Picking up from where we left off last Saturday, with bellies full from our lovely lunch at La Piola, we drove onwards from Alba towards the Ligurian coast to Sanremo. Yeah, it’s one word, Sanremo. Not San Remo. Because there’s no Catholic saint called Remo to this day.
Arriving at Sanremo
There is something about Renzo’s parents’ Sanremo home that is reminiscent of my parents’ home in Lisbon and of the Jakarta home I grew up in (which, incidentally was my late aunt and uncle’s, not my parents’).
The cool marble floors that I would lie on during the hottest days, just to get respite from the heat, the marble smooth and cool against my hot skin. The intricate wallpapers; I was horrified when my aunt replaced the neutral striped wallpaper on my bedroom wall with a green paisley baroque one. The heavy, dark brown wooden furniture and leather Chesterfield sofas that I associate with whisky bars. My bedroom in Lisbon overlooked the Tagus river and on clear days the blue water shimmered in the sunlight.
Dinner at Il Mulattiere
Sanremo has a historical centre located on the steep hill above the main road that connects all the seaside villages. These buildings are old, the alleys narrow and maze-like, I love the strange familiarity of it, like Lisbon and unlike Berlin.
We climbed up the alleys and stairs to a tucked-away little eatery on a street corner in the Pigna area of Sanremo Vecchia. I was sweaty from the climb, plus it was a pleasantly warm evening, so we asked to sit outside.
Il Mulattiere serves regional Ligurian dishes in a homey, unpretentious setting. There’s a lot of fish on offer, goat stew, fresh homemade pasta. I love fish and during this trip I ate as much fish as I could.
Breakfast at Cafe Ducale
Renzo marched me out of the house early. We had passed Cafe Ducale the previous night on our way to dinner and according to him, it’s a great place for breakfast and aperitivo. So breakfast it is then! Spremuta d’Arancia. Caffe latte. Torta di mele because we got there early (for Italian standards) that the fresh croissants weren’t ready yet.
Morning walkabout in Sanremo
Sanremo occupies a strip along the western Ligurian coast. I’m still trying to decide whether I like it. There are beautiful villas and gardens, including the sadly struggling-to-be-maintained Villa Nobel. However, the main strip is really tourist-oriented with all the hotels, signage and services for people who are there in temporarily.
Lunch at Osteria di Porta Verde
Since May Day fell on a Tuesday, a lot of people made a long weekend out of it by having the Monday off. Sanremo was more crowded than usual, Renzo said. We got to Osteria di Porta Verde early enough to secure an outdoor table for two. It’s on a side street, tucked away from Sanremo’s large Piazza Carli.
What struck me the most, aside from the delicious food and the unassuming Osteria front, was the super friendly service. It was a sunny day and nearly everyone wanted a table outside to bask in the sunshine. The Canadian proprietress, in her charming Italian (and her equally charming attempt at French), accommodated the eater’s wishes by moving tables and chairs from inside the osteria to the sunny alley.
I had to smile a little when an apparent long-time customer came in, were seated at an outdoor table near us and when they inquired as how-and-where her husband was, she answered, “He’s in the kitchen cooking.”
So then the clouds parted and the sun moved to grace us with its full presence. Which resulted in ridiculously stark lighting for the pasta dishes. And I messed up the photos by forgetting what setting I put it on and post-processing came out funny.
Afternoon walkabout in Triora
Triora is a medieval village nestled high in the mountains above Sanremo, almost a straight line north if you draw on a map. It’s an hour’s drive from Sanremo, through winding uphill country roads on which Renzo drove like a maniac and made me turn green with carsickness.
Renzo promised me an old Italian village, abandoned buildings, scenic views and a folklore thrown in as a bonus; Triora was supposedly a village full of witches in medieval times. All these things tick my boxes. Hey ho, let’s go!
Dinner chez Renzo
A shop in Triora near where we parked the car was open so we picked up some essentials after our walkabout. Essentials like fermented sheep cheese, red onion compote, dark chocolate truffles, wild boar salami, the Camembert-like Alpeggio di Triora, crusty loaf of bread, milk, Parmigiano Reggiano and Taggiasca olives. The olives are grown nearby in Taggia; they’re small and fruity in flavour. It doesn’t keep its shape if the pit is removed, unfortunately.
We prepped it for aperitivo when we got home. In the pantry, Renzo had rigatoni and material for dinner. He made a simple tomato sauce, threw in some sun-dried tomatoes and the Taggiasca olives, a sprinkle of Parmigiano and that’s pretty much Renzo Italian magic for me.
I really love it when friends cook for me.
Breakfast before driving off!
So after he cooked dinner the before, Renzo woke up early and picked up some fresh croissants and brewed coffee and set up a beautiful breakfast table for me. I’m so spoiled, right?
A walkabout in Nice, France
Childhood memories of summer days spent in southern France and Monaco. I remember my sister had an orange swimsuit with white fishes, swimming in different directions. I remember getting carsick driving through the Alps. I remember the Nice summer was the summer my mother bought me a white pair of wooden clogs and I wore it all summer long.
I remember the blue of the sea. I liked the sea and swimming in it; back then and to this day. The swimming pool in our hotel made us smell funny. Later I learned this was chlorine, or rather sodium hypochlorite, which has a chemical compound that reacts with the proteins in human hair and skin and made us smell like chemicals.
Nice was full of people taking the Monday off for the May Day holiday; I have an aversion to crowds. The eateries we wanted to try out were shut for the long weekend too, so we were a bit disappointed. A long walk on the beach and a bit of sunbathing cheered us up. Wind and floppy-fine Asian hair meant Cousin It impersonations on all the photos I took of us that afternoon.
Lunch at Restaurant du Gesu, Nice
Starving and somewhat desperate since Peixes and La Merenda were shut for the long weekend, I mentioned du Gesu to Renzo who knew where it was located and immediately steered us in that direction. We had a table immediately, sitting inside at a table for two in the French-speaking lunch crowd. We started with a Pastis aperitif before deciding on a plate of regional starters to share and a main dish each.
I went for homemade pasta with pistou, which is the regional French answer to pesto. It was a nice homey dish, but at this point I had to dissect the food science together with Renzo. The pistou was not as smooth as the pesto I’m used to, and I figure they probably just pounded everything in a mortar. There was little to no olive oil, resulting in a dry pasta dish.
We agreed that the food science behind the Italian pesto beats the French on any day. The Italians incorporate olive oil into their pesto and creates an emulsion which doesn’t get absorbed by the hot pasta and dry out, and instead coats the pasta nicely.
Dinner in Le P’tit Resto, Menton
We had the intention of eating dinner either in Ventimiglia, Bordighera or Ospedaletti, which are towns on our way home to Sanremo. We hit unexpected traffic on the way back so we were stuck on the French side. Plus, we rang different eateries like Byblos in Ospedaletti (“little hospitals”, makes me smile every time we drive through it) and Ü Funtanin in Ventimiglia, and they were all booked out or shut.
Google pointed us in the direction of Le P’tit Resto and they had a table for us. It’s small, and run by a husband-and-wife team. Homey, down-to-earth, yummy French food. It was really nice.
A day of rest and staying in
On Tuesday, due to rainy weather and the food coma of the past couple of days, we decided to stay in, laze around the house, listen to music, catch up on reading and writing, chit chat about everything and nothing at the same time. We had macarons and pastries from Patisserie LAC in Nice, and Renzo went out briefly to fetch some supplies for lunch.
It was a really chill day.
Bussana Vecchia walkabout and accidental dinner
Renzo being Renzo, he was rather restless at the end of the afternoon. He knew my aversion to crowds and my fascination with abandoned places so he bundled me into the car and drove me 20 minutes into the nearby Bussana Vecchia. It’s an old town built at the top of the hill overlooking the sea, a mere 10-minute drive east along the coast from Sanremo. It was abandoned in 1887 due to an earthquake that killed 2000 villagers and destroyed a lot of the buildings.
Sometime in the 1960s, a group of artists came to settle in Bussana Vecchia. They created an artists’ village where they could live and work.
We were heading back to the car when we passed La Casaccia. I was feeling peckish and the air outside smelled like they’ve been baking delicious pastries with tons of butter and sugar. We went in with the intention of getting a slice of cake or pie and a coffee. We were seated away from everyone else since a dinner crowd were arriving and getting assigned dinner tables.
Then I looked at the time and realised it was 19:30. Might as well as eat here, we thought. Next thing we knew, plates and plates of food arrived at the table. I really don’t know how these things happen.
Oh, here’s a recipe for Panissa that I found on Wikibooks and another one in Italian with step-by-step photo instructions.
Change of travel plans!
Originally, we were supposed to be in Verona by Wednesday evening, have a leisurely drive along the coast, with plans to lunch at Cavour 21 in Genova and dinner in Solferino. Renzo had organised a family event on Thursday afternoon and we planned to explore the Lago di Garda area on Friday before driving to Torino on Saturday.
However, on Wednesday morning, as we were filling up on gas, his parents cancelled our plans to Thursday lunch as they have to travel to Perugia for a funeral and Catholic mass.
No worries! This being the French-Italian border, it wasn’t like we were short on options. No Verona means more time in western Liguria and Côte d’Azur. We’d head back to Torino on Friday with a pitstop somewhere nice, and will have time on Saturday to soak up more Torino goodness.
See you in the next post!