Italy’s hidden vacation gem: Bordighera on the Ligurian Riviera.

Italy is hard to beat, and trust me, I’ve challenged her often over the years. From amazing trips down the Amazon and through the Northwest Passage, each trip has been extraordinary in it’s own way, but let’s face it; Italy just has the goods. Miles of idyllic coastline, beautiful people, amazing food, and it’s lousy with art and culture.

While I’ve made it a life ambition to suss out the best the boot has to offer, I am always amazed when I find a new, untapped corner of Italy that blows my mind. This last summer, I was fortunate enough to squeeze myself back to the motherland to explore, virtually without tourists which was a delicious feat all upon itself, and discover a new region that has quickly become my favorite; the pearl of the riviera ponente, Bordighera.

Located walking distance from France, this is the veritable last stop before you hit the best the south of France has to offer. Nice, Monaco, Cannes, yes you know these places, and if you know them then you know how over crowded and expensive they can be. Enter Bordighera, which has all the beauty and sublime riviera culture that its neighbors have, but with none of the pomp and currency.

This little seascape town was made famous in a very fitting way; through a cheesy romance novel published in the mid 1800’s. “Dottore Antonio” which featured a savory, Italian doctor that took good care of a travelling well to do northerner, sold like a JK Rowlings novel in the UK, and soon Brits were flocking down south to this unknown town and making it their own. They brought with them Tennis and their other well developed skill, gardening, and the area quickly because the flower capital of the world. Not soon after a botanist, Clarence Bicknell opened a research center, and had scores of rare trees and flowers growing in this sleepy little town. To this day you can see the sweeping effect of this imported passion, as the streets are lined with flowers of all colors and generis, and the Bicknell museum still houses some of the world’s rarest trees in the world.

While all this sets up a nice backdrop, the real shine of the town is in it’s location. Perfectly situated on the Ligurian coast where the Alps meet the sea, the potential for doing anything in the wild is at its maximum. Here you have the clearest, azure water you have ever seen, beautiful mountain villages full of waterfalls and swimming holes, and in between, vineyards producing some of the most exciting grape around. Perhaps the best part about this all is how relatively unknown this corner of Italy is, with travellers opting for the overrun Cinque-Terre and not venturing the extra hour west to discover untapped paradise. Just peep for yourself.

The long week we spent there went far too quickly, but our host, Nicola who is the owner of the family run Gold Hotel, made sure we saw the best of the best while we were there. The days we spent eating and swimming at the Kursaal beach club, with afternoon adventures in nearby villages, either riding horses in mountain streams, swimming in alpine waterfalls, or wine tasting on the medieval streets of Dolceacqua. Look, to make it easy here is a list of must-do’s while in Bordighera:

Gold Hotel: Where I stayed. Perfectly located, beautiful property, run by an amazing family that really brings you into their world.

Discoveriviera: they delivered the bikes right to the hotel and picked them up too. Best e-bike experience yet (they also do food and wine tours which look amazing)

Dream Ranch: Elisa Orengo’s working ranch is a stunner with a great story behind it… she’s amazing, and the horseback tours are second to none.…

Gymnastics: Marco Pons is a gem. He kept us fit during our stay so we could truly enjoy all that pasta;) Private training right at the hotel was epic.…

Woodworking: Aurelia Rezoagli is the Caravaggio of wood … if you go to Dolceacqua you have to seek him out. If you’re lucky, you may even take a class from him.…

Wine Tasting: While you can drink wine everywhere in Bordighera, experiencing it on the medieval streets with Marco Barile brings it to a whole other level of enjoyment.

Tour Guide: I highly suggest taking a walking tour of Bordighera, not only is it lovely to explore the streets on foot, but there is so much interesting history you would never pick up on without an expert, and Simona Gibertini is just that. Contact Nicola at the Gold Hotel for the hookup;)…

Beach Club Kursaal: We spent most of our time in the good hands of Kursaal, the best beach club on the Riviera … every lunch there was a dream, cold local white wine, fresh pastas, amazing service. A vacation within a vacation.…

well, all I can say is that it went far too quickly and I already can’t wait for our return. Thank you Nicola for an amazing trip, and showing us this amazing pocket of paradise I had never explored before.

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