In the middle ages Genoa (in English, aka Genova in Italian or Zena in Ligurian) was a major commercial and maritime power, rivalling Venice for control of the Mediterranean.
St George is the patron saint of the city and everywhere you go you will see the familiar emblem of a red cross on a white background.
In 1190 English ships entering these waters flew the cross as an ensign to show they were under the protection of the Doge of Genoa, a privilege that the English king paid an annual tribute for. With the passing of time it eventually became the national flag of England.
Historically the source of the city’s good fortune was the port and still today it has an important function as the third tip of an industrial triangle, formed with Milan and Turin. In addition, huge cruise ships fill the berths in the new harbour, discharging tourists from around the world who come to enjoy the UNESCO heritage sites.
The old town or ‘citta vecchia’ is one of the largest in Europe at over 400,000 square metres. It’s nickname ‘La Superba’ arises from the stunning architecture, in particular the baroque palazzi along Via Garibaldi and the numerous churches faced with black and white marble (only affordable for the four richest families that once controlled the city) that are dotted around the city .
This citta vecchia is a warren of small ’vicoli’ (small alleys or what we’d call jennels in my part of Yorkshire) which unexpectedly open into beautiful small squares with stunning statues and quirky fountains.
Many of the street corners have small shrines high on the walls, reminiscent of Naples. The two port cities have a very similar feel for me and I love them both.
Walking around you also notice all the political graffiti competing with the church for wall space and the attention of passers by. You certainly get a feeling it’s still quite a radical place, even several years on from the infamous G8 summit.
It’s quite easy to get lost walking around (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). Try to keep a good sense of direction and have a decent map (unlike me) or you’ll spend a while looking for the restaurants that appear in the following posts.
Even with a good map, your best bet is to narrow your destination down to the block and just walk around till you find it. The bonus to doing this is that you stumble on unexpected gems in hidden places.
Foodwise, Genoa is most famous for pesto, which requires copious amounts of basil. The town of Pra just along the coast to the west of Genoa, is said to have the best basil in Italy.
Genoa, and Liguria as a whole, are also renowned for Focaccia. Although probably originally baked by the Etruscans or Ancient Greeks, this delicious slightly leavened flatbread has become a symbol of the local cuisine due to the multiple varieties in the region.
In terms of wine, Liguria’s seven DOCs produce fewer great wines in comparison to neighbouring regions, although this doesn’t stop restaurants offloading them onto tourists at quite high prices.
For me, the better ones tended to be the dry whites, in particular the Vermentino and Pigato which you will find in most places. The best dessert wine is Sciacchetra, pronounced /sha kI tra/, particularly the high priced Riserva from Capellini.
I was billeted at the Hotel Moderno Verdi, 15 Pizza G. Verdi (immediately opposite Brignole train station), Tel. 010 553 2104, www.modernoverdi.it
A characterful hotel built at the beginning of the last century, so not actually that modern at all. It’s an atmospheric place but the aged plumbing can be a bit dodgy in some rooms (occasional smell of effluent in my first small room on the front). If you are staying for a longer time you might be given a larger room. On my second visit I stayed for two weeks in room 428, which was fine.
Some of the hotel staff are quite dour but others are much nicer, and all were helpful. The ancient lift has two large pot plants that come along for the ride, presumably to prevent too many people from overloading it. The cable internet connection isn’t great, it didn’t ever want to load my blog, perhaps it knew I was writing this! Evening meals in the restaurant aren’t particularly special I’m told, and the breakfast is fairly basic although they will make you a fresh coffee unlike many places. Despite all the little niggles, I quite liked staying here.
In common withmost Italian cities, Genoa doesn’t have any big parks where you can go for a decent walk or run. You could amble along the lungomare but it was a bit of a distance from the hotel in Brignole .
My personal jogging route was up Via Serra, left at Piazza Corvetto and along Corso Andrea Podesta, Mura di Santa Chiara and Mura delle Cappuccine. The last two streets give you great views over the eastern side of the town while also being pretty much traffic free in the mornings.
Please see the following posts for reviews of restaurants in specific neighbourhoods. If you want to cut to the chase, the bountiful area for food for me was San Bernardo where all the best places to eat seem to be located.