June day we visited.

This is my daughter and granddaughter making their way up with our purchases from the market.

You're rewarded soon after reaching the top of the hill by the tiny cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta.

Built between the 11th and 13th centuries on the site of an ancient pagan temple dedicated to the god Juno, the citizens of Ventimiglia still worship here today. It has been restored several times during the centuries but the original Romanesque architecture is dominant.

It was a treat to walk around the old town on a lazy Saturday morning. We felt like we had it to ourselves.

It's known that the village existed from at least the first century CE. These narrow lanes remind you how old it is.

We soon stumbled upon this small chapel, the Oratorio Dei Neri, built in the 17th century. Its baroque architecture almost makes it feel out of place among the grittier, older buildings that surround it.

I loved the pastel colors of the buildings.

At the top of the hill on the Piazza Colletta you'll find the Chiesa San Michele, built in the 10th century. The friendly caretaker who was there the day we visited told us that the church comes alive on September 29, the day of the celebration of its patron saint San Michele Arcangelo.

This is the view of the town below from the top of the hill behind the church. You can just make out the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

Looking away from the sea, the Ligurian Alps, the southernmost portion of the Italian Alps, were a stunning sight from atop the hill.

The Covered Market

There are two markets in Ventimiglia. One is the Friday market that is set up along the river and is said to be the largest market in Italy. We visited on a Saturday and marveled at the covered market which is open Monday through Saturday. It's full of fresh produce, flowers, fish, pasta, meat, olives, cheese, you name it. The vendors speak Italian and French and some speak English, and they couldn't have been more friendly. We bought some pasta and pesto, and of course Limoncello to bring home.

It's located just a few minutes' walk from the train station in the heart of the modern part of the city.

The Italians cut parmesan cheese into bite-sized pieces and serve it before dinner. My mouth waters thinking about it.

Walk across the alley and your nose will tell you that you're in the fish market. Talk about fresh...

That's one impressive swordfish!

We were there only about 45 minutes, but I could have spent all day - what a treat!

Some more photos as we wandered through this interesting town.

A bit of new with the old...

Top Tips

  • I can't vouch for the Friday market, but if I return, it will be on a Friday to enjoy both markets.

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes!

  • Bring a good camera for the subtle colors and the beautiful views.

  • Plan for at least half a day; we spent the better part of the day there including the 50-minute train ride from Nice each way.

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