TRAVEL

Dis­cover vi­brant his­tory and ex­cel­lent tripe in Italy’s hid­den gem Genoa.

Friday - - Contents -

Genoa is rich in his­tory, off the tourist map and the best place in Italy for tripe, finds Gabrielle Fagan

I’m lost in Genoa, wan­der­ing through an in­trigu­ing labyrinth of an­cient cob­ble­stone al­ley­ways so nar­row no sun­light can pen­e­trate. Adding to my happy con­fu­sion is the feel­ing that I’ve stepped back in time and, in a way, I have. Th­ese lanes, known as the Caruggi, claim to be the birth­place of Christo­pher Colum­bus – the city’s most fa­mous son – and are part of Europe’s largest me­dieval town.

This Unesco World Her­itage Site, tucked be­hind a bustling mod­ern port, is redo­lent with his­tory and at­mos­phere, and just one of the gems in a fas­ci­nat­ing des­ti­na­tion all too of­ten over­looked in favour of Italy’s big hit­ters, Rome, Florence and Venice.

Au­tumn’s an ideal time to visit be­cause cruise crowds have, in the main, evap­o­rated and it’s pos­si­ble to re­lax and re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate a place Charles Dick­ens, who spent a year liv­ing here, aptly de­scribed as a beau­ti­ful con­fu­sion, con­sid­er­ing so much is crammed into a snaking 30km strip of land squashed be­tween hills and the Mediter­ranean Sea.

One of the shop­keep­ers in the old town, who comes to my res­cue with di­rec­tions, sums up the essence of the cap­i­tal of the beau­ti­ful Lig­uria re­gion (around 100 miles north-east of the French bor­der). ‘Get­ting lost in Genoa is easy and surely one of the city’s plea­sures, be­cause you never know

what you’ll find. There are sur­prises around ev­ery cor­ner,’ says Alessan­dro Boc­cardo, the smil­ing owner of a choco­late shop founded in 1866, which still has the orig­i­nal 19th-cen­tury ma­chines used to toast co­coa beans.

His store, Romeo Vigan­otti on Vico dei Castagna, is just one of 36 ar­ti­san shops housed in cen­turies-old build­ings, some still boast­ing pil­lars, stat­ues and fres­coes from grander days. Here, tra­di­tional prac­tices, in­clud­ing tripe-mak­ing, have been car­ried on for gen­er­a­tions.

Tripe? Yes, sur­pris­ingly this is a favourite snack for school chil­dren who scurry past hold­ing card­board cones filled with the stuff, an al­ter­na­tive to their other treat, fo­cac­cia, the de­li­cious lo­cal flat­bread.

While the Cen­tro Storico dis­trict is charm­ing, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be im­pressed by the spec­tac­u­lar Rolli Palaces on Via Garibaldi, dubbed the street of kings – each more lav­ish than the last. Three vir­tu­ally com­bine to be­come one huge mu­seum and have stun­ning fres­coes and art­works by artists such as Car­avag­gio, Rubens, Ti­tian, van Dyck, Gau­guin and Veronese. An ex­hi­bi­tion, From The Im­pres­sion­ists

To Pi­casso, is the main draw at Palazzo Du­cale. On un­til April 10, 2016, it fea­tures works by Monet, De­gas and van Gogh (en­try is €15 or Dh63; for in­for­ma­tion, visit www.palaz­zo­d­u­cale.genova.it/english).

An­other trea­sure is the mag­nif­i­cent Cathe­dral of San Lorenzo, which con­tains the ashes of St John the Bap­tist. Its strik­ing ex­te­rior of black-and-white mar­ble is char­ac­ter­is­tic of so many build­ings through­out the city. I touch a tiny dog carved into its mar­ble pil­lars, which is sup­posed to bring luck.

The lack of space made the Ge­noese re­source­ful. To give an im­pres­sion of majesty and sta­tus, they skil­fully em­ployed trompe l’oeil paint­ing tech­niques, and the fascias of many build­ings are em­bel­lished with faux mar­ble pil­lars, por­ti­cos and arches, giv­ing them an el­e­gant the­atri­cal char­ac­ter.

De­spite a rev­er­ence for the past, this is still very much an au­then­tic work­ing city, where port work­ers min­gle with bankers and tourists.

To get my bear­ings, I take a bird’s-eye view. The city was built in steep tiers like a wed­ding cake, but I avoid an ex­haust­ing climb by us­ing the art nou­veau lift at Pi­azza del Portello, up to Spi­anata Castel­letto (€0.90). I en­joy a vista stretch­ing from the moun­tains to the Mediter­ranean.

En­joy­ing the range of culi­nary de­lights that the re­gion has to of­fer is a se­ri­ous pas­time.

Lack of space made the GE­NOESE re­source­ful. To give an im­pres­sion of MAJESTY, they skil­fully used trompe l’oeil PAINT­ING tech­niques, and many build­ings have FAUX mar­ble pil­lars, por­ti­cos and ARCHES

One in­gre­di­ent is ubiq­ui­tous on the restau­rant menus – pesto, which orig­i­nated in the area.

Roberto Panizza, who helps or­gan­ise the an­nual Genoa Pesto World Cham­pi­onship, gives me a les­son in mak­ing it and sums up his birth­place. ‘While the port’s still the soul of Genoa, this is a mul­ti­fac­eted city, which has so many lay­ers,’ he says. ‘It takes time to un­der­stand it but it’s worth it.’ And I couldn’t agree more.

WHERE TO STAY

Meliá Genova, www.melia.com

For a tran­quil re­treat in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, the Meliá Genova on the quiet, tree-lined Via Cor­sica is close to land­marks such as the me­dieval gates and Cathe­dral of San Lorenzo. The ho­tel’s im­pos­ing art deco ex­te­rior was de­signed in 1929, but the in­te­ri­ors and fa­cil­i­ties are im­pres­sively mod­ern. The spa, with a pool, gym, Turk­ish bath and hy­dro-mas­sage tub, is a sooth­ing haven af­ter a long day of sight­see­ing, while the Blue Lounge restau­rant has a great choice of in­ter­na­tional and Lig­urian dishes.

Art, one of the big­gest at­trac­tions for Genoa’s vis­i­tors, is re­flected in its decor, with dis­plays of in­stal­la­tions and pho­to­graphs by in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Ital­ian artists.

Ser­vice falls into the can’t-do-enough-foryou cat­e­gory and staff mem­bers are ready and will­ing to share use­ful lo­cal dou­bles from £85 (about Dh480) per night with break­fast.

WHERE TO EAT

I Tre Merli, www.itremerli.it

The old port, or Porto An­tico, has been re­vi­talised with a ma­rina, palm trees and plenty of good res­tau­rants. One of the best places for lunch is I Tre Merli – it trans­lates as The Three Black­birds – where food is pre­pared on a tra­di­tional wooden stove and served on a ter­race look­ing out across the wa­ter. Ci­upin, a fill­ing tra­di­tional thick fish soup, costs €12 (Dh50).

WHERE TO VISIT

Head to Nervi – only three miles from the city cen­tre – and walk down one of Italy’s most beau­ti­ful prom­e­nades. The Passeg­giata Anita Garibaldi winds its way for 2km along cliffs and of­fers stun­ning coastal views. This east­erly sub­urb also has the city’s finest park, where three mu­se­ums are sited. Visit www.passeg­giatan­ervi.it.

Ex­pe­ri­ence oceanic life by vis­it­ing Genoa Aquar­ium, one of the largest in­door aquar­i­ums in Europe de­signed by Renzo Pi­ano, one of the ar­chi­tects who cre­ated Paris’s Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou. There are 70 tanks and 15,000 an­i­mals, in­clud­ing seals, dol­phins, pi­ranha, pen­guins and sharks. A fam­ily ticket (two adults and two chil­dren) costs €65. Visit www.ac­quar­i­odigen­ova.it/en.

The me­dieval coastal town of Genoa in beau­ti­ful Lig­uria lies sand­wiched be­tween the Mediter­ranean and rus­tic moun­tains

The seascapes viewed from the wind­ing Passeg­giata Anita Garibaldi are stun­ning

I Tre Merli, a charm­ing din­ing venue in Porto An­tico, woos new­com­ers as well as pa­trons with tra­di­tional Ital­ian fare and vis­tas to die for

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