Ventimiglia is a town on the northwest part of the Italian Riviera on Italy's west coast. It's the last town before the French border, 7 kilometers away. The modern town runs along the sea while the old town is on a hill on the other side of the Roja River. It is a less expensive and good alternative to other towns along the Italian Riviera such as Sanremo.
Since Ventimiglia is on the main rail line between Genoa and France, it makes a good base for visiting the northwestern part of the Italian Riviera and Liguria, the French Riviera, and glitzy Montecarlo. Ventimiglia's attractions include the archaeological site with remains of a Roman theater and baths, the medieval hill town, the huge Friday outdoor food and flea market, Hanbury Gardens, prehistoric caves, and of course the beach and seaside promenade.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Suitehotel Kaly, on the seaside promenade directly across from the sea and a rocky beach where you can swim. From our balcony, the view of the sea and Menton, France, beyond was fabulous (be sure to book a sea view room).
It's a comfortable 3-star hotel near several seaside restaurants and bars. It's a short walk to the downtown area and the old town. By the sea below the old town is the 3-star Sole Mare Hotel and restaurant. Up the hill in the old town is La Terrazza de' Pelargoni B&B.
The Old Town of Ventimiglia Alta
Perched on a hill across the river from the new town is the old medieval town called Ventimiglia Alta, enclosed by walls. This area is primarily pedestrian as most of the old streets are too narrow for cars. There are parking lots below near the sea and one up the hill near the cathedral but the best way to reach it is by walking from the modern town.
From the public park near the seaside promenade in the modern area, cross the river to enter the old town through one of the remaining gates in the wall and walk up the hill toward the cathedral. Note the colorful houses and the tiny walkways off both sides of the main street.
Visit the Romanesque cathedral and 11th-century baptistery. Be sure to go downstairs when you're inside to visit the crypt and remains of the old baptistery underground. The cathedral is built on the site of an older Lombard church on what may have been the site of a Roman temple.
As you walk further up the main street, be sure to stop in to take a look at the fascinating Oratorio de' Neri. Also on this part of the street are several small shops and bars. At the top of the hill is the 10th century Church of San Michele Archangel built on the site of a Pagan temple.
Roman Archaeological Sites
Roman remains in Ventimiglia include a Roman theater, buildings, tombs, and parts of the ancient city wall. The Roman theater is usually only open on weekends. Roman finds from the area, such as statues, tombstones, oil lamps, and ceramics, are housed in the Girolamo Rossi Archaeological Museum in Forte dell'Annunziata on Via Verdi.
Outside Town - Hanbury Gardens and Balzi Rossi Prehistoric Caves
The extensive botanical gardens, Italy's largest, surrounding the former villa of Sir Thomas Hanbury are built on a slope extending almost to the sea. Hanbury Gardens are a few kilometers outside town, reached by car, bus, or taxi.
Remains from a Cro-Magnon family, fossils, stone tools, and other Paleolithic artifacts were found in the caves of Balzi Rossi. Some of the caves can also be visited. Balzi Rossi is 7 kilometers from Ventimiglia, just before the French border.
Places to Visit Nearby
Both the Italian Riviera town of Sanremo and the French town of Menton are a very short train ride away. Other Italian seaside towns, Monaco, and Nice (France) can also be reached by train. If you have a car, you can explore the interesting interior mountain towns and picturesque perched villages.