An old edition of The Rough Guide to Italy dating from around 2005 described Ventimiglia as “a scruffy frontier town”, which although a little harsh was at the time a fair description. A visitor from the French side of the border would leave the bourgeois, confident, newly-painted elegance of Menton and enter a world of peeling paintwork, crumbling cornices and fading facades. At the border, although the old customs post was in splendid condition owing to featuring in Hollywood films such as The Transporter, the transition into Italy was abrupt and disappointing. Along the side of the railway bridge just beyond the border and before the first tunnel there used to be a large banner reading Benvenuto in Italia, dove la bellezza non ha confine (a slogan we gleefully appropriated as the strapline for this website) but the condition of the banner eventually deteriorated to the point it had to be removed.
Fast forward to the present and we see a transformation. The lungomare (sea front), instead of presenting the appearance of broken or missing teeth, is now bright and clean, most of the former derelict buildings having been replaced by new. This has happened not as part of some grand plan but piecemeal and often unexpectedly. Like a shy bather hiding behind a beach towel to change, each new building reveals itself after a long period of being shrouded. The Old Town, high on its hill above the new, is now resplendent in colours to rival those of Menton, yet the traditional nature of Ventimiglia remains and in contrast to other nearby towns there are few if any boarded-up shops in the town centre. Ventimiglia has always been able to surprise the casual visitor with its unusual variety of interesting shops and this feature continues unchanged.
At this time of the year (October) the overall impression is one of green. Whereas in the springtime the trees are bare and stark after their annual winter haircuts, in the autumn, before the leaves fall, they are plump and lush. The town is bracketed by two river estuaries, which, unlike at other Riviera towns are not just concrete levees to deal with floods but are genuine natural wildlife resources of surprising beauty. At one end of town the river Roya is bridged by the Passarella Squarciafichi footbridge, while at the other end the river Nervia has a new cycle/footbridge that links it to Vallecrosia, Bordighera and way beyond.
Italy is a country bounded entirely by mountains and sea. There are only two points at which it is possible to cross into another country at sea level; one is near Trieste and the border with Slovenia; the other is here between Ventimiglia and Menton. With the development of the railway network in the last century, Ventimiglia became the terminus not just for Italian but also French rail, and from here trains lead to all parts of Europe. Ventimiglia station is a nexus through which everyone sooner or later passes and you can stand in the concourse and see travellers of all kinds, from backpackers to businessmen, on their way into and out of Italy and France. How many of these travellers pass through without knowing the station is just a stone’s throw from the town centre, the market, the park and the beach?
With the forthcoming completion of the new yachting marina Ventimiglia will gain a new vibrant centre that should allow it to continue its process of organic self-improvement. In the space of a couple of decades it has grown from faded obscurity to a unique, distinctive and respectable member of the club of Riviera towns. With all its natural and strategic advantages it’s hard to see how anything other than complete political incompetence can deny Ventimiglia a confident and rosy future. It’s time for our slogan to be restored!