From Imperia to the border with France, via San­remo and Ventimiglia, is a fascinating part of Liguria, much loved by writers and artists. Monet painted more than 50 pictures in Bordighera, enchanted by its landscapes, olive groves and sea. This area is home to stunning villas, histor­ic gardens and secret fortresses. Our journey begins in Im­peria with Villa Grock, commissioned in the 1920s by Adrien Wettach, a Swiss clown known by his stage name “Grock”; steeped in the circus world, mythology and eso­tericism, it stands in a large park. Another local treasure is Villa Faravelli, home of MACI, the Museum of Contem­porary Art Imperia. Then, heading north come the church-fortress in Cipressa and Clavesana castle looming over Cervo, one of Italy’s loveliest villages. Back to the south just in from the sea, in Costarainera, the reborn Novaro Park is a natural haven of well-being. We then move on to Sanremo which boasts hidden artistic gems. One of these is the late 19th-century Villa Ormond, immersed in a spectacular zoned park (Italian garden, Japanese gar­den…); another is the monumental Neoclassical Palazzo Nota, today the Civic Museum. In nearby Bordighera is Villa Clarence Bicknell, named after an English natu­ralist and botanist who lived here. The extremely mild local climate has produced the perfect habitat for exotic spe­cies – found in the Pallanca Exotic Garden in Bordighera; and the stunning Hanbury Botanical Gardens created in the second half of the 19th century on the Mor­tola headland in Ventimiglia. As well as villas and gardens, there are, of course, fortresses and castles. In Ventimiglia, the Annunziata fortress, towering above the sea, now houses an archaeology museum. Leaving the coastline we climb 600 metres a.s.l. to Apricale, also claiming to be “Italy’s loveliest village”, to see the Lucertola castle. The nearby village of Perinaldo has a boast that is a cu­linary and historical mix: the Violet artichoke only grows here and is thought to have been brought by Napoleon from Provence during the Italian Campaign of 1796. With no choke or spike, it is a rarity and not surprisingly a Slow Food Presidio.

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