Ventimiglia, Italy: Travel and shopping on the molto-cheap

Visit another country with the whole family, stock up on cheap booze and clothes, and eat a three-course meal -- all for about $141.50. The destination is Ventimiglia, Italy, the Tijuana of the Ligurian Coast. You get the Italian experience in a border-town, day-trip gulp, then it's back to the French Riviera.

Ventimiglia is the perfect way to stretch a Cote d'Azur vacation into a multicultural tour on the molto-cheap. Of course you already have to be in the south of France to take advantage of the savings, but don't quibble. Ventimiglia is a fine place to visit when you're in the neighborhood.

My wife and I took our 3 year old son and 7 year old daughter on the special Carte Isabelle ticket from 46 miles away in Cannes for about $44 round trip total. The ticket allows you to make as many stops as you want, so the transfer in Monaco could turn into a side trip to a Monte Carlo casino if you want to get all James Bond about it. This voyage, however, was about a change of scenery without making the scene and going broke.The first thing we did in Ventimiglia was eat lunch at a touristy charmer called Gimma. Locals were eating there too, so we took our chances. We had three plates of spaghetti and clams, another of plain spaghetti, a serving of calamari (the best dish of all), veal scallopini and two triple-ball bowls of gelato, not to mention a half-caraf of wine and liter of bottled water for about $56 (optional small tip included.)

After a visit to a second shaded playground with a rail theme, we then joined the mostly French bargain hunters on the retail trail. We bought a bag of locally made rainbow bowtie pasta for $4, a 10-ounce bottle of Italian aftershave for $10, a pair of glittery silver sneakers ($13), an M&M filled helicopter ($3), and a $5 bottle of Pastis. You would think the latter would be cheaper in the south of France, where it's made, but Ventimiglia is the region's booze-run capital, with prices 20 to 35 percent cheaper than its northern neighbor.

To finish our day, we took four pieces of pizza ($6.50) on the return ride back to Cannes, bringing the grand total to $141.50.

Keep in mind that locals and tourists gladly pay the train fare just to hit the town's mega-market on Fridays. The seaside village combines a bit of scruffiness with Old World postcard imagery that makes you want to shout Mama Mia. The travel books and blogs mention a cave and a Roman theater. For a crowd that is 99.9% there for the deals, the sites might as well be ancient history.

Ventimiglia's now-suppressed sidewalk black market of luxe knockoffs used to add a roguish allure. Now the city is just a fun, economical way to see another country and be back in your hotel room before the sun sets. Just don't sleep in the park. Even ready-to-spend daytrippers like us got rousted by the police like penniless bums.

Read Full Story

Can't get enough personal finance tips?

Sign up for Finance Report by AOL and get everything from consumer news to money tricks delivered directly to your inbox daily!

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.