Rail route of the month: from Genoa to Ventimiglia, Italy – a line of cinematic brilliance

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Along the coast through Liguria to the French border, our slow travel expert finds the tunnels as bracing as the coastal views

Nature has its way of derailing travel plans. A landslide in August 2023 in the French Alps blocked the main railway just west of the Mont Cenis tunnel. This route is used by all trains from Italy to Lyon and Paris. The sleek French TGVs and the even sleeker Italian Frecciarossa trains competing on the lucrative link from Milan to the French capital were stopped in their tracks. Many passengers bound for Paris and London from Italy rerouted through Switzerland, while others devised creative itineraries via the Riviera, using the historic railway running west from Genoa which, in 1872, became one of the first two routes crossing the frontier from Italy into France. The Mont Cenis route still hasn’t reopened so, needing to travel from Trieste to France, I opt for a dose of Ligurian sunshine and take the train via Genoa, following the coast west from there into France.

This is a stretch of coast my partner and I know well. From the autostrade or the railway, the landscape seems quite tame. Up close, we see just how challenging the terrain can be. Stray off a footpath into the macchia, and you quickly encounter a tangle of thorny shrub and fierce ravines. There are rock roses, tree heathers, myrtle and broom drenched in yellow flowers and the salty tang of the sea. Move inland from the coast, and there are the scents of Liguria: lavender, sage and wild garlic which, along with pesto, focaccia and green window shutters, make the Riviera di Ponente (the coast west of Genoa) so captivating.

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