Chris got back very early this morning from the six-day A Rocha Forum in Portugal, so we won’t be blogging about that until next week. In the meantime, here’s a question: where can you get the best pizza and ice cream?
Our good friend and colleague Jean-François is sure that since the Italians invented pizza and probably ice cream as well, then the answer must be Italy. So when the team at Courmettes was left a sum of money as a thank you from a group which had stayed for a week last month, it was decided the best way to celebrate was by going for a meal in Italy.
This isn’t so mad as it sounds. Nice once used to be part of the Italian kingdom of Savoy, and from Courmettes it’s just 40 minutes to the Italian border on the autoroute. So late one afternoon 15 of us set off for the first town across the border, Ventimiglia.
The autoroute la Provençale runs through into Italy. (We have always in fact found it slightly disconcerting that when coming out of Nice airport the signs are for Aix-en-Provence or Genoa.) From the western side of Nice the road swings inland and climbs. As the coastal edge is mountainous with narrow valleys, you keep entering tunnels, then coming out onto high viaducts. Passing the signs for Monaco and Menton, you emerge from a tunnel onto a bridge with a sign “Italia”. Then you plunge into another tunnel, and then another, before finally coming out to a pay station in a wide valley. You know you’ve arrived in another country as the man at the payment booth tells you the amount in Italian (fortunately it also comes up on a screen).
Ventimiglia lies at the head of a stony river valley. The old town rises on a hill next to the river and must have been an important strategic point (you can still see the remains of a castle and old walls). The newer part of the town is along the coast, next to the pebbly beach. We bought ice creams, which were indeed delicious (and cheaper than in our part of France).
The restaurant we were headed to was in the old part of the town. We crossed the river, with the birders among us getting quite excited to see three kinds of martins as well as swallows and swifts. Steep narrow streets with shallow steps led us up into the old town. It was a little disconcerting when walking up one of these to realise that a motor scooter was also coming up the steps behind us.
The houses rose four or five stories above us; like many Provençal towns, yet not quite like France. Every now and then we’d come across a façade that looked medieval, with pointed arches and heavy stone blocks. And finally we went through a great stone archway in a remnant of the old town wall with what looked like original doors folded back either side.
And yes, we can say that the pizza was excellent, with that authentic Italian thin crust. The regular size pizzas amply filled a large plate; the maxi pizzas overflowed the plate. We will definitely be back some time!
Since we visited Ventimiglia, and since we posted the blog, the town has become a new item due to the presence of large numbers of African refugees trying to get over the border. Here’s a link to an article about it.