Dolceaqua is a charming fortified medieval village tucked in the Alpine valley off Mediterranean coast. In winter, the snow hats of the peaks glitter in the background as you approach the village from the seaside Ventimiglia. Pinned in Italy’s Liguria, famous for its basil, pesto and olives, the somnolent commune is awaken every last Sunday of the month by a picture-perfect organic farmers market. In the setting of Monet’s painting, feet tapping on its old cobbled pavement, you can dive into local specialties like cheese, mountain sausages, stone-ground flours, the taggiasca olives and olive oil, fresh and dried herbs, wild greens, honey, artichokes, lemons, oranges, the rare Pigna beans, persimmons, red peppers and other vegetables attuned to their seasonability.
The celebrated French painter, impressed by the arch of its stone bridge, created two artworks of Dolceaqua. The architectural rainbow of the structure connects the oldest part dominated by the Doria’s castle at the foot of the Mount Rebuffao with the new town. Ushered by the lemon painted catholic chapel, an antique market is regularly set on the roadside square. The cobbled carpet lining the bushy trees of the original settlement rolls out its hospitable promenade to the monthly food market.
Produce on the Dolceaqua organic market
In the hills surrounding Dolceaqua taggiasca olives thrive. They are sold at the market either fresh, preserved or pressed into extra-virgin olive oil. Di Paola produces superb, pure, stone-pressed Olio Extravirgine di Oliva. Infused extra-virgin olive oils come from Elements with “lemons treated solely with love”, rosemary, sage and other herbs, also sold fresh or in remedies made by the lady of Elements. She also has pure white Galline Felici eggs and seasonal fruits like soft, ripe persimmons in winter.
Healthy foods are focus of signora Gabriella Girello. Whole grains, lentils, chestnuts, chickpeas, black, red and carnaoli risotto rice, but also stone-ground nutrient rich flours from Langhe (milled by Mulino Marino), sugar-free marmalades and herbal sirups and natural potions to improve any health concern.
There are always fresh greens and seasonal vegetables at a number of stands worth exploring. Jerusalem artichokes (topinambur), flowering zucchini, flavorful semi-wild (spicy touch) kale, radicchio, bitter liver cleansing dandelion greens, even Japanese mizuna grown in Apricale, a perched mountain village with superb microclimate. Clean mountain water irrigates the gardens, while good humidity is favoured by the plants planted there. It’s extremely challenging to get there by even a small car so the organic nature of the produce cannot get more pure.
We always stop at the honey producer Apicultura Civalleri. The sufficiently english-speaking Italian beekeeper offers a wide variety of honey from the area of Monte Abellio. Try and find the natural floral aroma that most flatters your palate. Next to the almost translucent accaccia, also a pure deep chestnut (castagna), citruses (agrumi), coriander (coriandolo), eucalyptus (eucalypto), ivy (edera), and sunflower (girasol) honeys are sold. Blends of Millefiori, multi-flower, and the more amber-hued Melata di Bosco, a forest blend, like a well-blended wine express the location in balance.
Vivi Piccante grows more than 100 varieties of peppers in San Remo and offers curiosities like Pink Tiger, Black Panther, Sepia Serpente, Jay’s Peach, Kraken and other hot peppers. Fresh, powdered or blended with salt they shine in all their brightness next to all shades of green and red apple in crates.
For antibiotics and pesticides-free dairy go to Eu Barlet. Their taste buds-blowing raw and creamy yoghurt and an assortment of cheese from goat and the rare Frabosana-Roaschina sheep’s milk can be tasted before purchase. Unlike most of the other cheese vendors on the market, their naked cheese is properly covered under a glass vitrine. You can see the produce, but no bugs in your cheese! I can highly recommend the Seirass sheep’s ricotta as well as the creamy yogurt.
Home bakers proudly display their rustic and wholesome tarts and pies. The most interesting is the bread specialist Pachamama. Freshly-ground ancient grains (kamut, rye, spelt) are naturally fermented (natural yeast = water + wheat + time), and the loaves are then baked in a wood fired oven just before the market opens. Various sizes, some made from plain white wheat (Grano Tenero), durum wheat (Grano Duro) or whole-wheat (Integrale), but also from rye (Segale), corn (Mais) and more obscure cereals such as spelt (farro), and kamut.
If you want to bake your own, then stock on the stone-ground flours at L’Amaranto based in La Morra. Like most top quality grain growers in Piedmont they stone mill their crops at nearby Mulino Sobrino. Ancient grains like kamut, but also amaranth, spelt, toasted Piedmont hazelnuts, also in biscuits, wholesome polenta, lentils, black-eyed beans and luscious sweet red apples in the fall and winter.
The ultra rare pearls amongst beans “Fagiolo Bianco di Pigna” are probably the most expensive beans you buy, but they are worth the splurge. Cook the Pigna beans simply and serve with fresh olive oil, salt and herbs, impeccable!
For a sweet snack, the local pastry specialty La Michetta, sipped with the indigenous local red varietal – the Rosesse wine are indulgent treats typical for the area. Both are sold on and off the market at the little pastry and wine shops. As a healthier treat, there are preserved gingers – pure, with stevia or cinnamon, all low GI. Sustainably sourced spirulina, even a medicinal cannabis stand (CBD oil, dried various strains and snacks like lollipops with the hip plant).
There are many more edible treasures at the Dolceaqua organic farmers market, the vendors change from time to time as do the seasonal plants and even the cheese (fresh sheep’s milk is for example best in winter).
The best restaurants near Dolceaqua, Italy
If you want to dine in the village, than forget anything, except for Casa e Bottega trattoria. Reservations are essential on Sundays, it’s always packed. Get one of the three menus (vegetarian, sea, land) or the best Italian ham, pasta or rabbit a la carte.
For even better, grand all you can eat superb local feast for €30 person, a glass of sparkling wine, plus a simple Italian bottle including, drive up to Rocchetta Nervina. Ristorante da U Gentile is a family affair that feeds you as a granny would!
Stocking your pantry with organic, natural produce is more healthy not just for you, the producer, but also the land [read more in Organic Lifestyle]. Buying directly from the farmers is more profitable for them, and allows you to talk face-to-face about what you are buying.