Italian Little Italies: Apricale, the Kiss of Stone and Sun
- WTI Magazine #93 Jul 14, 2017
Apricale is unique. Picturesquely arranged around the small square, it has a stepped appearance, with the old stone buildings rising on several levels: thus it happens that the entrance is at the top floor, and you need to go down the stairs to get to the rest of the house.
Apricale means poetry made in the streets, artist’s studios, a refuge for travellers who have found a delightful place for listening to the elves or owls in the woods. Claudio Nobbio, the “poet of Avrigue,” narrates the myths of Apricale in verse: the mysterious lizard who gives its name to the castle, found in the form of old rusty metal in the circle of stones of the Plain of the King where the king of the Celts had stayed; the “trumpeter of Apricale” John Martin, one of General Custer’s soldiers and the sole survivor of the massacre at Little Big Horn; the arrival of a number of Templars who had fled from Provence and hid in the tower.
“At night there could be stars / above the square in Avrigue / to help you find the way / of your thoughts”: the splendid piazza, with its Gothic fountain and stone seats, is the heart of the village, surrounded by an astonishing agglomeration of houses, tiny streets, stairs, buttresses, underpasses and gardens. Most beautiful of all is the network of the old carugi (Via Mazzini, Via Castello, Via Cavour), the narrow, winding, flagstone-paved streets connected by steep stairs.
Rising behind the square is the Oratory of San Bartolomeo, which has a beautiful Renaissance polyptych of the Madonna of the Snow (1544). Opposite the oratory is the Parochial Church, of medieval origin but almost entirely redone in the 19th century. Above stands the Castle of the Lizard, entirely restored and now used as a cultural center: it has a hanging garden and is surrounded – like the upper part of the village – by an impressive circuit of walls with three magnificent arched gates. One of the castle’s square towers was later transformed into the bell tower of the parochial church.
At the foot of the village is the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, with excellent Renaissance and Baroque frescoes and, just outside, the 13th-century Church of Sant’Antonio Abate, with a Baroque façade, and the ruins of San Pietro in Ento, a Romanesque church of Benedictine origin, the oldest church building in the area.
Apricale, however, does not scorn a touch of contemporary art: the bicycle on the bell tower, the murals on the walls of the carugi, the steel pages of the monument to books by Enzo Pazzagli and Claudio Nobbio.
Nobbio writes: “You pagan God who live here / you who control the pealing of the bells / you who rule the grass that grows / in the strips of terraces / of the hiddenmost Liguria / you who read in the eyes of the night foxes / What knight am I / that I have wasted so much time / before entering deep in the heart / of the valley of the Nervia".
Comes from apricus, i.e. sunny, exposed to the sun. Protected by the Maritime Alps, the village rises in a fortunate position between the woods at the far edge of Liguria on the French border, and has an excellent climate.
The Town of Olive Oil, Apricale is the land of the taggiasca, an olive that gives an extra virgin olive oil of exceptional quality. Also available from local producers are olive pâté, pickled olives, pesto, acacia and chestnut honey.
The typical menu from Apricale begins with an appetizer of stuffed vegetables (zucchini flowers, “greens pie,” sardenaira), followed by a first course of ravioli (filled with meat, borage or chard) or of tagliarini with pesto. For the main course, the choice is between roast leg of lamb, rabbit with olives cooked in Rossese wine, or wild boar with polenta. Typical desserts include pansarole and zabaione.