Road trippin’ through the Nervia Valley, Liguria

posted in: Italy | 19

A short drive from the French and Italian Rivieras is the stunning Nervia Valley which is located in the Liguria region of Italy. Following the SP-64 from Ventimiglia by car (or bicycle if riders are up for a challenge along this road which just goes up higher and higher into the mountains), this beautiful drive goes right into the heart of the Italian Hinterlands. The road passes through some beautiful villages and amazing scenery which can not be missed. We would totally recommend hiring a car for this trip as the public transport is not really ideal and takes forever to complete the journey).

Ventimiglia, Italy, Liguria
We are ready for the start of the road through the Nervia Valley starting off from the seaside resort of Ventimiglia

We drove from Ventimiglia to Castel Vittorio, a 26.2km (16 mile) drive. Starting in the coastal town, we found the Ventimiglia to be a main shopping centre with a beach. In fact, the beach was the highlight for us, nice, long and sandy and a good view along the coastline to the south. When looking to the west from the beach, this is the perfect spot to go sunset watching on a perfect warm summer’s evening.

Ventimiglia, Italy, Liguria
The beach looking to the east at Ventimiglia
Ventimiglia, Italy, Liguria
The beach can also be quite stoney and huge. It’s a long walk back to the seafront.
Ventimiglia, Italy, Liguria
The sunset over Ventimiglia is quite special. This is the view to the west and the coastline in the background is France.

Following the road northwards (and underneath the main autostrada bridge), the landscape changes from a groggy industrialised landscape to mountains overlooking the road and villages. After a few kilometers passing through the village of Camporosso, the first stop which is MUST, is the beautiful village of Dolceacqua. The setting is simply stunning for the largest village in the village. Walking along the western side of the river Nervia, (which is mostly dried up in the summer months), the impressive sight of the ruins of the Doria castle dominates the landscape as it is perched on a small hill. The Ponte Romano, a beautiful stoned built bridge, completed in the 15th century is also another landmark and is worth a walk across to the ‘older’ part of the village. An interesting fact about Dolceacqua is that the painter Monet used the view of the bridge and castle in one of his paintings during the 19th century.

Dolceacqua, Italy, Liguria
Our first sight on the impressive village of Dolceacqua
Dolceacqua, Italy, Liguria
The ruins of the castle is the main feature of Dolceacqua
Dolceacqua, Italy, Liguria
We just couldn’t get enough of the views
Dolceacqua, Italy, Liguria
And we couldn’t forget about the charming bridge which is overlooked by the castle.

Our experience of Dolceacqua was a hit and miss. The hits were of course the views and taking in the lovely views. The locals are very welcoming as this village gets very crowded and not just in the summer months. This is the miss, as there is a limited amount of restaurants with the view looking out towards the castle and bridge, reservations is a must. We didn’t reserve as we were passing through and one of the most popular restaurant in the main square said to us on a Sunday evening, to wait at least two hours. Of course we didn’t want to wait until midnight and unfortunately as we were staying nearby, we still couldn’t get a reservation for the remainder of our stay. Our top tip: reserve well in advance! Another problem we noticed (well, not a problem really), the car parking is horrible. Its street parking to the north of the village and a long walk down the hill back to the market square but there are several car parks to the south but it is a distance to walk. However, if you like riverside walks then this isn’t a problem and if you’re lucky enough to get a meal in town, then the walk back to the car would be good to burn off a few calories.

Dolceacqua, Italy, Liguria
Dolceacqua at night is worth stopping off for. The whole village is lit up.

Leaving the village and heading north, there is the beautiful village of Isolabona which is also built along the riverbank. Not as beautiful as Dolceacqua but the scenery is still beautiful. There are also a few places to eat in the centre if visitors can’t get a meal in Dolceacqua (hint!). Continuing the drive north is stunning. We couldn’t stop saying this word as we drove up and down the valley several times on our visit. The summits of mountains are getting higher and higher and there is a lot of vegetation everywhere. The landscape isn’t bone dry and rocky but quite green with lots of trees and huge leaves overhanging the road.

Pigna, Italy, Liguria
One of the amazing views we had from our apartment in Pigna, looking to the south.

We stayed in the beautiful village of Pigna which is located on the side of a hill and this was one of our best stays on our travels so far. Staying in an apartment overlooking the river, we had excellent views of surrounding area and the other part of Pigna located on top of the hill. We were quite fortunate to be staying near the main road where there was a restaurant and a bar, a little bit busy but luckily we didn’t need to reserve and a wait wasn’t too long.

Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna

One day, I managed to explore the rest of Pigna by doing a run through the side streets and alleyways, all going up and up, running on cobbled streets. By the time I got to the top I was dripping with sweat and it wasn’t a long hill to run up. However, the view from up here was stunning and the church was beautiful. When the bells rang out (whilst there was no other soul in sight) was just a beautiful feeling. The only other sound I heard first thing in the morning was the birds chirping away nearby. I was thinking if any visitors were staying in a few of the guesthouses in the hilltop side of Pigna, well, it’s going to be a bit of a struggle to lug the luggage. Plenty of rest stops on the way is recommend.

Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna
Pigna, Italy, Liguria
Pigna

The last place we stopped off was about 2km away in the village of Castelvittorio which is even higher up than Pigna. This place is a lot less touristy than the other villages but still has a nice square, some pretty streets and some restaurants. The church bells which ring out here can also be heard in the valley down below. This village marks the end of the Nervia Valley and then the Italian Alps begin. If doing a road trip to all these villages in one day, then turning around here and doing a non stop drive back to Ventimiglia will take about thirty five minutes.

Castelvittorio, Italy, Liguria
Castelvittorio, – a view from the north
Castelvittorio, Italy, Liguria
Castelvittorio – a view from Pigna

Another side road trip we did in the Nervia Valley is the road (known as the SP-68 and then turns into the SP-70 and then SP-92) which turns off from the main road just north of Dolceacqua and heads towards Rocchetta Nervina (clearly signposted) and then winds down the valley through some beautiful villages and comes out at another main road (known as the SS20 and is the main road which runs from Ventimiglia in the south to Tende in France before coming out of the mountains near the city of Cuneo in Italy). This road would be an excellent way to head back to Ventimiglia and the beaches but we would recommend doing this in the daylight as there are a few tight twists and turns on the road.  

Italy, Liguria

Italy, Liguria

Italy, Liguria
Beautiful church in stunning surroundings we found on our road trip
Italy, Liguria
We love this building we drove past in the mountains. There is something about this and we can’t put our finger on it.

Italy, Liguria

The Liguria region of Italy has a lot of surprises and this is one of them. It’s not all about hitting the beaches (which of course is worth a visit if you love the sun, sand and sea) but exploring this region is totally recommended. Whilst staying in Pigna we hired a car and spent a week here. The area is cheaper to rent accommodation than the French Riviera but if you still want to visit that area, Pigna to Monaco is about fifty minute drive whilst Nice is over an hour. We did this a couple of times and it wasn’t a problem with traffic. Also another place to check out in Liguria which is an hour’s drive from Pigna is the caves in Toriano.

Italy, Liguria

We fell in love this area and we hope to come back again, this time with a bike to do some cycling or some hiking. The area is just truly amazing and a hidden gem. Have you been to the Nervia Valley. We would love to hear your views and if so, where would you also recommend?  

Italy, Liguria

 

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Liguria, Italy, Pigna,

19 Responses

  1. I love how beautifully nestled in the hills/valleys the villages are. There is a peaceful comforting harmony to it… And that picture of the bridge reflecting in the water – aaaaw 🙂

  2. wow what a wonderful road trip! Ive been in French Rivera before so I know how beautiful it is, but I would love to drive up to Italy one day! Too bad about your miss in Dolceacqua! Unfortunately Europe can get very busy sometimes and stunning places like that can’t handle everyone with restaurants and parkings. Your photos are so beautiful! What a views <3

  3. I love offbeat places and this definitely looks like one. Ive never heard of it and it looks like such an incredible destination. Thanks for the tips. Id love to go one day.

  4. Ah Pigna is so picturesque, I can understand why you stayed there! you’re right about the summer months being avoided; I spend a lot of time in Italy, so I know where to avoid during July and August!

  5. That’s beautiful! I love those old stone bridges…. I didn’t know that this region is so pretty; my sister in law lives just a few kilometres away from there, but in France.. I think it’s time that I visit her haha

  6. I have been through a lot of Italy but not this region. Liguria looks beautiful and definitely worth us checking out next time we go. I love exploring areas like this one!

  7. WOW! Looks SO beautiful and interesting. Your photos made me fall in love with especially Dolceacqua. It looks so charming and interesting 🙂

  8. Such a fun road trip to a place i’ve never heard of! I can see why you said Dolceacqua is a MUST stop, it looks amazing, and i also loved seeing the alleys of Pigna
    Bruce Schinkel recently posted…Top 5 Reasons You Need To Experience The Lakehouse Inn & Winery, Geneva-On-The-Lake

  9. Never heard of this place and it looks absolutely stunning – like something from a fairytale! Love the idea of being able to do some hiking or cycling too. Thanks for showing me this hidden gem!

  10. Too bad to hear about the trouble with parking and needing a restaurant reservation: that reminds me of Sintra, Portugal which is an amazing place to visit but just soooooo busy that it’s so stressful to get around!

  11. My daughter and wife are just hankering to visit Italy and now I think I am too. Dolceacqua looks amazing and if it has beaches as well then I am sold. Thanks for writing a great article about the area.

  12. Thanks for the recommendation for using your own car over public transport! I loved the road trip, especially the village of Dolceacqua and Pigna! These are just the kind of places I love to explore too…plus a road-trip would make it a perfect vacation 🙂

  13. Pigna looks so picturesque and charming! It’s great to know that you were able to rent an apartment there. My partner and I are looking at slowly traveling through Europe in late 2018, and Pigna seems like a great base to explore from. Dolceacqua looks gorgeous as well. I just love all of your photos. Thanks for sharing your experiences, it’s very helpful!

  14. Nervia Valley is awesome. How beautifully these villages are tucked in the lush green mountains and getting up to the chirping of birds is I can totally relate. Dolceacqua is quite picturesque but I liked Pinga too. Would love to take up this road trip someday for sure..

  15. Road trips are always great fun and provide an opportunity to get close to the places you are passing through. If the road trip is through the countryside of Italy, then the experience must be of a different level altogether. The views captured by your lens are, to say the least, spectacular. I particularly loved the shot of the bridge. It seems to have emerged straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

  16. I love stone beaches. I hate sand beaches with a passion. The castle ruins look like a fun place to go exploring. I could spend a day exploring everyting.

    Those bridges look really cool and historical as well.
    Jennifer Melroy recently posted…A Guide to Etsy for Handcrafted National Park Traveler Gifts

  17. I am so glad that you road tripped this valley, else you would have missed all those lovely sights that I now see in your pictures. Each village seemed to have a charm of its own and I bet you might have felt that you could have stayed longer in each one of them. I know that I would have wanted to. 🙂
    Ami Bhat recently posted…Chota Imambara: Glittering Palace of Lights in Lucknow

  18. Looks like a cute place to visit in Italy. It’s a shame about the parking situation, those roads look tiny. I would definitely get someone else to drive :p The bridge reminds me of Mostar and the town itself reminds me of a town here in Albania called Berat. Beautiful!
    Anita Hendrieka recently posted…Is Albania Safe? The Truth About Safety in Albania

  19. Megan Jerrard

    The Nervia Valley sure does sound like a beautiful drive – the villages of Camporosso and Dolceacqu are so picturesque! This is what I expect authentic Italy to be. Thanks for the tip on making reservations in advance though for resturants – not something I would have known about! I would love to head out on a road trip through the Italian countryside. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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