Make your own free website on


Jan. 26.

WE have now been several times to Ventimiglia, which is five miles from hence, a beautiful drive along the Genoa Cornice. At the little half-way village of St. Mauro, whose painted church rises on an olive-clad promontory against the blue sea, is the Sardinian custom house, where carriages from Mentone draw up for an instant, but are allowed to go on without further hindrance when the driver calls out "c'est une promenade." The whole of the latter part of the way, the fine castle of Ventimiglia, which forms the chief fortress between Genoa and Nice, rises before you, crowning the brown precipices with its white walls.

The fortress is entered by gates and a drawbridge, closing the narrow passage of the rocky steep, which could be easily guarded and will remind the traveller in Southern Italy of the pass at Terracina. Within, the town runs along a ledge of rock in a picturesque outline of brightly coloured towers, old houses, and deserted convents, while below lies a little port with fishing vessels and some curiously pointed isolated rocks.

La Strada Grande is narrow and quaint, lined with fine old houses, some of which are painted on the outside with figures of animals, while others retain in marble balconies, relics of their former grandeur. People talk Italian, and women shout, as at Naples, before the stalls of maccaroni and pollenta, in the dark archways. The Cathedral, of which St. Barnabas is said to have been the first bishop, is a long picturesque building, with a curious apse, a grey Lombardo-gothic porch, and a tall tower. Beside it stands the huge palace of the Lascaris, with an open loggia and staircase, reminding one of mediaeval pictures of the death of John the Baptist, in which Herodias' daughter looks over a balcony at the top of the broad twisted stairs, on which servants are walking to and fro with dishes for the feast, while the execution is going on beneath.

A beautiful subject for a drawing is afforded by the east end of the Cathedral, where the bright colouring of the building contrasts well with the grand background of snow mountains, beyond the broad stony bed of the torrent Roya. But the finest view of all is from beneath, in the bed of the torrent itself, whence the town is seen rising gradually in tier above tier of old houses, churches and convents, with purple mountains and snow peaks beyond, and in the foreground the long bridge of irregular pointed arches, occasionally replaced by timber, while groups of gaily-dressed washerwomen are at work upon the sand-banks in the bed of the river.

A path, which turns aside to the left from the bridge, leads through a low postern gate to a narrow staircase up the inside of the city walls, and overhanging the orange-gardens at a considerable height. No one is advised to try it, who is not tolerably steady of head, and sure of foot, though it is the nearest way to St. Michaele, a yellow brown Romanesque church on the crest of the hill. This church is worthy of attentive observation; the rough stone walls of the interior remain in their original state, and the crypt is a remarkably fine one. St. Michaele was first a temple of Castor and Pollux, and afterwards a Benedictine Convent. The view from below this church is one of the most striking on the whole Riviera. Two Roman mile-stones are preserved here, one bearing the number DXC, and inscriptions of Augustus and Antoninus Pius. The church tower and village which rise from the moist meadows and olive groves beyond the bridge, belongto theBorgo di Ventimiglia, which contains many quaint bits of architecture, and where there is a pleasant little inn, called the Albergo della Scatola. Here luncheon may be obtained, and eaten on the flat balustraded roof, whence there is a lovely view of the town, with its old houses, and its castle cresting the opposite hill.

An inn at Ventimiglia, was, about the year 1850, the scene of a romantic incident in the life of Francesco Novello di Carrara, Lord of Padua, whose history is pleasantly told by "the author of Mary Powell" in her "Story of Italy." It happened when Francesco was flying for his life from his hereditary enemy, the Count di Virtω, with his wife, his two brothers, and three servants. "After a long and fatiguing journey on foot, they stopped at an inn near Ventimiglia for refreshment; and a man, struck with the singularity of their appearance, hastened to tell the podesta that six men with a lady of incomparable beauty, and apparently of high rank, were refreshing themselves at an inn near the gates, and that the lady was doubtless being carried off against her will."

This romantic story caused the podesta to send a guard of soldiers after them. Meanwhile, the Signor and the lady, who was 'bella, bella veramente,' were resuming their way, when, hearing the regular tramp of soldiers' feet, they hastily plunged into a thicket. They were pursued and overtaken, but so close to the shore, that Francesco fought his way to the boat, and defended himself till all but he were in it.

Then he was overpowered and captured at the water's very edge. The principal boatman cried out in alarm, 'Have a care what you do. He is the Signor Francesco di Carrara, Lord of Padua.' 'Ah, my lord, then said the leader of the soldiers, we knew not it was you; but thought you were carrying off that lady against her will.'

Francesco, finding the harmless nature of the mistake, willingly went to the podesta and explained it to him; and the podesta with great kindness sent a fresh supply of provisions to his vessel, to which the Signor then returned."

It requires many visits to explore Ventimiglia thoroughly; it has such endless beauty in its decayed archways, painted walls, and moss-grown fountains, to say nothing of the purple hills which surround it, and the everlasting snows upon which it looks out. It has now regained the position of frontier town of the kingdom of Piedmont, which it occupied before the union of Piedmont with Mentone and Roccabruna at the revolution. In its early existence it bore the name of Albium Intermelium, and was the capital of the Intermelians, a Ligurian tribe. In the middle ages, while its fortress was held by the great family of Lascaris, its possession was constantly disputed in turn by the Genoese, the Counts of Provence, and the Dukes of Savoy. Monks and priests of every description still flourish and abound in it.

Bordighera is separated from Ventimiglia by about three miles of flat and dusty level, which seems like one continuous suburb, from the number of country houses which line it. The river Nervia is crossed by a handsome stone bridge of three arches, approached by a causeway. Hence is a fine view of the snow mountains up its valley, in which is situated the ruined castle of Dolceacqua. Groups of palm trees appear gradually by the road side, and increase on approaching Bordighera. This place, which has been surnamed "the Jericho of Italy," was almost unknown in England till a few years ago, has now become familiar through Signor Ruffini's beautiful story of Doctor Antonio, in which the principal scene is laid here. The story is in fact subordinate to the descriptions, whose accuracy will be appreciated by those who visit the place itself, which, though not one of the most beautiful on the coast, is thoroughly Italian in all its characteristics. The town contains nothing worth visiting, so that it is best to leave the carriage in the street and to wander up the hill, first to the garden of the French consul, where are some of the finest palm trees, mingled with beautiful flowers; and from hence, passing through the town, the stranger should wander over the common at the hill top, the view from which is best described by the following quotation from Doctor Antonio :—

"A glorious extent of hilly coast against a back ground of lofty mountains, stretched semicircularly from east to west, broken all along into capes and creeks, and studded with towns and villages, full of original character, — Ventimiglia with its crown of dismantled medieval castles, — Mentone, so gay on its sunny beach, — well-named Rocca-bruna, all sombre hues and browns, — Turbia, and its Roman monument, a record of the greatest power on earth, covering with its shadow the lilliputian principality of Monaco below, — Villafranca and its lighthouse.

"Further on, running southward, looms vaporous in the distance, the long low strip of French shore, with Antibes in the extremity; and further still, in the west, the fanciful blue lines of the mountains of Provence. Here and there a snowy peak shoots boldly above the rest; some hoary parent Alp, one might fancy, looking down to see that all goes right among the younger branches."

From this common a winding path descends again to the shore at the point of the rocky bay, which is the scene of another of Ruffini's descriptions.

"It is indeed a beauteous scene. In front lies the immensity of sea, smooth as glass, and rich with all the hues of a dove's neck, the bright green, the dark purple, the soft ultramarine, the deep blue of a blade of burnished steel, — there glancing in the sun like diamonds, and rippling into a lace-like net of snowy foam. In strong relief against this bright background, stands a group of red-capped, red-belted fishermen, drawing their nets to the shore, and accompanying each pull with a plaintive burden, that the echo of the mountains sends softened back. On the right to the westward, the silvery track of the road undulating amid thinly scattered houses, or clusters of orange and palm trees, leads the eye to the promontory of Bordighera, a huge emerald mound which shuts out the horizon, much in the shape of a leviathan couchant, his broad muzzle buried in the waters. Here you have in a small compass, refreshing to behold, every shade of green that can gladden the eye, from the pale grey olive to the dark foliaged cypress, of which one, ever and anon, an isolated sentinel, shoots forth high above the rest. Tufts of feathery palms, their heads tipped by the sun, the lower part in shade, spread their broad branches, like warriors' crests on the top, where the slender silhouette of the towering church spire cuts sharply against the spotless sky."

The coast to the east recedes inland with a graceful curve, then with a gentle bend to the south is lost by degrees in the far, far sea. Three headlands arise from this cresent, which so lovingly receives to its embrace a wide expanse of the weary waters; three headlands of differing aspect and colour, lying one behind the other. The nearest is a bare red rock, so fiery in the sun the eye dares scarcely rest on it; the second, richly wooded, wears on its loftiest ridge a long hamlet, like to a mural crown; the third looks a mere blue mist in the distance, save one white speck. Two bright sails are rounding this last cape. The whole, flooded as it is with light, except where some projecting crag casts its transparent grey shadow, is seen again reversed, and in more faint loveliness, in the watery mirror below. Earth, sea, and sky mingle their different tones, and from their varieties, as from the notes of a rich, full chord, rises one great harmony. Golden atoms are floating in the translucent air, and a halo of mother-of-pearl colour hangs over the sharp outlines of the mountains. The small village at the foot of the craggy mountain is called Spedaletti, and gives its name to the gulf. It means little hospitals, and is supposed to have originated in a ship belonging to the knights of Rhodes having landed some men sick of the plague here, where barracks were erected for their reception; and these same buildings, served as the first nucleus of the present village, which has naturally retained the name of their first destination. At a little distance are the ruins of a chapel called the "Ruota," which may or may not be a corruption of Rodi (Rhodes). Spedaletti in the present day is exclusively inhabited by the wealthy families of very industrious fishermen, who need never be in want of occupation. Nature, which made this bay so lovely, made it equally safe and trustworthy. Sheltered on the west by the Cape of Bordighera, and on the east by those three headlands, let the sea be ever so high without, within it is comparatively calm, and the fishermen of Spedaletti are out in all weathers.

The village perched so boldly on the brow of the second mountain, just above Spedaletti, is appropriately called La Colla (the hill). It is interesting to know that while the cholera was raging fearfully at San Remo, which lies at the foot of the other side of the mountain, not one case was heard of at La Colla. Its extremely elevated situation accounts very well for its escape. But a more striking and really explicable fact is that the fatal scourge did not get round that second cape, the cape of San Remo, but leaped at once to Nice, sparing all the intermediate tract of country. The white speck gleaming out so brightly on the far-away promontory is another sanctuary, the Madonna della Guardia, a would-be rival of that of Lampedusa, but beaten hollow by the latter.

Palms are so common at Bordighera, that all the little children were picking and eating the unripe dates as they pleased, and were playing with long white palm branches which a Roman martyr might have envied — literally "strewing palm branches in the way." When they were tired they came and sat down by us and sang in chorus one of the "canzoni popolari" of the present day, the burden of which was, of course, "Viva Vittorio et viva Garibaldi."

There are frightful precipices on the way to Ventimiglia, as we have reason to know, from an adventure which befell us in returning from thence. Our coachman would drive us so near the edge of the precipices, and urge on his three horses so fast, that from the first it was very alarming. We were just congratulating ourselves upon having a very low wall at the side of the road, which gave us at least a slight protection, while before we had had none, when there was a frightful tustle among the horses, who seemed suddenly to veer round and make for the edge; the fact being that the outside horse had got his leg over the shaft, and was pushing the others. Thinking that anything would be preferable to being dashed to pieces in the abyss beneath, I threw myself out, and when I looked up unhurt, all three horses were hanging over the edge and looking like a network of legs, as they were caught together on a ledge whence a solitary olive tree sprung out of the rock, and which alone prevented them from rolling into the sea; the carriage, with its broken shafts sticking straight up into the air, was tottering on the verge of the precipice, but was prevented from quite going over by the broken fragment of wall into which it was jammed. My companions were still sitting in it, but the driver and courier had thrown themselves off on the first alarm.

A number of people soon collected, but all were too much frightened to be of much use, and it was with difficulty that a man could be persuaded to help in pushing back the broken carriage, and a woman to help to hold the horses, as they were successively dragged up, quivering with terror. Strange to say, none of them were much hurt, though from the extreme narrowness of the place on which they were caught, it was very difficult to disentangle them. The carriage was left to be mended, and the horses to be healed, and we walked on.

The night was cold and the wind bitter. As we drew near St. Mauro, we seemed likely to come in for a second adventure, for the dark sky became suddenly illuminated, and the blaze was so great, that we imagined the whole village must be in flames. The picturesque old church, with its painted tower, stood out quite golden and brilliant against the deep black-blue of the sky; beneath, Rembrandt-like figures in long cloaks passed to and fro in the red fire-light, and when, as if in a play, loud and repeated explosions were added to the gorgeous wreaths of coloured smoke and flame above, and the flickering glow on the olive trees below, the effect was most extraordinary. We were in the height of our amazement, when we remembered that the next day was sacred to St. Mauro, and that these fiery festivities must be celebrating the eve of his fκte.

On the rugged precipices above the Pont St. Louis, the carriage came up to us, with two of its horses, having been mended at Ventimiglia, where the third horse had been left behind to recruit. One of our companions was so tired, that, on the assurances of the driver and courier that all was now safe, we got in again, though not without many misgivings. They were not uncalled for; before we had gone many yards, the outside horse again put his leg over the pole, and again forced the other towards the precipice. I once more threw myself out upon the road, and on the driver's screaming "Sortez, sortez," the others followed. But, seeing nothing else could save the carriage from going over this time, the driver, by a sudden jerk, threw down his horses on the road, who thus served as a lock to the carriage, which rolled upon them, on the steep incline. After this second escape, it may be imagined, that we walked the rest of the way home.

On the following day (Jan. 15) we returned to St. Mauro for the fete, going on donkeys as far as the steep little narrow path which winds up into the village. A crowd of peasants, in holiday costume, were collected on the platform in front of the gaily-painted little church, where music and litanies were going on. At each side were booths filled with sweetmeats, toffy stuffed with almonds, little images in paste of St. Mauro, curious little musical instruments at ten soldi a-piece, and pairs of the national earrings at four. One stall also was piled with books, most of which contained sacred dramas — "The Prodigal Son paraphrased," or scenes in which the dramatis personae were Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and Santa Maria Salome. For two soldi we also obtained the "Vita del glorioso San Giosafat," with a portrait of that saint in a long garment of his own uncombed hair, and the "Piacevole e ridicolosa semplicita di Bertoldino.'

At 4 p.m. the peasants began to dance before the church.

Yesterday (Jan. 25), there was a very pretty festa at the tiny church of St. Agostino, which is situated in a wooded glen half-way between St. Mauro and Yentimiglia, with snowy mountains seen gleaming through its trees. The church itself is quite a little gem of the kind, and is brilliantly painted all over. Above the door is inscribed —


and two little cherubs holding scrolls, inscribed, "Amare quod credidit," and "Predicare quod docuit."

Two marble pillars in the interior appear to be relics of an older church. The village near this is named "Latte" (the Land of Milk) from the richness of its soil, though a village it can scarcely be called, as it consists of a series of campagnes near the sea-shore, (among which, the largest is the summer palace of the bishops of Ventimiglia,) and of a machicolated mediaeval tower in a vineyard. This is the scene so admirably described by Mrs. Gretton in her "Englishwoman in Italy," as the place where she visited the Comtesse de Laval.

Those who intend to visit Dolceacqua, must leave their carriages on this side of the river Nervia, which is crossed by the road, half-way between Ventimiglia and Bordighera, and follow the mule path which ascends its left bank. This path sometimes descending to the stony bed of the river, sometimes overhanging it, and fringed with rosemary and myrtle, has a view all the way of the town of Campo-Rosso, nestling in the depth of the valley, with a chain of lofty snow-peaks behind it. Drawing nearer, Campo-Rosso is found to be one of the most picturesque towns in the whole district; first comes a brown conventual church, with a painted campanile, relieved against the purple distance, and then you enter the town which surrounds a piazza, lined with the quaintest old houses, with open painted loggias, and ending in a curious church, whose staircase of white marble is flanked by two marble mermaids, throwing water into two small fountains. The number of brown monks, looking down from latticed upper windows, or meandering about under the painted archways, add much to the character of the place. A little further, on the right of the road, is an old Romanesque church, containing a very early illuminated altar, and possessing a burial ground, near the banks of the Nervia, overgrown with periwinkles, and shaded by tall cypresses. An inscription entreats "elemosina" for the "Anime Purganti," and the former possessors of the "Anime" are represented by a pile of skulls and skeletons mouldering together in an open charnel-house.

After two miles more of lanes, winding through woods of olives, carpeted by young corn and bright green flax, Dolceacqua suddenly bursts upon the view stretching across a valley, whose sides are covered with forests of olives and chesnuts, and which is backed by fine snow-mountains. Through the town winds the deep blue stream of the Nervia, flowing under a tall bridge, which is like the Rialto of Venice, in its great span and height, and above frowns the huge palatial castle of the Dorias, perched upon a perpendicular cliff, with sunlight streaming through its long lines of glassless windows. The streets, like those of St. Remo, are almost closed in with archways, which give them the appearance of exaggerated crypts, only opening here and there to let in a ray of sunlight, and a strip of blue sky. They lead up the steep ascent to the castle, where the immense ruined halls of the sovereign princes of Dolceacqua, are now only paved with fresh green turf, enamelled with flowers. All who visit it must unite in thinking that Dolceacqua is the most beautiful, as Peglione is the wildest scene in the neighbourhood.

It is a walk of about three-and-a-half miles to Dolceacqua after leaving the carriage at the bridge over the Nervia, and this may he accomplished without fatigue, by writing beforehand to engage donkeys at Ventimiglia. The road after leaving Campo-Rosso is excellent, and the whole might easily he accomplished in a carriage, if the Nervia had not washed away a short portion of the road, between, the bridge and Campo-Rosso.