Located just a short drive from Sanremo, in the region of Liguria, Bussana Vecchia is a tiny village with a unique history and a hippy vibe – a place unlike anything you’ve seen before!
Liguria is synonymous with Italian Riviera and is best known among travelers for the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre and the glamorous resort town of Portofino. But there are a number of beautiful hidden gems that you should see. One of these is Bussana Vecchia, a tiny village located about 15 minutes from Sanremo, near the border with France.
Bussana Vecchia has never received the attention it deserves and I’m sure only very few of you have heard about it. That’s a shame because it’s a place with a peculiar history, a special atmosphere and an arty soul that make it a fantastic spot to explore.
History of Bussana Vecchia
In 1887 Bussana Vecchia was hit by an earthquake that destroyed most of the village and killed about 2,000 people. The local authorities decided to rebuild the town down the hill, calling it Bussana Nuova (literally New Bussana). They declared Bussana Vecchia dangerous and ignored the pleas for reconstruction from its inhabitants.
Bussana Vecchia laid abandoned for almost a hundred years, until various artists started to move there in the 1960’s, bringing new life to the village. They resisted various eviction attempts by the police and stayed despite not having access to electricity nor tap water. They created a community, transformed the ruins into liveable homes and opened a series of workshops and ateliers to live of their art. And most of them still live there to these days. Pretty interesting, isn’t it?
What to see in Bussana Vecchia
Don’t expect a traditional Italian quaint village. Bussana Vecchia is an extraordinary mix of collapsed houses, abandoned areas, artisanal workshops and pretty cafes that make the village so unconventionally beautiful.
Bussana Vecchia is tiny but if you are into photography like me, you could literally spend hours there. My suggestion is to walk down every small alley because pretty much every corner is decorated with some kind of artwork and everywhere you look you’ll see quaint old doors, decadent buildings and enchanting scenes.
There are many workshops scattered around the village, selling anything from ceramic decorations to exclusive pieces of jewelry and beautiful paintings.
The old church of Sant’Egidio up the hill is the one place where you feel all the history of Bussana Vecchia. Many of its inhabitants took shelter here during the earthquake and died when the heavy roof collapsed. Today only the walls and the bell tower are still standing. For security reasons you can see the church from the outside, since it’s never been restored.
Among the many jewels that you’ll find amidst the ruins is the Giardino tra i Ruderi, a green oasis of flowers and plants created by Luisa Bistolfi who moved to Bussana Vecchia in 1972. Today the garden is one of the most popular attractions of Bussana Vecchia and presents visitors with romantic corners and breathtaking views.
If you are looking for the ultimate hippy adventure, then visit La Barca, a real commune where everything belongs to everyone. Basically you just show up, and stay for as long as you want. You are welcome to grab something from the fridge and a bed is always available. No need for money. The owner Ronald, a Dutch expat, lives mostly off what past guests regularly bring to him and donations.
Look for the building that houses the biggest model railways in Italy, with over 350 meters of tracks winding through tiny stations, tunnels and bridges. It was put together by four friends, who spent months to carefully recreate real-life scenes and sounds (check out their Facebook page).
- The easiest way to reach Bussana Vecchia is by car. The road that leads to the village is very narrow and steep (be careful if you have a big car) and you’ll have to leave the car somewhere on the access road because the village is fully pedestrianized. Alternatively, you can catch a bus from Sanremo to Bussana Nuova and then walk about 40 minutes to Bussana Vecchia (see the timetable here)
- Forget baby strollers, it would be impossible to use them here due to the uneven cobblestone paving
- Many events, art exhibitions and live music take place in the summer, which is perhaps the best time to visit it in addition to spring
If you are in the area, do pay a visit to Bussana Vecchia and lose yourself in its labyrinth of cobblestone streets and alleys. It’s a truly magical experience. Also, don’t be shy and approach the locals. Most can speak English and can say a lot about Bussana Vecchia and its fantastic story!