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First post-pandemic getaway - Imperia, Liguria

Despite only having one vaccine dose so far, our itchy feet and loosening Covid restrictions got the better of us two weeks ago. We booked a short week (5 nights) in a beautiful, newly-renovated apartment on the Italian Riviera, piled the three of us plus our French bulldog in the car, and took off for Imperia, an 8-hour drive from our Abruzzo mountain home. Imperia is a beach town, very close to the border with France. It’s well past Cinque Terre (another 4 hours) and in the heart of the traditional Italian ‘summer at the seaside’ beach club culture.

Background on Covid precautions: Italy had just announced that all regions were in white zones when we booked. This meant all capacity and opening restrictions were removed, but masks and social distancing were still required both indoors and outdoors. (Right after our visit, masks outdoors were no longer required.) We confirmed with the apartment owners that they were still following the rules. The apartment itself is spacious, with a garden, and only the owners lived in the building. We chose to drive instead of taking the train as we didn’t want to be in confined spaces with others for 8 hours. My husband and I had one dose of Astra Zeneca in early May, our daughter was not yet eligible for her first vaccine dose (had it upon our return.)

I can’t say Liguria was ever on my top-ten list, but the desire to go someplace new and meet new people became irresistible after nine months close to home. I chose this particular place due to a loose “internet friendship.” The building owner writes a “living in Italy” blog that I’ve followed and appreciated since I first concocted our own “let’s-move-to-Italy” scheme. He and his spouse moved to Imperia during the pandemic and are starting up a small vacation rental business. The location and renovations looked spectacular, and I’ve long wanted to meet him, so I jumped on the booking as soon as it was listed. (If interested, ItalyWise is his excellent blog and ImperiaEscapes is their beautiful listing website)

The drive up on a Saturday was pleasantly uneventful. Traffic was light, construction was stopped for the weekend, weather was slightly overcast but dry. A perfect road trip day. We made it in 8 hours sharp, even with going around Florence and then Genoa. I (the only driver) developed a bad case of just-get-there-itis, and we only made one stop for gas and toilets. Our dog either slept or was very calm the whole way. She had a case of the zoomies once we got there, but fortunately the place had a big garden for her to run it off.

The apartment was even more beautiful and comfortable than I expected. It is very spacious. The two bedrooms are large, the two new bathrooms are so clean and functional, the two roomy built-in showers with rain shower heads are pure luxury. The big eat-in kitchen had everything we needed to cook or just hang out. There were coffee and breakfast supplies laid in. The original cement tiles are beautiful and the balcony with sea view drew us outside at all times of day. The large living room had another big window facing the sea, a big TV, books, board games and cards. They gave us full access to their gorgeous backyard too. It was so comfortable that we often dragged our heels leaving for outdoor adventures. One of the key reasons I prefer vacationing in apartments is the space to spread out, so that you don’t have to be on the go all day. This one had space, beautiful design and comfort.

The location is also very special. The big house is in a residential neighbourhood full of Liberty villas but only a short walk to and from the harbour. Simone and Jed made sure we knew how to get downtown and some of the best spots to eat, and even made reservations for us. They also shared tips for fun out-of-town excursions.

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But the biggest draw of Apt. Marianna is the friendliness and kindness of the two hosts. We immediately felt very comfortable hanging out with them, asking for advice or help, and just enjoying being with nice people post-pandemic. They were always willing to chat, share a meal and stories. It felt like a new friendship, neither a burden to the hosts nor an intrusion into our family vacation. This is something I hope for but don’t always get in vacation rentals and it made our trip extra special.

So, what is there to do in Imperia, you might ask. Well, everything you would expect in a seaside resort in Italy. There is a harbour with sea-facing restaurants and a lungomare, a long pedestrianized walk along the water. Lots of bars for coffee and aperitivi, plenty of both high and mid-range shopping. Wineries and olive groves up the hills overlooking the sea, with tastings and lunch if you’d like. We didn’t end up doing this, but a recommended winery outing is Poggio dei Gorleri. Beach clubs where you can rent a lettino and umbrella for the day. Ancient Italian towns, fortified against the once-frequent pirate incursions. And, one I regret missing, the fantastic aquarium in Genoa. We just didn’t have enough time to dedicate a day to Genoa, plus we had our dog with us. A reason to go back…

What did we actually do? Well…

Day 1: got ripped off at a harbour market by a Pugliese scam artist. I stopped for a jar of olives, ended up with 5 jars, a huge bag of taralli crackers, and a 150 Euro tab. I knew it was triple what it should be, but didn’t stop to think it through and just coughed it up. It was so funny afterwards, like a 3-card monte game where he kept swapping in items and quickly offered to take my credit card when I didn’t have cash. Our hosts were outraged, but when they went to check it out and create a fuss, they quietly suggested I might take it as a lesson learned instead. The guy seemed pretty tough, and northern-Italian Simone just shook his head at the southern-Italian brazenness. Now I have a good story…and much less reluctance to haggle and challenge people at markets.

Day 2: went to the properly-segregated dog beach. Got kicked off in less than 3 minutes by the health inspector because our pup wasn’t wearing a flea collar. I protested (truthfully) that she had taken her monthly flea and tick pill only two days earlier but as I couldn’t prove it, out we went. Ended up on a long stroll along the lungomare to the next town, which was fabulous.

Day 3: the town’s one big non-beach attraction, Villa Grock, was closed for renovations. You have to wonder at their timing, after having had 15 months of closures, but today the gate was open. We started to wander in, but quickly realized it was closed, and those were the renovators/architects reviewing progress. We beat a hasty retreat, regretfully. Grock was once Europe’s most famous clown, and the villa is very whimsical on the outside and is an interactive clown museum on the inside. Went back to our villa’s garden, where our dog promptly munched down some organic fertilizer. A panic call to our hosts’ vet, a few rounds of vomiting later, and she is fine.

Day 4: a quiet day with no disasters, spent in the garden and a short drive to the spectacular medieval town of Cervo to inspect the anti-pirate ramparts, now covered with all colours of explosively-flowering bougainvillea.

Day 5: the loooooong slog home. It took 13 hours instead of 8, due to active construction along nearly every inch of the various autostrade. Despite constant map-checking, there was no way to successfully bypass it, so we just endured.

Can’t wait to have more adventures and mis-adventures! This is a large part of why we’re here in Italy. But the rest of the summer will be spent exploring Abruzzo, where we fully expect to get lost, detoured, and make any number of silly mistakes.

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I'm so glad you answered the question, "Why Imperia?"! I'm wondering which nearby town you walked to on the lungomare. One of my all-time favorite books about Italy is by Annie Hawes, an Englishwoman who bought a ramshackle place in Diano San Pietro, and of course Diano Marina makes appearances in the book as well. The book is titled Extra Virgin.

Also, I'm wondering if you have read Michelle Damiani's blog posts about Abruzzo: MichelleDamiani.com, click on Blog, scroll down to search box and enter Abruzzo. The one to start with is "Stupidly Speechless in Abruzzo." The town that she's passionate about is Sulmona.

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I am glad you were able to get away from home for a short while. Thanks for sharing it with us!

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@Janet: we walked the opposite way from Diano Marina, through Porto Maurizio. However, our hosts' beach club is Diano Marina. We would have spent a day there except for the dog problem...

yes, I'm a huge Michelle Damiani fan. I absolutely inhaled her Il Bel Centro blog and all the subsequent books, and I follow her blog posts still. I was also hoping to meet her this year, but alas, the lockdown got in the way and they are headed back to the States tomorrow. Another year...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I know Imperia is not a place many Americans are likely to get to during their short vacations, but it was a nice back door for us.