Lingering in Liguria

August 18th, 2007

Summer’s lush colors on the Italian Riviera are worth a detour, worth an extra day to literally smell the roses. Returning to France after a week in Tuscany, our last stop was Sanremo, famed for bicycle races and as a winter residence for royalty of the belle ├ępoque. This casino town is the heart of the Riviera dei Fiori, the flowering coast, a blooming stretch of Mediterranean shores that explode with color - even in the driest, hottest season of a hot and dry year. Brilliant magenta bougainvilla cascades down rocky slopes, barely stopping for spiny cactus, as trumpets of morning glories clamber through oleander bushes dense with blossoms. On this stage of such intense colors, I assumed we could explore intense flavors: I was not wrong. Before heading for the market, set in and around a central market hall in Sanremo’s old quarter, we rambled along the narrow streets as shops were opening and menus were being posted. Overhead, laundry strung between windows reflected morning light, geraniums nodded from windowsills, life was going on as usual. Stalls of clothing, bedding, hats and tools lined our way to the market hall, but once I stepped inside the hall and took a breath, I knew that Liguria’s best could be found here.

The shopper in me went into overdrive: taking home a bouquet of fresh basil didn’t make sense, but bottled pesto and unusual pastas did. If Livorno’s central market hall is a fish-shopper’s paradise, Sanremo’s market is the place to fill a basket with soft and fragrant olive oil, snappy pesto and all sorts of tid-bits to taste at home. At one point, I paused and glanced up, taking in the sunlight streaming into the hall. Set against the wall, high above the rustle and bustle of vegetable and pasta sellers, was a small madonna figure - her halo illuminated with electric candles, in blessing.

At noon, the cathedral’s bells announced pranzo, pause for lunch. Earlier, I had noticed an interesting menu posted at “Ristorante le Quattro Stagioni“, the Four Seasons Restaurant, so we made our way back through crowded streets to sample a local red wine and study their lunch menu. Tiny ravioli filled with borage in an herb sauce, a typical Ligurian marriage of herbs, fresh greens and pasta, were delicious, tender, perfect. We sipped a soft red wine with lunch, the local Rossese di Dolceaqua recommended by the restaurant’s owner, Gaetano Monaco. Wines served at the restaurant are supplied by per Bacco, his new wine bar next door. When I raved about the ravioli, he called the chefs, Luca Diano and Larissa Loapa, to tell us more about their summer menu. And as we left, I noted a sign by the per Bacco door announcing musicians lined up for summer evenings. Live music, good wine, more summer flavors to explore - more reasons to linger in Liguria.

Details: In Sanremo, Ristorante le Quattro Stagioni del vino/ per Bacco, Via Corradi 83/89. tel: 0184.573262. Reservations advised for dinner. Closed on Sunday. Light meals served in the wine bar, per Bacco.

Another Sanremo wine bar, a very contemporary neighborhood watering hole is: VinoPanino&Co, Corso Mombello 56/58. Their selection of wines, by the glass or bottle is outstanding, whether you explore Italian wines or switch to French or Chilean. Do sample any of a long list of paninos (small open-faced sandwiches) before tackling a plate of smoked swordfish carpaccio.

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