What News of Genoa? It’s Delightful

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Piazza de Ferrari in Genoa, Italy

“What news of Genoa?” — a line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – is the most famous theatrical reference to Genoa, a large port city on Italy’s Ligurian Coast.

To my ears, the question begs the following answer:

“Pesto, gorgeous churches, narrow, cobbled streets and harbor views — a surprisingly wonderful city to explore.”

genoa italy harbor view from eataly What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

View of the Porto Antico from inside Eataly

I’d  visited the nearby Cinque Terre about a decade before this trip, but it had never even occurred to me to visit Genoa. Back then, it must have sounded like a big dirty city, and at that point I had romantic seaside villages on the brain. Ah, well…at least I took the opportunity to see Genoa on this second trip to Italy, and rectify my oversight.

*Whew.*

Genoa is certainly big (it’s Italy’s sixth largest city), but the historic center is compact and walkable. An ideal place to begin is the Porto Antico, the old harbor, where in preparation for the G8 Summit in 2001, Genovese architect Renzo Piano transformed old warehouses into a palm-ringed fleet of boat-sail structures. (I’m very familiar with Piano’s soaring style, as he also re-fashioned the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of my favorite haunts back home in L.A.)

biodome greenhouse harbor genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

Genoa’s harborside “Bolla”

Genoa’s popular aquarium is here by the harbor, as is Piano’s  biosphere-y “La Bolla,” a glass golf ball full of hothouse plants, as well as birds and insects. 

eataly genoa pesto burrata focaccia What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

Breakfast of champions at Eataly in Genoa

But while at the Porto Antico, my travel companion, Alyssa, and I chose to visit a different kind of major attraction: Eataly.

This temple to Slow Food has everything from Genovese pesto to hearty breads to burrata cheese (allowing us to compose the breakfast pictured above), as well as several restaurants counters where you can either order a meal the old fashioned way or present your chosen produce/meat/fish/pasta/all of the above and have it prepared for you with a flourish. 

It’s proven such a popular spot that another Eataly has opened in New York City…but then, of course, Genoa doesn’t figure into the equation. 

trompe l oeil genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

Genoa’s colorful Palazzo di San Georgio

Fanning out from the Porto Antico into the heart of the historic center, keep an eye out for trompe l’oeil, a French import that’s been emblazoned on a slew of Genovese buildings. I was struck by the colors on the Palazzo di San Giorgio, built in 1260, for its lavish depiction of St. George and the Dragon.

roman and ventian architecture in genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

I was also thrilled by the juxtaposition of Medieval, Roman and Venetian architecture all across the city. Part time-travel, part Inception, it’s exciting to wander around a city with a rich history that’s simply added buildings rather than destroyed  the old to make way for the new. 

genoa italy architectural details What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

The sense of ananchronism persists in the details, as there are touches of Baroque, Art Nouveau and more, just about everywhere you turn.  

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Archways are a common sight all across Genoa, even along narrow backstreets. Be sure to look up now and again…

genoa italy parrochia della maddalena galleria imperiale antique store government building What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

…and around every corner. You never know when you’ll stumble across an amazing archway in this town.

Pictured above are, clockwise from top to bottom: the ornate Parrochia della Maddalena; a lavish antique store called the Galleria Imperiale; and the dramatic entrance to the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, one of the city’s UNESCO-protected Palazzi dei Rolli.  These latter palaces, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, were Genoa’s way of saying, “We have money and power –and we’re not afraid to use it.”

cathedral of san lorenzo genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

Arguably the most famous building in Genoa, the Catedral di San Lorenzo is a Tim Burton-esque confection that features a crazy patchwork of black-and-white twists and braids, as well as the saddest lion statue in (quite possibly) all of Europe.

On  the day Alyssa and I strolled past the church, there was a crowd of locals outside, clustered around a puppet show for children about death, deception and sex…just in case we’d forgotten we were in Italy.

best western lobby genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

After sliding through 1000 years’ worth of history, it was refreshing to immerse myself in some modernity, like the streamlined Best Western City Hotel (which Alyssa and I called home). Best Westerns in North America are generally standard motel-style accommodations, but in Europe they’re often 4-star affairs with central locations, plush furnishings, sexy little toiletries you’d actually want to steal (um, not that I ever do that — we’re talking about you), and a decent spread at breakfast.

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In a city like Genoa, I wouldn’t recommend choosing the breakfast buffet at any hotel over an opportunity to seek and find a more special meal, but it’s nice to know that, at the BW City Hotel, it’s both there and included in the room price. Genoa’s impassioned focus on fresh produce is no different than many other major cities in Italy, but it doesn’t mean you’ll want to skip out on weeping joyfully over any given market stall, gelato shop, or family-run eatery.

sa pesta pesto restaurant genoa italy What News of Genoa? Its Delightful

And you certainly won’t want to miss a meal at Sa Pesta, one of the most beloved restaurants in Genoa. This humble, bathroom-tiled institution of wood-fired cuisine is known for their fresh and tasty pesto, but I’d also suggest trying a glass of Ligurian red with a grape called Rossese, a golden slice of the torta de riso (sweet rice pie) and/or a bowl of curly little egg-less pasta twirls called trofie. 

Alyssa and I had only a couple of nights in Genoa, but given another chance I’d allow for two or three full days to explore the city from end to end…and, um, walk off all those carbs.

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Comments

  1. In Genoa there is OStellin, a cultural hostel housed in an artistic heritage palace.

    Worthwhile!
    http://www.ostellingenova.it/en/

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  1. [...] and the Ligurian Coast portion of our mid-May journey lasted three days. We started out from the delightful city of Genoa (aka Genova); meandered 16 miles (25 km) to cliffside Nervi and the fishing mecca of [...]

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