Ventimiglia : Crossing the border for a taste of Italian life

Ventimiglia is a border town that when travelling from France marks the start of the stretch of Ligurian coast between the French border and Genoa.

As the first stop inside Italy, less than 10 kilometres east from the French border it is easy to visit from the French Riviera in a day or less and it is a good base for visiting the mountain areas behind the coast, or stone villages inland and towns such as Dolceacqua.

One of the main drawcards for visitors to the French Riviera is to pop over the border for a taste of Italian life – it is very accessible with Ventimiglia being the last stop on the coastal rail line from France.

Ventimiglia - just across the border for a taste of Italian life

Ventimiglia – just across the border for a taste of Italian life

I have compiled some tips to help your travel plans if you choose to visit.

TRANSPORT

Via train

Ventimiglia station is the last stop on the French rail network, and it is an Italian rail hub with connections to regional and international trains heading onward to destinations including Milan, and Rome.

Note that Ventimiglia is on French train schedules as Vintimille.

Ventimiglia Train Station

When you arrive at Ventimiglia train station, follow the signs ‘Uscita (Exit)’ which will lead you to the entrance foyer inside the station. Ventimiglia Train Station facilities / amenities include:

  • Retail shop selling childrens toys, souvenirs, batteries, cigarettes, chocolates
  • A newsagent for cold drinks and reading material.
  • A buffet-style restaurant with indoor seating. You can order hot and cold drinks (coffee, alcohol, sodas), hot meals (pizzas, paninis) and counter sandwiches.
  • A waiting room inside the station. Note: There is no seating at all in the platform areas.
  • Women’s, men’s and designated disabled toilets are located at ground level inside the station – all toilets are free of charge and accessible with wide entrances and wash basins/hand dryers. There are also baby changing tables in the disabled toilets.
  • Coin-operated vending machines are on all the platforms stocked with a range of snack foods and drinks. You can even buy coffee!
  • There is a taxi stand directly outside the station, and the main road has many amenities including banks and cafeterias.

Accessibility for persons with reduced mobility

There are no elevators at Ventimiglia Train Station to access the platforms, and each platform is accessed by at least 15 stairs from the concourse walkway, then again into the main entrance foyer.

However, as part of a partnership with Italian Rail, Ventimiglia Train Station offers assistance to passengers with reduced mobility with advance reservation.

Visit the link below for further information: http://www.rfi.it/cms/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=fc9048710119c310VgnVCM1000008916f90aRCRD#8

Via car

The main consideration when choosing to travel via car is car parking.

The actual driving time is relatively fast – (dependent on traffic) you’ll arrive in Ventimiglia within an hour from Monaco or Nice on the highway.

The best transport option on Fridays is to take the train as vehicle traffic is congested in Ventimiglia due to the open-air market.

If you desperately want to take a car, the main car park in the centre of town on Friday is virtually inaccessible and is pay-and-display (take a ticket and pay at the machine before leaving). There is parking around the train station, or in a few car parks across the river. If you want to try your luck with street parking, car park spaces are free if they are marked white, yellow spaces are private and reserved, and blue spaces are pay-and-display.

Via bus

Take Line 100 bus from Nice or Monaco to its final stop in Menton (€1,50 per passenger, regular buses every 15 minutes on average), then change to Line 905 bus going in the direction of Tende – it’s a 15 minute journey to Ventimiglia but the buses on this particular sector are less frequent so again I would highly recommend the train, unless you love buses and prefer not to take the train.

Timetables for Line 100 are found here: https://www.cg06.fr/vous-deplacer-en-bus/lignes-et-horaires-3029.html

Timetables for Line 905 are found here: http://www.tendemerveilles.com/2-non-categorise/111-acces.html

Another tip to note if you catch the Italian buses the bus stops have a sign ‘Fermata’ and often a small bus icon.

a pretty view of the river and snow-capped mountains in the far background

a pretty view of the river and snow-capped mountains in the far background

VENTIMIGLIA MARKETS

Everyone on the French Riviera knows about the Ventimiglia market, especially the Friday market. Love it or hate it, if you fancy visiting here are some helpful tips:

What time is the Ventimiglia Market open?

The Ventimiglia Market hours are:

  • For the covered indoor market, it is open Monday to Saturday from 7am until 1 pm. On Friday and Saturday it reopens again at 3pm.
  • The outdoor market is open Fridays only – from 8am until 4.30pm/5pm.

Finding the Ventimiglia Markets

It is very easy to find both the covered indoor market, and the outdoor market.

As you exit Ventimiglia Train Station, you continue straight ahead on Via Della Repubblica and the covered indoor market is on the right-hand side in a brown and orange-coloured building about 300 metres from the station.

 

Look for this brown & orange-coloured building for the indoor covered market

Look for this brown & orange-coloured building for the indoor covered market

This main road leading to the markets has banks with ATM’s, tobacco shops, pharmacy’s, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops – so there are a lot of amenities here.

The outdoor market is directly at the end of Via Della Repubblica on the seafront.

Both markets are on flat, level ground so they are accessible for persons with reduced mobility, and for families who have kids in baby strollers/buggies.

What goods will you find at the Ventimiglia Markets

Indoor covered market

I find the quality of the produce much higher than in France, the size of the produce is bigger and the prices for produce are about a third cheaper.

The pastries and sweet goods are mostly cheaper in Italy, a recent price comparison I did (November 2014):

6 x medium-sized individual patisserie tarts in Ventimiglia = €6; in France = €9

Large homemade chocolate donuts for just €1 each; the equivalent in France would be from €2 – €2,50 per piece

200 g panettone in Ventimiglia = €2; this would cost me €4-€9 in France

Items you will find at the covered market include:

  • Fruits – fresh and dried
  • Vegetables – all kinds of seasonal produce, courgette (zucchini) flowers, spiny artichokes, specialty mushrooms
Ventimiglia indoor market

Ventimiglia indoor market

  • Fresh and artificial flowers
  • Garlic, herbs and plant seeds
  • Fresh and cured meats – chicken, sausages, beef, rabbit, salami, coppa, prosciutto
  • Fresh fish / seafood
  • Cheese – parmigiano is half price here compared to France, mozzarella, all regional cheeses
  • Fresh pastas and sauces
  • Olive oils, specialty liqueurs and limoncello
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, tapenades, pestos, marinated aubergines, farinata
  • Italian pastries and cakes

The centre of the market is reserved for the produce sellers, and the fringe of the market contains stores with the meats, cheeses, olive oils, flowers etc.

It is law in Italy that you must receive a tax receipt with every purchase, so if you are not given one then ask for one just in case the police stop you and ask for proof of your purchases.

Outdoor market

The outdoor market in Ventimiglia spreads along a seafront section, and to be honest there is nothing you can find here that is particularly unique or something you can’t find in France just as easily. Most French towns and certainly the bigger areas such as Nice and Cannes have similar offerings, though on a smaller scale.

We found some good bargains for kids toys, and food products. I bought 4 jars of specialty products (tapenade, pesto, peppers for bruschetta, chili jam) for €5; in France this would cost me at least €8.

Items you will find at the outdoor market include:

  • Wool and cashmere goods – scarves, ponchos, gloves, hats
  • Children’s clothing and toys – note: the toys we saw were mostly Chinese imports but half the price as what they sell for in France. Lots of toys great for stocking-fillers.
  • Shoes including Italian leather boots
  • Clothing – business shirts, silk scarves, jeans, socks, underwear, pyjamas, winter coats, leather items
  • Jewellery – watches, necklaces, rings, earrings (nothing seemed particularly high-end, lots of costume jewellery)
  • Italian football kits including AC Milan, Juventus, Genoa
  • Tablecloths especially in the Provençal style
  • Handbags and wallets of all kinds – totes, purses, dress bags, clutches
  • Gadgets and tech accessories including smartphone cases and travel chargers, headphones, battery packs, adapters – note: a lot of Chinese imports
  • Vendors selling meats, cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, pestos, tapenade, dried pasta, artisan products such as olive oil
Ventimiglia's Friday outdoor market

Ventimiglia’s Friday outdoor market

Over the years, there have been sellers at the markets retailing fake goods (Louis Vuitton rip-offs, fake Rolexes etc) and while there are some questionable brands and logos that you find in any other big markets, they have cracked down on it immensely. Random spot checks are still occasionally conducted on tourists to check if they have purchased counterfeit goods, and every time I have visited Italian markets there is always a polizia (police) presence so keep your receipts.

VENTIMIGLIA OLD TOWN

Many visitors to Ventimiglia markets pop across the Roya River to the Old Town (Ventimiglia Alta).

The feel of the Old Town is much different than the ‘newer/modern’ part of Ventimiglia where the markets are held – this is true Italian life thrown into your face. Laundry hanging from the flower-filled balconies, peeling paint on stone walls, piazzas with locals chatting with their scooters and shopping carts resting nearby.

Ventimigliacollage2

There is a small footbridge (Passarella Squarciafichi) near to the outdoor market and seafront, but this crosses the river at the very end of the Old Town and means you will need to walk up many steps and pathways.

The easiest walk up to the main town is to cross the Roya River via the next big bridge (the S1) as this takes you to Via G. Biancheri . From here, as you walk uphill you will see signage on the right-hand side pointing up Via Falerina to the Chiesa di S. Michele and Cattedrale E. Battistero and this gives you a direct uphill route.

Ventimigliasign

However, this path is still a gradual climb if you want to visit the main piazza or any of the cathedrals described below. It is paved (cobblestone and inlaid bricks) but it will leave you breathless by the time you reach the top, and I give full kudos to the locals who use these pathways in every day life.

Ventimiglia Alta (Old Town)

Ventimiglia Alta (Old Town)

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Chiesa Battistero Cattedrale dell’Assunta)

A lovely cathedral with religious reliefs. You can go downstairs to visit the crypt and baptistery. Free entry but leave a donation.

inside Cattedrale E Battistero

inside Cattedrale E Battistero

Cattedrale E Battistero, Ventimiglia

Cattedrale E Battistero, Ventimiglia

Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo

Old Romanesque church built in the 10th century by the Counts of Ventimiglia and later entrusted to the Benedictine monks inhabitting the Lérins Islands near Cannes. Over centuries, there have been renovations to the apse, bell tower and church sides.

Inside there are three milestones from the ancient Via Julia Augusta, the Roman road that lead from Piacenza in northern Italy to France.

OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST IN OR NEAR VENTIMIGLIA

Eat / drink

Bookaffe on Via Hanbury, is a great little cafeteria with nice coffee and decorated with library-related items including some book-themed flooring and some lovely vintage objects (old cameras, telephones). From the Ventimiglia Train Station, across the road and left, you will see a set of steps – at the bottom you will see the cafe on the left. There is free Wifi. Cappucinos €2, most pasta dishes under €10, crepes €4.

We ate pizza and had coffee at a lovely café with friendly staff on Via Roma. The name escapes me but it was somewhere around the location of number 17 (name l’Altro?) beside a cheese shop. Excellent pizza and coffee.

Beaches

The main beach is pebbly and nothing exceptional with beach restaurants but it has a lovely coastal view back towards France. There was excavation / construction work happening at the mouth of the Roya River when we visited recently.   A 15-minute walk from main town Ventimiglia is Le Calandre beach which is accessed via a coastal pathway at the western end of Passeggiata Marconi, the actual beach has a small strip of sand and limited facilities it is however a nice walk and popular with surfers.

Roman artefacts

Ventimiglia is actually built atop the remains of the ancient Roman border settlement of Albintimilium.

You can see the remnants of the 2nd century A.D, 5,000-seat Roman amphitheatre at the eastern end of main road – the S1 – it’s a bizarre sight to see this ancient monument sandwiched between the road and the railway line.

amphitheatre ruins in Ventimiglia

amphitheatre ruins in Ventimiglia

Girolomo Rossi Archaeological Museum, Forte dell’Annunziata, Via Verdi.

There are displays of Roman artefacts from the area, such as masonry and tomb stones, oil lamps, ceramics.

Open 9am-12.30pm and 3pm-5pm Tuesday-Saturday.

In summer, the museum is also open Friday and Sunday evenings 9am-11pm (closed during day).

Open bank holidays and Sundays 10am-12.30pm.

Closed Mondays.

Entry €3 for adult / €2 for students

Giardino Hanbury (Hanbury Gardens), Corso Montecarlo 43

British merchant Sir Thomas Hanbury planted the gardens, which descend on terraces to the sea, in 1867, to nurture exotic species from six Mediterranean climate zones of the world. The location of the gardens in western Liguria is perfect for these botanical species due to the temperate climate and rich soil.

Today, the gardens are one of Europe’s largest and most noted botanical collections, and are overseen by the University of Genoa. The terrace and gardens are open to the public, however there is no access to the Villa.

Hanbury Gardens (image: Flickr)

Hanbury Gardens (image: Flickr)

Open daily from the first day in March through mid-October from 9.30am-5pm.

From mid-October to last day in February from 9.30am-4pm (last entry is one hour before closing).

Entry €7,50 per person, or €20 for a family ticket covering two parents and up to three children under 15 years of age.

Museo Preistorico dei Balzi Rossi (Red Rocks Museum), Via Balzi Rossi

This important paleo-ethnological site is where Homo Erectus camped out and found shelter in the vertical shafts and crevices of the terrain.

Visitors may tour several of the caves, the most interesting of which has a cliff carving of the Prewalkskii horse etched on one of the walls over 20,000 years ago. Many of the caves were damaged, and the only fossils once visible in situ destroyed, when the rail tunnels above were blown up during the Second World War.

You buy a ticket for the small museum and this includes a visit to the caves. The museum is split over two buildings and has skeletal remains and prehistoric artefacts including weapons, fertility carvings and simple stone tools.

Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am to 7.30pm

Entry is €2 per adult, €1 for ages 19-26, and free of charge for those aged under 18 or over 65.

The caves are closed if there is adverse weather, particularly strong winds.

If you are strongly interested in anthropology, archaeology or caves, also consider visiting the Toirano Caves which have 3 different caves with prehistoric bear footprints and stalactites/stalagmites and are located at Toirano about 1 hour from Ventimiglia.

FREE DOWNLOAD: If these places above interest you, you can download a copy  hereVIAJULIAAUGUSTA_DepliantsItalie of the tourist office information for all these historical sites that lie on the route of the ancient Via Julia Augusta.

Riviera Trasporti buses

Buses leave from Via Cavour near the train station, make but a handful of daily runs (currently at 9:05am, 11:05am, 1:25pm, and 2:25pm) that stop first at the Hanbury Gardens (15 minutes journey) and then stop by the Balzi Rossi (30 minutes from Ventimiglia) before returning to Ventimiglia. The stops aren’t named after these sights, so be sure to let the driver know when you want to get off. To get back to Ventimiglia, hail the bus from the same stop where you got off.

There are also two direct buses (currently 7:05am and 12:05pm) from Ventimiglia to Balzi Rossi (15 minutes direct journey), or you can stay on the train past Ventimiglia to Menton-Garavan station (7 minutes from Ventimiglia), from which Balzi Rossi is a 20-30-minute walk.

Bus timetables are at www.rivieratrasporti.it

Museo Bicknell, Via Romana, Bordighera

British scholar and botanist Clarence Bicknell created this museum in 1888, the first museum of Western Liguria. There, he placed his collection of archaeological objects of great value, side by side with his rich collections of natural history, which were later given to various Ligurian museums, according to the place of origin of the items.

Curators (French or Italian) show you around this small but comprehensive reference library on all aspects of the Ligurian territory, from archaeological, to artistic, historical and nature-related. Check opening hours as it is run by the University and closed during lunch hours.

Dolceacqua

Dolceacqua is a picturesque inland town overlooked by the Doria Castle, and famed for its Rossese di Dolceacqua red wine and olive oil. A 33-metre single-span medieval bridge links the new and old parts of the town – even Monet considered it pretty enough to paint.

one of Monet's paintings of Dolceacqua

one of Monet’s paintings of Dolceacqua

Fourteen buses a day travel between Ventimiglia and Dolceacqua (about a 30 minute journey).

You can buy a bus ticket at a tabacchi (tobacconist) or at the bar in Ventimiglia train station. It is marginally cheaper than buying it directly on the bus.

To find the bus stop in Ventimiglia for Dolceacqua, walk straight out of the train station to the traffic lights ahead on the main road. Cross the road and turn left. The bus stop is just past the side of the bank on the corner, in front of a shoe and purse shop, and it has a sign that says ‘Fermata’.

The current timetable (Linea 7) between Ventimiglia and Dolceacqua and valid until mid-2015 is here: http://www.orariotrasporti.regione.liguria.it/JourneyPlanner/bin/traininfo.exe/en/51816/23098/55396/10426/86/seqnr=3&ident=0a.06708149.1415793642&date=13.11.14&station_evaId=5335&station_type=dep&journeyStartIdx=3&journeyEndIdx=25&

The more energetic can walk from Ventimiglia to Dolceacqua as part of the first stage of the ‘Alta Via dei Monti Liguri’ hiking trail. It takes around 4.5 hours (roughly 10 kilometres with a 500 metre elevation), details for the trail are here http://www.altaviadeimontiliguri.it/portale/en/tappaview.wp;jsessionid=B77EE995AADD496C31B5EEFEB8908500?contentId=TAP68

San Remo

San Remo is Ventimiglia’s glitzier neighbour, it’s less grungy but still has some crumbling old buildings and a popular casino. San Remo is reached via a change of train at Ventimiglia if you are travelling from France.

Nature walks / hiking

If you are interested in other walking or hiking trails in the area, here are some useful websites:

1. www.parks.it

2. http://walkacrosseurope.org/walk/2012-03-Ventimiglia-to-Broni/2012-04-02-Ventimiglia-to-San-Remo/

Other miscellaneous things to know

Cigarettes and alcohol are cheaper in Italy than in France. My partner’s cigarettes cost €6,50 per packet in France, the same brand in Italy is €4,60. Most bottled alcohol including wines, and liqueurs is about a third cheaper than France.

Other than the purchase of counterfeit goods, Ventimiglia is a hotbed for pick pockets (particularly in summer at the train station and markets) and beggars. The proximity to the French border means there are many immigrants trying to pass through Ventimiglia to get to other areas. I don’t intend to blight Ventimiglia’s image because the local people are friendly, and we did not ever feel unsafe or threatened by the beggars but I think it is important to mention this as sometimes tourists have differing expectations.

You can now save time and research by taking my Ventimiglia tour in your pocket with GPSmyCity found here.

Do you have any other tips for visiting Ventimiglia? Have you visited before? I hope you have found my blog article informative and it has provided some insight into Ventimiglia for you. Comments and feedback is welcome and appreciated.  Feel free to share this tour on Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

 

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