However, the city is starting to fight back, using it’s local resources and architecture to tempt tourists to spend more time exploring this historic sea port.
Genoa’s restaurant scene, like so many coastal cities, focuses on fish dishes with salt cod, octopus, and the day’s local catch featuring on many menus. For a true Genovese food experience, try the characteristic Le Rune restaurant. Situated over several levels and overlooking the San’t Anna Funicular, this Genovese institution has been run by Simona and Alberto for over 20 years. Their menu changes frequently and includes local specialities such as grilled octopus with cream of local olives and steamed vegetables, or tornedos accompanied by chestnuts scented with truffle. Save space for the dessert menu which includes their local homemade ice cream.
Il Marin is also a good choice. Located with views overlooking the Old Port, this restaurant offers Finanziera Dal Mare (cream of mussels, sea urchin and salt cod cheek and vegetables) and Fra Recco e Camogli (homemade ravioli filled with crescenza cheese, basil and marinated olives). Genoa’s position as the birthplace of focaccia is also reflected in the menu with a varied and appetising bread selection. The region produces 1674 tons of focaccia per year, some of which is sold from a shop set within the restaurant floor. A vast range of Italian produce, both local and from the wider Italian market, can be found here. Row upon row of pasta, cheese, bread and meats entice both locals and tourist alike.
Pesto is also at the heart of Genovese cooking. Originally made on the streets of this cobbled city, pesto is rightfully a candidate for UNESCO Cultural Heritage. It is important to remember that pesto is never cooked or blended in an electric mixer. Traditional methods call for elbow grease (but not too much), a marble pestle and mortar plus top-quality local ingredients.
To learn more about pesto, consider trying one of the pesto workshops at Creattivando. Here you are given all the ingredients to make your own pesto dish; local basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, course sea salt, and extra-virgin olive oil from the Ligurian Riviera. Complete the experience with a tasting session over a glass of local wine and focaccia.
Making use of Genoas decaying palazzi (palaces), the city has also seen a rise in the number of cocktail bars which are giving the previously unused buildings a new lease of life.
Les Rouges is one such example. Run by three bearded red-headed brothers (hence the name) it is often cited as one of the top cocktail bars to visit. It can be found downstairs from Creattivando, the pesto workshop, at Campetto, 8, 16123 Genova.
A now largely residential fishing village awaits those that travel east down the coast from Genoa. Perfect for a lunch-time excursion where local trattorias provide home-cooked food, the village is also known for pretty pastel-coloured houses. Local ice cream is sold here and the small beach is perfect for sunbathing, with a smattering of bars providing the backdrop to watch the sun go down. Either walk there in an hour along the coast or take the number 42 bus. Beware the steep hills though!
Head to Via Garibaldi which is set in the historical centre of Genoa. Otherwise known as Strade Nuove or the “new streets”, this area were built during the Renaissance period when Genoa was experiencing massive wealth and power.
Today, they house the magnificent gold-leaf halls of the Unesco World Heritage site Palazzi dei Rolli or Rolli Palaces. The forty-two palaces named on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006 are situated within this historic centre which is the largest in Europe. The palaces date from the 16th and 17th centuries and were used to house visiting dignitaries. Getting around all of them would take an age, and if time is of the essence, then visit the Palazzo Reale, a former residence of the Savoy dynasty dating from the 17th century. It boasts a gilded Hall of Mirrors, impressive frescos and beautiful furnishings. Enjoy the sea views from the King’s balcony.
The Strada Nuove also joins three of the palaces and their works of art in a single museum system. Palazzo Bianco, Palazzo Rosso and Palazzo Tursi, the latter of which houses Paganini’s famous violin, all showcase masterpieces of architecture and the residential culture of Genoa. Here you can view an extraordinary collection of Italian and Flemish art including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, and Veronese.
If you need a change of scene, walk around the Old Port and listen out for Genoese, (locally called zeneize) which is the main dialect of the old Ligurian language of Genoa. Believed to contain a mixture of Arabic, Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese, this dialect also reflects the port’s many multi-cultural visitors over time.
Genoa’s medieval city centre offers the chance to experience life in the narrow, cobbled streets characteristic of the age. The winding maze of narrow caruggi (streets) remain largely intact with that particular air of faded glory often found in older towns and cities whose buildings lack modernisation but in return maintain their charm. In an effort to preserve this character, various local bodies got together and identified 39 “old-world shops” or bottega, which have been protected. These establishments, some dating back to the 17th Century, sell household goods, bespoke clothing, local food products, spices and beverages plus so much more. One such enterprise is the chocolatier Viganotti, which dates back to 1866 and still uses some of the original equipment from that period.
The Mercato Orientale, the historic food market of the city is also worth a visit. The market is soon launching a new interactive food corner where visitors can sample local products. Currently housing many suppliers of cheese, breads, fish, cold meats plus fruit and vegetables, this market has always been central to Genovese life.
For more information visit the local tourist board.
Where to stay:
The 4-star Hotel Bristol Palace is a lovely old-style, hotel centrally located and has double rooms starting at €204.
The recently opened Hotel Valery is set within a beautifully restored historic building with double rooms start from €78 per night for two people and includes breakfast.
Get me there:
BA flies from London Gatwick to Genoa with return flights starting from £86.72 including all taxes, charges and one hold bag.
For early morning flights stay at the Hilton London Gatwick Airport. A 10 minute stroll from check-in desks across a covered walkway.