We arrive in Imperia around 4 pm after our day’s cycling from Sanremo to San Lorenzo just in time for an ice-cream. It’s seems a strange name for a city to me, but it turns out it was created in 1923 by Mussolini when a number of towns and villages were amalgamated, including Oneglia and Porto Maurizio. As a result, it is very spread out. We are trying to find a book for our travel journal but so far, we’ve had no luck. Fine stationery doesn’t seem to be part of the Italian culture any more.
The ice-cream lady gives me directions in Italian to a libreria/cartoleria and we head up the hill to the old town of Parasio. At the top, we come upon the classical cathedral of San Maurizio, built between 1781 and 1832, and the largest church in Liguria. It stands out impressively on a large square opposite the town hall. Still no sign of a bookshop, so I guess that I have misunderstood the directions. We finally locate it but it only has a few exercise books.
We later come across a small news-agency where we manage to buy some plain white paper. We can always glue it into a book later. The next stop is the supermarket as we will be staying in an apartment for two nights. We have fun playing with a bread-roll-ejecting machine where the bread drops on the ground if you don’t put a plastic bag under it, and then choose some Italian wine.
The drive to the apartment, which is 6 km from the centre and up a somewhat sinuous hill, is easy in comparison with our previous experience and we are in a good mood when our hostess comes out to greet us with many smiles and some very basic English. She shows us the apartment which is nothing luxurious but has everything we need. There is even a washing machine downstairs we can use. The view, not quite as stunning as yesterday’s, is still pretty impressive – despite the motorway!
We drink pinot griggio and eat pistachios on the balcony listening to the old-fashioned dance music coming up from the valley below before having a tomato, cucumber, lettuce, octopus and prawn salad with fresh basil supplied by our hostess. When in Italy, we often buy marinated octopus to picnic on, but this time it’s a little tough.
After a good night’s sleep, we wake up late and drive into town for a cappuccino. Today’s a rest day, something we’re not very good at, but we have discovered we really need one from time to time. We park in the middle of town and head for the tourist office. It’s not open so we have our cappuccino at a confetteria under the arcades and amuse ourselves watching the locals.
We then wander around until we reach the port and, what do we see – a bike path! We head back to the car, take our bikes off the back and soon join the other Sunday cyclists. We have no idea how far it goes.
The coastline is the usual mix of public and private beaches and eating places.
Eventually we find ourselves on a disused road that takes us to the next beach – Diano Marina – where, surprisingly there is a tourist office open with four young girls twiddling their thumbs. We check the tourist brochures and see that the next hilltop village along the waterfront, Cervo, is worth a visit.
After Diano Marina, the bike path gives out and we have to ride on the road for a bit, but it isn’t too busy. By now we’re starting to get hungry and Jean Michel thinks we should find somewhere to eat before going up to the top of Cervo. I check out a couple of places but I’m not keen despite the sea view so suggest we try and find something on top of the hill.
A mammoth effort takes us up a very steep road which is only halfway up to the top. We stop to get our breaths and have some water and I see a little restaurant terrace with no one on it. I check round the other side and see it’s a real restaurant called Taverna Mandragola. The chef comes out opposite our terrace for a smoke (they still smoke a lot in Italy, we have noticed) so I ask if we can eat there. “No worries, Signora”, he says in Italian (well, that’s what it sounds like). We attach our bikes and a friendly waitress arrives.
We have a delicious lunch of linguine alle vongole for me and sword fish for Jean Michel, accompanied by a very cold white friulano.
The chef says we can leave our bikes there and walk up to the top of the hill. We are enchanted with the little alleyways and covered streets and masses of bougainvilleas.
We finally reach the lovely baroque church of Saint John the Baptist. If we hadn’t already had our coffee, I would have elected to join the other people under the white parasols.
As we walk back down by another route, we come across Saint Catherine’s Oratory with a surprising statue of Joan of Arc against a backdrop of frescoes.
The return trip is much easier as it’s mostly downhill. By now, there are quite a few more people on the esplanade but it’s still navigable because most of the population is sunbaking under their matching umbrellas.
A quick ice-cream and we’re soon back at the car after a round trip on our bikes of 20 K and ready for a couple of hours of R&R back at the apartment in front of that wonderful view again!
Other posts on cycling in Italy
Cycling in Italy #1 – Sanremo to San Lorenzo