Imperia: A Tale of Two Cities

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Walks in Italy

Imperia and its Two Seaside Resorts

Today’s post gives you two Italian seaside resorts for the price of one: both of them more than 2000 years old, but very different in nature – one spunky and bustling, full of compromises between the wish to preserve the past and the necessity of living in the present, the other frozen in the image of its own stately medieval beauty. (It probably keeps a picture of a more modern version of itself, Dorian-Gray-style, hidden in the attic of one of its decaying palazzi.)

"An old castle in Porto Maurizio in Imperia Italy"

The two towns are connected by a walk which is neither lively nor beautiful, but makes up for that by being interesting – driving home a few truths about Italy of which you may have been only vaguely aware.

Please note: not every tall building in Italy is a church or was designed by Bernini.

"A factory seen in Porto Maurizio in Imperia Italy"

Porto Maurizio and Oneglia used to be neigbouring municipalities on the western side of the Italian Riviera (a thirty minute train ride from the border town of Ventimiglia.) They were knocked together in 1923 to establish a new provincial capital. It was the idea of Benito Mussolini who, in the spirit of gentle understatement for which he is rightly famous, called the new town Imperia.

Read also: Noble Cervo and Diano the Brash

A one-day visit does not, admittedly, give you much insight into the “soul” of a place and the inner lives of its inhabitants, but I am willing to bet that, when the decision to merge Porto Maurizio and Oneglia was made known, not many prosecco corks were popping on either side of the river – a river which is not the only thing that divides the two towns as we shall see.

Begin your walk in Porto Maurizio. Turn left out of the station towards the Old Town. You will pass a Tourism Office on the way: ask for a town map if it’s open – when we passed, it was closed  – but at any rate, you can’t really miss the Old Town (use the round tower of the Duomo as a point of orientation)

Once you are there, you can follow a local trail that guides you from one monument to the next. The trail is marked, sort of in a haphazard Italian way, and there is an information panel with a map of the Old Town at the each of its 16 stages.

In addition to various ancient palaces and residences that line your way …

"An old part of town in Porto Maurizio in Imperia Italy"

… there is a very attractive old convent, facing the Mediterranean, with a splendid old church …

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… and great views from the cloister.

"Views from the cloister in Porto Maurizio in Imperia"

Once you think you have seen enough of the Old Town – and there is quite a lot to see, not least listed buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries that have wet laundry hanging out of their windows (not something you see every day, not even in Italy ) – …

"Clothes hung out to dry outside apartment windows in a historic building in Porto Maurizio in Imperia Italy"

… descend to the sea level and turn left in the direction of Oneglia.

This seaside walk – for which you should, overall, allocate about 90 minutes – starts very pleasantly …

"Start of the seaside walk from Porto Maurizio to Ognelia in Imperia"

… but quickly turns a bit scruffy once you have passed the yacht harbour.

For a Northern European, the lackluster attitude of the Italians to the beauty of their own countryside may be difficult to understand, but what I wrote in the San Remo post about Italy’s embarrassment of artistic and architectural riches equally applies to the country’s natural beauty.

It is true that the French appear to take much better care of their own Mediterranean coastline, but then again, they also have much less of it – and many other places where to hide away warehouses, industrial installations and the common ugliness that is, alas, the inevitable companion of large human settlements.

Read also: A Garden with a View in Genoa

Turn right to pass the last stage of the walk through the municipal park, the Parco Urbano, which may not be the most beautiful park you have ever seen, but at this stage, you will be grateful for any alternative to the direness of the Lungomare coastal road.

Cross the river and continue straight into Oneglia which begins right behind the bridge. Oneglia does not start very promisingly – our guidebook had called it “modern and industrious”, never a good sign – but while the town may be workmanlike by Italian standards, in comparison with proper industrial towns in North England, the Ruhr or Belgium (no offense, people, but you know what I mean), it is a right little Florence.

"One of the shopping arcades in Ognelia in Imperia"

We could have spent much more time in Oneglia’s busy town centre with its  interesting little shops, cafes and shopping arcades and were sorry that we had left our arrival so late, therefore not having more time before the arrival of our train. We are certainly determined to return. What better compliment can you make a town?

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17 comments to Imperia: A Tale of Two Cities

  • Hi Debra, there is quite a large collection of maps on this website http://www.omnimap.com/catalog/int/italy2.htm. Other than that, the local tourism offices have improved their services considerably over the past few years and now provide several brochures on hikes in the region, both easy and not-so-easy (at least they did when we last checked).
    In my experience, Apricale is hard to beat if you have limited time and want to go for a day trip to the “lower Alps”. Check out what we have to say on the subject here: http://easyhiker.co.uk/queen-of-ligurian-hills/.

  • debra beaupeurt

    Hello,

    I am a frequent visitor to Italy (from Australia) and just love the country and its hiking. I am trying to find information and hiking maps for the Imperia region. Can you help me.

    thank you,

    Debra

  • Glad to hear from you Kathleen and thank you for all the tips. Mrs Easy Hiker is now itching to get back there soon.

  • Kathleen

    My family is from Oneglia…and our ancestral home is up in the hills above Pontedassio. It is called Villa Viani and Burgo Barnati. I have visited here many times over the last 3 decades and always love walking around Oneglia. Braccioforte is the BEST seafood restaurant, hands down, and we also love Osteria Dai Pippi. Try the gnocchi; you cannot go wrong. We always have a coffee in one of the many sweet coffee houses, especially Piccardo’s. It is really a FABULOUS place and you must visit it over and over!

  • Thanks for dropping by, Jane. Frankly speaking, we’ve also not yet heard of this town. We’ve just started exploring the Italian Riviera. But we will keep this in mind in our next trip and find out more about it.

    On the other hand, if you are thinking of buying property in the area, I would recommend you first spend a long vacation there (at least a month) to explore it a bit, which is basically what we did before buying our flat in Menton.

  • Jane

    Thank you for your great article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. You say that you will have more walks on the Italian Riviera, and have requested free updates (thanks lots). However, I’ve been wondering whether you are not interested sin the Imperia hinteland, as I would love to know more about it. More specifically, I would like to know more about Borgomaro, as I am interested in buying property in the area. Problem is, there’s very little information about Borgomaro and its villages on the net and I’ve been trying to get info from travellers and forums, but it seems like the place is “non-existent”. If you know about anybody who has been in this region, I would appreciate it if you could give me details.

    Happy hiking!

    Jane

  • Adore looking at it, but living in it?

  • I adore the bright, slightly crumbling buildings along the riviera, both the French and the Italian one :)

  • I admit I don’t know much of the Italian Riviera so I am looking forward to reading more about your walks. Love that view from the cloister.I can spend hours in that Old Town area – such beautiful buildings.

  • You’ve got some lovely photographs in this post and I love your description – not too many prosecco corks popping on either side of the river. That says a lot right there. I wonder if there will ever be any will to fix up the waterfront. In the meantime the town of Oneglia looks like a great place to visit.

  • I used to think, if only we could slap on a coat of paint and spruce things up a bit but I’ve learned that it’s not that simple. These old buildings usually can’t be repaired with today’s materials. They take time and need lots of money. There’s a haunting beauty to the town, its location and view can’t be beat. Despite the laundry, I’m glad to see that the buildings are occupied. Wonder how the ancient residents handled their laundry?

  • Well, we do stop now and again, Linda. At least Mrs Easy Hiker makes sure we do as soon as she finds something she fancies to wear or to eat.

  • What I don’t understand is how you can keep on walking! One of the”dangers” of walking through towns, cities, or even villages , for me, is wanting to stop to take a closer look at things. I always make mental notes to go back (sometimes do, sometimes don’t), but in Italy, with its unique history that must be even more so! In 1997 I went to Rome with one of my sons, and my dad, who is a great “easyhiker” and who knows the city quite well. He was forever charging ahead, leaving us in his wake to strive to see things and yet not get lost!

    It is most certainly time I went back to Italy. Thank you for prompting that thought!

  • Follow along, Cathy. You’ll certainly enjoy it.

  • Oh, you’d learn to love it again, Katrina, in time.

  • What a view from the cloister! Nice to be pleasantly surprised by a place like Oneglia, isn’t it? Fun to read about your discoveries on the Italian Riviera — I hope to follow in your footsteps on these walks sometime.

  • Funny how things change. Or rather, how our perceptions change. All the scruffy charm of Italy that I once adored now makes me cringe. Best things Italy has going for it, imo, are the food and – in the summer – the weather.

    In any case, enjoyed the colors and dreaming about summery breezes!

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