Gone are the days when Tchaikovsky and the Russian empress Maria Alexandranova joined a well-heeled mix of titled Continental and British gentry in strolling along Sanremo’s palm-lined avenues. They left behind an onion-domed Orthodox church, a few grand hotels and a casino, but Sanremo is a different sort of town these days. It’s still the most cosmopolitan stop on the Riviera di Ponente, as the stretch of coast west of Genoa is called, catering mostly to sun-seeking Italian families in the summer and elderly Romans and Milanese who come to enjoy the balmy temperatures in the winter.
In addition to the gentle ambience of days gone by, Sanremo offers its visitors a long stretch of beach and a hilltop Old Town known as La Pigna. For cosmopolitan pleasures, the casino attracts a well-attired clientele willing to try their luck. Sanremo is an excellent base from which to explore the rocky coast and Ligurian hills. So is Bordighera, a quieter resort just up the coast. With excellent train and bus connections, both are within easy reach of a full itinerary of fascinating stops, including Giardino Hanbury, one of Europe’s most exquisite gardens; the fascinating prehistoric remains at Balzi Rossi; and Dolceacqua, perhaps the most enticing of all the inland Ligurian villages.
Sanremo’s underground railway station, buried into the coastal hills much like its counterpart in nearby Monaco, is sleek and clean but there are a few disadvantages. For one thing, the walk from the tracks to the exit is formidable and the walk from there to the center of town is also considerably longer than from the old station in centro. This leads to the final problem: More than a decade after the inauguration of the new station, some locals might give you directions to a hotel, restaurant and such, referring to the “train station,” when, in fact, they mean the former station. To get downtown from the new train station, walk straight out of the exit, cross Corso Cavallotti, and continue downhill until you reach Corso Trento e Trieste. Take a right on that road, which hugs the shore and leads to the old port.
To the right of the old station are the beginnings of Via Roma and Corso Matteotti, Sanremo’s two main thoroughfares. Corso Matteotti will lead you past the casino and into the heart of the lively business district. Continue on that until it runs into Piazza Colombo and the flower market. If, instead, you turn left on Via Feraldi about midway down Corso Matteotti, you will find yourself in the charming older precincts of town. Continue through Piazza degli Eroi Sanremesi to Piazza Mercato, where Via Montà leads into the old medieval quarter, La Pigna. The hill on which this fascinating district is located resembles a pine cone in its shape, hence the name. Aside from a few restaurants, La Pigna is a residential quarter, with tall old houses that overshadow the narrow lanes that twist and turn up the hillside to the park-enclosed ruins of a castle at the top.
Sanremo’s white palace of a casino, set intimidatingly atop a long flight of steps across from the old train station and enclosed on three sides by Corso degli Inglesi, is the hub of the local nightlife scene. You can’t step foot inside without being properly attired and showing your passport. You must be 18 or older to enter. There are poker tables starting at Euro 2,00 games but there are more serious tables that attract high rollers from the length of the Riviera. Gaming rooms are open daily 14:30 to 2:30. Things are more relaxed in the rooms set aside for slot machines, where there is no dress code.