Today’s entry in my Ligurian diaries is a small charming town of Noli. Our Italian friends narrated the beauty of Noli and gave four compelling reasons in its favour
1. It has almost preserved its medieval looks and atmosphere,
2. It has a beautiful beach sans tourists
3. It has a castle on Mt Ursino, from where one can have panoramic views of sea, and
4. It has beautiful short walks.
That made us to skip the popular places like touristy Finale-Ligure and the resort-laden San Remo.
Noli was our first port of call on Riviera di Ponente. We found ourselves on Via Aurelia, that is, Courso Italia, which separated the town of Noli from the sea beach. This road was once lined with a continuous arcade which sheltered the boats and was also a passage for people. Only a small portion of that arcade remains now.
But we decided to first go to sea-side which was sea’ing beyond a row pf palms followed by rows of sea umbrellas and sun bathing chairs and cabin followed by Sun bathing people. These eager-to-get-tanned people separated us from the sea. All of them were in beach clothes. We were travellers, attired in cargos and t-shirts, carrying a back pack to keep knickknacks for our four-year old kid. Among all that crowd of skin-dressed people, I felt as if I was wearing nothing and attracted unwanted attention. If any of us got lost, all we had to tell about the identification feature was that the lost person is covered in clothes from shoulder to ankle. As we crossed from one end to another, I found why it is a good idea to wear dark sun glasses. It assists you greatly in ogling, without the danger of making you look uncivilised.
Sea looked inviting so we disengaged ourselves from the partly tanned people and found a place for ourselves. Younger one indulged in throwing pebbles, Manish took a book and pretended not to be interested in people watching, and I openly indulged in people and sea watching.
A few cups of coffee, some feet-wetting touch of sea, few pages of book filled our two hours of sea. We got up and crossed again the rows of people, umbrellas and palms and found our way to the porticoed loggia del Commune. It felt great and humble at the same time to be in the place which was once visited by Dante and Christopher Columbus on his way to find the new world.
This place leads into the heart of the town which is a maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with medieval houses with suspended arches between the houses. Via Columbo, the main street of the town, was quiet except the solicitation from a few Asian and African vendors selling clothes and leather items.
All the beautiful curio shops and cheap fakes could not lure us to spend euros but the ice-cream parlour at Via Colombo 12 named Pappus. You might have discovered by now, our love for Italian gelato. Every town and city has its own famous shop for gelato and pasticerria just as we have the famous chat and mithai shop in every nook and corner of our country. As I promised in my first entry in Ligurian diary, we will indulge in gastronomic delights and make stops for literary gems, and I have kept my promise till now.
Walking further on via Colombo, we reached at piazzetta Morando and Torre dei Quattro Canti( the tower of four singers). There were once 72 towers dotting the sky scape of Noli, of which only eight have survived. This square gives beautiful views of ruins of 12th century Ursino castle. The mountain of Ursino and the castle walls running down to the town has given Dante inspiration for purgatory and the defensive walls running down to the city.
From this square a path meanders through the town’s interior of alleys and then slowly climbs up. With every turn and ascent, the view changed. Once the upper sections of towns passed by, Olive groves and terraced cultivation accompanied us on further up. As we reached to the top, panoramic views of Noli town, palm fringed Courso Italia, Boomerang shaped sea beach and the deep blues of the sea took our breath further out ( which was already gone out by climbing up).
Noli’s known monumental attraction is the Church of San Paragorio, which is considered the best of romanesque art in liguria. It was founded in 8th century and restored in 19th century. We did not delve much into the interiors of church but liked the feeling of bygone era so eternally etched in the stones. Perhaps I have a particular liking for the old stones! That is why I felt so sad when I visited Charbhuja temple in 2013, where centuries old stones were removed by flashy marble.
Day was running towards evening, and as we ended our trip to Noli, what I remembered the most was walking on cobbled narrow alleys, old stones of medieval houses and San Pargorio church, and the panoramic views of Noli town and coast from the castle.
And Dante occupied more of my imagination than taste of gelato!