In planning our route for the trip, we decided on Genoa because after seeing pictures of the Italian Riviera and its most famous spots like Portofino and Cinque Terre, we thought the capital of this region had to match the coastal beauty…we were a bit wrong; while Genoa is beautiful in its own way, Europe’s busiest port certainly has some grit…
We arrived in Genoa from Cannes, traveling by bus that hugged the French and Italian coast on giant cliffs for 4 hours. It was the most spectacular drive we have ever experienced…and I think we expected to arrive into a hillside town that was a larger version of the quaint coastal villages we had been overlooking. Instead, we found ourselves in a sprawling city whose apartments and buildings stretched from the sea all the way into the hills and mountains surrounding the port. Like many of the stops on our trip, Genoa’s “old town” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and our AirBnB was tucked right in the center of it.
This area is a vehicle-free maze of alleys and paths, some so narrow you can’t even stretch out your arms to both sides. We eventually found our AirBnB, which was in a very old building in the Piazza San Luca, and with our giant backpacks we climbed 120 steps (all of which were differently shaped/sized), and finally reached our Genoa home. The apartment was well worth the climb – it overlooked the city and owned by Genoa native and her Spanish boyfriend (who is an artist).
After we got settled, we descended the mountain of stairs and headed out to explore. As we strolled the alleys of the old town, we observed a very eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, and people. You would see a new wine bar right next to a North African butcher shop, historic churches that were flanked by alleys filled with prostitutes (not an exaggeration). It was fascinating and shocking – we even found a cathedral whose interior rivaled that of anything you will see in Rome, Cathedral di San Lorenzo.
After strolling for a couple hours we wondered past a Mexican restaurant called Ristorante Veracruz. It may seem odd that our first night in Italy we decided to eat Mexican, but after being in France where we basically ate nothing but baguettes and croissants, tacos sounded perfect. Unfortunately for us we had fallen into the European purgatory of being too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we grabbed drink and waited for them to re-open. The meal was great and our tacos were a fitting dinner for our perplexing first day in Genoa.
Genoa is filled with historical Palaces which have now been converted to museums. We spent our second day exploring three of these in Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Rosso. These Palazzos are filled with statues, gardens, artwork, furniture, and a hall of mirrors (Palazzo Reale). There is also an amazing viewpoint at the top of Palazzo Rosso where you can get a 360 degree view of Genoa. We also spent our second day sampling the foods that Genoa is famous for, including Trofie al Pesto (trofie pasta smothered in the locally made pesto). For dinner we hit up Cavour 21 – incredibly cheap and incredibly delicious muti-course dinner where you can try local pastas, seafood, and cakes/pies. (The owner of Cavour 21 even won the World’s Best Pesto competition).
On our final day in Genoa, we decided to get outside of the city and explore the coast that Liguria is famous for. We were debating taking the train to Portofino but at the advice of our host we took a chance on a little town that neither Lu or myself had ever heard of, called Nervi. This ended up being one of the highlights of Europe. Nervi is east of Genoa about 30 minutes by bus, and since it is not a vacation destination, it was completely deserted when we arrived. The town is small, but has an amazing cliff-side path that stretches a few kilometers down the coast.
The views were unbelievable, with giant waves crashing off the rocks, and boulders you could sunbathe on or climb down to swim. Lu and I grabbed some foccacia bread from a little shop, climbed out onto some huge rocks, and ate lunch with our legs dangling over swelling waves. The view was priceless and it was as close to a perfect moment as I can think of. We spent the rest of the day there, walking the path, exploring the town, and enjoying the sun and solitude. We capped our time in Nervi sipping a beer in a little bar which was carved out of the side of a cliff and watched the ocean and the sinking sun. Nervi was the unexpected gem of our time in Europe.
All in all we had a fantastic time in Genoa. Even though it may have not had the coastal charm that we were envisioning, we got a lot out of our time there and came to appreciate its unique vibe. With Genoa in the books, we are headed toward our last week in Europe. Next stop Capri!