Sunday, 21 April 2013

Apricale information - translated from the town website

The medieval town of Apricale (607 inhabitants / 291 m above sea level) is inland from Bordighera and Ventimiglia, at 13 Km from the coast.

Its fortunate position is the origin of its name, which derives from apricus, open to the sun, but the main characteristic of the town, which has always enchanted its visitors, is the picturesque aspect of the nucleus, a sinuous cascade of stone houses, spread along the spine of a steep slope dominated by the rise of the castle.

This extraordinary sight, unique even in the rich examples of ‘Villages of stone’ in the Ligurian ‘intemelia’ (i.e. inhabited, prior to the ancient Romans, by the Intemelii tribes), and celebrated by poets and writers and painted by famous artists, who have contributed to make Apricale a town particularly frequented and loved by artists. 

The town preserves, intact, its medieaval structures and atmosphere with its original old town, high on the hill where you also find the Castle and the village church. The houses run outwards in concentric circles and the two quartieri or neighbourhoods, which from the harmonious central piazza reach out in opposite directions of the hill, are called respectively abrìgu e ubàgu, that is to the south and to the north.

A maze of tiny streets, the narrow alleys that surround the pinnacle and are fragmented into multiple levels, connected by steep stairways and covered passages, form a street map unchanged for a millennium and overlooked by tall stone houses often joined together by arches. It is the world of yesterday, impenetrable and reserved, today finally open to tourists where you will find lodgings, restaurants and artists workshops, brought back to life to the great joy of the visitors.

All around, the embrace of a countryside that from the fasce, the terraces supported by dry-stone walls, which over the centuries have snatched from the mountains handkerchiefs of land to cultivate send the silver reflections of the olive groves and the dark green of the other vegetation up as far as the denser masses of chestnut and pine forests on the higher mountains.


Its origins are lost in prehistory as evidenced by the burial mounds from the Bronze Age found in the area Cian deu Re (Pian del Re). The village was founded around the tenth century by the Counts of Ventimiglia and passed to the Doria of family Dolceacqua around 1276, when it was already governed by the Statutes reformed in 1267 (the oldest in the Liguria) and its form of government was typical of a free Commune.
Then Apricale followed the fortunes of the lordship and marquisate of the Savoyard Doria, suffering the destruction of the castle in 1523 by the Grimaldi of Monaco, participating in various wars and suffering, in 1794, the French occupation.


The current appearance and size of the town is the same as at the end of the sixteenth century, with the core older by two or three hundred years. The village has a medieval urban layout of enormous interest, both for its excellent preservation and for its mixed structure. It is formed by the central part enveloping or encircling the castle, arranged in a semi-circle and surrounded by the planted circle of the old Carugio Cian (flat alley) and from the two clusters of peaks located on opposite sides of the ridge. These can be followed westward from Via Castello and Via degli Angeli, with its perfectly preserved medieval gate Cousutàn (from the bottom) and eastward from Via Cavour.

Two other medieval gates that mark the ancient circle of fortified walls, are respectively porta Cutrùn, located at the foot of the supporting wall of the castle - at the beginning of the northern stretch of Via Martiri and the other, still in Via Matiri but on the opposite side, the so-called porta deu Carugiu Cian, complete with its stone hinges. This bears the inscription on the left of the upright stones "1764 fame ubique" (hunger everywhere), reminiscent of a dramatic period of famine. The focal point of the town is the large square.

The steepness of the slopes has forced the construction of precipitous and narrow stairs, sometimes replaced by stepped ramps, to connect the alleys that wind in concentric circles. This along with, often covered, walkways that connect the facades of the houses, the frequent squares and panoramic views on the sunny valleys that surround Apricale make a visit a pleasant walk through history and countryside.

The visitor will be particularly struck by the medieval charm of the village, the stone houses overlooking the alleys with their irregular routes, from steep stairways and dark transverse glimpses of the many flowers and plants that adorn the exterior stairs of the entrances to the houses. This is a place where you can immerse yourself is a timeless world, ancient and unchanged over the centuries, which almost unbelievably is being offered to satisfy our curiosity but also demands our respect.


The main economic resources for Apricale (607 inhabitants), are agriculture and tourism. We produce an excellent extra virgin olive oil, the town is in fact part of the Associazione nazionale "Città dell'Olio" (National Association of Oil Towns) and is located along the “Strada dell’Olio” ("Road of Oil") in the land of the Taggiasca olive. 

Apricale in recent decades has become an artistic center of prime importance, which maintains fruitful contacts with the neighboring Côte d'Azur and the world of art and culture. The prestigious temporary exhibitions in the renovated Castello della Lucertola (Castle of the Lizard), which also houses a rich museum, and outdoor summer night performances of the Teatro della Tosse with sets by Lele Luzzati are just some of the reasons for the attraction, supplemented by the ancient cultural and artistic heritage, which includes frescoed churches and fine paintings.

There are numerous works of contemporary painting and sculpture that adorn the rooms of the castle and the corners of the village, along with fifty murals distributed on the facades of the houses.
Equally interesting are the many churches, among which surely Santa Maria degli Angeli at the foot of the village stands out, with interesting frescoes dating back to 1400. There are also L'Oratorio di San Bartolomeo, with an altarpiece of wood from 1544 and the cemetery church dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abate built on the ruins of a Roman temple. Of course there is the Parish Church dedicated to the Purification towering over the magnificent square, which is located in the town centre, the point of departure or arrival from or to this infinite maze of alleys.

For its beauty and for the efforts of the Town Council towards the development and recent cultural growth of the village, Apricale in addition to awards in past years has been awarded:

"Borghi più belli d'Italia", by ANCI, first Ligurian town honoured with this award.
"Bandiera Arancione" by the Regione Liguria for inland towns, in collaboration with the Touring Club Italiano.
"ISO14001 per l'Ambiente", "ISO9001 per i Servizi", certifications recognised at an international level Apricale has also achieved the certificate "OHSAS18001 di sicurezza" which bestowed on Apricale – the first town in Italy – the attainment "dell'Eccellenza" (of excellence).


Dear visitor, we hope that on this and the following pages you will find all the information you need along with many other insights and curiosities regarding all aspects of social, cultural, administrative and art history of the town, with an eye also to the many initiatives and innovations that its people offer to tourists throughout the year. Here are some useful links:

Town website - only in Italian

Apricale Info - many languages

ASD A Draira - Apricalese social organisation that organises events and activities

Geometras and plans

Well, last week we finally got to sit down with our geometra to discuss our planning permission. I feel I can finally call him 'our' geometra as we have agreed a price and have now engaged him to do the work.

It seems the mayor is very happy to have us invest in the area as he (quite rightly) says that an agriturismo will bring business to the businesses in the whole village and not just ours. That is a refreshing attitude we have not encountered in our other business ventures in Italy. So long as we keep the properties restored in a traditional manner (i.e. no glass cubes and stainless steel) then he is happy and will fight our case on any planning committees. That is great news for us and will make life a lot easier.

The new planning process for opening an agriturismo means that instead of submitting our renovation permission applications one building at a time, we have to do one great big request. This has a knock on effect. It means Mauro the geometra has to survey every terrace, every building and show every tree on the plans. That's a BIG job! It also means if the planners object to anything, the whole project is held up while we resolve it.
On the whole though, its good news.


A Sunday morning stroll

Well, not exactly a stroll. The other Sunday I met up with friends and neighbours in Apricale for a walk along the old mule tracks to the Agriturismo 'Terre del Mistero' for a buffet lunch. The weather lately has been wet and dull and not particularly warm. In fact this walk was postponed from two weeks previously due to the torrential rain. Even this Sunday seemed destined to be wet but we all turned up anyway - hopeful.
We started off uphill (in this area it is always uphill, or at least when it is downhill you know the next uphill will be coming soon) through the cobbled alleyways to the top of the town. Up past abandoned houses we walked which, when you looked closely, were not abandoned at all but only inhabited in certain rooms. Eventually we came to a road (la strada panoramica - the panoramic road) where we paused to catch our breath. These hills are not for the weak-hearted! From here you can see the hills behind Bordighera and Sanremo and down into the valley where the Mandancio Creek (Torrente Mandancio - also written Merdanzo) runs through the valley floor. It runs below where Apricale sits and on to Isolabona to join the Nervia river which flows though Dolceacqua and out to the Mediterranean.
After catching our breath we started off again, off-road, up a mule-track leading up the hill behind Apricale which the guys from 'A Draira' (the Apricalese association that organises social events) had recently cleared and restored. Looking back, we saw the beautiful hills in a wide panorama before us.
Some of us walkers
We continued a little further and came to Stefano's donkeys Bambi and Badoglio. He has recently rehomed these from the donkey sanctuary in Imperia. One is a pregnant female and the other a male. They were not originally a couple but seem to have fallen in love and are now inseperable. They cry for each other if seperated. They are absolutely adorable. I must take Ruby to see them soon.
The boy
The girl
Up and up we went along the mule tracks, pausing every now and again to rest and drink some water. Far from raining it turned into a glorious day. Over 20 degrees and wonderfully sunny.I had brought a little 0.5litre bottle of water - would it be enough? We could see right down the valley towards our farm.
Our farm is round that small hill on the left of the photo
We even had some four-legged company in the form of Dobbin the labrador. That's not his owner - just his adopted friend, Mike.
Dobbin and Mike
We started to walk through some woodland. It was pleasant to be cool as it was warming up, as were we. Eventually we came out on the crest of the hill. We could see the mountains in the distance, still with their snowy caps.
Snowy mountains on the crest of the hill
We had climbed up from the right of the photo above and when I looked to the left-hand side I was amazed to see the sea, just to the right of the hilltop town of Perinaldo!
A glimpse of sea to the right of the town on the hill
Not only that but we seemd to have circled behind Apricale and had a wonderful view of it from the other (West) side of the town.
Apricale - the Machu Picchu of Liguria!
As is always the way here, when you go up you must come down so off we went through the woods. Down, and down we meandered, crossing little streams as we went. I was very happy it was no wetter as the leaves were quite slippery in places and I'm not exactly a mountain goat. I wish I'd brought a stick! Finally we came to a big clearing in the bottom of the valley.

The forest opened up into a clearing

More walkers joined us
 Not only was there a big clearing but a BBQ and a big table obviously setup for picnics. A mountain biker whizzed down the mule track and asked our guides how to get onto the main road. I think he had a bit of climbing to do. Some more folks joined us including dogs and children. There was a rumour there was apetisers and wine but it proved to be wrong - thankfully.  I say thankfully because we were right in the valley bottom and this obviously meant we had to walk up again.

Little stone, humped-back bridge
First we crossed the little stone, humped-back bridge over the Foa stream. Very inviting that water looked too! Then off we went climbing up again. I was now almost out of water and my legs were feeling very tired. Up, and up we went past a small hamlet of inhabited and abandoned houses called Foa. From here there were more lovely views of the valley right to the sea. The heat was definitely having an effect and I felt quite light-headed. I was forcing my legs to move now. I didn't think I was this unfit..
Finally we were on the home stretch and I could see Paul & Ruby waiting for me. We sat down at the outdoor tables at the agriturismo and I drank a lot of water (and some wine it must be said) and felt a LOT better. Must have been dehydration because after a great buffet lunch I felt great. Even the next day - no aches and pains. That was a reliefe as I was worried I had turned into an old woman!!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Plans and more plans

Anyone who knows us will know that we are always full of plans. In fact our brains overflow with them! Many of them come to nothing and the ones that do, definitely mutate and change before we arrive at the final version. Well, I finally managed to persuade Paul to put to paper our ideas for the buildings on the farm. We are getting nearer to submitting our planning permission so it is definitely time to see some visuals of how it might look. So far we have only done the chicken house but it should look something like this in situ:

This will give the guests a panoramic view over the valley and Perinaldo from their upstairs bedroom with en-suite. The kitchen / living-room will be downstairs and will lead onto a private terrace.
Talented isn't he :-)

Walking the land

Iggledy Piggledy House from above

When I first saw our farm I was 5 months pregnant and quite huge already. I gamely managed to walk up the big hill on quite a warm April day and clamber over the terraces a little but one thing I couldn't do was to walk the borders of the land. Neither did Paul that day so we only had a rough idea of what we were buying.

Later, when we'd actually bought it, while I watched Ruby Paul was taken around by Luciana (the eldest member of the Romagnone family, at 76, who owned the property). We nicknamed her the mountain goat as despite her elderly and frail appearance lept about the terraces like a little goat - much faster than either of us - but then I suppose she'd been doing it all her life.

That was the interesting thing about this place. I once asked them how long the farm had been in their family and they all looked a little perplexed and just said "always". The whole family lived in what we have called the 'Igledy Piggledy House' as it is on lots of level and randomly arranged. The whole family consisted of six children plus mum and dad. There was only one bedroom and no running water or electricity. Their water came from the 'ariana' which no-one could translate but they all agreed must be a dialect word for the spring or underground river on the land. The water would be carried up in big pots to the house as it is a good 300m away, down several terraces and some precarious loooking tiny stone stairs. They lived like this until the late 60's when the last of them left. We found an old school book of Rosella's (one of the sisters), sadly almost ruined from the rain, but you could still make out the date of 1960-something. When I was born in 1968 we lived on the 16th floor in a huge concrete tower block in Custom House in east London. The contrast could hardly be greater.

On Wednesday, when the rain finally paused, we decided it was time for me to at last walk the borders of our farm so I could see what we had actually bought. We started at the Iggledy Piggledy House and walked as far as we could, to the east. We could go no further due to a fallen tree and the fact that the land descends very steeply into woods and brambles. Part of it is ours though. Then we went down the terraces, tracing the edges of the land. Down and down we went until we reached the last terrace. This part of the land has the most enormous trees. It's not always possible to tell from the size of the trunk as over the years they may, for all sorts of reasons, get cut right down to ground level and in our case many small trunks then emerge. Where some of the dry-stone walls have collapsed you can see the size of the original trunk/root ball (for want of a better word). They are over 2 metres across! Absolutely huge. I have been trying to age them by looking online and I reckon they are anywhere between 400 and 700 years old whilst the ones on the western side of the farm are relatively young at around 100-150 years old.

One of our huge old olive trees
We then followed what used to be the old road, according to the Romagnone family, along to the 'Long House' which will become our home eventually, when all the other work is done and we are hopefully earning a living from the agriturismo we plan to have. We stopped off at the ariana which is overflowing due to all the recent rain and then followed the driveway (well, it will be when we've sorted it out a bit and get our 4x4) to some stone stairs which lead to the top terraces. On the first top terrace, which is the crest of a hill, there are only a couple of olives and it is full of fragrant Mediterranean 'macchia' or scrub. It was very dry up there which is always a bit of a worry for the frest fire risk but I suspect it is always dry up there. We followed the  terraces around the hill and up through the little rock pools which were full of water (I doubt they will be in summer) and up to the last terrace. It was beautiful up there. Very open and somehow cooler. We did the easy walk along this that leads us back past where the swimming pool will hopefully go and one of the ruined outbuildings to the Iggledy Piggledy house. Paul said "now you've seen everything I've seen" and it was true. There is much more land than I had appreciated and now I can see how come they said we have 200 trees. One of our next jobs will be to number them all so we can count them and allow them to be named properly.