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My trip took me to San Remo, Ospedaletti, Bordighera, Ventimiglia, the Alpe Liguri, the Côte d’Azur to Cagnes-sur-mer and Haut de Cagnes. The beauty of the villages, the purity of the Mediterranean light reaches out to the horizon, where the blue colors of the sea and blue-red sky meet.
The splendid villas against the succession of ancient stone villages built along the hillsides leaves you in awe of the architectural achievements of past peoples. The sun shines on this area providing the perfect environment for agriculture and floriculture. The greenhouses dominate the hills, the abundance and size of fruits and vegetables in the outdoor markets overwhelm the senses. The villages preserve their antique traditions celebrating events of the past and adding the culture of today in festivals and religious celebrations. Only a few miles from the sea the difference in the cuisine is noticeable. Unlike the seafood served along the sea, the aple village’s cuisine is rich in hearty stews, pasta’s, porcini and game. There are many day itineries you can take and selecting a base location depends on if you would like to stay in the hinterland or by the sea.
Life is very different by the sea; San Remo is a large town with a casino and lots of shopping, very chic! Bordighera and Ospedeletti, are smaller towns with beautiful villas, artistically planted flowers and palms throughout. Between San Remo and Ventimilglia they are a little less crowded and more personal. Ospdealetti seems to have a large renovation project along the beach and at this time I would not recommend it if your interest is spending time on the beach. Ventimiglia is a very busy place, with a large medieval town where many people gather along the bridge and enjoy the beaches and entertainment provided in beach communities during the summer. But it is hectic and be prepared to deal with a lot of traffic. The advantage is that it is on the French boarder and visiting Menton and Monaco is an easy day trip. If this is not the kind of environment you want to spend your vacation in, there are may medieval towns just a few miles from the sea towns like Dolceaqua just 4 km away.
I am drawn to the markets held all along the beachfront passagati where there are stalls for as far as you can see that sell goods from clothes and kitchen tools to colorful and huge vegetables, fruits, fish, salumi, meats, olives, spices and breads made and grown in farms in the region. I search out markets and can spend hours picking out things I’ve never seen or tried before and some of my all time favorites. I have found many unusual pasta cutters in stalls in these markets, and every time I go, there is always a new discovery I’ve never seen before. I like to live there and not just be a tourist. I am stopped all the time and asked questions or for directions. I do not have a compass in my brain and get lost all the time, not always a disadvantage, as I’ve had some very interesting experiences. The funny thing is that it doesn’t matter what country I’m in, I guess I must look like a local everywhere. The advantage of renting an apartment is you can intermingle with people on a more personal level. But a word or caution, rent in areas you know because you can really have an unhappy experience. Back to the markets, which are in Bordighera on Tuesday, San Remo on Thursday and Ventimilglia on Friday. Be aware that these markets are only open until about 1PM so get there early. I never get tired of photographing markets and local scenes. The slide show is of some of the views along the way.
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The local markets are the center of life in Italian towns and villages. Usually the markets are located in the heart of the centre of the village.
A multi-sensorial experience that you cannot miss as it offers the opportunity to enjoy the local taste and the exclusive food specialties of the cuisine of the area. The most fascinating atmosphere with vendors yelling out their daily produce, “carciofi, melanzane, pomodori” and locals closely inspecting every fruit, vegetable and herb stacked perfectly on the stands. The peppers, eggplants, melons and flowers create a patchwork of color and spark your senses to want to partake in all the activity. It is where the real people are and the specific tastes and gastronomic traditions can be found.
While studying Italian in Bologna I spent everyday visiting the market and little local restaurants located within the market district. Most markets have a coffee bar where you can just sit and enjoy an espresso and people watch. Having rented an apartment, I found myself in the midst of what seems to be a lot of confusion and activity. The hustle of Italians and vendors can be intimidating and I could never seem to purchase the right thing. But one day having an espresso at a bar in the district, I met a woman who told me that the key is to let the vendor advise you on what is the best product for the dish you plan to prepare. They are proud to help you to select just the right tomato for a sauce or tell you how to prepare a vegetable or fish. I tried this and Surprise! Surprise! I never bought the wrong thing again. I have since gotten recipes and advise on restaurants from market vendors who are more then happy to help. In fact you probably will have several vendors all giving you their view and recipes at the same time.
One market that I go to about every 4 weeks is in Como.The city is famous for its charismatic street cafes and wine bars that serve antipasti, snacks and aperitifs. The lake promenade and views are what attract most visitors to Como. But I go to the market. Here I find the most beautiful artichokes, Porcini mushrooms, huge red peppers and produce from all over Italy. Here is where you will see the real people of Como. You can purchase and sample prepared foods, select fish from a large array fish from Italy and other parts of Europe. Vegetable, fruit, herbs, nuts, cheese and meats are stacked in perfectly arranged stands in 3 different halls. A large area of flowers and plants fill another hall with color and scents.
Next time you visit an Italian town, don’t miss the experience of the local atmosphere. Visit the local “Mercato”.