Sanremo remains one of the most famous resorts on the Italian Riviera — a stretch of coast in Liguria, in the country’s north-west.
Sanremo first rose to prominence in the 19th century, when it became a holiday hotspot for Europe’s upper classes.
Russian Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna settled here; her country’s Tsar Nicola and Austria’s Empress Elisabeth were drawn to its balmy winters; Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel lived and died here; and Tchaikovsky chose Sanremo in which to compose his Fourth Symphony.
The Russian influence is still very noticeable in Sanremo — in particular in the Russian Orthodox Church on the seafront, the design of which borrows heavily from Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
Another nod to Sanremo’s classic past is its old town, La Pigna, one of three districts that make up the city. The other two are the fashionable west end, which houses the Orthodox Church, and the shopping area around Corso Matteotti.
Parts of the city — with its quaint houses, cosy piazzas and steep streets — appear almost unchanged since the first concerted wave of foreign visitors came some two centuries ago.
But its shopping quarter oozes modern chic. It is here that tourists still flock from the world over to shop in its high-end boutiques, relax in its swanky nightspots and recover the following day on its glorious beaches.
Corso Matteotti, its most elegant thoroughfare and packed with pricey shops, is the beating heart of modern Sanremo. But even this is an appealing hybrid of the present and the past.
A short walk down Corso Matteotti brings you to Palazzo Borea D'Olmo, an imposing 15th century palace with a Baroque facade. It has belonged to the titled Borea family for centuries and now houses a museum that showcases local archaeological finds.
A stone’s throw away lies Teatro Ariston Sanremo, better known as the venue of the Sanremo Music Festival. The festival, featuring previously unreleased songs, has been held every February or March since 1951.
The showpiece is staged over several days and attracts performers from all over the world. For Italy’s up-and-coming musical talent, it is the opportunity to compete for a place in Eurovision Song Contest — which the Sanremo festival inspired. If you fancy catching it, be sure to book early as tickets and hotels for miles around are usually sold out months beforehand.
Another notable festival takes place in mid-August — the festival of Nostra Signora della Costa (our Lady of the Coast). It marks the date when, as traditional has it, the Virgin Mary rescued a seaman from drowning.
Townsfolk mark the occasion by donning medieval costumes for a procession that starts in a shrine to the Madonna, in the hills over Sanremo, and culminates in the city itself. A fireworks display rounds off the event.
In many ways one of the main attractions of Sanremo is the breathtaking beauty of the city itself. It sits in a bay, surrounded by a semicircle of hills, with two major capes — to the east and west — overlooking it.
Its geography gives it a mild climate all year round, which has cemented its place as Italy’s largest and oldest winter health resort.
Sanremo is also Italy’s flower capital and is known locally as the City of Flowers. It’s a well-earned sobriquet when you see the spectacular floral displays that seemingly decorate every street, garden and terrace. Don’t miss the auctions held every morning in Corso Garibaldi’s flower market.
Article written by Simon
(Photo by bass_nroll via Flickr)