Behind the many long lines of deckchairs an Anglo-Saxon heart beats, among parks, libraries and tennis clubs. A real journey, but over time, oh yes!
Say Alassio and think of the sea, summer, the beaches and bathing establishments that follow one another without stopping from Laigueglia to the port. We are in western Liguria, in the province of Savona but anyone, for one reason or another, will have already heard of this town which has about 11 thousand inhabitants. Perhaps most will remember 'Miss Muretto', the famous beauty contest that from 1952 to 2014 gave fame to many girls while who among the Piedmontese or Lombard, has never come here at least for a summer weekend? At the turn of the fifties and sixties of the last century, coinciding with the economic boom, it was a fashionable location together with Portofino and Sanremo.
PEARL OF THE PONENTE LIGURE - Seaside town par excellence, among the most popular in Western Liguria, it is considered the queen of the Riviera delle Palme, the coast of the province of Savona, with an expanse of fine and soft sand 4 kilometres. Perfect beach for families and for inexperienced swimmers because the seabed slopes gently and it is possible to walk several tens of meters before no longer touching with your feet. The slope of the seabed up to 200 meters from the beach is on average 3.3%: in practice, to reach the depth of 1 meter you have to move away 33 meters from the shore. So shallow, especially in the central stretch of town, that the rows of loungers on the beach are forcibly reduced. According to Other consumption Alassio is at the top of a particular ranking: to sit in the front row (from 31 July to 6 August) you need 380 euros, which drops to 281 from the fourth row. She turns out to be the most expensive with an average of 323 euros for the first four rows. If you are looking for free beaches, on the other hand, you will find it rather difficult: the largest are located at the east and west ends of the city.
SPORT AND MOVEMENT - In this context we want to give you two sporting “tips”. The first is water walking, a sport that is practiced by walking in the water at an immersion level between the navel and the chest, coordinating arms, legs, torso and breathing. It is an activity in full development and is part of the so-called naturalistic sports, that is, those activities that take place both as an amateur and in a competitive way in direct contact with the natural environment. The aquatic march is of the sea what cross-country skiing is towards the mountains. A real sport that allows you to develop your endurance, maintain your physical condition, work, balance, tone and build your whole body. It is an activity accessible to all, you only have to go out according to your level of ability, sea conditions and be accompanied by a qualified instructor. And Alassio has all this: just go to the Al Mare CNAM Nautical Club at Porto Luca Ferrari ( www.wavewalking.it/ and www.facebook.com/AquaWalkingAlassio ): seeing is believing!
Another splendid opportunity to be seized, always organized at the port, is the sailing school open to all but with interesting opportunities, including economic ones, for young people, teenagers and those who approach this specialty for the first time: www.cnamalassio.it/scuola-vela .
ALASSIO, WHAT HISTORY - But compared to many holiday centers that have sprung up on the coast as a place for second homes (which also abound here in large quantities, just think that in August the population quadruples with all the consequent problems) Alassio has a history behind it and also those attractions that go beyond the canonical 'sea and beach'.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century from the land of Albion the aristocrats, close and similar to the Crown, and the intellectuals were used to leaving for the Grand Tours to calmly reach the overseas possessions and every opportunity was good (weather they had ...) to discover new places, pleasant and sunny even better. Who for the sun and the climate, who for the sea, the beaches and the fishermen, who to portray a suggestive glimpse of this village, who to think that this was a good place to build a villa by the sea (or in the hills) ...
In the second half of the century new forms of tourism arrive, of which the rich bourgeois of the land of Albion are the protagonists, lovers of adventures to be able to tell, rather than artistic or archaeological beauties to admire. Among these Sir Thomas Hanbury, the creator, together with his brother Daniel, of the botanical gardens of the same name in Ventimiglia. Thomas, gifted with an extraordinary nose for business, buys large plots of land in the bay of Alassio, with the aim of then reselling them to English guests who wish to spend the winter there and build homes with all the comforts they are used to. Splendid villas with gardens, many of which have now been transformed into hotels of exquisite Art Nouveau style.
AND THE TRAIN ARRIVES IN ALASSIO ... - However, an important element was still missing, which will take its place in 1872: the head of the family simply donates the land on which the Alassio station will rise, placing a single constraint, that all trains should stop in Alassio. Simple, isn't it? The arrival of the train breaks the secular isolation in which the whole Western Liguria was located and constitutes an extraordinary driving force for the area's economy.
In the area, among others, wealthy traders and career soldiers arrive who, after spending long periods on the French Riviera, decide to move between Bordighera and Alassio. Surely the best known place, the most vivid witness of the Anglo-Saxon imprint is Villa della Pergola, a magnificent historic residence just a few minutes from the center of Alassio. After having had several owners, it will pass in the 1920s into the hands of Daniel Hanbury, Thomas's son. Today the villa is a luxury hotel Relais et Châteaux nestled in a lush and wonderful botanical garden. To visit the villa, you must be a guest of the hotel or the starred restaurant inside. But during the summer the garden is open to the public and can be fully visited. The garden boasts a renowned collection of wisteria and the most important collection of agapanthus in Europe. During the visit you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city and the sea, where the Gallinara island dominates.
AND THEN THE CHURCH ... - The British colony has its needs and so in 1878 the rev. John Hayes, the first chaplain. The construction of an Anglican church was soon thought of. The building will rise on land near the train station, made available by the usual Hanbury. It was inaugurated for Christmas 1881 and the first wedding will be celebrated there in the following spring. Ten years later, an expansion will be necessary to cope with the increased number of faithful. The same one that can be seen now, with its centenary pepper tree, its garden with the escape route, its twenty-meter-long entrance of pebbles, columns and wisteria and its gravel area surrounded by a lush garden. The building has a perfect neo-Gothic style, which favors a return to stone and iron, with simple shapes and volumes capable of giving a sense of grandeur, as well as it happened in ancient cathedrals. Also for this reason today the Anglican Church is loved by the many musicians who have already played there, as a place with excellent acoustics.
The City of Alassio has been able to make the most of this precious heritage left by the British, transforming it into a multifunctional space, with a calendar of initiatives that follow one another throughout the year: from the exhibitions of the most successful and interesting artists of the panorama of contemporary art, classical, opera, pop and jazz music concerts, theater shows and reviews, workshops, conferences and festivals.
Since 1888 the Irish painter Richard W. West has resided permanently in Alassio. Unlike most of the members of the colony, who prefer the hill, West settles in the 'White House', overlooking the west beach. The artist was thus able to portray the fishermen pulling their nets directly from his aetelier. West died suddenly in 1905 and his widow and friends decided to create a space for the exhibition of his works. In 1907 the 'West Memorial Gallery' was inaugurated, a building with two rooms in neo-Gothic style, to house the artist's works, many of which were later donated by his daughter to the Municipality of Alassio.
Nearby was the English Club, a large building, also in neo-Gothic style, built in 1900 by Thomas Hanbury in honor of Queen Victoria, as a meeting point for the community. The Club, as it was usually called, immediately became the most important meeting place of the British colony and remained so for a long time. Concerts and theatrical performances, gala dinners and dance parties were held in the large halls. There were a pastry shop and the inevitable tea room, but also spaces for the game of bridge and even for fencing.
AND THEN THE TENNIS CLUB ... - The undisputed leader of the colony is now Sir Daniel Hanbury, one of Thomas's sons, who inherited the family properties and interests in Alassio. In 1923 Daniel builds the Lawn Tennis Club thus responding to a long-felt need by the community. The complex, with six clay playgrounds and a first-level Club House, even equipped with a party room and a library, immediately becomes one of the most important meeting points of the community. These are the years in which the British colony, which also includes Australians, Canadians, South Africans and so on, reaches its maximum expansion.
Even today, the two stone lions always appear to those who cross the threshold of the Hanbury Tennis Club: a dip in England at the beginning of the last century, a dip in a novel by Francis Scott Fitzgerald. The yellow house is still there, in all its charm of a vanished world, but alive more than ever. The fields are eight and not six but the club is just that. The first customers of the Lawn Tennis Club were the English soldiers, veterans of the First World War, sent to restore themselves in the sun of Alassio. Hanbury personally managed the club that experienced its golden age in those years. The most famous Australian Davis Cup players came to the Alassian fields to train and, every spring, the great tennis players returned. Still in the sixties, the Alassian tennis still owned by the Hanbury trust, chaired by the Archbishop of Gibraltar, was modernized and the management, followed by the Gallean bankers, was entrusted to the master Mario Elia of Turin, who moved there with his family. A visit, even if you have never held a racket in your hand, is a must: every object in the club house, or in the park is strictly original, from the post boxes - Victoria, Edward VII, George V and VI, Elizabeth, there they are all - at the street lamps, disused from London alleys, at the Police box and at the black cab, parked in the square, fully functional. There is the 'The Smash' umbrella stand identical to that of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, in cast iron with the image of William and Ernest Renshow; there is the pendulum of 1835 also identical to that of the Wimbledon club house with the tennis ball swinging, to the rhythm of the pendulum, between the enameled image of two players in an eternal exchange without winners. The very rich collection of objects, from rackets to cups, passing through lamps and magnets, ashtrays, and above all affiches, advertising posters, movie posters all strictly connected to the world of tennis collected patiently in more than forty years, has over time transformed the club in a real Tennis Museum.
WITHOUT FORGETTING THE ENGLISH LIBRARY - The English Library, a delightful cottage style, is also worth a visit English cottage wedged, with its garden, right next to the Via Aurelia. With its 15,000 volumes (1850-1930) it represents the most important and richest English library in Italy after the one in Florence at the British Institute. The collection is full of literature books, ancient travel and geographic exploration books, art and history texts and also has an important section dedicated to biographies. The librarian, Mrs. Rosadoni Poole, is a true institution, she has been managing the library with passion and love for over thirty years and opens it to the public every Saturday afternoon, giving advice and information to visitors. Founded in 1881 by the English colony of Alassio, the Library also houses the Richard West Pinacoteca where 76 paintings by this Irish artist are collected. Opening the door of Viale Hanbury 17 you almost have the sensation of stepping into a time machine and being catapulted into London in 1910. Ancient volumes, fir shelves, wooden floor, ancient photographs of the British colony of Alassio: a real gem historical and architectural still little known.
But times are changing, the international political situation is becoming more and more critical. The growing distrust of Mussolini's regime, some acts of hostility by the fascists towards the British, push the latter to leave Alassio. They go away little by little, then faster and faster, as the winds of war become more threatening.
But a conspicuous heritage of that era still remains today, made up of culture, beauty, civilization that the city of Alassio has inherited and which now has the task of not wasting and enhancing.
As we said, you can still visit the West Memorial Gallery with the paintings of the Irish painter that give us the image of Alassio and the Riviera between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as the volumes of the English Library, whose origin is made date back to 1878. Even if the massive neo-Gothic structures of the Anglican church of 1881 remain visible only from the outside. Going beyond the railway, on the first hill, you enter the heart of the 'English' area, where the new church is municipal property, and the characteristic octagonal building, which in 1912 became the seat of the English Library. Few people know that the former hospital in Alassio also has a British origin: it was born as a hotel, wanted and managed by two English ladies to host their compatriots.
AND THE WALL OF ALASSIO IS ALWAYS THERE ... - Of course, the common vulgate sees Alassio known for its center historical, characterized by a long avenue dotted with public places perfect for young people and shops for unbridled shopping as well as the wall, on the corner of via Dante and via Cavour: the owner of the Caffè Roma, since the 1930s, a symbol of the Alassio tourist, at the beginning of the fifties he thought of placing ceramic tiles on the wall of the gardens of Piazza Libertà with the names of the famous people who frequented the place. Thus was born the famous wall, on which there are autographs of personalities from art, culture and entertainment. The first tile of the wall was placed in 1951 by the American writer Ernest Hemingway. Those of the musical group of the Quartetto Cetra followed and then many others. Today there are about 500 tiles with the signatures of famous people.Source: oggi.it