Sights in Ventimiglia are divided between the mostly modern, lower section of town, built after 1872 to service the new train station, and Ventimiglia Alta, a medieval town with a sweeping panorama from Piazza Belvedere, at the east end of Via Giuseppe Verdi. From here, turn up Via del Capo to reach the 11th- to 12th-century Cattedrale dell’Assunta and its octagonal baptistery, possibly built atop a temple to Juno. Via del Capo becomes palazzo-lined Via Garibaldi. At Piazza Fontana/Piazza del Canto, head to the back-right corner to continue up Via Piedmont to Piazza Colletta and the isolated Church of San Michele, the current version built around the 10th century using bits of ancient stones: The stoops and one of the crypt columns are Roman milestones, and two of the granite pillars in the crypt hail from a temple to Castor and Pollux.
Though today mostly modern, the more bustling lower town is actually built atop the remains of the ancient Roman border settlement of Albintimilium, which you can see a bit of at the far eastern end of main drag Corso Genova (the S1) in the splendidly preserved 2nd-century-a.d., 5,000-seat Roman theater, sandwiched between the road and the train tracks.
The Surrounding Sights
Giardino Hanbury (Hanbury Gardens), on the coast 6.5km (4 miles) east of Ventimiglia, is one of Europe’s largest and most noted botanical collections. British merchant Sir Thomas Hanbury planted the gardens, which descend on terraces to the sea, in 1867, to nurture exotic species from five continents. As immensely important as the gardens were to the 19th-century study of botany, today they are a pleasure dome, a stunningly beautiful bower with heart-stopping views of the sea around every corner. The gardens ([tel] 0184-229-507) are open daily from the last Sunday in March through October (hours vary by season), and Thursday to Tuesday from November to the last Sunday in March 10am to 5pm (last entry 1 hr. before closing). Admission is 7.50€, or 20€ for a family ticket covering two parents and up to three children under 15.
At Balzi Rossi (Red Rocks; [tel] 0184-38-113), right on the French border 1.6km (1 mile) farther east along the coast from Giardino Hanbury, one of prehistoric Europe’s most advanced Paleolithic cultures lived in cliff-side caves—first Neanderthals (80,000–35,000 years ago) and later Homo Sapiens (35,000–10,000 years ago). Visitors may tour several of the caves, the most interesting of which is Grotto del Cavglione, named for a horse etched on one of the walls. Most of the finds—including weapons, fertility figures (copies; the originals are in France), simple stone tools, five human skeletons, and even a bit of Homo Erectus hip some 230,000 years old—are in the small Museo Preistorico split across two buildings. Many of the caves were damaged, and the only fossils once visible in situ destroyed, when the rail tunnels above were blown up during World War II. The caves and museum are open Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 7:30pm; admission is 2€, 1€ for ages 19 to 26, and free for those under 18 or over 65.
Another excursion from Ventimiglia takes you inland for 9.5km (6 miles) up the Val Nervia to Dolceacqua, a stone village that is as sweetly picturesque as its name implies it will be. The ruins of a 16th-century castle crown the collection of houses that climb from the banks of the river, spanned here by a single-arched medieval bridge. If you stumble into town at certain times of the year, you will find the locals engaged in strange revelries: On January 20 (St. Sebastian’s Day), a man carrying a tree hung with communion hosts leads a procession through the streets; on August 15, costumed dancers celebrate Ferragosto.
From Ventimiglia, Riviera Trasporti buses ([tel] 0184-592-706; www.rivieratrasporti.it), which 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 min.) and then swing by the Balzi Rossi (30 min. 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 min.), or you can stay on the train (usually only on local runs) past Ventimiglia to Menton-Garavan station (7 min. from Ventimiglia), from which Balzi Rossi is a 20- to 30-minute walk.
Ten buses a day leave Ventimiglia for Dolceacqua (20-30 min.).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.