Genova (also known as Genoa) is a beautiful seaside city in Liguria on the northwest coast of Italy. Foodies will automatically think of pesto. However, Genova has so much more to offer people visiting for a day or two.
Genova is easy to reach by train if you do not have a car. It has two main train stations, Genova Piazza Principe and Genova Brignole.
What To Eat
Let’s start with my favourite subject – food!
If you ask Italian food lovers what Genoa is famous for, they would probably say one of two things. They will say pesto or focaccia. Although you can find focaccia all over Italy, it originated in Genova. Nearly 1,700 tonnes of focaccia is produced each year in Genova alone!
I’ve eaten a lot of focaccia, but I certainly ate the best of my life there. Basic focaccia is a soft bread flavoured with olive oil and salt. The Genovese version is a little thinner than what you often find elsewhere in Italy.
There are several varieties available across Liguria, with the most common being focaccia with olives or onions.
A couple of tips though when buying it in Genova. First, the bread often feels a little greasy because of the olive oil. So, hold the bread with a small napkin to keep your fingers clean. Secondly, place the top of the bread towards your tongue to get the full flavour of the salt on top.
This is one of the most traditional things to eat in Genova city. It dates back to the Romans and Greeks.
Farinata is almost like a giant pancake. It’s ingredients are chickpea flour, water, olive oil, and salt. It is pressed into a big copper pan and baked. It is best baked in a wood fire oven, although gas is becoming increasingly more common.
The consistency is a little dense, with a bit of crispness on the top. It also has a light flavour of the chickpeas.
For Lisa and I it’s a “marmite” thing. You either love it or hate it! Lisa stopped after one bite, while I wolfed down the lot!
… Pesto Genovese
Local basil and olive oil form the base of the most popular Ligurian food to eat in Genoa – Pesto Genovese. All of the best pesto in Genova includes Genovese Basil, Ligurian olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and cheese.
The cheese is normally an aged Parmigiano Reggiano from Emilia Romagna. It’s also possible to use a younger Parmigiano Reggiano mixed with an aged Pecorino from Sardinia as well.
The bright green sauce features in a variety of pasta dishes and is easily the most famous of Genovese cuisine.
… Salsa di Noci – Walnut Sauce
This is another one of the bases of most Ligurian dishes. It’s a creamy walnut based sauce, but for the health conscious no cream is added! It’s very rich, so factor this in if you’ve had a starter, or are aiming for one of the delicious “dolce.”
This is a little harder to find on menus in the summer, as it is primarily a winter dish. The sauce includes a little bread to add a thickness along with crushed walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, olive oil, and garlic.
… Trofie pasta
Trofie pasta, a short, twisted shape, originates from Genova, and goes pefectly with pesto. Traditional trofie pasta is potatoes, green beans and bright earthy pesto in a one-pot dish
… Sweet Things!
Genova has things to tempt you away from your normal choice of gelato. Before you do, have a helping of ricotta ice cream. Don’t be put off by thought of cheese, it is truly delicious.
One thing I urge you to try is Pandolce Alla Genovese. Traditionally it was only available during the Christmas holidays. Now, you will find it at bakeries year-round. It’s a sweet bread made with pine nuts, dried fruits, and anise. Sometimes they will include chocolate, hazelnuts, or figs.
Also worth trying is krapfen con panna. This is a soft donut. The donut is cut in half and loaded with sweet cream and covered in your choice of icing sugar or cocoa. Light and delicious!
I’m not the cleanest of eaters, but I truly made a mess of myself while trying to eat this one! There’s no easy way to eat a krapfen con panna.
Perfect for a mid morning snack is torta mele e cannella, or apple pie with cinnamon. Top tip – dunk it in your morning cappuccino. Don’t be afraid, the locals do it!
Where To Go To Walk All That Food Off!
The first place to head to is Via Garibaldi. This is a UNESCO heritage site. Building work started in 1550 and took 40 years to complete.
This 250 metre long, narrow street is lined with mansions and palazzos from Genoa’s golden age, known as the “Palazzi dei Rolli.” While most of these are now banks, converted offices and other commercial properties, several are open to the public as museums. Most of the main floors of these buildings are open and you can take a look at some truly exceptional art and architecture.
The Musei di Strada Nuova, connects three important Genovese palaces. Palazzo Doria Tursi (Palazzo Grimaldi Niccolò) is the seat of the Town Hall. However in in its halls you can find famous masterpieces such as the violin that belonged to Paganini.
In Palazzo Bianco (Palazzo Grimaldi Luca) you can admire masterpieces by Caravaggio and many other Genovese, Italian and European artists.
Palazzo Rosso (Palazzo Brignole Sale Rodolfo and Francesco) is unfortunately temporarily closed for restoration. However, it is decorated with frescoes by the greatest Ligurian painters of the 17th century.
Where does the name “Palazzi dei Rolli” come from? At the time of the ancient Republic, the Rolli of Genova were the lists of the most beautiful palaces and dwellings of the Genovese noble families. They acted as hosts for state visits. Depending on the rank of the visiting guest, a certain palace was chosen to host them. The higher the degree of nobility of the guest, the more sumptuous the palace had to be. The family also had the honour (and also the expense!) of welcoming the guest.
If you still have the energy you can walk down towards the port. Take your time exploring the ancient narrow medieval alleyways. Stop off for a drink and some food along the way!
Porto Antico – By The Sea
It’s only a short stroll from the centre to Genova’s old port (Porto Antico). It used to be a forgotten part of Genova, but it has been extensively redeveloped over the last twenty years.
… The Bigo
The first thing that will hit you when you enter the Porto Antico is the “Bigo”. It’s a strange multi-armed contraption like a metal octopus rising from the sea. Designed by Renzo Piano, it was designed to recall the harbourside cranes of old. It has a tent-roofed exhibition/concert space where waterside performances are given in summer. This becomes an ice rink in winter. Next to this stands a circular elevator that ascends 40m in the air. This is to let visitors see Genova “as it is seen by the seagulls”.
… The Acquario di Genova
The Acquario is the pride and joy of the redevelpment of the port. From the outside it looks like a grand ocean liner parked on the seafront. It has an ecological slant with lots of information in English and Italian.
When you walk inside it is a fabulous reconstruction of a Caribbean coral reef. There are over seventy tanks housing different sea creatures from all over the world.
… The Biosfera
Next to the aquarium is the futuristic steel and glass sphere. This is basically a small tropical hothouse. It houses trees, vegetation and the odd bird. It’s well worth a look. However it’ll only take ten minutes of your time.
… Galata Museo del Mare
This is a giant glass building a short walk from the Biosfera. On four floors it houses the history of Genova and its connection to the sea. The ground floor concentrates on Christopher Columbus as he was born in Genova. It’s also worth paying more for the hard hat so you can climb aboard the submarine!
A fabulous way to finish your visit to Genova is to take the Art Nouveau-style public lift from Piazza del Portello up to the Castelletto. At the top there is a fantastic panorama over the port and the roofs of the old town. If you can make it around sunset the views take your breath away!