ou fall in love with Liguria at first sight: from the cliffs to the beaches, from the hills to the mountains: many views that leave you speechless. Wherever you admire it, from above or below, the Ligurian landscape, never the same and always different, envelops you and then enchants you. There are as many panoramic points as there are routes to explore them: on foot or by bicycle, as you prefer!
In this itinerary we would like to suggest cycling routes in each of the provinces: Imperia, Savona, Genoa and La Spezia. The best time to go cycling is in spring.
FIRST ROUTE PROVINCE OF IMPERIA
Are you ready? Because we'll start right away with a fairly demanding route, 97 kilometres long, a five-hour leg movement, fortunately not only on dirt roads but above all on asphalt. What spurs you on are the stages: one after the other you pass through some of the most beautiful medieval villages in Italy. The start is in Taggia, where an 8-kilometre climb begins that takes you to Badalucco, also in the Valle Argentina but at an altitude of 179 metres. This is a rural village enclosed by two bridges that mark the beginning and the end of the village; another ancient testimony is the chapel of San Niccolò built on the ruins of the castle that was inhabited by the local counts. After Badalucco, the climb becomes steeper and after 15 km we arrive at Molini di Triora, situated at the confluence of the Argentina stream with the Capriolo and Corte streams. The name Molini is linked to the presence of numerous mills that once allowed to grind cereals, chestnuts and also to press olives. We reach an altitude of 481 metres and continue cycling towards Triora to reach the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Montà. At 776 metres, after another 5 km, you enter Triora, known as the "village of the witches", the oldest village in the Upper Argentina Valley. Let yourself be enveloped by the soft and mysterious atmosphere that leads you through narrow alleys to discover the Castle (12th century), the Church of S. Dalmazio (13th century), the Madonna delle Grazie (12th century). Be careful not to meet any witches! Still torn between the restlessness and the charm of these places, we descend again to Molini, take the diversions to the right and after 10 km we find ourselves on the highest peak of the route, 1127 metres, Passo di Langan.
Having crossed the pass, chestnut trees, oaks, olive trees, pastures and old mills follow one another along the 14 km descent that takes us to 280 metres above sea level in the "biblical" village of Pigna. The name is linked to the shape of the houses, clustered together (forming a pine cone) on the hill dominated by the medieval bell tower. Founded in the 11th century, the village still preserves a series of historical and architectural beauties without equal: the ruins of the Romanesque Church of S. Tommaso (12th century) and the Church of S. Michele (17th century) with the polyptych by Canavesio. A diversion to Isolabona is highly recommended to discover a village perched on the top of a hill surrounded by olive groves: Apricale, which has been awarded the Orange Flag. Its name derives from "Apricus", meaning exposed to the sun, due to its dominant position on the hill facing south. It was founded in the 9th century and alternates monuments linked to its medieval history: walls, gates, arches, the ancient castle and the wash-houses with original murals created by modern artists. Another 13 km of descent leads us 55 metres downhill to another beautiful village, the second Orange Flag village on the itinerary: Dolceacqua. There is even a bridge connecting the oldest part, "Terra", to the rest of the village which became famous thanks to a painting by Monet. Its origins date back to the Iron Age with the "castellari", characteristic fortifications. Everything has remained as it was then, incredible but true!
You cannot miss the opportunity to visit, leaving your bicycle for a well-deserved rest, the XI century Doria Castle; the Parish of S. Antonio Abate (XII century), with rich internal decorations and the Polyptych of S. Devota; the Church of S. Giorgio (XI century), with a painted wooden ceiling; the country chapels of S. Bernardo (XV century), S. Rocco and S. Cristoforo; the Oratory of S. Sebastiano, with a sculpture by Maragliano. The beauty of these villages can be viewed virtually through the slides of Eugenio Andrighetto's Visionarium 3D. Don't worry, it's not much further, another 9 km, you pass Bordighera, at the foot of the Maritime Alps, and turning left, in 27 km you reach the starting point of Taggia.
SECOND ROUTE IN THE PROVINCE OF SAVONA
A circular route that crosses two municipalities in the province of Savona: Albenga and Alassio. Its peculiarity are the landscapes: it seems to go back in time to Roman times. In fact, the road is the Julia Augusta, parallel to the Via Aurelia, with monuments and buildings from that era. It is very suggestive to ride, in some sections, on the cobblestones that have remained the same as those used by the Romans despite the passing of the years. Less demanding than the Imperia route: shorter (14.5 km) and shorter (2 hours). The landscape is different but not less so: the scent of the Mediterranean scrub can be smelled with every ride. The Julia Augusta was built in 13-12 BC at the behest of Emperor Augustus as a link between Rome and southern Gaul: here history and nature intertwine.
The start is in Albenga in Piazza del Popolo, we cross Via Piave and the river Centa, turn right into Via Ruffini, and after 200 metres we enter the archaeological area that marks the beginning of the Via Julia Augusta at a height of 80 metres. Here we go back to the Roman era: a first paved section and immediately afterwards the actual dirt road. Along it we come across funerary monuments dating from the first and third centuries A.D., including a "columbarium" tomb, with an irregular face ("opus incertum") also closed at the top with a sloping roof: inside, the niches where the urns with the ashes of the dead were placed are still clearly visible today. On the horizon, all along the Julia Augusta, you can glimpse the outline of Gallinara Island, so called by the Romans because of the presence of wild hens.
Now we have to take an asphalted road, but it doesn't take long, we will soon return to the atmosphere of the battles on a mule track whose bottom is the original one, over 2000 years old. Who knows how many battles it has seen: there are still the ruins of the walls used to channel the water.
We first climb 50 metres and, after passing a campsite at 70 metres, we reach, amidst a vegetation of cypress and eucalyptus trees, Sant'Anna where the church of the same name stands: very old, built before the year 1000, with an irregular shape, still distinguishable, although very ruined, parts of frescoes from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The church marks the end of the historical section of the Julia Augusta and after a climb we come to a crossroads: going straight on we climb up Monte Castellaro; turning left we begin the descent along the balcony, a picturesque track that descends steeply, parallel to the Roman road, to the Aurelia and then to Albenga. The turning that interests us is the one on the right, which climbs up to 120 metres where, across a short cobbled road, we find ourselves in front of the parish church of Solva: of medieval origins but renovated several times, its interior is decorated with late 15th-century frescoes depicting the deadly sins. Another 100 metres and a large square opens up, we turn right, pass a hairpin bend and after about 200 metres along a mule track we arrive at the foot of Monte Bignone. Here, we leave the mule track to take the asphalt road for a few metres, turn right and after another hairpin bend we take the mule track again: the most difficult stretch begins, which takes us to 440 metres above sea level on the summit of the mountain. After the climb, the descent along the ridge is a must: the fresh air beats on your face, try not to go too fast because the view is wonderful. A 2km descent takes you to the valley. To complete the circle and return to the starting point, just take a small road that climbs from Albenga.
THIRD ROUTE IN THE PROVINCE OF GENOA
Just outside the city of Genoa, there is a route where you can cycle far from the smog: it is the former Madonna della Guardia bridleway, which was restored in 2006 by the Municipality of Ceranesi. It is not as steep as the one in the province of Imperia, is suitable for everyone, is 21.4 km long and takes about two hours. We set off from Bolzaneto and start to climb for 500 metres to the junction with Ponte del Serro. We take the road to the Scuole di S. Biagio, a dry climb of one kilometre, which gradually improves until it softens as soon as we enter the village of Gaiazza. This is where the actual dirt cycle track begins. You can't miss it: an iron portal marks the start, preceded by the characteristic reproduction of a period wagon used as a shelter and set up with some illustrative panels on the historic and characteristic little train. Once past Gaiazza, we plunge into the woods for 500 metres of dirt road through vegetable gardens to Sareto (400 metres), where we take the tarmac road again for another 500 metres. There is an open space for a break: there are also tables and games for children. We are in the locality of "Pilastrino" precisely because of the presence of a pillar that marks the beginning of a Fie path, there are more than one, and they cut through the dry ascent to the Sanctuary.
We continue for a short distance along the road past some houses and soon arrive in front of a black and white bar. From here, the route of the old cable car starts again: we meet the first stage of a gymnastic route, consisting of 13 stations, for those who have the energy and desire to make this effort. We begin to climb without any more interruptions: on the same gradient we pass the Arpexella and Cà Bianca tunnels, between the two an aerial passage on a suspended artificial curve and two tunnels. At 740 metres we come to the Incisa knoll, another 30 metres and we are at the crossroads with the provincial road that comes up from Bolzaneto. We turn left for the last 450 metres that rise more gradually until we come to the car park in front of the Chapel of the Apparition. One last climb and here is the Santuario della Guardia at an altitude of 805 metres. A very simple story, but one on which the faith of many pilgrims is still nourished today: a humble farmer, Benedetto Pareto, was taking his flock out to pasture on the summit of Monte Figogna, as he did every day on 29 August 1490, when Our Lady appeared to him and asked him to build a chapel. Benedict was amazed, not so much by the apparition, but because he could not understand why she had appeared to him. His faith was not enough to make him give up, but shortly afterwards he fell from a tree and died, Our Lady reappeared and healed him. This healing, which was impossible for the doctors, made all resistance vanish and Benedict and his family built the chapel. The story does not end here: to know the rest, I invite you to try the route.
After visiting the sanctuary, the descent begins: the reference point is the fountain in the square, from here we start to descend from the path to the right and after 300 metres we cross the Incisa hillock (740 m). We descend for another 100 metres and reach the old road. After a widening, the descent continues for 100 metres on an asphalt road in places, which we leave for a dirt track on the right that is 600 metres long. We turn left and are on the same route as before, which we follow backwards to the village of Gaiazza. A deviation, with respect to the previous road, on the right in via S. Biagio di Val Polcevera, at 195 metres, between the small houses of the new village leads us to Bolzaneto.
FOURTH ROUTE PROVINCE OF LA SPEZIA
The last route is the one we have already talked about in the news "Breathtaking cycle path", which describes a beautiful "ride" from Levanto to Framura. A route that combines the freedom of cycling with the beauty of the landscape. If the previous route follows the road of the former guidovia, here, on the other hand, it crosses the old railway line between Levanto, Bonassola and Framura. This route has been completely restored: it can be done either on foot or by bicycle, the two tracks being completely separate. The bicycle route, which we will discuss, is 5.5 km long, flat, runs along the seafront and is suitable for everyone, also because it is not a dirt road but only asphalt. It takes a quick 20 minutes, but it is worth it because the view is breathtaking.
The start is in Levanto in the Valle Santa area. Levanto is a perfect village to visit by bike and is very close to the five pearls of Liguria (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore). The route continues to Bonassola almost entirely through tunnels: there are more covered sections than open ones. The stone tunnels of the old railway hide a suggestive charm, they are cool with the drops of condensation falling from above and above all with openings from which you must necessarily look out: you will be enchanted. An open-air section is at the "La Francesca" area, where there were copper mines used since the 13th century. It is advisable to bring a jacket, especially for children, because the air is humid in the tunnel sections. You will shiver with fatigue but also with the landscapes you will see. At the exit of each tunnel there are benches where you can sit, rest, have a snack and of course look at the horizon. After 2.2 kilometres we enter Bonassola, where there is no lack of viewpoints: cliffs overlooking the sea coloured by red and green marble. If you feel like it, you can leave your bike for a moment, take a short walk through the greenery and climb a staircase leading to the Church of the Madonna della Punta: you can see the sea. What characterises this route and makes it unforgettable is the possibility of abandoning your bike to dive into the sea or sunbathe on the many little-visited beaches, which are true corners of paradise, hidden from many tourists as they can only be reached by sea. So, treat yourself to more than one break: the Porto Pidocchio beach surrounded by coloured marble rocks, Punta dei Marmispiaggia a rocky beach that was a former jasper quarry. Unmistakable with its colourful houses is Bonassola with one of the largest beaches in Liguria.
In the final stretch, from Bonassola to Framura, the route is completely covered along the tunnels for 3.3 kilometres. The track stops more or less at Framura station. Come in and visit the town centre, a little gem with its five beautiful villages of Anzo, Ravecca, Setta, Costa and Castagnola,