Genoa is a town between hills and sea, a labyrinth of large and narrow streets, slopes and descents, very tall buildings and hidden courtyards. And you never know what is waiting for you round the corner. Maybe a little church, a balcony full of geraniums or a majestic Doria’s palace. Having always been a sea town, the true essence of Genoa is in its port. And it is there, in a continuous coming and going of always different people, that originates the mix of identities and cultures that characterizes the town itself.
Falling in love with Genoa is easy: for example with a tour of the old city centre, together with the Palazzi dei Rolli which are protected by Unesco, or with the perfume of freshly baked Focaccia or with the small squares that open up all of a sudden and show little gurgling fountains full of flittering pigeons and some sleepy cats lying around. Finally with its sea, that peeps out between narrow buildings when you least expect it.
For those who think that the only attraction in Genoa is the aquarium, we have selected 10 must do experiences that will make you fall in love with Genoa: a hidden town full of treasures to discover!
1- Discovering Genoa from the top
There is nothing more exciting than climbing to the Belvedere Luigi Montaldo, an extraordinary balcony over the old town centre, with the lift in liberty style by Castelletto. Even the poet Giorgio Caproni mentions it in some of his poems; “when I am ready / to go to Paradise / I will do it with the lift / of Castelletto”.
This lift, that can host up to 20 people, climbs 57 meters to the top. The departure point is at piazza Portello and the sight you have from Spianata Castelletto, once you get out of the lift, is extraordinary: the old town centre, the port, the mountain peak Fasce overlooking the town, the Mount of Portofino and the Savona coast to the west, with the maritime Alps covered by snow in winter.
From here you can easily go down one of the many Creuze (the typical narrow streets), enjoying the perfume of wisteria and jasmine and reaching in a few minutes the heart of the town.
2-Experiencing the golden century of Genoa: the Palazzi dei Rolli
At the time of the ancient Republic of Genoa the Rolli of Genoa, or more precisely the Rolli of public housing, were the lists of buildings and palaces of noble families that longed for hosting important people that were in transit there for a state visit. Of the 80 palaces listed in 1576 by Andrea Doria, prince of the Republic of Genoa, as many as 42 belong today to the Heritage of Humanity by Unesco. Don’t miss the Museums of Strada Nuova which include Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Tursi, as well as Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria, where you can admire artworks by artists like Rubens and Van Dyck.
Another thing that deserves a visit is the event Rolli Days, a special weekend when some of the most beautiful palaces (owned by private individuals, institutions or banks) open to the public.
3 – A walk between squirrels, roses and cliffs
Nervi is the last neighbourhood in the eastern suburbs of Genoa. Once an independent town, it was incorporated by the big city Genoa in the 20s but preserved itself not changing its identity: a bit chic, a bit aristocratic.
It takes just half an hour by bus to arrive to the marvellous parks of Nervi: 10 hectares of lawns amid palms, maritime pines and green paths where you can lay down, play with a ball, have a picnic or ride a bike.
Real entertainment for adults and children!
What if after playing with the many squirrels that live in the park you feel like sunbathing or having a swim? Just put on your swim suit and go down to the sea: along the 2 km long promenade Anita Garibaldi that connects Nervi’s port with Capolungo you will find the perfect rock for you. Just spread your beach towel and enjoy the sea. An aperitif or an ice-cream on the promenade at sunset will give you a really unforgettable experience.
4- Playing the explorers at D’Albertis‘ Castle
You can get to D’Albertis’ castle with the lift of Monteallegretto and immediately after you have passed through the walls you will feel to be in a fantasy film.
The castle was built in the late 19th century on the ruins of ancient fortifications from the 4th century and it combines elements that seem to belong to an “imaginary Middle Age of the 19th century”. Here you will admire the architecture typical of Genoa’s history mixed together with Moorish, oriental and exotic elements.
Its creator was Captain Enrico Alberto d’Albertis, who was an indomitable explorer, a sporty cyclist, an archaeologist amateur, an enthusiast of hunting and hourglasses.
This is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Museum of World Cultures is hosted here, as a starting point for a marvellous journey into space and time.
5-Diving into the sea with the cable railway of Righi
There are not only lifts in Genoa, but also cable railways. The cable railway Zecca-Righi is one of them: with 5 stops, it climbs 278 meters from the city centre to the hilltop Righi. A breathtaking panorama is waiting for you with many paths and narrow streets to get into the green of Parco delle Mura and reach the fortresses that dominate the town. A real must, however, is descending in the cable railway: you will have the feeling of diving into the sea!
6 – A fishermen’s hamlet in the middle of the town center: Boccadesse
Boccadasse is a small sailor hamlet that is still today like it was 100 years ago: you will have the feeling of being in a postcard.
The boats, the fishermen fixing their nets, children throwing stones into the sea, seagulls: Boccadasse is the ideal place to enjoy some relax and quietness at lunchtime or after a working day. Have an ice-cream or enjoy a romantic dinner in one of the restaurants overhanging the sea or simply relish the magic of this hamlet and its inhabitants. Among the famous enthusiasts of this place we can mention the singer and song-writer Gino Paoli and the writer Andrea Camilleri, whose character Livia (the fiancée of Inspector Montalbano) lives in Boccadasse.
7 – Discovering one of the oldest take aways: between panissa and frisceau
Walking around Genoa’s carruggi (the famous narrow streets) you definitely must have a stop at one of the ancient Friggitorie of Sottoripa (fried food shops): fried tattlers, small fry, stockfish frisceu (croquettes), farinata (a thin pancake of chickpea flour) and vegetable pies. They will be served oily, hot and crunchy, wrapped in scrap paper. Enjoy this authentic delicacy and walk around the little shops along the Arcades of Sottoripa, the most ancient public arcade known In Italy (they were built between 1125 and 1133).
8 – Discovering the vibrant heart of the town: the port
“If you look at Genoa, you have to know that you can only really see it from the sea”: just as Genoa’s singer Ivano Fossati sings in a famous song, watching Genoa from the sea is a unique experience. It enables visitors to discover the secrets of a town that is not easy to understand and whose port played a key role in the history of the Mediterranean Sea. Here you will be surrounded by a new and completely different atmosphere: it is a privileged point of view to discover some curiousness and admire The Superba in its magnificence.
9- Go and taste broad beans and salami by taking the small train of Casella.
A real must for Genoa’s citizens is the excursion to the inland with the Little Train of Casella.
The railway Genova-Casella is one of the few narrow gauge railways which have been preserved in Italy. It was built at the beginning of last century in order to connect the valleys where there were no roads.
However, besides being an important connection between Genoa and its closest inland, this railway is also very important from a touristic point of view. This is partly due to the renovation carried out in the 90s on some historical carriage components. An authentic vintage carriage was thus constructed, which is hauled by the most ancient electric locomotive still working in Italy. The locomotive was built in 1924 and brought back to its old magnificence colours of red and beige and enriching it with numerous details typical for that time, such as headlights and crenellated overhead lights. On the train you will have the feeling that time has stopped: wooden seats, the ticket collector that uses a paper punch, the sheer cliffs over the valleys that give you a view not to be missed.
The excursion by train is really loved, especially by families. You can get off at Pino or Torrazza and then go back on foot to the Righi through the Park of Peralto or you can continue until Sant’Olcese, a really appreciated destination because of the production of the Ligurian’s favourite salami: here two rival salumerie (shops producing and selling salami) engage each other in a salami battle! The typical food for this train excursion is indeed “broad beans and salami” accompanied by a big piece of Sardinian Pecorino cheese and some red wine. Definitely to be enjoyed among friends!
10- Learning how to prepare pesto sauce
Genoa’s most famous dish is definitely Pasta with Pesto sauce.
According to the tradition, the true pesto of Genoa has seven ingredients:
- Some leaves of Prà Basil (the smallest ones): the right basil is traditionally grown on the uplands of Prà, a neighbourhood in Genoa. This basil has now the DOP certification (Protected Designation of Origin).
- Extra virgin olive oil: the oil produced in Liguria is traditionally very delicate (as it does not burn or tickle in the throat).
- Italian Pine Nuts
- Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese
- Pecorino Cheese (sheep cheese) “Fiore Sardo”
- Garlic of Vessalico (Vessalico is a town in the province of Imperia) as it is softer and more digestible.
- Marine rock salt
Pesto sauce is traditionally prepared using a marble mortar and a wooden pestle. Using high quality ingredients is very important because only these have the features that will grant a high quality and perfectly balanced final taste.
If you are a cooking enthusiast and beside eating you like preparing your delicacies as well, the restaurant Il Genovese is the right one for you! Roberto Panizza, the owner and the organizer of the Mortar Pesto World Championships is available for some very good courses on how to prepare Pesto sauce with a mortar. He will reveal some little secrets and tricks to prepare this great sauce back home!
Once you have learnt all the tricks, why not to take part in the Mortar Pesto World Championship?