Dolceacqua: the quiet, picture-postcard beauty of an ancient village in western Liguria


Dolceacqua is one of those ancient villages that offer wonderful views and postcard images. So much so that it impressed even Claude Monet. We tell you about it!

Those who arrive in Dolceacqua, an idyllic village of medieval origin in western Liguria, just a few kilometers from the border with France, will immediately find themselves in front of a true postcard image, especially if the weather is clear (a very frequent situation, in these parts) and the rays of the sun thus flood the village with light, making its magnificent colors stand out. In short, a postcard... live: the Nervia stream divides the village, but the two nuclei are brought together by the famous Ponte Vecchio, which leads those arriving from the main road to the oldest part, perched on a hill, which is dominated by the mighty bulk of the Doria Castle.

Panorama di Dolceacqua
Panorama of Dolceacqua

The church of St. Anthony Abbot
The church of Sant’Antonio Abate
What strikes us, as soon as we arrive, is the great tranquility of the place, the silence that dominates the caruggi (a term that, in Liguria, identifies the alleys of the villages): we are in the middle of summer, the inhabitants will almost certainly have gone to cool off on the beaches between Ventimiglia and Bordighera, which are not even ten kilometers away from here, and we therefore have the opportunity to enjoy the little village in this restful peace. Although, we imagine, at other times of the year or on other days the situation should not be so different. We immediately cross the Ponte Vecchio to visit the oldest area, which the inhabitants call Terra. The Bridge, which dates back to the 15th century, is one of the symbols of Dolceacqua (and so, of course, we linger to take a few photographs): it is donkey-backed, that is, its ramps are steep and form a very pronounced arch, reminiscent of the back of the pack animal par excellence. Immediately at the beginning of the Bridge we also find a small church: it is the 17th-century oratory of San Filippo Neri, with a simple façade consisting of four pilasters supporting a triangular tympanum, but with a curious bell tower crowned by an onion dome and whose large windows are decorated with black and white horizontal bands, typically Ligurian.

Following a narrow road that skirts the Nervia stream, we find ourselves in the main square in the lower part of the village: on one of the sides stands the majestic façade of the parish church of Sant’Antonio Abate, dating from 1471 but extensively remodeled during the 19th century, the period to which the three-aisle extension dates. The beautiful facade is decorated with the typical colors of these places, which we also find in other churches in the area: green and pink, which also characterize the sober but refined stuccoes of the interior. The statue of the titular saint, Anthony Abbot, shows off above the church portal. The tripartite facade features several motifs ofBaroque art, such as the advanced columns (topped by Ionic order capitals in the lower register), that is, protruding from the main structure, while still maintaining a certain sobriety. The interior also preserves a marvelous masterpiece of Ligurian Renaissance art: the Santa Devota Altarpiece by Ludovico Brea, the greatest Renaissance painter in these parts.

Il Castello dei Doria
The Doria Castle

After visiting the church, we climb up one of the alleys leading to the castle. The rise is lined with stone buildings, many of them covered with creepers, and is full of artists’ workshops (and it is not hard to imagine why: the beauty, enchantment and tranquility of Dolceacqua inspire even the least vivid of imaginations), while wooden or wrought-iron signs of businesses hang outside the doors. At the steepest points, the cobblestones of the road turn into a flight of steps, and after a bit of walking we reach the Doria Castle. The fortification is first mentioned in the mid-12th century, when it was built by the Counts of Ventimiglia. In 1270 the castle was purchased by Oberto Doria, a member of the famous Genoese family and known to have been the admiral of the Genoese fleet that, on August 6, 1284, routed the Pisan ships at the Battle of Meloria, inflicting a very severe defeat on Pisa. The castle has seen battles during many centuries, given its strategic location. It was the scene of skirmishes during the clashes between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and after a period of tranquility between the 16th and 17th centuries, when it became the residence of the lords who ruled the fortunes of the town, which was part of the Republic of Genoa, it was subjected to a heavy siege in 1744: the French and Spanish fought against the Savoy, allies of the Genoese, during the War of Austrian Succession, and bombarded the fortress with their artillery, causing it severe damage. Today it appears to us as a mighty quadrangular structure, defended by two parallel towers at the corners: this is the appearance it took on during the 16th-century renovations.

One of the alleys of Dolceacqua
One of the alleys of Dolceacqua
In going down, we take another street, and after a while we find ourselves in a kind of network of alleys that get lost under the buildings: these are the Scasasse, a kind of gallery, a dark walkway, lit by a few lanterns hanging here and there, that in ancient times covered strategic functions, because it allowed secret access to some of the buildings in the village and to disorient any enemies. It is certainly one of the most picturesque and charming areas of Dolceacqua, and it is not uncommon to see the occasional sign of some business there, or even some barrels placed to decorate its corners: in fact, in Dolceacqua the excellent rossese, the typical local wine, is produced, and in the village there are several stores where you can buy it.

We continue walking through the streets of the Terra district, which is developed in concentric circles following upward the development of the hill on which it was built. Often the buildings have considerable heights: not having much space to build horizontally, the ancient inhabitants often had the idea of developing the buildings vertically, which is why sometimes, even though we are in the middle of summer and in the central moments of the day, we do not see the sunlight, and certain slarches or certain corners of the village remain in semi-darkness. The advantage is that the heat is felt less!

Altra splendida vista di Dolceacqua
Another beautiful view of Dolceacqua

We return to the vicinity of the bridge, cross it to return to the less ancient part of the village. Here, in one of the small squares, there is a bronze statue depicting a shepherdess with a goat: the girl, caught in her fresh, young nudity, and the goat that turns toward her, constitute a tribute to Dolceacqua’s centuries-old shepherding tradition (goat with beans is a typical dish of the village).

A small village to be discovered immersed in peace and tranquility, where every corner possesses an extraordinary charm to be immortalized in a photograph, where the beauty lies precisely in the simplicity of everyday life. It will certainly not be a coincidence, if a painter like Claude Monet decided to stay several times in Dolceacqua, and to immortalize the village in some of his paintings... !

A beautiful view of Dolceacqua
Una bella vista di Dolceacqua

The oratory of San Filippo Neri
Oratorio di San Filippo Neri

A panorama of Dolceacqua from the Ponte Vecchio, with the Doria Castle and the church of Sant’Antonio Abate
Un panorma di Dolceacqua dal Ponte Vecchio, con il Castello dei Doria e la chiesa di Sant

An alley of Dolceacqua... ... and another caruggio
Un vicolo di Dolceacqua... ... e un altro caruggio


Creepers shroud a buildingHere is one of the village’s artist’s workshops
I rampicanti avvolgono un edificio Ecco una delle botteghe d


One of the entrances to the Scasasse... And one of its dark passages
Uno degli ingressi delle Scasasse... ? e uno dei suoi passaggi bui


Photographs grace one of the caruggios of the Scasasse The Eagle, symbol of Dolceacqua, on the pavement of an alleyway
Le fotografie abbelliscono uno dei caruggi delle Scasasse The Eagle, symbol of Dolceacqua, on the pavement of an alleyway


The bronze statue of the Shepherdess with the goat
La statua in bronzo della Pastorella con la capra

Piazzetta in the most recent part of the village, on this side of Ponte Vecchio
Piazzetta nella parte più recente del borgo, al di qua di Ponte Vecchio

Another view of Dolceacqua with the Ponte Vecchio and the Doria Castle
Altra veduta di Dolceacqua con il Ponte Vecchio e il Castello dei Doria

Claude Monet, The Bridge at Dolceacqua (1884; Williamstown, The Clark Art Institute)
Claude Monet, Il Ponte di Dolceacqua (1884; Williamstown, The Clark Art Institute)


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