The Most Beautiful Villages in Liguria - Part 5

The Towns that Make Italians Proud
  • Millesimo
  • Sassello
  • Campo Ligure
This is Part 5 of a seven part series presenting 28 fascinating and beautiful Ligurian villages of every type - hill towns and castle towns, walled towns and fishing villages.  Each of these small towns has qualified for membership in one of two nifty Italian organizations: The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy  I Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia  -  and The Orange Flags Bandiere Arancioni. Read about these initiatives below in More Info.

You can see all 28 towns on this Google map: Beautiful Villages in Liguria Map and they are listed below as well. They are described from the French border toward La Spezia so you can easily integrate these beautiful towns with visits to San Remo, Portofino, Genoa, or the Cinque Terre.

Each town has a story to tell and some friendly people ready to tell it.  While you can't tour them all, just visiting a few will add an authentic Italian flavor to your trip to Liguria.  If you want to get off the beaten path in Italy, these villages will do it.

New Story     Link: Great Italian Hill Towns near Cinque Terre
For information about visiting Liguria in spring, see our story Spring Weather in Liguria.


Millesimo's beginnings are represented by its symbol - the dramatic Gaietta bridge over the Bormida River. One of the few fortified bridges in Italy, it has origins in the 12th century, and is mentioned in the town's founding documents. The town's position in the Bormida valley, a major conduit between Liguria and Piedmont via the Langhe, has dictated its history. There were paleolithic settlements, and there was a Roman road, but the biggest part of Millesimo's history was as the Del Carretto family's mountain home for centuries.

Millesimo Gaietta Bridge      Davide Papalini
As you visit, you'll begin to imagine the medieval town encapsulated in the more modern town. To help you find the sites, here's a map of the town center: Millesimo Comune Map. The old part is a walled triangle with several gates. The Del Carretto castle is from the 12th century and you can visit thanks to recent rennovations. The main Piazza Italia has the Del Carretto palace (now the Comunale Palazzo) on one side. The piazza is a splendid large rectangular bordered by handsome buildings with porticos, and you can imagine it a century ago filled with people and animals on market day. Or now - with flag throwers and stalls during Millessimo's Festa del Tartufo (truffle festival) held each year at the end of September. The Del Carretto palace is not particularly imposing today, but it was used by generations of the Del Carretto family and briefly by Napoleon and a Pope – it also has one of the best sundials in Italy to intrigue the 10 year old in you. There are five churches in town – the oldest is the Romanesque Chiesa di Santa Maria Extra Muros first mentioned in 998.

There aren't many towns who get promotional help from Napoleon Bonaparte. This brilliant General won the 'Battle of Millesimo' and thus got the town's name incised on Paris' Arc de Triomphe, and curiosity about the battle has kept visitors rolling in since 1796. It has remained an attraction because the battle happened early in Napoleon's career, and there's controversy about the truthfulness of Boney's account. How better to get attention than to defeat troops not only from Austria but also from the Savoy lead by a Ligurian of the Del Carretto family? We must move on now before we lose even more readers, but you can read about the battle in this article Wikipedia-Battle of Millesimo and then visit Millesimo's little Napoleon Museum in Villa Scarzella and see the remains of nearby Cosseria Castle when you get here.

Millessimo and its 300 inhabitants are proud of their little town bestowing titles such as the 'Center of the High Bormida Valley' and the 'City of Truffles'. It is 'rich in historic and gastronomic and natural attractions', such as millesimini, a local sweet made with chocolate and rum. The Comune Website has information for you in Italian. Look on the left for a menu with storia, museo, da vedere (things to see), and similar enticements.

The Millessimo area is popular with hikers and nature lovers because of the Parco Naturale di Bric Tana, whose helpful English information here: Park Bric Tana. The Park is a forested area along the Bormida River and nearby hills which is rich with karst formations and grottoes, as well as prehistoric carvings. One of the best known is a sinkhole called the Fox Den, Tana della Volpe. Under Itineraries on the website, there are several attractive ring hikes described.

Sassello has a bit of a dual personality. Before the human species started to value unspoiled nature, we were all in favor of progress, industrialization, and exploiting the land for all it was worth, and those two, nature and industrialization, live side by side in the story of Sassello, present and past.

Sassello’s written history begins in about 935, and it gets really interesting in the 15th century, when a vein of iron ore was discovered. Sassello had a lot going for it: it was strategically placed on the road between Liguria and Piemonte; it was in a dense forest - a/k/a fuel; it had fast moving streams flowing from the mountains - a/k/a power; and now it had a valuable asset in the iron. Within centuries, the Sassellini had perfected charcoal fuel production, harnessed the water power, and built seven ironworks. The iron was taken to the sea by mule and shipped out everywhere, and things were prosperous and busy. And so it went until 1672, when war arrived and Savoy troops destroyed the town, and then, in 1722, there was an exceptional drought, bringing production to a grinding halt. Meanwhile, out in the world, coal was taking over as a heat source, leaving charcoal in its dust, and new metallurgical technologies had outstripped the old ironworks. By 1815, work ceased. Many former workers emigrated, often to South America, and Sassello’s heyday was over.

But changing times mean changing tastes. The word “sassello” means redwing in Italian, and today birdwatching and hiking are some of the favorite tourist occupations. The forests and streams are still lovely, and visitors are welcome. The nearby Parco Naturale Regionale del Beigua has a great web site with a listing of several hikes in the area. The English language trail directions are at Park Beigua Hikes

The town itself is pretty, with narrow alleys, beautiful porticos, and old limestone houses. The church, Chiesa Della Concezione, is from 1582, and has art works and frescoes, and there are two semi-ruined forts to explore. There is some useful information in Italian at Comune Sassello under Citta and Turismo.

There are a couple of foods to explore, too - the surrounding forest is rich in porcini, and the mushroom dishes are famous. And for your sweet tooth – amaretti, sweet almond cookies, were invented here. Legend has it that the cookie was first made in 1860 by Miss Gertrude Rossi, who mixed crushed almonds with sugar and egg whites and served the cookies only to her family. Today, a fresh amaretto with a cup of espresso is a Sassellese treat.

Campo Ligure
Campo Ligure                                                       R.Avery
This is one of the villages that has so much going for it, you’re not sure where to start.  It seems like all these beautiful coastal villages have astonishing history and gorgeous settings, but Campo Ligure distinguishes itself by having all that and a couple of fascinating add-ons.

First there’s the village itself.  In the center is the 14th century Spinola Palace. There’s also the Oratory of Saints Sebastian and Roch, built in 1647 in the baroque style with a fresco done by a fifteenth century traveling painter from the Piedmont. The chapel has a wooden statue of St. Sebastian, an altarpiece of the eighteenth century school of Domenico Piola , and a large painting and a fresco, both by Gio Andrea Leoncini.  If you’re not finished with religious artifacts, there’s the Oratory of Our Lady of the Assumption. Located at the foot of the hill below the Castle Spinola, it has wooden seventeenth century sculptures, and a fine crucifix of seventeenth-century Neapolitan school.  To round it out, there’s a medieval bridge over the River Stura and, of course, the inevitable Campo Ligure Castle.

Filigrana (filigree) specialty of Campo Ligure
 Photo Credit: Città Metropolitana di Genova
When you first get to the village, you’ll see that the alleys are noticeably narrow, and are filled with artisan shops.  This is add-on number one: filigrana - filigree in English.  Although there are many types of filigrana, Campo Ligure is best known for metal work, the twisting and weaving of delicate strands of gold and silver, enhanced with beads of precious materials, into lovely shapes and arabesques.  Some of the pieces are free standing, in other cases the art is applied to a base shape of glass or precious metal.  It all began in 1884, when Antonio Oliveri opened a shop to make and sell this fine metalwork.  Other artisans joined him, and at its peak, there were 33 ateliers devoted to filigrana.  This work had been popular for centuries, and was widely admired throughout the ancient world, from Asia to Byzantium, but by the 19th century, the artisans of Liguria were considered the only heirs to the art.  The Museum of Filigree has many important examples, for more information: Museo della Filigrana .  Naturally the town has numerous shops where you can window shop or purchase.

Add-on number two isn’t quite as spectacular or precious, but in its way, just as interesting: they have their very own focaccia.  Revzora is made from an old recipe, unique to this area.  It’s a bread with seven ingredients: white flour, corn flour, water, oil, salt, yeast, and malt.  It’s mixed, kneaded, and rolled out on a sheet pan. Rustic and delicious!

Last but not least, Campo Ligure is set between two parks, and there are plenty of trails and natural attractions.  Descriptions and nearby hiking itineraries are available in English through the Parco Naturale Regionale del Beigua website: Parco Beigua.  If you’re energetic enough for a five hour ring hike, here’s a link to another interesting route: Monte Pracaban Loop.  

Campo Ligure puts out a really terrific brochure. Campo Ligure Brochure (pdf)  It's all in Italian - it will not only inform, but help your vocabulary.

More Info.

Itinerary Map
 - Create your Ligurian itinerary: Beautiful Villages in Liguria Map

New Story     Link: Great Italian Hill Towns near Cinque Terre

I Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia - The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy - is an independent association of 206 Italian towns that meet criteria of architectural integrity, quality of life, as well as artistic and historical heritage. The borghi have joint promotions, joint festivals, and a guide book.  The website Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia has nice English descriptions of each of the localities making it a useful tool for planning travel to other parts of Italy. Eighteen of the villages wait for you in Liguria.

Bandiere Arancioni  - The Orange Flags - is an initiative of Touring Club Italiano to identify localities of excellence in Italy. These Italian towns must pass numerous tourist-oriented criteria related to welcome, attractions, services, structure, and environment.   The website Best Small Towns Italy provides information about each town and the process in English, and in Italian Bandiere Arancioni tells all. Thirteen towns in Liguria have been awarded the Bandiera Arancione.

Index to The Most Beautiful Villages in Liguria - Click the Part Number. Towns in the seven parts.

Part 1: Ventimiglia / San Remo area:
                          Airole   Dolceacqua   Apricale   Pigna   Seborga

Part 2:  Imperia / Alassio area:
                           Triora    Lingueglietta    Cervo    Laigueglia

Part 3:  Albenga area:
              Colletta di Castelbianco    Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena   Zuccarello    Toirano

Part 4:  Finale Ligure area:
                           Borgio Verezzi    Finalborgo    Noli

Part 5:  Savona / Genoa area:
                           Millesimo    Sassello    Campo Ligure

Part 6:  Rapallo / Levanto area:
                           Santo Stefano d'Aveto     Moneglia    Varese Ligure     Brugnato

Part 7:  Cinque Terre / La Spezia area:
                           Pignone    Vernazza    Tellaro    Montemarcello    Castelnuovo Magra

Written by Martha