Charming little villages are probably the best thing you can see in the Italian Riviera.
The sea is nice, the beach is lovely, the scenery is breathtaking but what makes the difference, really, are those little towns you find here and there, some by the sea, some perched on the hills above. They are what makes this area truly unique, in my opinion.
You can find these villages everywhere in Liguria, from La Spezia to Ventimiglia, and every area you choose to visit offers you awesome opportunities of visiting little towns, walking up and down cobbled narrow alleys and discovering enchanting little corners.
Noli seen from the beach with its castle in the distance
As you may know, I live near Savona and therefore I am a bit partial to this area. You can find nice little towns to discover everywhere in Liguria, but may I just say that some of the best are near Savona?
In just a few kilometres, you can visit Celle Ligure, Albissola Marina and its ancient tradition of ceramics – one of the best examples being the Jorn House Museum – Bergeggi, Varigotti and Borgio Verezzi – do you remember the lovely Crêuza I told you about in an old post of mine? These are just the ones by the sea, but if you venture up the hills, you’ll be amazed at how many little villages you’ll be able to visit in just one day.
one of Noli’s picturesque villages
But if we remain by the sea, one of the most picturesque towns near Savona is undoubtedly Noli. It is a very small town – it has more or less 2,000 inhabitants – but it has a very important history, which you can still feel and see if you walk down its streets.
Noli is a Medieval town and it used to be an independent republic. The Republic of Noli was founded in 1192 and was one of the Italian Maritime Republics – together with Genoa, Amalfi, Venice, Pisa, Ragusa, Gaeta and Ancona. Those republics existed from 10th to the 13th centuries, they had their own fleet of ships to trade across the Mediterranean and played a key role in the Crusades.
remains of the old Republic walls
Despite being so little, the Republic of Noli was very powerful and lasted until 1797, when it was conquered by Napoleon. Noli was always threatened by nearby Savona but became an ally of the more powerful Genoa – Savona’s worst enemy – and this guaranteed Noli power, protection and growth.
As I said, the remains of such a powerful history can be seen throughout town. One of the most important monuments – and one of the most beautiful as well – is the Chiesa di San Paragorio, which is part of the Italian National Monuments. One of the oldest buildings in the area, the church dates back to the 11th century and is a great example of Romanesque architecture.
the Romanesque church of San Paragorio
There other beautiful churches around town, the most important of which is the Cattedrale di San Pietro dei Pescatori, a baroque-style church with a beautifully decorated interior. But what will strike you the most, if you walk around this little village, is the number of Medieval buildings you’ll see.
Being a Maritime Republic, Noli had to defend itself and therefore was surrounded by walls and towers. In the past, Noli had 72 towers – quite impossible to believe, given its small size – and nowadays there are still four standing. The others have been destroyed or integrated into other buildings.
one of the little squares in town
Moreover, like every proper Medieval town, Noli has its own castle: the Castello di Monte Ursino. The castle, overlooking the town from the hill of Monte Ursino, is one of the best examples of Medieval castles in the area and its perfect location allowed the control of the sea, the coast and the road leading to the hinterland.
It is said that passing that road was so difficult that it made the contact with the hinterland almost impossible, so much so that the people from Noli had to focus on maritime activities only, which lead Noli to become an important maritime power.
entering the village via the old walls
Nowadays, there isn’t much to see inside the castle but it is definitely worth hiking up there because the view is awesome and gives you the chance of seeing Noli from up above, enjoying the sight of the bay. As a matter of fact, visiting Noli can be nice even if you are not interested in history, since the village is so picturesque – and so full of Instagram opportunities – that you can just enjoy its lovely corners.
The beauty of the village is widely recognized and it is proved by the fact that is has been included in the Borghi Più Belli d’Italia, a list of the most beautiful Italian villages – actually the Italian borgo is something different from a village, it is a small Italian town, generally fortified and dating back to the period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (as the website of Borghi d’Italia also says).
Noli and its bay seen from the castle
Needless to say, beauty is not the only feature here, food is great as well – we’re in Italy, after all. Fish is still the staple of the local cuisine and there are a lot of good fish restaurants there. If you don’t like fish, there’s always a slice of warm focaccia – Ligurian thin salty bread – which will make your day.