The fall is a good time to visit Dolceacqua. The water of the river Nervia babbles with a little more zest than in the high heat of summer. The woods around create a colourful contrast with the dark walls of the village called Dolceacqua Terre, the part on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge painted by Monet.
Carugi, charming alleyways
The Doria castle, or what's left of it, towers high above the houses of the village. When you stand in front of it, you wonder why they went to so much trouble to erect a gigantic fortress on top of that rock, the Monte Rebuffao, the walls look like an extension of the rock face. The tall houses built around it also seem to want to test all laws of gravity, perhaps one house is holding up the next one and when one falls over, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down, it is a thought that comes to mind almost unintentionally.
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Pittoresque, though somewhat difficult to photograph, because there is no excess of light in the narrow streets, or as they are called locally, the carugi, which we wander through, we are one of the few tourists remaining at this time of day. A nice man, emerging from one of the dark alcoves, offers us sugared nuts on a tray and doesn't even ask us to buy them, which we do anyway.
The sunlight of the late afternoon gives a sparse, but magical glow to the boxes with bright green plants that can be seen everywhere along the narrow streets or hang out front of the buildings, walls blackened over time: moisture, soot? Hard to say, it couldn't have been much fun living without central heating during the Middle Ages. Now and again you find yourself on a small square, or in front of stairs, doors of which the paint has become eroded, just enough to make it an interesting picture.
The Doria castle where Napoleon came to visit
The castle was first mentioned in the 12th century, it was partially restored a few years ago (inaugurated by none other than Prince Albert of Monaco) and now houses a number of galleries that hosted exhibitions, such as one on Monet, the painter who put Dolceacqua on the (tourist) map. The Doria family who bought the castle and its leaseholds from the Grimaldi's from Monaco attempted to do the same a few centuries back and it must have been a thriving home at one time with lovely gardens, frescoed walls and ceilings where Napoleon is said to have visited. Still, I do wonder what they thought they were doing, because even at the best of times it doesn't seem to be an ideal place for a summer residence. When the last of the Doria's left, the castle quickly fell into disrepair and didn't attract any new residents, a major earthquake in 1887 did the rest.
Dolceacqua or Taggia?
All in all, Dolceacqua is a nice excursion for day trippers who arrive by coach from places like Genoa or Nice, but who are gone by 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Don't come in for lunch, for although there are quite a few restaurants in the village on the opposite side of the river, they tend to be packed with groups. Compared to Taggia, a little further along the coast (where the famous olives come from) and which has the same kind of structure, you can clearly see what renovation can do. In Taggia, despite being listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, little has been done in terms of restoration. In contrast, Dolceacqua is romantic and photogenic, where residents are proud of their restored homes and seem to enjoy living there.
The red wine of Liguria, the Rossese
Remember to bring home a bottle of Rossese di Dolceacqua (also simply called Dolceacqua), the wine is known as the best red wine produced in Liguria. The wine comes from the Rossese grape which you wont find outside the Mediterranean Alps. The wine is bright red in colour and has a fresh taste reminiscent of blackcurrants and herbs.
A little fun fact: The name Dolceacqua, which means as much as ''sweet water'', is a verbalization of the Roman name Dulcius who owned the area during the Roman period. The place was originally known as Villa Dulciaca, later verbalized as Dulcia-acquae, the name mentioned in documents from the 12th century.