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.

My first trip since COVID, Denver, Colorado, and … wow. Just wow.

Let’s get this out of the way: it is still dangerous to travel, and if you don’t have to, then don’t put yourself, and more importantly others at risk.

While everyone is hurting, and tourist destinations especially feeling the brunt of this lock down, it is a double edged sword to even mention tourism these days. Yes, the economy is important for people to survive, but so is their health. That said, what I found in Denver was inspiring; everyone very conscious of the world condition and doing their absolute best to minimize risk, while still being able to offer access to this amazing city. Open air electric tour busses, timed museum tickets, and tons of fantastic outdoor dining all offer some protection that allow tourism to happen safely.

Denver, the city with the least oxygen but the most love in the continental United States is definitely a magical place. I recently got to explore this and a few other Colorado gems, so lets get to the highlights.

First we descended upon the prim and polished Cherry Creek neighborhood which is full of shopping, fun eats, and our hotel, the Moxy.
This hip little Marriott owned boutique play-and-stay is a faithful rendition of your favorite hipster hotel right down to the reproduction vintage phot booth in the lobby.

One thing that you’ll notice (but not remember) is that the check in desk is actually the bar, a feature that I suggest be standardized in all hotels, and DMV locations. You immediately get that Denver is a beer town as the hotel is attached to a beer garden, you get beers in the elevator, and even beers waiting in the room for you. The rooms are cool and modern, with great views and great loo’s. There is a definite nod to being funky fun,
from the bath product, to the verbiage and even the funky windows. It’s a functionally smart hotel that makes maximum use of it’s minimal footprint with a surprisingly ingenious array of furnishing trickery.

Overall we were super comfortable in our new lil’ home but it was time to explore this cool city, so we headed to the famed Union Station in the heart of downtown Denver. Truly a charming and stylish building inside it’s art deco / beaux arts beauty will impress you making it a great place to chill out or check out the fun and funky art. One fun fact is that there used to be a great big arch at the entrance that said Mizpah, or welcome in Hebrew, and while the arch is no longer with us, Union Station now has Snooze, a must brunch place for anyone visiting Denver.

In this colorful-retro-casual brunch hot-spot you will find long waits for one of their coveted outdoor tables, and for good reason. The breakfast here is an event from their decadent flavor bomb pancakes to their elaborate savory eggs benny which require, for health reasons, one of their loaded Bloody Mary’s to make it all go down right.

Completely stuffed, we decided to be carted around in style while not leaving even one carbon footprint. Introducing ETUK Denver’s premiere fully environmentally friendly tour company sponsored by Bud Light Selzer which is White Claw for people with day jobs. These Denver made, fully electric Tuks come with heated seats and fantastic views of the city. In no time we were whipping around downtown taking in all the sites as our guide pointed out some of the finer features Denver had to offer, like the Cherry Creek pedestrian bridge perfect for morning runs, the decadent Cruise Room located in the Oxford Hotel, the lovely Larimar pedestrian mall and the opulent Performing Arts Center, which proudly showcases two giant Botero sculptures (which are miniscule compared to Denver’s giant blue peeping tom bear who’s origin story is so long winded and wildly convoluted I wont bore you with it but look it up).

Then across the street from a legendary house of ill repute, we got to adventure into the Brown palace. Despite a very unfortunate name, the Brown Palace is a very cool place to take in, with a simply cavernous atrium that will leave you spellbound. Denver’s old world origin charm drips from the walls to the floors here as you can see in every aspect of the lobby’s attention to architectural detail meant to impress even the most snobby of Easterners. Here’s a pro tip: head up to the top floor to get an entirely different view of the Brown Palace and test to see if your brunch at Snooze is still in your stomach. Perhaps the most interesting facet of the palace is its water fountain, where you can drink, get this, actual Denver artesian water from the original 1892 well dug 750 feet below the hotel. That’s something.

Leaving the old-school charm of downtown Denver we popped over to the River North or hip RiNo district famed for it’s abundant world class street art and super hobo-chic restaurants and cafe’s. A trip to RiNo isn’t complete I’m told without hitting up the Denver Central Market which is located in a beautiful reclaimed warehouse. Chuck full of anything you could possibly want to eat or drink, this is a great place to explore and even throw back a few before picking something up for dinner. Don’t forget dessert either. I mean look at these things! Do you eat them or wear them?

From RiNo We headed cross the Platte River to the hip Highland district, which has some very photogenic spots, like Happy Camper,
which is like an Instagram post that serves food. With its giant disco ball, garden nooks, and dripping bokeh it’s hard not to get a bunch of likes. There is also little man ice cream, which besides mixing up the craziest flavors, is housed in the largest milk pail I’ve ever seen. Photo ops aside we were here for lunch and to check out Avanti which is a collective eatery.

What’s a collective eatery you ask?

Well its like you die and go to comfort food heaven. This place is a foodies paradise, with amazing dishes from around the world to make it super easy to forget about your diet. Add in a killer space with lots of seating both indoor and out to nosh on you new favorite nibbles and you got it made. South American arepas, Kimchi scallion pancakes and Southern spicy fried chicken all washed down with local amazing beer will definitely satisfy.

Full on good eats, we decided to take in some culture at Denver’s world class art museum. This institution boasts some of the most outrageous exhibitions, this one was called simply Light which allowed for some
amazing artist interpretations of what light means to them. From Keith herring triptychs to skull riding cryptic this was a visual wonderland that gave good cause for Colorado’s stance on legal mamajuana. Minds properly blown it was time to take a quick trip out of the city to visit the infamous Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is by far the most
beautiful naturally occurring theater I’ve ever seen in my life. When not rocking out, locals use this breathtaking location as a giant gym. Try
that at Madison Square Garden.

It is a truly stunning place that will simply take your breath away, so unique and majestic, and when you consider its just a 20 minutes drive from downtown, it’s a no brainer to fit it into your itinerary.

As the sun set on the queen city of the plains, we submerged ourselves once more into downtown for dinner. Sure you could keep it low key and hit up Duffy’s Cherry Cricket who’s no frills charm is overturned by their delicious burgers and boozy milkshakes but we decided to class it up a bit and check out Rioja on Larimer. This class act of fine dining is one of the best restaurants to experience Denver’s cultured cuisine.

From delicate amuse bouche, to savory pork belly appetizers, and perfectly grilled Colorado rack of lamb to decadent deserts this my friends is the perfect way to end a perfect trip to the great city of Denver Colorado. Onward onto Telluride, possibly the best place to visit during COVID!