Liguria

10 Genoa Tips

IMG_0474Ahhh, Genoa!  The name that triggers no emotion, confusion, and even anger sometimes.  Why is this guy writing about Genoa now.  What happened to Venice, Rome, and that Cinqua Terras place that he supposedly visited and only wrote about one dish so far.  Isn’t Genoa a working town?  What is there to do for three full days (said Mrs Ziggy when I first pitched the idea).  Plenty, turns out.  Genoa surprised me with its cultural depth, cuisine, attractions, and fashion.  Yes, I said fashion.  This post is not supposed to reinvent the wheel and offer you a complete Genoa guide (plenty of sources out there), but offer you some tips that may enhance your Genoa holiday.

Stay for a while – “More Than This” is the Genoa slogan you’ll see everywhere.  Either Genoa has much to offer or they are just huge fans of Brian Ferry.  But you can very easily fill three days in Genoa alone, and even do some day trips to Boccadasse, Anita Garibaldi Passeggiata, the stunning Camogli, Portofino, and more.  A week doesnt sound too long in Genoa once you factor all day trips and all the Focaccia you can eat.

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Make Pesto with a local – Pesto, like jeans, originated in Genoa.  Book a Pesto making class with Enrica from A Small Kitchen in Genoa.  Enrica is a publisher, food blogger, Pesto championship finalist, and just a delight to be around.  This experience, that ends with lunch at the beautiful terrace of Enrica’s apartment will probably be your most memorable.  You can also take a food tour and book other food experiences with Enrica.  My friends are still thanking me for this.

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Visit Staglieno Cemetery – My apologies to Enrica for following her with well, death.  But if you havent quite made the connection between a magnificent old cemetery to local history and culture, this is a good start.  Staglieno is arguably the most important or at least most beautiful cemetery in Italy.  An outdoor museum like no other.  But it helps to do a bit of research (you can start here), and spend at least 2-3 hours here.  Reading about the monuments will bring some of the stories to life.

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Do some Rolli palace homework – Its almost impossible to come to Genoa and not visit the Rolli Palaces, but its important to arrive with at least the basic understanding of the system of the “Lists” and how it got UNESCO’s attention.  This is what makes Genoa so unique.

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Dont overlook the Royal Palace – A most underrated stunner.  The Palazzo Reale, or Palazzo Stefano Balbi is just a little out of the tourist way.  And I can see how it can be skipped on a short visit.  A mini Versailles in Genoa that was shockingly empty when we visited.  I could practically walked the hall of mirrors naked, with only one or two people marveling watching.  This is also a good place to see the Ligurian pebble mosaic style called Risseu.

See Piazza De Ferrari at night – This is why you need to stay overnight.  Its the same story as many Italian towns.  The difference between a rushed day trip and an overnight stay is, well, day and night.  Seeing the families come out, the lights, fountain, with the palazzos in the background including the magnificent old stock exchange, all add up to quite the atmospheric square.

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Ok, trust me, there was atmosphere 😉

See the old town, but be prepared for some ‘Grit’ – Like many such towns all over Europe, Genoa has a distinct personality.  Genoa’s old town is fascinating, especially to the culinary minds.  But it’s not the most attractive.  Dont be surprised to see graffiti, and prostitutes in some corners.  Maybe thats what they mean by “More Than This”!

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Stay at So&leo Guest House – A well maintained, comfortable, quiet accommodations right between the port area, and old town.  Just a few minutes from Focaccia e Dintorni and many more

Get your Focaccia at Focaccia e Dintorni – The Genoese eat Focaccia for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a late night snack.  On my morning walks, I must have tried around half a dozen different places, and Focaccia e Dintorni was the clear winner.  Try the Farinata, soft chickpea flatbread a la Cecina.

Eat at Cavour 21, and Trattoria Rosmarino – These were the best meals.  Cavour, old, no frills, no nonsense institution I already wrote about.  Rosmarino, a dazzling Slow Fooder by Piazza De Ferrari.  Who knew Lasagna’s biggest problem was tomato sauce.  Get the Lasagna.

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Cappun Magru {Manarola} – What’s in a Name? Everything

Cappun Magru - the dishTo say that Cappun Magru offers the best Cappun Magru in Cinque Terre is a fair assessment.  Its the only one making it.  This old Ligurian specialty is slowly disappearing from Ligurian menus, even in Genoa where its most associated.  Cappun Magru is an elaborate seafood and veggie salad to put in the simplest of forms.  Its most common spelling is Cappon Magro, but here at the headquarters of EWZ, with the tagline “Eating Well, Spelling Pourly” we dont care about spelling all that much.  My guess is that Cappun Magru is the more ancient spelling.  Sort of like Giovanni da Verrazzano ancient spelling had only one Z.  If only NYC would have known about it before spending millions to change the name.

When you talk to Christina, the owner of Cappun Magru, you can easily forget that you are in Cinque Terre.  This is not a place I expected to easily find Slow Food.  Two hours prior I was elbowing my way through a sea of tourists, pizzas, and Limoncelos in a boot in Vernazza.  Since Rick Steves discovered this corner of Italy, restaurants dont need to go through great lengths to please us tourists.  But Christina and husband who moved Cappun Magru from the mountains, closer to the sea, continue to march on, trying to preserve whatever tradition left.

There’s no one universal way to prepare this monster.  But its often involved shrimp, mussels, oysters, fresh fish, and a Parsley led complex green sauce that involves eggs, anchovies and a slew of other ingredients.  Its not a simple dish by any means, but the reward is a feast to all senses.  Even the non photographers on the table will reach for their phones.  It a rich poor people’s food.  It goes back to the days when fishermen would indulge in the leftovers of their bosses rich feasts.  It then became a feast in itself, and a popular lent preparation in Liguria.  There’s no meat involved of course but the name sort of means “light fat chicken” (Capon is a type of fatty chicken).  Like.. “I’m a vegetarian”.  “Oh, in that case here’s a little lamb”.

And did I mention that its delicious?  So are the smartly crafted sandwiches like the shrimp with fish roe, Zucchini, and Egg.  And while Cappun Magru does have a good wine selection (Its more of a wine bar), this is a good place to take a break from wine, and indulge in some beer.  Italy’s craft beer is some of the most underrated in the world.

Cappun Magru is ideal after a long hike.  But dont come too late as they close at around 7:30 (in the summer at least).  A light early dinner at 6 is perfect because you are after all in Monorola, and you dont want to miss sunset.  Thats the reason you are here.

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Cavour 21 – Unadulterated in Genoa

Cavour 21 - Trofie PestoThere’s a common belief in the travel community that vacations should be all about you, and what you like to do.  Stay in the type of accommodations you like.  Do the things that interest you.  Eat the things you enjoy the most in the setting you feel most comfortable in. “What type of food do you like?” is a common response to someone seeking dining advice on the travel boards.  It rarely makes sense to me.  But knowing exactly what you want and getting it when you want it, doesnt sound so wrong.  Some may argue its living life to the fullest.  In fact I’m often jealous of people who travel with their favorite cigars, coffee, rum, prunes.  Yes, prunes.  Prunes give people comfort.

But then there’s the camp that believes that vacation is all about experiencing different.  The camp that enjoys adventure, stepping outside the comfort zone, and generating memories.  The camp that leaves their prunes behind.  If you are in that camp, you most likely enjoy places like Cavour 21.  Oy, I didnt mean to go all over-dramatic on you.  I’m just talking about a super casual restaurant in Genoa.  Watching too much Jessica Jones lately, and all that narration is beginning to get to me.

Although we’ve been to local institutions as such (one is Coimbra, Portugal comes to mind) Cavour is as genuine as they come.  Traditional Genoa food, in a rustic, no nonsense environment, with too good to be true prices.  Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.  For us at least.  For the locals it may feel like Wednesday.

Cavour 21 - Lobster pastaYou start this adventure before you even enter the place.  About 15-30 minutes before in fact.  To ensure a table its recommended to come before they open, otherwise you get an approx time slot, or risk missing out.  If its lunch time, and they run out of space and time, they can put you on a list for dinner.  Once they open (may not be on time), everyone surrounds the list reader like he is about to read the chosen names in a high school play, and about to give them free Focaccia.  Then he goes “Prego” and bam, a mad rush inside.  You are shown to your table or table that you’ll share with others.

While you wait outside, its hard to miss the “Pesto World Championship” proudly displayed on their front.  And unless you just spent a week in Genoa, its hard to pass on it.  It comes with the traditional Trofie, along with potato, green beans, and it’s outstanding.  But as good as it was, the Pansoti, Ligurian Ravioli with walnut sauce was the real revelation.  It’s a local specialty and unlike anything I’ve had before.  Stuffed with wild herbs, its creamy and ultra nutty.  Delicious even though the “Pansa” which means belly wasn’t super evident here.  They suppose to look like Ravioli with fat beer bellies.

We were on a mission to eat as much seafood as possible in Luguria before moving inland for over a week.  Lobster with Taglierini and tomato sauce was sufficiently flavorful, or divine once you factor the price (I dont remember the exact cost but trust me on this).  Fried and grilled fresh seafood was all good, with the standouts being the shrimp and Langoustines.  They get a pass for the forgettable desserts however.  This is one of two particularly memorable meals in Genoa.  The other being the great Rosmarino.

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Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa

IMG_E0441Caterina Campodonico was a peasant that worked hard selling necklaces made of nuts and loafs of breads.  Before she died in 1882, she was determined to show her legacy by hiring the most expensive sculptor around, Lorenzo Orengo, and a poet to build her monument.  In order to do that she had to sell a lot of nut necklaces and save all her profits.  So its easy to see why the “Peanut Seller” in the magnificent Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, became a symbol for the hard working people of Genoa.  In the pictures below you can see her proudly wearing one of her necklaces.

Caterina is one of many stories in this outdoor museum.  I’ve seen plenty of interesting cemeteries, but not with so much expression and emotion.  Its worth checking it out just for a handful of angels, like the one we called the William H Macy angel (below), and possibly the sexiest angel in the world.  Around the same time Caterina Campodonico died in 1882, Giulio Monteverde designed this most sensual angel (top picture and one more below) to guard the tomb of of the Oneto family.  No wonder Macy looks grumpy.  He’s nowhere near her.

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There’s also the grave of the Genoa born Giuseppe Mazzini who helped free and unify Italy.  His life and efforts read like a binge worthy Netflix series.  He’s so important to Genoa, that they celebrate him twice, June 22 when he was born, and March 10 when he died.  And then there’s the grave of the estranged wife of Oscar Wilde’s, Constance Lloyd, which I couldnt find.  Not sure how she would feel knowing that her descendants added “Wife of Oscar Wilde” on her stone.  All the info out there suggests she did not want that association.

Genoa gets often shortchanged and overlooked by Italy tourists. The striking Staglieno is perhaps the #1 reason why you should not only visit this city, but stay a while.  And there’s a lot More Than This (the Genoa slogan you see everywhere these days).  I didnt know they were such big fans of Brian Ferry.  Click on the pictures below for a closer look

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