Druids in Liguria? Despite Italy’s pagan history, it was the last thing I expected to see while touring hilltop towns – villaggi or paesini arroccati – near the italo-french border. Perched 910 meters above sea level, I had read that Bajardo (pop. 347) was the highest village in Liguria, but I wasn’t aware of the Festa dei Druidi in July. Held on grounds surrounding the ruins of the church of San Nicolò, we stumbled upon this event by chance. Bajardo is regarded as the ‘Terrace of the Alps’, and the lofty location made a great setting for a druid celebration complete with mock fights, a warrior dance, sacred fire, and even a celtic wedding ceremony.
Ancient ruins of San Nicolò. This used to be a place of worship for celtic priests before the Romans muscled in. Now it’s a refuge for stray cats and open-ceiling events. Tragedy struck in 1887 when the roof collapsed during an earthquake, killing 202 parish members. It was such an odd (and I have to say pretty cool) sensation to be standing inside, while outside druid drums beat to a solemn rhythm.
Castel Vittorio. One of many hilltop villages in the area and a quick drive up from our b&b in Pigna (left). We had a gorgeous view of it right outside our balcony. From Castel Vittorio, the road continues on to Bajardo.
WARNING: if you’re not comfortable with tight, winding, and badly maintained country roads, forget about driving from Castel Vittorio to Bajardo. Turn around and access Bajardo via Apricale. The route is longer and winding as well, but it’s better maintained and wider (well sort of) for 2 cars to pass.