Say ‘Sanremo’ in Italy and everyone thinks of the annual song festival that has taken place here ever since 1951. The sportier among them (and that’s most) will also remember its the finishing line for the Milan-Sanremo bicycle race too, while the gamblers will instantly think of its Casino.
What makes Sanremo stand out from the other small towns along the Italian Riviera before it runs into Menton and Monaco? Probably its wide, curving bay, which is great to promenade along in its softer, sunnier winters. That it was always a town, rather than an outgrown village, its roots stretching back into Roman times. And likely as not, because some notable people of the late 1800s decided to happily waste some time, or even buy a house, here.
The long promenade stretches from the steep hill in the west, past the Russian Orthodox church built for the Russian nobility who once stayed here, along where the railroad used to run, in front of the fortress jail built by the Genovese to keep the Sanremaschi subdued and on into the port. This is no longer the commercial trading and fishing port it once was; now it is given over to luxury yachts, simpler motorboats and a few fishing vessels. The waterfront is a bustling place, full of restaurants and cafés – great places to sit and warm up in the winter sun.
Just behind the harbor, where the ground slopes gently but ever quickly higher, you can find the Casino, the theater for the town’s various festivals, the odd shaped square where a lively market is open every day. Behind all that, you can walk into the alleyways of medieval Sanremo, still standing on its pinecone shaped hill called, appropriately, ‘La Pigna’.
The terraced hills around Sanremo glitter with the glass of greenhouses, for this stretch of coastline is famous for its winter flowers, shipped to many parts of Europe. Go high enough, to the summit of Mount Bignone for example, and you can see Saint Tropez and Corsica. A cable car used to run here from Sanremo; it was once the longest calbe car ride in the world but regrettably the venture failed.
Most times, and every weekend, people come down from Milan and Turin just to walk around and window shop in the many high fashion stores here. Its a nice break, a fine place to break a journey and stay for a night.
Article, photograph © Carl Ottersen