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Petal power in northern Italy

PUBLISHED: 12:59 19 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:00 20 February 2013

A Ventimiglia seaside restaurant

A Ventimiglia seaside restaurant

Frank Corless brandishes his blossoms and joins in Ventimiglia's famous Battle of the Flowers

Frank Corless brandishes his blossoms and joins in Ventimiglias famous Battle of the Flowers




A holiday in Italy is always likely to be a pleasure but it turns to sheer delight if you happen to find yourself among the crowds at what Hollywood legend Cary Grant called the greatest show on earth.
By any standards, his description one he made in Italy while he was filming To Catch a Thief may be considered a little over the top, especially as the annual Battle of the Flowers in Ventimiglia is hardly a battle.
Its more on the lines of a totally innocent, carnival-style happiness day as people of all ages, from children to great grandparents, have the time of their lives... hurling flowers at each other!
Daft? Wacky? Call it what you like, it is very definitely great fun, not just for locals but also for people who travel from around the world to join in.
None of it would be possible without months of hard work by an army of volunteers led by Roberto Ansossi, the committee president for the last ten years.
Talented craftsmen also give up their spare time to assemble the shows star attractions, huge floats of giant-sized figures made entirely of carnations.
It all comes to a head in a noisy, spectacular, and colourful parade, featuring brass bands, entertainers, clowns, majorettes etc, that wends its way along cordoned-off streets thronged by thousands of spectators.
But the enjoyment really begins, almost on cue, when the floats occupants start to throw carnations into the crowds, who respond by hurling back floral ammunition supplied to them from little tractors that are part of the procession.
The result is a flower shower that turns into a deluge. No-one is safe from a direct hit, not even VIPs in the grandstand seats. I saw one carnation disappear into a bandsmans tuba. Everyone, even normally poker-faced policemen, seemed to feel the vibes.
It is always wonderful to see so many people enjoying themselves, Mr Ansossi told me. It is a really happy day. I love it.
Ventimiglia is one of many gems in Liguria, a lovely coastal region known as the Riviera of Flowers. It is famous for its wines, olives, medieval villages, rugged landscapes, history and culture and, of course, flowers.
Dominated by its towering Romanesque cathedral, the town is split into two the old and the new by the River Roia, but is linked by bridges, one of them for pedestrians who can take a leisurely stroll as swans and ducks glide past beneath them.
In the old part, I stayed at the delightful Sole Mare Hotel which faces a tree-lined promenade fringed by a pebble beach, and a handful of eating places. Narrow, shaded streets wind their way steeply uphill to the cathedral where it was so quiet you could have a heard a pin drop.
By contrast, the opposite river bank is bustling with shops, restaurants, elegant buildings, its own palm-fringed seafront lined with restaurants, and a delightful little park. Sitting there on a bench is a great place to relax and switch off, particularly on Fridays when one of the busiest and best loved Italian markets hits town.
A bus ride costing just two euros (17 euros by taxi) took me into the nearby hills to the fabulous Hanbury Gardens, regarded by some as a little bit of heaven on earth.
The gardens were created by Sir Thomas Hanbury, a Londoner who made his fortune importing tea and silk from China. Bursting with thousands of plants imported from five continents, its no surprise to learn that it is hugely popular with tourists. Its challenging to do the full tour, especially when the sun is high, but I wouldnt have missed it for anything.
If you fancy a complete change of scene you can head for France. The border is only a few miles away and taking the train to flesh pot places such as Monaco and Monte Carlo makes for a great day out. But Id advise you to take a packed lunch because its pricey to eat out. Either that, or settle for a spectacular baguette at Ventimiglia railway station. One I enjoyed cost less than four euros and was delicious and great value for money.
Dont leave Ventimiglia without a trip into the foothills of the Italian Alps, if only to see a couple of the many beautiful inland villages. Dolceacqua and Apricale, nestling in the glorious Nervia valley, are among the best.
French artist Claude Monet described Dolceacqua as an extraordinary picturesque village, and proceeded to capture its charms on canvas.
Famous for its wonderful Rossese wine, the village lies in the shadow of the 12th century Doria Castle where a labyrinth of streets rises to the top of the ruined fortress. Not even a famous painting could do it justice.
Clinging to the mountainside, Apricale is dominated by its belltower and castle. Dark, narrow alleyways lead to a hanging garden and a wonderful, tiny museum featuring a collection of historical statues and relics dating back to the 13th century.
Compared to some Dolce Vita tourist locations, Ventimiglia is not one of the best known Italian hot spots. But, battle or no battle, it is a little show stopper.




BEFORE YOU GO




  • For tourist information contact: Provincia di Imperia, Largo Nuvoloni, 1 - 18038 Sanremo - ItalyTel. +39 0184 59059 - Fax +39 0184 507649
    www.visitrivieradeifiori.it - info@visitrivieradeifiori.it Freephone (from Italy only) 800-813012

  • The Sole Mare Hotel has accommodation ranging from singles to rooms for four people. Prices start from 70 euros to 170 euros per night depending on date of stay. Contact www.hotelsolemare.it

  • Jet2.com provides a direct service from Manchester Airport to Nice, five days a week. Flights start from 29.99 per person one way, including all taxes. For more information visit www.jet2.com

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