Just across the Italian border from Menton even before reaching the centre of Ventimiglia, you will find one of the hidden gems of the Riviera, the 19thcentury Villa Hanbury Botanical Gardens built by British entrepreneur, philanthropist and botanist Sir Thomas Hanbury. Fair enough, the term “botanical garden” may conjure up a dry and boring place full of signs with Latin names to designate some obscure inanimate objects ie. plants and flowers and may not exactly set the pulse racing but believe me, this is one of my favourite parts of the area to just get out, relax and see something different amidst nature. This is thanks to the beautiful setting, the lovely microclimate and most importantly, the mystical Oriental vibe of the place, soaked in a melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere where time seems to have stood still. In this article, I’ll try to help you travel through time to 19thcentury China to understand the history and convey why I love this place so much, why you should spend a couple of hours of your time visiting it and some practical advice about how to optimise your visit… Enjoy the journey!Continue reading
Tag Archives: italy
Picture of the Day: the dolce vita in Lake Como, Italy #worldtravellerblog
Another flashback to somewhere away from the French Riviera and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited: Lake Como in Lombardy, northern Italy, the smallest of the three famous Italian lakes but probably the prettiest. This picture is taken from the gardens of the lovely Villa Balbianello in Lenno, on the western coast of the lake. Formerly known as the Lario, Lake Como has been a reference for natural beauty ever since the Roman times and is the birthplace of the author and naturalist Pliny the Elder, famous for recounting the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. It is also a prime location for shooting films, for obvious reasons and the Villa Balbianello is best known for harbouring the lawn and beautiful tree where James Bond recovers from a rather gruesome torture experience in Casino Royale (2006). Lake Como is only a 4 hour drive from Nice so don’t hesitate to include it in a European road trip if you have the opportunity, you won’t regret it!
Picture of the Day: Genoa, Italy
This is a beautiful photo illustrating the elegance of the city of Genoa in Italy and the lovely Piazza Ferrari. Located only around 2 hours drive from Nice, this lovely coastal city, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, has had plenty of influence on the historical development of the eastern part of the French Riviera, notably Monaco. Its UNESCO heritage city center is unforgettable, as are the views and the food. I’m planning to write a proper article over the coming weeks about my recent visit, so watch this space!
Picture of the Day: crossing the Franco-Italian border in Menton
It’s the start of the week and I’m already thinking of escaping! Actually, one of the great advantages of the French Riviera is that it’s really easy to escape plenty of wonderful places within a short drive, especially in Italy, something I take advantage of a lot. Each time I drive down the motorway, past Menton, into this tunnel and emerge from the tunnel into Italy, I definitely feel like I’m experiencing the dolce vita as one can immediately feel the change of vibe and scenery, even on the motorway. I recall in the 1980s when I came here on holiday crossing the border by train, having a passport check and then changing money from French francs into lira – so much nicer no longer to have all that hassle, I hope that we don’t go back on this in the future as from a purely practical perspective, a united Europe is brilliant!
Discovering the Cinqueterre Villages on the Italian Riviera: a weekend drive down the coast
Discover the unique charm of the Cinqueterre villages in Italy, with their multicoloured houses, unspoilt nature and amazing food, that can be visited on a weekend excursion from the Riviera.
As I mentioned when I launched the blog, I am not just covering the French Riviera but also some places that are a bit further afield which I have had the opportunity to visit in order to share my experiences. This Easter, I had the opportunity to discover in some depth the beautiful villages of the Cinqueterre in Italy and I am going to relate my experiences in this article…
From my experience in the hotel business, plenty of visitors who visit the French Riviera, especially those from other continents, tend to use the Cinqueterre as a stepping stone before heading to Florence or Rome, and these five little gems are well worth the visit. Naturally, given that I have very little local expertise of the area, this article is no substitute to a real guide book: my sources are just the French Guide du Routard Northern Italy book as well as local knowledge I gleaned whilst speaking to the very friendly inhabitants of the villages. But I hope this article and the practical tips I will provide, written from a “French Riviera” tourist’s perspective, will help you enjoy your stay in the Cinqueterre and enable some of the inhabitants of the French Riviera to discover a beautiful and very accessible part of Italy, just a few hours down the coast!
Menton and the spirit of Jean Cocteau
When heading down the coast from Nice towards Italy, the last town you will encounter before crossing the border is beautiful Menton. Located in a stunning setting between the Mediterranean and the Southern Alps, the town has a distinct subtropical microclimate that keeps it warm and sunny most of the year and the wonderful old world atmosphere that still pervades the place makes it well worth a stopover if you are heading to Italy or wish to combine it with a trip to the hilltop villages of Gorbio, Sainte Agnes or Roquebrune Village.
Like in most towns of the French Riviera, there honestly isn’t that much to do in terms of pure sightseeing in Menton, but I’d advise you to take a couple of hours to wander around the old town, enjoy the delights of the waterfront, have a melancholy trip around the Old Castle cemetery and discover the Cocteau museum celebrating this multi-talented artist, all in a setting that already provides a taste of Italy with its warm colours, fresh air and greenery.
The Italian hinterlands: Dolceacqua and the villages of the Nervia Valley
An effortless excursion through the Nervia valley in Italy to the villages of Dolceacqua, Rocchetta Nervina, Isolabona, Apricale, Pigna and Castelvittorio, as well as some recommended restaurants.
Just across the border into Italy, the valley of the Nervia river (more colloquially known as “Valnervia”) is located just behind the eastern sections of Ventimiglia and is one of my favourite coastal valleys of the Riviera, with a winning combination of beautiful scenery, picturesque medieval villages and great Ligurian food at reasonable prices, all within only about 40 minutes drive from Monaco or an hour from Nice!