Hotel Piccolo Parco: Alpine enchantment in Limone


From the time of Emperor Augustus, the Salt Road has been a path for commerce between the mountain hamlet of Limone and the Mediterranean Sea. Today trade continues in another form as visitors flock to the Maritime Alps seeking refreshment in clean mountain air and a range of recreational activities.

One of the first ski resorts in Italy, Limone is about equidistant from Turin and Nice on the Cote D’Azur. The town of about 1,300 year-round residents has long welcomed visitors, whether they were salt traders in ancient times or members of the modern jet set from the Riviera.
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The 14-room full-service albergo has grown out of a former casa doganale, or customs house, and residence of an Italian general.

A select destination for aficionados is the Hotel Piccolo Parco, a 14-room full-service albergo that has grown out of a former casa doganale, or customs house, and residence of an Italian general. Limone residents Giulio and Rosy Testa acquired it in 1975 after Rosy long admired the property. She finally convinced Giulio to travel to Rome and negotiate with the general for its sale.

First it was their home and a small two-room bed and breakfast. Later in grew to seven rooms serving guests and finally to 14 double-sized rooms, two of them outfitted accommodate the physically challenged. Today Alberto Testa, their 47-year-old son, manages the wood and stone chalet-style hotel that offers complete services and amenities.

His focus this time of year is on the coming summer season. “The beauty of the area in summer is fantastic – you can hike, mountain bike along the old Salt Road or visit a series of forts built before WWI with green stone from France that are in almost perfect condition,” says Alberto Testa.
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A series of well-preserved forts built before WWI line ridges in the Maritime Alps above Limone.

Limone is called the Queen of the Maritime Alps, the wild and complex alpine chain running for 38 km in its southern sections from Ventimiglia to Colle di Tenda, France.

High in the Maritimes, Limone sits on the border with France as a pretty little town bedecked in flowers in summer. Though internationally renowned for its winter season, it is even prettier in spring and summer when the charming chalets have their doors flung open.

“It is here that the Alps and the Mediterranean meet and mix, and they merge creating a single thing, where the feet of the mountains are surrounded by warm foam and the peaks by permanent snow,” wrote novelist Mario Rigoni Stern.

The Hotel Piccolo Parco is within walking distance of the thrilling Marguareis Massif and surrounded by some of Europe’s most beautiful parks, including Mercantour National Park, the Alte Valli Pesio and Tanato Park, which have every outdoor activity you can think of. The town offers a great opportunity for hiking, climbing and mountaineering in a beautiful and wild alpine landscape of breathtaking views and relaxing meadows, lights and colors. Cyclists and motorbikers are in their element here.

It is also just a short hike to the Salt Road, which from the Bronze Age (1800 BC) has been part of the Ligurian drailles that linked maritime Liguria with the upper Roya Valley. The drailles were paths that people, troops, mules, sheep and goats have followed in their travels since time immemorial.
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Biking and hiking trails are abundant in the ancient lands whose Salt Road dates back to the Emperor Augustus.

When Emperor Augustus conquered the Ligurians, he made a route from Ventimiglia (called Albintimilium in ancient times) up to the Roya Valley and over the Col de Tende pass to Borgo San Dalmazzo.

Salt unloaded at the port of Ventimiglia traveled inland through the valley over Col de Tende and into Limone Piedmont.

During Arabic occupations, people stayed inside their fortified villages, but after the Moors were chased from their bases on the Ligurian coast, trade between the interior and sea villages restarted. At the beginning of the 13th century, the Counts of Ventimiglia restored the route between Ventimiglia and Limone Piedmont via the Col de Tende. By the end of the century, the Counts of Provence had the salt monopoly and maintained the route between Cuneo and the coast. The Roya Valley continued to be the main Salt Road (Via del Sale) through the 16th century.

Hotel Piccolo Parco is a perfect base for trekkers on the Grand Tour of the Alps (GTA), a sprawling trail that covers the entire arc of the western Alps in the Piedmont region. The overall route of the GTA forms an itinerary of some 1,000 km to make one of the world’s great trekking experiences.

Eating at the Hotel Piccolo Parco is also sublime. A former chef in Monte Carlo and London, Alberto Testa personally selects the finest produce from local farmers and Piedmont’s quality meat to make the rustic, Provencal-style cuisine for which the hotel is renowned. He uses only stoneground flours made in the time-honored way. All the cuisine is simple, rustic — and gorgeous.
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The rustic inn is a fitting setting for the hearty cuisine prepared from local produce by hotel owner Alberto Testa himself. He previously worked as a chef in Monte Carlo and London.

Among Alberto’s specialties are les ravioles, once considered the rich entrée for holidays or weddings and other special occasions. Ingredients for 6 servings: 1.5 kilos of potatoes, 4 hectograms of Toma cheese, 2 eggs, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 5 hectograms of flour, a pinch of salt, pepper, just enough nutmeg, butter, rosemary and a little cream. Cook the potatoes and finely, then strain the potatoes together with the Toma cheese. Arrange the strained mix in a round pattern on a work surface. Add the egg, oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg, knead well and cut the pasta into slices. Roll the slices until they resemble a breadstick measuring about 2 centimeters in diameter. Then cut the breadstick into small pieces 2 centimeters long and continue to roll it with one hand until it resembles a spindle. Cook in boiling salt water (approximately 1 liter of water for 100 grams of pasta with 10 grams of salt) for a few minutes. Les ravioles will float to the top when they are fully cooked. Remove from the water and drain well, then quickly pan-fry them in melted butter, cream and rosemary.

Polenta made of grano saraceno flour that Alberto prepares finds its origin in a festival called Abaya, which Limone celebrates on the last Sunday of every August with a costumed historical reenactment that celebrates the expulsion of the Saracens from the valley.