The Italian Riviera stretches 350 km (215 miles) from the French-Italian border to Tuscany. Encompassing the coastline of Liguria, it crosses all four Ligurian provinces and their capitals, from Imperia to Savona to Genoa to La Spezia. Tourists have long flocked to the beautiful beaches from San Remo to Cinque Terre, but few have ventured inland…until now. In the hinterland of Imperia only 15 km (9 miles) from the sea is a small town of about 40 residents within the hamlet of Prelà.
The village is called Valloria. It is perched on a hill and surrounded by olive trees. Its name derives from the latin Vallis Aurea, which means golden valley, because of the harvesting of olives and the production of the prized Ligurian olive oil, which was more active in the past than it is today. The medieval village remained unchanged for centuries with the stone walls of the cultivated terraces, stone houses, wood lintels and narrow alleys called carrugi in Liguria.
But like so many beautiful Italian villages, over the years Valloria saw its youth leave for larger cities like Milan. Then in 1994 some residents had an idea, actually two ideas: an art project and a party. The town invited artists to paint the town’s doors with complete artistic freedom to create their own works. The first artists were almost all from Milan (where one of the town’s founders came from). Fifteen doors were painted during the first year. Now, 25 years later, more than 150 doors—from warehouse to stable to house doors—have been designed and painted by artists from Italy, Poland, Spain, Japan, China and other countries. The doors show landscapes, fishermen, poets, flowers, children, musicians and more. The result? An outdoor art gallery with a unique style to every door and a message of colorful hospitality. The small village became a popular destination for artists and tourists from all over the world. There is no map to the painted doors…people wander around the carrugi and discover them on their own.
The Party? The first year, long tables were set up under the olive trees and people from neighboring areas came to eat, drink and dance. It was such a success that the town hosts celebrations in July and August every year. The Valloria families prepare traditional Ligurian dishes from ravioli di erbette (ravioli with herbs), fritto misto di pesce (mixed fried fish), torta di riso (rice cake), corzetti con funghi e noci (a coin-shaped pasta with mushrooms and walnuts), and the famous trenette o trofie al pesto (traditional Ligurian pasta shapes with pesto sauce). During 2020, the party wasn’t possible; instead, a local restaurant offered an alternative: a special aperitif every Monday from June until October to stimulate an influx of visitors from the coastal areas.
Valloria offers other options for tourists. The oratory of Santa Croce, built in 1587, houses the Museum of Forgotten Things where you can find objects, mostly related to the farmer’s life, that are no longer in use, such as tools used in the cultivation of olives and the production of olive oil, plows, musical instruments, oil lamps, and accessories for roasting coffee or grinding wheat. One can take walks in the historic center with its three ancient fountains, or walk among the olive trees on the hillsides, or take hikes to admire the spectacular views…from the valley to the sea. On a clear day, you might even see the profile of Corsica.