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Gargantuan meals just over the Italian border!!

Although I love the restaurants in Nice Old Town, one of my favourite things about living on the French Riviera is that I can just pop over to Italy for dinner! I am totally in love with Italian food. I live in Nice and the city has been French for only just over 150 years – previously Nice was Italian and the Italian influence remains in the local food and the local restaurants, where wood fired pizza and superb pasta is on pretty much every menu.

Italian Riviera food

But if you want a taste of real Italian food with the full Italian experience, it’s a great excuse to get in the car and hotfoot it over the Italian border to Liguria. This weekend I headed inland from Ventimiglia to the Nervia valley and explored the gorgeous villages of Dolce Acqua, Apricale and the principality of Seborga.

Italian Riviera food

In many of these Italian villages you find restaurants with a set menu including all the local specialties and this tends to cover about 10-13 dishes or more, starting with a selection of cold meats, then beignets and farcis, then a selection of pasta followed by the meat dishes, desserts all washed down with lashings of red wine. You get no choice in what you eat but don’t let that put you off! It’s all so delicious that you are delighted with everything that ends up on the table and even more delighted when you get the bill which is generally between 30-40 euros per person for all these courses and however much wine you can drink. The food is all deliciously fresh and locally produced too.

One of my favourites places for this type of Italian dining is Ca’Mea in Badalucca, which you can easily recognize by the huge mushroom outside the car park. The whole menu is based on local fresh mushrooms: simple but delicious.

Italian Riviera food

Just opposite Ca’Mea is a cosier and slightly more refined restaurant called Il vecchio Frantoio (situated on Strada provinciale 548, bivio Vignai – Badalucco). Here you can find the same kind of set menu with loads of courses, but this time without the mushroom theme.

Italian Riviera food

A top restaurant is slightly further inland in the village of Nasino and is called Restaurant Osteria Antica Osteria Costa. In the summer you can sit out on the terrace overlooking the river, and in winter it’s elegant and cosy inside with a superb wine cellar which you can visit. There is plenty of gorgeous food to be had here, including an unusual truffle risotto.

Italian Riviera food

In the village of Pigna you can enjoy the thermal baths and then go and indulge yourself in the restaurant nearby – it’s NOT the one in the thermal bath hotel but the one just next door to that and I think it’s called Ristorante Terme . It’s not a particularly beautiful looking place, with a large, brightly lit 70’s style dining room but the food is superb and there are great desserts too! Depending on the time of year they offer a classic menu but also a truffle menu and a mushroom menu-and all in a lovely setting! I’ve been 3 times and have only ever heard Italian spoken, so don’t expect service in English or French.

This weekend I found my new favourite just outside Dolce Acqua - Il Rio del Mulino (situated on Strada Per Rocchetta Nervina, Dolce Aqua. Tel 0039 0184 206241) As you come out of Dolce Acqua you’ll see the road sign for Rocchetta and the restaurant is just a few minutes’ drive up the road, on the left with a large car park on the right. As is the case with many Italian restaurants it’s not particularly cosy or romantic but filled with Italian families in their Sunday best, and with a geriatric band knocking out Italian classics on a synthesizer, it’s superb fun watching all the grandparents twirl the unwilling grandkids around the dance floor!! It’s a totally Italian place, I heard no French and no English in there and the food just didn’t stop coming. One of the pasta dishes was a superb thyme ravioli in butter and the wild boar was melt in your mouth gorgeous. We got there at 12 and left at 5 – we paused for about half an hour amidst all the food – andleft happy and only 70 euros lighter between 2 of us. A real bargain!!

If you find yourself popping over the Italian border to sample some of the delicious food we would be delighted to know what you think and to hear your recommendations!