The ancient history of Triora has given this medieval town an air of folklore, mystery, and something decidedly witchy.

Liguria may be best-known by foreigners for its umbrella-capped beaches and the cliff-side towns of the Cinque Terre region. However, a short trip inland reveals a dramatically different landscape peppered with medieval villages like the enchanted Triora, Liguria.

Along riverbanks and atop mountains, Liguria’s medieval villages sit in stark contrast to its modern beachside promenades and faded retro condos. The winding route from the coast up into the Alpi Liguri National Park is punctuated with thick forests, carefully terraced olive groves, and frantoi (olive mills) selling their home-pressed goods by the liter. The roads wind from the rocky coastlines and vineyards of vermentino, ormeasco, and pigato up into the hidden hilltop town of Triora.

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Triora, Liguria. Photo by Chris Frewin

Witchcraft and folklore in Triora, Liguria

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Triora, Liguria. Photo by Laura Thorne

Triora is a familiar pit stop for mountain bikers and trekkers following paths in the surrounding woodlands, but this town also boasts a mythical fame. Back in 1587, thanks to a lengthy, harsh famine, desperate locals became convinced that the town’s resident “witches” were to blame, having allegedly practiced black magic that made crops fail and cows milkless. Charged with crimes like doing deals with the devil and murdering children, some thirty women were rounded up, interrogated, tortured, and some eventually sentenced to death by burning. Though groundless, the witch trials were violent and lasted for two years and are still closely associated with the town.

Nowadays, Triora embraces its mystical past. Each summer, Triora residents hold a witchcraft festival complete with ghost tours, and come October there are Halloween festivities (an uncommon celebration in Italy), and its cobblestoned streets are embellished with artworks of black cats. But even aside from all that, the hamlet’s magical renown has lingered for good reason. Nearly eight hundred meters in altitude (2625 ft) and with just a few hundred inhabitants, there’s a frost to the thin air and nary a sound ringing out away from the main squares. A wander through the eerily quiet back alleys recalls fairy-tale fables. They look both abandoned—battered wooden doors dangle off hinges and moss grows in the dark passages—and lived in, thanks to the abundant pot plant collections adorning every few doorways.

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“Witch’s place.” Photo by ashley benigno

While kitsch gift stores trading in witch figurines can be found here and there, the town still feels pretty faithful to its roots. Most of the 12th century architecture is untouched, and there’s only one restaurant in town – L’Erba Gatta – which serves local mountain fare, like battered, fried wild porcini mushrooms and red wine-braised wild boar with polenta. The Ethnographic and Witchcraft Museum details local traditions and the history of the witch trials, and you can walk to La Cabotina, the small stone cottage where the witches apparently held their secret meetings by night. For homegrown souvenirs, stop by La Strega di Triora on the main road. It’s packed with local food products and house-made edibles, from alpine cheeses to brined taggiasca olives and wild mushrooms that the fungi-obsessed owners forage for nearby – think porcini, chanterelles, black trumpets and dark ceps, either dried or preserved in oil.

More mountain villages to visit in Liguria

Zuccarello

Wide porticoes line the main road and arched stone bridges straddle the waterway in this tiny town in the province of Savona. Stop by the Cappella di Sant’Antonio Abate (Chapel of Saint Anthony Abbot) to see the recently restored frescoes.

Apricale

A pedestrian-only village some 30 kilometers from Sanremo, the buildings here grip the very edge of a mountain ridge. It’s known as a hub for artists, with a number of colourful murals painted in and around its narrow caruggi (laneways).

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Apricale, Liguria. Photo by number1tenor

Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena

Formed entirely from stone buildings and located close to Zuccarello, this town is named for its ancient 11th Century castle (the castelvecchio) and the mountain – Rocca Barbena – it sits atop.

Castel Vittorio

Ever so close to the border with France in the Nervia Valley, a lone church spire rises above the town’s narrow alleyways and even narrower, fort-like buildings. Capra e fagioli di Pigna – a slow-cooked goat stew with white beans from the nearby town of Pigna – is the traditional local dish to try.

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