In western Liguria and just a few kilometers from the border with France, Ventimiglia is in an enviable natural position between the Italian Riviera and the Cote d'Azur, and has long been a popular tourist destination.
Although it is not the most visited of the Riviera towns, Ventimiglia is charming because of its pastel coloured houses, and there are several places of interest in the old town as well as easy access to several interesting local highlights.
Being 'next door' to Menton, one of the most beautiful towns in France and just a few kilometres to the west, would leave almost anywhere else looking a bit run down! I suspect that Ventimiglia is visited more by those who are staying on the French Riviera and want an 'Italian experience' than those travelling around Italy.
For the purposes of your visit it is easiest to think of Ventimiglia as being in two distinct parts: the higher old town with an interesting historic cente and the more recent town below, the two separated by the Roia River. It is among the steep and narrow streets of the old town that you will spend most of your visit.
There is also a beach in Ventimiglia at the mouth of the river, rather stony but with lovely views along the Riviera coast.
There are several historic buildings of particular interest, with the Romanesque Cathedral of Ventimiglia, dating from the 11th - 13th centuries, among the most notable religious monuments. In the 12th century baptistry you can admire the “Madonna with Child” by Barnaba da Modena (1328-1386).
Also in the old town the Church of San Francesco, which was built by the Counts of Ventimiglia in the 10th century as a family chapel, was fully rebuilt after World War II but retains its 11th century Romanesque structure. Originally this church had three aisles, with the apse, nave and bell tower added in the 13th century.
The Romanesque crypt is the highlight, built with columns of marble brough here from as far afield as Egypt.
Near the Church of San Michele, situated on the ancient route of the Roman road that led to Provence, you can see the former Municipal Theater that today houses the Aprosiana Municipal Library. The library takes its name from its founder, Angelic Aprosio (1607-1681), an erudite Augustinian monk born in Ventimiglia.
The Aprosiana Library was the the first public library in Liguria, with several thousand volumes, codes, and an important collection of Greek and Roman coins.
Other buildings of note in Ventimiglia include the Public Palace, of medieval origin; the Loggia of the Magistrate of Abundance or Parliament, the Opera and the Oratorio di San Secondo.
Among the many well preserved medieval gates into the city in Ventimiglia the most interesting is the 12th century Canarda gate which once provided westward access to the walled city. In ancient times the old road leading from Rome to Provence and Spain, the “Via Julia Augusta”, was just below this gate.
On the Tower, in gothic style and restored by Sir T. Hanbury (1832-1907), there is a plaque reminding us of some of the illustrious men that have visited the city over the centuries such as Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1627) and Charles V (1500-1558).
The port in Ventimiglia is defended by the tower which has a double row of slits on the outside. On the west side the gate has two arches - the gap that separates them is the machicolation through which the defenders, protected inside the tower, dropped rocks and boiling oil on those who wished to undermine their defences. On the outer arch a lion on a tower holding a cross is carved.
The inner side of the gate is protected from the sea by a wall with loopholes that have views of the nearby French Riviera. The fort, built in the early 19th century, has some of the most beautiful views of the “Riviera dei Fiori”. The construction was once part of a complex defensive system, connected with walkways and underground to the Fort Saint Paul above.
Among the oldest monuments in Ventamiglia is the remains of a Roman theatre, in an archaeological excavation on the eastern side of the town and part of the original Roman town of Albintimilium. See also history of Ventimiglia.
A museum in Ventimiglia exhibits various remains of ancient Albintimilium such as glassware, perfume containers, tableware, paterae, cups, glasses, clay figurines depicting gods and heroes, votive lamps of burial, a Roman lapidar with 50 inscriptions, 16 marble busts from the early Imperial age and various sculptures from Hanbury’s collection (statues, texts, reliefs, sarcophagi).
Among the most prestigious items in the museum are a 3rd century cup with wheel cut decoration depicting a triton with marine motifs and a pharmacists bottle from the end of the first century AD.
Festivities and cuisine
Note: we visited Ventimiglia as a day trip from Menton (a short train ride, across the border into France) on a Friday when an extensive market takes over much of the town with lots of cheap clothes, leather goods, fake brand name items. This market attracts lots of bargain hunters from across the border in France but does make the town rather chaotic!
During the summer in Ventimiglia you can watch the parade, and the “Battle of Flowers”, a traditional parade that takes place during the months of June and July.
This is also a good opportunity to try the local specialities such as pesto; a cake made with chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil known as "barbagiuai"; and the “pisciadela”, a pizza or a focaccia with tomatoes, anchovies, olives and garlic. Among the local wines, be sure to try the Rossese and Vermentino.
As well as exploring along the Mediterranean coast in both directions from here, we suggest you also visit the beautiful gardens at nearby Villa Hanbury. The village at Dolceacqua, a short distance north of Ventimiglia, is also pretty and a pleasure to explore.
Where is Ventimiglia?
Situated near the coast of western Liguria in north-west Italy, Ventimiglia is as close to the French riviera resorts of Nice and Menton as it is to the Italian resort of San Remo, a short distance along the coast to the east.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Liguria guide.