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At Home in Alassio

November 23, 2011

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I have a thing for sun and water, and have always aspired to find the perfect, civilized beach resort; call it  trying to find a better mousetrap than Southern California’s finest.

It doesn’t have to be some secret out of the way island in the middle of  an ocean, but just sophisticated and heavenly enough where it’s off the  beaten tourist path and has all the trimmings of a proper beach paradise.

And so it was 16 years ago that I got really lucky and happened on the  most off the beaten track little town on the Italian Riviera located midway  between Genoa and Monte Carlo. Easy to reach either by train, bus or  car, Alassio, is one of Italy’s most beautiful vacation towns, known pretty  much only to its residents, and the high-rollers of Milan, Torino and  Rome, many of which keep lovely and very expensive villas in the hills  above the town.

The town dates back to pre-Roman times, as it is located on the Via  Augusta, the road that leads to Rome. The Ligurians first inhabited the  area prior to the first millennium. Centuries later in 1540, it was annexed  to the Republic of Genoa.

In order to understand my love for Alassio, one has to know how I  discovered the place. It all started with my mother-in-law when she was  a kid growing up in Spain at the onset of the Spanish Civil War in the mid  1930’s.

For part of her teenage years, the then 13 year-old Angela, born and raised in Barcelona, lived for three years in Alassio during the height of  the Spanish conflict. Once the war ended, she and her family moved  back to Barcelona. Years later she married, and, with her husband, moved to Havana, Cuba, where my wife, Maria was born. The family emigrated to Miami in 1962.

Cuba, of course (I say this from exploring the island several years ago) has many beautiful beaches, and it always helps to find the best beaches in the ‘free’ and accessible world.

So, twenty years ago my mother-in-law yearned to return to Alassio – 50 years had passed since she had been in school there. For years, my wife and I had heard Angela speak lovingly about her years in Alassio – and of course she spoke perfect Italian. So Maria researched the town, and through a friend in Milan, they made bookings to travel to Alassio. Little did we know how the town and its residents would change our lives.

They flew to Genoa, took the train to Alassio and within fifteen minutes of arriving, while having a coffee, Angela asked the barista about the street she had lived 50 years before. The kindly barista made a telephone call to a professor friend that had written several books about the history of the town. The professor was out but the wife asked the barista, why are you asking, and upon being told that a Spanish lady wanted to know, she asked him to find out if her name was Angela, and it turned out that she was one of Angela’s schoolmates! They had thought that Angela had become a nun on her return to Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War. What a surprise and joy it was for Angela to be reunited with classmates from 50 years ago.

The British Airways friend had recommended a hotel in Alassio, the AIDA, upon hearing the story of Angela and her reunion with the town’s classmates, the hotel owners shared our joy and to date, the Galtieri family, that owns and runs this Fawlty Towers hotel, have become our extended family as we now visit summer, winter, and anytime we can get away to Italy.

But what constantly beckons us to return to Alassio three or four times a year is the fantastic beach, the temperate and warm weather and the ‘joie de vivre’ of the Riviera dei Fiori.

The beach is long, wide, and made of real sand, not rocks or sharp pebbles. The water is safe and clean, and walking out into the water is a gradual decline with mellow waves. It’s not for surfers and surf boards, but more a sun worshiper’s paradise.

Alassio is an ideal family vacation spot with numerous family friendly hotels, a variety of restaurants with a wide range of cuisines, gelato shops, bars and discos, plus glamorous shops featuring the latest fashion from Milan or Paris. The shopping street is pedestrian and the whole town participates in ‘the passeggiata,’ that Italian ritual of a slow stroll in the evening.

Another beauty of Alassio is that it is centrally located for all the more famous cities along the French and Italian Riviera. Whether it’s Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Menton, San Remo, Genoa, Ventimiglia, Savonna, Torino or Milan, Alassio is well-located and with a superb transportation infrastructure in northern Italy to take one anywhere in the country. If you want to linger at the Cannes Film Festival or hang out during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, Alassio is only a relatively short drive away.

One of the defining attractions of Alassio is not having to pay the high hotel rates of the nearby celebrity hotels in the more famous Riviera towns. Alassio is an easy hour drive from either Genoa or Nice. In the event one flies into Milan-Malpensa, one may stop for a shopping sojourn at the Serravalle shopping outlet, the largest in Europe and conveniently located adjacent to the autostrada on the way to Genoa.

Give Alassio a try; its fabulous beaches, restaurants, shopping, and family-run hotels are simply magnetic. It’s a short flight from London, Paris, Rome or Frankfurt, and you will be immersed in the Italian Dolce Vita.

Favorite Alassio hotels: The Aida, Residence Le Terrazze, Villa Firenze; all are wonderful family-oriented properties if that’s your cup of tea. If you prefer a posh, five-star hotel, then The Grand is your Bellini. Le Terrazze and The Grand are on the beach with The Aida and Villa Firenze located a block and a half from the beach.

Favorite Alassio restaurants: Hotel Aida dining room, Sail Inn, Panama, La Prua, Acqua Pazza, Il Branzino Laureato, La Vigna or for drinks or an espresso or coffee, Caffe Mozart and San Lorenzo. For the best gelato, it’s A Cuvea.

Favorite shopping: Friday market in Ventimiglia or Saturday Market in Alassio; San Remo has lots of shopping streets and great buys.

Alassio is easily accessible by car from Nice or Genoa Airports via the Riviera di Fiori A8 motorway.  Driving time should be no more than 90 minutes.

If you prefer not to drive but enjoy the train, Alassio is on the main line between Genoa and Nice – very easy indeed; just many local stops along the way, but beautiful if time is not a factor.

From the USA to Nice, British Airways has the most North American departure cities to Nice via London/Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Delta Air Lines also offers non-stop service to Nice from New York/JFK. Air France to Paris/CDG and connections to Nice is another alternative.

If you’re flying into Italy to Milan, Alassio is an easy two hour drive from Malpensa or Linate Airports.  Again from the New York area, Delta/Alitalia and United/Continental have daily service from JFK and Newark respectively.

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  1. John,

    Beautiful story – poignant, personable and an all-around great read. Next time, add some pictures, too!

    I look forward to more…. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Geraldine permalink

    Hi John

    Really enjoyed your piece which perfectly evoked the feel of Alassio. Must get back there sometime. Best wishes. Geraldine

  3. Dan permalink

    Good information and the well written presentation. Thank you especially for the new place to explore.

  4. Hi, John

    How wonderful to see your return to the internet, and this time waving your own flag rather than that of an airline.

    I do hope you’ll regularly add to your blog and look forward to your always sensible thoughts about all things airline related.

    Very best wishes as always


  5. John Clayton permalink

    Yes, I too love John’s words and also wish i might have seen some pix. But the fact is, John’s words REALLY do give you a marvelous, well “mental image” of the palce. So Bravo!

  6. Fantastic start my friend. Now start adding photos and tagging so you can start to get some SEO.

  7. Wendy Hewitt permalink

    So evocative John – hope you and Maria are well and we look forward to seeing you on the Baie de Sole soon xx

  8. Rona Klein permalink

    Oh John, I just read the entire blog…. for some reason, the last time I just read the one on London. You are a fabulous travel writer, making me want to visit every place you have. So, now Alassio is still in my head and on my mind. If not this trip, then definitely soon. You have me chomping at the bit for your next blog…. so get to work!!! :))

  9. mary ann collier permalink

    I’m trying to locate a friend of mine from Alassio, Italy. His home was called Punta Murina, right on the coast north of Alassio. The home had various forms of statues and objects d’art around the grounds, gazebos, and a view of the island directly in front. Cabins were also for rent. Can’t seem to locate my friend or his home. Are you familiar with this property?

  10. Susan permalink

    John just read your wonderful blog on Alassio.It was so beautiful and moving reading about Maria’s mothers reunion there. How very special this place must be for you both. Jerry and I are so excited to finally visit your special place that we have heard so much about from all the family.


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