Visitors either love or hate Genoa and few can remain indifferent. Most are wary at first and then begin to appreciate the city after having taken time to discover it. As Dickens wrote in 1843: I would never have thought that I would have become attached to the stones of the Genoan streets, and to think of the city with affection, as the place in which I had spent many hours of peace and happiness. Even today, Genoa provokes conflicting feelings, due to the fact that it is a place of contradictions. It is a Mediterranean port, which has always traded with nearby countries and so it has assimilated some of their habits and words, and it has always been a city of merchants and bankers, known by all as the most English city in Italy.
It is easy to be enraptured by the maze of narrow streets in the historic centre. Genoa is a vertical city, where the sky can sometimes feel very close and give one a feeling of dizziness. Refined palaces are side by side with humble houses, which in the historic centre, are all close to the beautiful churches of the city, which have austere, black and white striped, marble facades or opulent, baroque architecture. Genoa has a secret beauty that can be found in its daring architecture, traces of splendid frescoes and imposing, noble palaces. Beginning in Strada Nuova, now known as Via Garibaldi, this is a visible sign of the historic period of the seventeenth century, when the great, Genovese families were at their richest. This is a unique street because of the urban planning that it has inspired and the number of palaces here and their beauty. Visitors can enter the internal gardens and see the frescoes in the great salons. Some of these buildings are now museums and are home to works of art by Genovese artist and the great, Flemish school, such as the ( Galleria di Palazzo Bianco and the Galleria di Palazzo Rosso ). A visit to the nearby National Gallery of Palazzo Spinola is also a chance to learn about the habits and furnishings of Genovese homes of the period.
Via Balbi is also rich with palaces and now houses the university buildings of the School of the Humanities. Via Assarotti, is a sign of the nineteenth century expansion towards the hills, Via XX Settembre is a modern, elegant street full of business and commerce, and finally, Corso Italia, is the promenade leading to the sea and Boccadasse .
The real essence of daily Genoese life, is not found in the rich palaces, but in the maze of alleyways the historic centre, such as Via di Sottoripa. This is the place where Genoese will stop for a chat, amidst the cries of street vendors and smells of coffee, fried food, perfumes and the unmistakeable smell of pesto, which is a typically Ligurian sauce. Thanks to the Acquario di Genova , Genoa's Acquarium, the largest and most modern of its kind in Europe that was built on the anniversary of Columbus in 1992, the city is now a tourist destination. People also come here to visit the Old Port area , which has been renovated for public use, and the new Expo area has become, along with the more classic Lanterna , the new symbol of Genoa. From the top of the old piers, and the lift on the Bigo, a metallic structure built on the Old Pier, there is a splendid view over the whole city. The Republic of Genoa, a naval power, had to defend itself on land with a wall and surrounding forts. This was built in the first half of the seventeenth century and there is a comprehensive view of the city from here, which includes the remains of the towers, a testimony to past greatness and modern day towers. The stupendous view embraces the whole of the Ligurian coast, from Monte di Portofino to Capo Mele, as well as the Ligurian Appenines. Genoa has many satellite cities, which have been incorporated into the same council since 1926. The origins of these places are where Genovese used to have their summer residences and some of the towns, such as Nervi e a Pegli, still have parks that are true islands of greenery. As a final note, R. Wagner summed it up in 1853 when he wrote, I have never seen anything like Genoa! It is something indescribably beautiful, grandiose, distinctive! I really would not know how to begin to tell you the impression that it has made and continues to make on me.
Regional cuisine in Liguria has long been considered second-rate because of its use of simple ingredients such as second cuts of meat or farmyard animals, wild herbs and produce from the vegetable garden. However, this diet has been "re-evaluated" by nutritionists who are now praising the virtues of 'the Mediterranean diet'. The Mediterranean diet is one that is low in animal fat, rich in vegetables, fish, and white meat: this is exactly the type of cuisine that exists in Liguria which has always favored extra-virgin olive oil, vegetables, fresh fish and rabbit.
Vittorio G. Rossi wrote in his book Wines and food from Liguria “Nowadays, the food that our grandmothers made is being recognized as good, healthy fare. Our wine made from the stones, the sun, and the breath of the sea, bearing the perfume of the dawn in the calm of July receives the recognition due to it.” Even pesto, (itself a symbol of Genoese cooking) is an extremely simple sauce, both in terms of preparation and ingredients (basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil): because of its simplicity it is imperative that the ingredients are of the highest quality (basil that doesn't grow close to the sea has a totally different flavor!)
If you want to experience the delights of pesto first-hand, then Zeffirino may be the place to try: here you can try the specialties of Liguria NB: be prepared to spend a little bit more than you had budgeted for. If you prefer something a little more simple but would still like to try la torta Pasqualina (a savory vegetable tart) as well as minestrone alla genovese a Struppa Geneose minestrone then you could try Piro and the historical Luchin in Chivari; here you can try a delicious farinata (traditional tart made with chick-pea flour) and stuffed vegetables.
The popular, tasty focaccia bread made with cheese deserves a mention, as does its birthplace of Recco (20km from Genoa), and the two popular restaurants where you can indulge in its flavor: Manuelina and Vittorio . Although fish may not be a primary ingredient in Ligurian cooking (as it tends to favor dishes from the 'vegetable garden' and the 'farmyard'), a wide range of fish recipes can be tried at Rina and Da Vittorio in the center of the city. If you want to combine gastronomical delights with a trip to the Riviera, then try Polpo Mario in Sestri Levante or Puny in Portofino, you won't regret the little bit extra you may find yourself paying. Buon appetito!