Dolceacqua, Italy: Bar California


Have you ever found yourself in a foreign country, standing outside a crowded bar or restaurant that’s brimming with local flavor, and locals, and can’t quite find the courage to walk inside?
I have and I think several factors come into play:

1) A fear of the language barrier
2) A feeling that you won’t be welcome and will have to extricate yourself from an uncomfortable situation
3) A general discomfort at not being, well, comfortable

At times like these there are two options to consider:

1) Acknowledge that you’re being silly, suck it up and walk inside
2) Move on to a more “agreeable” establishment

My wife and I found ourselves facing this dilemma a while back in Liguria, just across the Italian border.
Desperate for a cool drink, we made a late afternoon stop in the charming village of Dolceacqua.

A few steps from the main square we discoverd the very pleasant looking, and innocuously named, “Bar California”.
Just one quick peek inside, though, and my wife said “I don’t think so”.
The bar was full of older Italian men sitting at small tables in groups of four playing cards, smoking, and drinking.
There was not a tourist, or woman, in sight.
Not even an Italian one.
Now, let me be honest, it’s not as if we were standing outside a meeting place for Al Qaeda operatives, but there was just something about the situation that took us out of our comfort zone.

We quickly decided to cast away our inhibitions, and our embarrassment at feeling so wimpy, and walk in. Grabbing the first two stools at the end of the bar, we scanned the room for any signs of vitriol.  No one sneered, glared, or even grunted in our general direction.  The gentleman behind the bar quickly came up and asked what we would like to drink.  He spoke no English and no French but we somehow managed to convey our wishes.

Two and a half hours later I couldn’t drag my wife out of the place.

Now, every time we travel to the south of France we make at least one trip across the border to our favorite bar.
Let me re-phrase that: Now, every time we travel to the south of France we make at least one trip across the border
for the sole purpose of visiting our favorite bar!

Dolceacqua, Italy

Dolceacqua, Italy

The owner, Giacomo, has introduced us to his entire family, given us a tour of his private wine cellar, and has consistently been the most gracious host one could possibly imagine.

So the next time you’re having second thoughts about walking into a place that feels a bit intimidating, please, just suck it up and go in.

Especially if the name of the joint is “Bar California”.

11 responses

  1. This is so true! Although we all want to experience the local flavor of the places we visit, sometimes there’s too much flavor and it can be intimidating. A crowded, smoky, local’s restaurant in Le Marais, a park cafe filled with older men playing boules in Toulon, a moody African dance club in Nice, are all places where I’ve run into the same hesitation and fear. Sometimes I’ve gone in and other times I’ve passed. This blog is a good nudge and reminder to push through your fears and jump into the experience. That’s what traveling is all about. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. we fully agree with all the positive things You write about Californa Bar.
    We also had the pleasure of discussing Norwegian wooden churches with Giacomo over a glass of excellent Rossese.


    • Thanks very much for your comment! Love Bar California and hope to visit Giacomo again in about three weeks.

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  4. Et utrolig hyggelig sted. Drives av en hyggelig familie hvor de fleste snakker veldig godt engelsk. De driver også med beed and breakfast.
    Samt produserer hvit/rød vin og olivenolje. Ved siden av bare har de en hyggelig liten butikk med gaveartikkler.

    • All I can say is thank you!

      Takk deg Anthony ! Du har rett, hva en hyggelig familie i Dolceacqua. Giacomo tok oss til hans vinhule i landsbyendag for et privat smaker og jeg husker det var en slik vidunderlig erfaring. Jeg ser frem til å få tilbake der snart. Meget best,

  5. Giacomo, Mariella, sønnen Andrea og ikke mindst moren til Mariella er nogle af de bedste og sødeste mennesker i DA. Jeg har et sommerhus i Dolceacqua og tilbringer utallige timer på den “lille” bar. Intet at være bange for. Italienere snakker alligevel ikke, men bruger kroppen. Så det er lige meget om du kan italiensk.

    • Du er så rigtigt Emille! Det er et vidunderligt sted, og jeg ser altid frem til at vende tilbage. Mange tak for din kommentar og jeg håber at løbe ind i dig en dag i baren i smukke Dolceacqua!

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  7. We totally agree, we have just returned from a two week holiday based in Dolceacqua our first visit to Italy. Bar California, Giacomo, Mariella, Andrea, Valentina, Grandma, and Bud made this a very special place and holiday. They were kind, welcoming, and we know we have made some very special friends here. The local card playing team were equally intrigued by our game of “chase” and “rummy”! We were made to feel so much part of the community that on our departure morning we had so many offers of cappuccinos we would have still been there. Keep this bar exactly as it is, be brave and you will be rewarded beyond belief.
    Mick and Sandra West Sussex

    • What a great comment and how nice to hear from you on Le Stuff! Thanks so much Mick and Sandra. I always love stopping in to Bar California every chance I get, though unfortunately it has been a while since my last visit. I’ll be in Liguria next month and will make a point to step in and say hello from of us all!

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