First time visitors to Italy seem to all gravitate towards the same blockbuster cities: Venice, Florence, Rome, maybe Naples or Milan. I certainly did on my first trip to Italy- I wanted to see the classic Italy I’d read about in my old National Geographic and seen on film. I sort of did, but I left with the feeling that there was just so much more that I missed.
So on this, my second trip to Italy and Mike’s first, I wanted a little of both- iconic Italy and somewhere a bit different, somewhere I didn’t know much about. In the end, based on the train path and our tight time frame I settled on splitting the week between Florence and Genoa up in the north near France.
So why Genoa? Because it was on the way, because there weren’t many blog posts on it and because it’s best known as the birthplace of Christopher Colombus, which is as good a reason as any I guess.
It turns out though, that there are actually a lot of good reasons to visit Genoa. It’s a really interesting city with a lot going on, as Mike and I discovered.
The Birthplace of Pesto
Pesto is so simple that it’s hard to imagine it actually coming from one place in particular, but it is in fact a specialty of Genoa.
The pesto in Genoa was absolutely mind-blowing- vibrant green, fresh as rain and so tasty mixed with home-made pasta. Every night Mike and I told ourselves “we really should order something besides pesto.” Every night we failed.
The Anita Garibaldi Walkway
One of the most popular attractions in Genoa isn’t so much a site of interest as a leisurely walking path along the rocky coastline. To get to the Passeggiate Anita Garibaldi you have to hop on the train to the edge of town (Nervi Station). From here it’s easy to hope on the red brick path which snakes along the riviera. Along the way are little restaurants, gelato shops and houses. There are even some spots for swimming although we skipped that as it was chilly and a little rainy (of course). Even with the drizzle it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Little Fishing Villages (that you can walk to)
Genoa is also known for being a jumping off point for Cinque Terre- Italy’s most famous fishing villages. We weren’t able to make it there (or to nearby Portofino which is also lovely I hear), but we did manage to visit a couple of charming fishing villages while barely leaving town. The first was Nervi, which is the terminus of the Garibaldi walkway above. The second is tiny little Boccadesse, a 30 minute walk along the water from the old town of Genoa.
There’s not actually much of interest to DO in these little towns but they make for terrific photos.
Old Town: Medieval Genoa
Our first day in Italy we sat in the square outside of San Lorenzo Cathedral, a very large striped church dating to the Ninth century. We sipped strong espressos and listened to a busking violinist and cello play Vivialdi flawlessly. It was a perfect Italian moment to be savored and remembered.
I’ve seen a lot of old towns in a cities and Genoa has one of the biggest and most elaborate of the bunch. It’s easy and fun to get lost among the very narrow alleyways full of local shops which all of a sudden spill out onto wide squares with ornate churches. The streets subtly slope downwards, leading inevitably to the harbor. The entire area is a UNESCO site, and rightly so.
Because Genoa is not a huge draw for tourists, you won’t find the enormous brand-name hostels you do in other big cities in Europe. Instead we ended up at a tiny little family owned place that was literally inside of a 19th century palace. They just have so many palaces laying around here they’re converting them into apartment buildings- how amazing is that?
The place we stayed, the Albergo Argentina, was more hotel then hostel. It was owned by the cutest elderly couple who spoke very little English but happily conversed with Mike in Argentinean Spanish (he is handy to have around sometimes). They happily pointed out all the best sites around town, then showed us a charming room that overlooked a rocky patio. The bed was so comfy, and the room so quiet after weeks in hostels that I immediately passed out for something like 11 hours. It was a nice break from the norm of hosteling in Europe.
Did I mention the food?
Pesto of course, but it doesn’t end there. Genoa is also the home of foccacia bread which you can buy hot and fresh from foccacerias. The plain version is yellow and buttery and addictive, but there are a huge variety of toppings- almost like a very light pizza. It’s super cheap too, always a major plus with me.
Here we also ran into old friends like farinata– a fried chickpea bread that’s also popular in Argentina. There were also new discoveries like breasola (cured beef) as well as many of the delicious staple foods like bruschetta and gnocchi. Coming off of France we were amazed at the (relatively) cheaper food. Genoa is a good place to eat well.
Have you been to Genoa? Would you go?
Special Thanks to the Albergo Argentina and Hostel World for hosting us.