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After The New York Times wrote that Genoa’s charm is due to not being Rome or Florence, and The Independent gave it the third place in the ranking of the most underrated cities in Europe, given the proximity to Milan (only 1 hour and 37 minutes by train and a little more by car) we have come about to telling you about the Genoa that, if not known to you before, will be a revelation. The Genoa that, despite being more and more discovered by international tourists due to cruises being in demand these days, until recently was hidden and known exclusively to the Genoese themselves.
Genoa has the advantage of enjoying a particularly mild climate and a complex land structure, being surrounded by the sea and the Apennines, therefore, it can become a destination of a casual day trip all year round. Plus the variety of activities it offers is vast, ranging from a visit to the Renaissance museum to a road trip, to the countryside, to a seaside relax. This city is not afraid of bad weather.
Here is a list of what to do, see and taste. And for someone, the unexpected may have by now become a classic!
THE MOST SPECTACULAR VIEW
There are so many glimpses of the city that deserve a mention, but one of the best-known is Castelletto (all the churches and bell towers in the old town, a myriad of roofs gathered along the narrow streets, the sea, the harbour, the lantern…).
Spianata Castelletto can be reached by foot or with a public elevator from Piazza Portello. There are many elevators that serve as “buses” in some areas in town, allowing you to move up and down without wasting extra time and effort! The Montegalletto elevator is also worthy of mention, it reaches from Via Balbi to the Albertis castle.
For a more exclusive experience and a 360-degree view, though for a more limited time, you can take a lift to the top of one of via Garibaldi’s historic buildings (if in a hurry, buy tickets only for the elevator and not for the entire museum). At the top go up a very narrow stairway leading to the roof of the palace, to a small terrace capable of accommodating two people at a time (given the struggle, unfortunately, the time of stay is brief, but the view is beyond amazing!).
SNACKS ALLA GENOVESE
Genoese snacking, as well as breakfast, is usually salty and focaccia-based (combined with a cappuccino or white wine). A breakfast at Da Mario in Via San Vincenzo is a must try. But if you have a sweet tooth, we suggest some must visits for gluttons. These are four historic pastries and chocolate shops.
Viganotti has produced finger-licking good chocolate for 150 years. Climbing the Salita del Prione you can get their chocolate and related products together with coffee from the same origin. Zuccotti was established in 1933 in Santa Zita Street, known mainly for soft cremini (traditional Northern Italian chocolates). Romanengo in Piazza Campetto, famous for the colored caramel candy, filled with a light and very rich-flavored liqueur. A fun fact: if you have a sore throat, cough or have to talk a lot for your job, you won’t be able to leave without some orange flower Altea candies. And finally Profumo. Near the pastry shop where Via Garibaldi starts, there is a small family-owned gelateria, with few but exquisite flavors.
If you come about three weeks before Easter, both at Romanengo and Profumo, you should try “quaresimali”, a small sweet dessert made from almond paste and confetti, rarely found in other cities.
THE CITY PROMENADE
Like all coastal towns and seas, Genoa has its own seaside promenade. Actually, more than one! Corso Italia is a pedestrian street that connects the neighborhood of Foce with Boccadasse, a small fishermen’s village, mentioned a lot in the lyrics of Paoli and De André. After coming all the way or just a part of the two-kilometres itinerary that takes us to Boccadasse, take an aperitif at the La Strambata bar, an ice cream at the Gelateria Amedeo or a pizza at Antico Borgo (ancient village), depending on your free time and appetite.
If you have a little more time and can go further, Nervi (the last district of Genova di Levante) has a wonderful hiking trail over the rocks (pedestrian only) with absolutely magnificent views, from Savona to Portofino, up to Corsica in the clearest and shortest winter days. If the season is right, at the end of the walk you can go back to the street leading to the parks, behind the trail, to visit the magnificent rose garden.
SURFING THE WAVES
Just outside Genoa in the direction of Levante, the first municipality is Bogliasco. A very impressive town that combines the advantage of being close to the city with the perk of looking like a holiday resort. Many Genoese live here for this very reason: taking a swim or two before or after a workday.
And who comes here on a weekend or in their free time, could taste the wonderful Sunday krapfen from the bakery under the church, take an “aperitif with a view” on the terrace of the Peruzzi bar, take a swim from the Pontetto cliff, walk on the “crose” (Typical streets paved with Genoa bricks and stones that usually lead to the sea or rise to the mountains) towards Pieve Ligure or San Bernardo, practice outdoor yoga or pilates in spring and summer….
For the more sporty and fearless though there is also the possibility of surfing or swimming depending on sea conditions, Bogliasco is in fact well known for its waves as well as Recco, Varazze and Levanto and loved by expats in Italy whose passion is surfing. The Roofless store not only sells surfing equipment and clothes but also offers canoes and surf rental as well as daytime or moonlit kayaking and paddling.
THE OLD TOWN
To fully enjoy the city, you can spend the night in the old town, the largest in Europe, stretching from Via Garibaldi to the historic harbor in a maze of lanes called ‘vicoli’ that are hiding squares surrounded by local bars, newsstands, frescoed courtyards, fountains, churches… and 114 Rolli palaces (palaces inserted in special documents that were a thing in the mid-1500’s, called Rolli, to indicate that the palaces were suited to host prestigious personas).
So why not spend the night in a historic building revelling in its artistic grandeur, in a city whose époque of glory lasted from the 15th to the 17th century? Palazzo Grillo (one of the Rolli) and Palazzo Cicala, for example, offer special night outs in the heart of Genoa’s history and culture. For young people, also in the old town, we advise Manena Hostel and Ostellin.
If you are in Genoa during one of the many Rolli days in spring or autumn, you will be lucky enough to visit Rolli palaces, including ones that are usually closed to the public.
PENINSULAS IN THE BLUE SEA AND PRIVATE BEACHES ON THE ROCKS
At the Blue Marlin private beach of Genova Nervi, you get immersed in an almost Caribbean atmosphere. It feels like being on a ship or a small peninsula stretching out to the sea. Cuisine is refined and made up of few dishes cooked upon request, always different and delicious (fried anchovies, octopus with potatoes, sweet «arbanella» – a traditional Genoese jar usually used to conserve fruit, ricotta or chocolate-based desserts). An aperitif here offers a unique view (a tower of a castle, the mount of Portofino in pink, the infinite waters of the sea).
Another great spot is Bagni Sillo in Sori. If you happen to be in Sori, the third region counting from Genoa, you may think that there are beaches only in the city. But, if you arrive at the station, a path, hidden amongst plants and the bougainvillea vines, leads directly to the sea. An unforgettable sight, like so many in Liguria. On the right, perched on a cliff overlooking San Rocco di Camogli and Puntachiappa (end of Mount Portofino), you will find the Sillo Baths. A unique, magical place. Very few loungers and even tables for lunch and aperitifs. It is therefore recommended to book a little in advance, especially if booking for the weekend. During the aperitif you will enjoy an unforgettable sunset with a rosy light shining upon the rocks and the horizon.
THE AQUARIUM OR THE SET OF A NIGHT AT THE “LIVING MUSEUM”
On a bad day or in the winter, Genoa offers a wonderful aquarium not only for the kids. One might think of an aquarium as a classic school trip, but this is not the case not only due to the setting (inside you will feel like another fish swimming from one room to another, as intended by the architects who designed it), but also the amount of visit options added to the basic offer each year, such as the aquarium visit behind the scenes to discover the secrets of each reservoir!
Few know that you can also arrange a night at the aquarium for your kids, to sleep in front of the fish in a true Nemo-like atmosphere.
PESTO TO MAKE AND TASTE
On a trip to Genoa you can’t refuse a pasta (more specifically, some trophies) with pesto. Combine it with other traditional dishes in Trattoria Rosmarino, a small and refined spot in the old town (Salita del Fondaco), which offers various seasonal menus.
If you not only want to fill your stomach but also do some cooking, then you have to book a Cooking together session by U Giancu. U Giancu is a modern osteria, perfect in the summer because of its exterior garden, as well as in the winter for its cozy cartoon-themed interior. The menu is always made of organic products form U Giancu’s garden and orchard, and therefore quite small, but every dish has a special flavor, and the desserts are absolutely amazing.
At U Giancu, which is not far from Casello di Rapallo (25 km from Genoa), it’s great to stay for dinner and try pesto races and other cooking experiences with the friendly owner, U Giancu, who will inevitably welcome you in an always different and funny hat.