Our very own Erica Berman has just landed in Genoa for her yearly stint in Liguria, her favorite region of Italy. This still relatively untouched corner of Italy is one of our favorite spots for experiencing authentic Italian living in a gorgeous, seaside setting. Until the rest of us are able to make it there ourselves, we can live vicariously through Marisa’s gorgeous photography… -Geneviève
I’ll just put it right out there: I love Liguria, and centrally situated Genoa is the perfect home base from which to delve into and savor Liguria’s many enchanting qualities and seaside cities. A maritime marvel, La Superba (the proud or the haughty, as it was once known) rivaled Venice as a powerful city-state for over 500 years. And while the splendor of its storied past as a seafaring legend is evident in the magnificent UNESCO-protected Strade Nuove and Palazzi dei Rolli, Genoa’s real charm is its present-day incarnation as a working port city.
This is a city that doesn’t bend over backwards to market itself to tourists. The result is an authentic Italian metropolis, more accustomed to the visiting Milanese than Manhattanite. As a traveler who thrives on finding and experiencing those places that aren’t (yet) teeming with fellow Americans, Genoa is a joy for me. Plus, I’m a sucker for labyrinthine medieval lanes, which Genoa has in spades.
A statue in Genoa
Genoa is a unique pleasure to explore.
I have fond memories of wandering Genoa’s intriguing medieval old town by day, the largest in Europe. Just as one must get lost in Venice to properly know and love it, losing yourself in the Genovese alleyways or “carrugi” is key to becoming familiar with the city and its character. In this way I happened upon both silent squares and those bursting with the bustle of daily life, tiny Chiesa di San Matteo and grand Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, unspeakable architectural beauty, and artisans of all kinds. Best of all were the palaces.
By chance I was in town over Rolli Days, when the city opens the doors to many of its priceless palazzi for free to the public. Oh. My. Palazzo. And I thought Venetian palaces were grand. Some of the Rolli mansions I meandered through put Venice’s grandest of dames to shame, the latter winning only by a canal!
The beauty of rooting yourself in Genoa for a Ligurian sojourn is that you enjoy the best of both worlds: a big city with all the corresponding perks, and proximity to the smallest and most delightful seaside towns that one could possibly imagine. Really. It doesn’t get any cuter than Liguria, as cute Italian towns go.
The beach at Cinqueterre; students in Portovenere
And don’t just limit yourself to the (rightly) celebrated Cinque Terre. I love the Five Lands, but so does every other American tourist with a dog-eared Rick Steves guidebook in hand. The same goes for glitzy Portofino. See it, but make sure you see other less touristy towns as well.
And now to the Rivierahhh …
A thin, crescent-shaped sliver of terra firma, the Ligurian Riviera extends in one direction from Genoa toward France along the Riviera di Ponente (“the coast of the setting sun”) and in the other direction along the Riviera di Levante (“the coast of the rising sun”) to Capo Corvo and the Tuscan border.
On this particular trip I focused on digging into the Levante, with day trips by boat, train, and bus to places that most Americans have never heard of, even if they’ve been to the nearby Cinque Terre or pretty Portofino: Bonassola, Camogli, Lerici, Tellaro, Portovenere, Sarzana, and Sori, to name a few.
Best of these sensational day trips was the reigning peace and quiet characteristic of each town. Portovenere can get a bit clogged with fellow day-trippers (mostly Europeans), but everywhere else I went was enchantingly empty when it came to tourists. I enjoyed candid conversations about food, life, and trompe-l’oeil with laidback locals who were as tickled to talk with an American as I was to chat with them. More than anything I look forward to returning, and continuing the conversation.
- Want to indulge like the Genoese? Here is a recipe for traditional Genoese pesto
- In Genova In, a delightful blog on Genoese happenings
- Kasia, from Love in the City of Lights, visits Vernazza