Where to stay
Attico Palazzo Giustiniani A romantic B&B on the top floor of a 17th-century palazzo. On sunny days, breakfast is served on the enchanting terrace overlooking the rooftops of the city. Doubles from £83. Piazza dei Giustiniani 6, 00 39 346 275 4662, atticopalazzogiustiniani.it
Hotel Bristol Palace Located under the busy porticoes of via XX Settembre, Genoa’s main shopping street, this is art nouveau luxury at its best. Fully revamped, it features spacious rooms with polished parquet floors, plush curtains and original antiques. Many rooms come with an outdoor terrace. Giotto, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, which serves both Italian and Ligurian dishes, is also worth a visit. Doubles from £117. Via XX Settembre 35, 00 39 10 592541, hotelbristolpalace.it
Le Nuvole Residenza d’Epoca Another grand medieval Genoese townhouse turned into a stylish and budget-friendly boutique hotel, its surviving frescoes speaking of the opulent world of bygone Genoese aristocracy. The 15 rooms are all individually furnished. Ask for one overlooking the beautiful 10th-century Chiesa della Madonna delle Vigne. Doubles from £99. Piazza delle Vigne 6, 00 39 10 2510018, hotelnuvole.it
Palazzo Grillo Seize the
opportunity to stay in a
magnificent 16th-century Palazzo
dei Rolli (a Unesco-designated
ambassadorial residence). The
mansion preserves many original
features, including vaulted
ceilings and fresco cycles. In
contrast, furniture is sleek and
essential, with modern facilities
across the 25 rooms, from
bluetooth speakers to Smeg
photography shows are often held
in the exhibition area on the first
floor. Doubles from £102.
Piazza delle Vigne 4, 00 39 10 247 7356, hotelpalazzogrillo.it
Genoa is the capital of Liguria, in north-west Italy. Currency is the Euro and time is one hour ahead of GMT. It’s possible to fly from the UK to Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo Airport, but flights to Milan Malpensa Airport are more frequent; from there the city is just over a two-hour drive or a three-hour train ride away. Flight time from the UK is around two hours.
Most of the city’s highlights are within walking distance but because the terrain is steep, a series of lifts, two funiculars and a cogwheel train connect ground-area neighbourhoods with upper areas – the most famous one being the Spianata di Castelletto viewpoint.
British Airways offers flights from London Gatwick to Milan. ba.com
Ryanair flies to Genoa Cristoforo Colombo Airport from both London Stansted and Manchester. ryanair.com
Visit Genoa is the city’s portal of tourism, events and leisure, with plenty of information to help you plan your trip. visitgenoa.it
Visit Italy, the national tourist board, is also worth a look. italia.it
Where to eat
Prices are per person for a three-course meal, excluding drinks, unless otherwise stated
Antica Friggitoria Carega An old favourite with anybody from the camalli (the dock workers), to iconic Genoese songwriter Fabrizio de Andrè, who used to bring his son here for fried fish. Do the local thing and queue up right in front of its door, under the arcades opposite the Porto Antico, for a delicious take-away option. All of their fried food, frittura, is masterfully done, but make sure in particular that you try a hearty portion of their panissa. Paper cone of frittura from £7. Via di Sottoripa 113r, 00 39 10 247 0617
Baccicin Acciughe & Pissa One of the two new street-food ventures by Michelin-starred chef Edoardo Ferrera and entrepreneur Raoul Bollani. This is where you can eat the Ligurian focaccia-based speciality made with anchovies and tomatoes. Be sure to sample their melt-in-the-mouth scupply – fried arancini balls but made with scucussun, a kind of large couscous, instead of rice, plus local San Stè cheese from nearby Aveto Valley and the ubiquitous pesto, of course. Pissa from £5.Via di Scurreria 42r, 00 39 327 258 3250
Gelateria Romeo Viganotti This is a name famous for its chocolates – and rightly so, as they’ve been making them it since 1866 – but their gelato is equally impressive. Try one of the cheese-based ones: flavours include ricotta and walnuts, Gorgonzola and walnuts and even buffalo cheese. Ice cream cones from £2.10. Salita del Prione 12r, 0039 10 251 4061, romeoviganotti.com
Il Genovese Near the covered market, this no-frills placeis possibly your best option in town to try proper Genoese pesto. Owner Roberto Panizza, aka ‘the pesto king’, also organises a biennial world pesto championship. His own version is an astonishingly vivid, bright green. Try it on gnocchi or trofie – the thin twists are perfect for gripping the sauce. But be warned: you’ll always be disappointed with pesto anywhere else after trying it here. Mains include tripe, rabbit and dried cod. From £21. Via Galata 35r, 0039 10 869 2937, ilgenovese.com
Il Marin This top-floor fine-dining restaurant delivers both picture-pretty port views and Genoa’s most innovative seafood menu. Chef Marco Visciola’s sustainable approach is reflected in all his signature dishes. The restaurant also features a small aeroponic vegetable garden, where plants are grown without the use of soil. Water and nutrients are nebulised directly on to the plant roots, thus reducing the use of water by 95 per cent compared with traditional cultivations. Choose between several degustations, including a six-course menu created to celebrate the restaurant’s tenth anniversary featuring Marco’s famous fish stew, and caviar and Martini spaghetti. Book in advance. From £45. Calata Cattaneo 15, 00 39 10 869 8722, ilmarin.it
L’Ostaia de Zena Located on the first floor of renovated Mercato Orientale,
this elegant osteria opened in October 2020 thanks to three key figures of
the Genoese food scene: chef Ivano Ricchebono (see The Cook restaurant,
below), Barbara Palazzo, owner of restaurant 20 Tre, and butcher Luca
Spanedda, who has run his own stall at the market for over 30 years. Try a
typical dish such as the delicious cima alla Genovese (stuffed veal flank).
From £23. Mercato Orientale, via XX Settembre 75r, 0039 348 108 1541
Ombre Rosse Tucked in a medieval house in the old town, this tiny place has a romantic interior full of books, posters and interesting memorabilia. You can also eat alfresco in a delightful sheltered garden just opposite – a rare find in Genoa’s intricate maze of alleyways. Chef Michele Pietragalla’s mix of traditional cuisine and creative dishes won’t disappoint – the menu changes on a daily basis, always bringing in foods that are in season. Co-owner Francesca Vallarino chooses her salads personally from the local market. Good vegetarian and vegan options available, too. From £27. Vico degli Indoratori 20, 00 39 10 275 7608
Sa’ Pesta A salt warehouse in the Middle Ages, this informal eatery has been
feeding locals and travellers since 1889. Try one of the large portions of
delicious torte di verdure (veggie pies with prescinsêua curd cheese), torta
pasqualina, Swiss chard and egg pie, or other specialities such as stuffed
anchovies and polpettone alla genovese (green bean and potato bake). And
don’t miss their crisp farinata (chickpea pancake). Reservations required for
dinner. From £17. Via dei Giustiniani 16r, 0039 10 2468336, sapesta.it
Sciûsci Zena This is the second brainchild of Edoardo Ferrera and Raoul Bollani. Japanese sushi meets Genoese flavours thanks to Brazilian chef Ademilton Conceicão Santos, aka Eddie, who uses his creativity and his previous experience as a pastry chef to turn each dish into a delicious experience. His Genoese rolls are all delicious, particularly A Cimma (with veal, Parmigiano Reggiano, onion and peas) and Bajko (with prescinsêua cheese, lime-marinated amberjack and pesto). Genoese rolls from £11.60. Via Tommaso Reggio 6, 00 39 328 080 6886
The Cook Eat under beautifully frescoed vaults dating from the 1600s
right in the heart of the centro storico. Michelin-starred chef Ivano
Ricchebono is revisiting tradition with a modern approach. Local seafood
and regional specialities are the focus, and his dishes are a pleasure for the palate, as well as for the eyes. Tasting menus from £83pp including
wine pairing. Vico Falamonica 9r, 0039 10 9752674, thecookrestaurant.com
Trattoria da Maria Although legendary Signora Maria is sadly gone, this inexpensive trattoria on a quiet side street still serves all the staple homely food you would expect from an Italian grandmother, including fresh pasta, rabbit, octopus. Don’t miss their acciughe ripiene (stuffed anchovies) and the scorfano in carpione (marinated redfish). From £19. Vico Testadoro 14r, 0039 10 581080
Zuccotti Fabbrica di Cioccolato Siblings Chiara, Francesca and Giulio still work on the same premises as their grandparent Alessandro, who opened up this chocolate store in 1933 in former stables to become one of Genoa’s most delicious addresses. Everything is still produced in a strictly artisanal way, with top-quality ingredients and according to Alessandro’s original recipes. Their three-layered cremino is a local favourite and a must on your shopping list. 200g box, from £11.60. Via di Santa Zita 36r, 00 39 10 580504, zuccotticioccolatoit
- Basilico Genovese
- Genoa’s indigenous basil variety, with small oval leaves and an intense perfume
- Cima alla Genovese
- Genoese-style stuffed veal flank, supposedly invented in the 16th century so that people could save money on meat by filling plates with less expensive ingredients. Served in slices, it is made up of a slim pocket of veal stuffed with minced offal, breadcrumbs soaked in broth, spring vegetables, grated cheese, diced Mortadella and eggs
- One of the oldest Genoese recipes. A thin, unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour, water, salt and olive oil cooked in a wood oven
- A shop specialising in fried food to take away
- Gallette del marinaio
- ‘Sailor’s crackers’ – a thin, round bread, baked twice, that remains crispy for at least a year. Still used in some traditional recipes like the seafood salad capponada, you can buy them at the Maccarini bakery in nearby San Rocco di Camogli (via San Rocco 46), which has been baking them according to the original recipe since 1885
- Fried sticks of chickpea flour, a very popular snack in Genoa and Liguria. The ingredients are those of farinata, except for extra virgin olive oil. It is similar to cecina in Pisa and socca in Nice, France
- The Genoese sauce par excellence, famous all over the world. According to tradition, it is made with Basilico Genovese, Vessalicogarlic (an ancient variety from the mountains near a village of thesame name), pine nuts, coarse sea salt, extra virgin olive oil,Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino
- A traditional Genoese speciality (full name: pissalandrea) whose origin goes back to the end of the 15th century. Originally called Pissa d’Andrea, which became pissalandrea, allegedly from the name of Genoese admiral Andrea Doria, who was very fond of it. The first version consisted of white focaccia bread covered with chopped onions, anchovies and soft cheese. Over the centuries, the recipe was enriched with ingredients such as tomato, olives and oregano. The pissalandrea is still very diffused all over western Liguria as well as in the South of France, where it’s known as pissaladière
- A vegetable bake, typical of the Italian Riviera. Be careful, though: in the rest of the country, polpettone means meat loaf
- Local curd cheese used in dishes from filled pasta to pies
- Genoese eatery specialising in vegetable pies and farinata
- A type of pasta traditionally used to make minestrone.Similar to Sardinian fregola and couscous
- Torta Pasqualina
- Perhaps the most famous of Genoese savoury herb pies – puff pastry filled with Swiss chard or artichokes, courgettes,spring herbs, egg and cheese
Food and Travel Review
Birthplace of blue jeans, pesto sauce and Christopher Columbus, Genoa is a natural player on the world stage, but one that loves a low profile. In its golden age, when it established itself as a flourishing maritime republic, it even rivalled Venice – and yet contemporary Genoa is often regarded as one of Italy’s most underrated cities. Just as in Venice, it’s very easy to get lost in its labyrinthine streets. The ‘centro storico’ is a fascinating maze of caruggi, claustrophobic alleyways that run like canyons between tall buildings. Some are so narrow that they never see direct sunlight – so neon lights often shine bright outside cafés and shops, even in daytime, as an antidote to a constant chiaroscuro.
Back in the 19th century, Henry James described it as ‘the most winding and incoherent of cities, the most entangled topographic ravel in the world’.
Things haven’t changed much since then. Dramatically squeezed between sea and mountains, it stretches for over 30km, from the Voltri neighbourhood in the west to the fishing village of Nervi in the east. This constriction of space has determined its evolution: Genoa is essentially a vertical city born out of necessity. Side streets often turn into a steep flight of steps and apartment blocks cling to the hills so that the penthouse, approached from the mountain side, is – rather confusingly – at street level.
Even on a first visit to the city, you soon realise Genoese people take food very seriously. Each shady alley is graced with shop windows displaying culinary delights of every kind, from fried anchovies and stuffed aubergines to exquisite chocolates and sweets. Not to mention the bakeries with that inebriating, intense perfume of focaccia. The first portion of the day is for breakfast, cut into strips and – rather unexpectedly by Italian standards – dunked into your morning coffee or cappuccino. True virtuosos are said to calibrate the right duration of the dip – not too long to excessively soak the flatbread, but not too short either. Fragrant, crunchy on the outside and yet wonderfully soft on the inside, focaccia is, of course, rightly and pleasantly oily. Greasy fingers are one of life’s little pleasures here. It’s but one of many examples of a street food culture that seems to be more prominent than anywhere else in Italy. For this is a port city and therefore a natural melting pot of people and cultures – the sailors and merchants of the past as well as the immigrants of today – an anarchic place where everything seems to be kept together only by the volatile nature of the sea.
The maze of alleyways opposite the sea front is the beating heart of the city and the best starting point to explore its relationship with food.
Leave the windswept Porto Antico behind and head for the area of porticoes known as Sottoripa, whose lively multi-ethnic atmosphere is a bit like that of a North African souk. Here, a tiny white-tiled shop, Antica Friggitoria Carega, that has been in business for 80 years, still lives up to its reputation. Easily spotted by the queue, they fry anything you can think of: tiny fish, tender calamari, juicy prawns, anchovies, baccalà cod fritters and local speciality panissa, fried chickpea- flour sticks. The tradition of friggitorie (shops selling fried take away food) in this city is a long-standing one. The inexpensive small fish that could not be sold on the daily market – tiny sea critters like the local variety known as gianchetti – plus the fish left over after the cleaning and preparing, never goes to waste. On the contrary, it is floured, fried and handed over in brown paper cones just as it has since at least as far back as the 16th century, making a common meal for sailors, travellers and dock workers.
Further into the old town, in the heart of the medieval quarter, a pungent smell of tripe might lead you to the doorstep of Tripperia La Casana, one of Genoa’s most fascinating shops. Inside, Gabriella Colombo carefully cuts and wraps cleaned tripe for her customers behind a 100-year-old marble counter, while husband Francesco Pisani vigorously stirs the broth that is boiling in two massive copper pots. Until not so long ago, sailors used to congregate around the tables at the back, gulping down their morning soup as if it were coffee. ‘Tripe broth is made with the fourth stomach of the cow,’ explains Francesco, ‘which in the Genoese dialect we call gruppo. It is lean and protein-rich, absolutely perfect for those with arduous occupations. It was accompanied by gallette del marinaio, the traditional sailor’s crackers that can still be found in some shops.’
He and Gabriella started their business together 30 years ago, when they learnt all the tricks of the trade from the previous owner, who had been working there for half a century. Francesco quit a promising career as a musician: ‘From drummer to tripe seller! What an inglorious end!’ he laughs, remembering the days when he appeared on TV with Eighties singer Sabrina Salerno. Now, the clientele ranges from locals to regulars coming as far as Piedmont and Lombardy to secure a portion of trippa accomodata, a sort of stew complete with potatoes, pine nuts and tomato sauce. Not to mention the large Ecuadorian community who live in Genoa, whose own guatita tripe stew is very similar to the Genoese version.
Should intestines be a little too adventurous for your tastes, you can always opt for a slice of farinata, the Genoese chickpea pancake. The crunchier bits around the edges are the most appreciated parts (an attractive girl might still find herself addressed by a man of a certain age as a ‘fainà di orli’, literally an edge of farinata). Sà Pesta, a boisterous eatery in the old town, is one of the best addresses to sample it. Mottled by the oven fire, Paolo Benvenuto churns out the real thing in copper pans as large as truck wheels, while his sisters Cinzia and Antonella dish up generous portions with delicacies such as their tasty torte di verdure, open vegetable pies with prescinsêua, a local curd cheese.
It’s not all about well-established places, though. The modern food scene is thriving – a sort of street food 2.0 that is offering a glimpse of what post-pandemic life will be like.
A few months before the first Covid-19 outbreak, Mercato Orientale, the city’s most famous covered market, undertook a dramatic makeover. Under its glass roof, beside the usual fruit and veg stalls, there’s a new area of food corners, wine bars and ice cream parlours – plus a cooking school and the elegant L’Ostaia de Zena, the latest brainchild of Michelin- starred chef Ivano Ricchebono.
Last April, fellow Michelin- starred chef Edoardo Ferrera and Raoul Bollani, Palazzo Imperiale’s manager and a mastermind of events management, opened up two new eateries in the centro storico – Sciûsci Zena and Baccicin Acciughe & Pissa, whose offerings range from traditional local street food to a Genoese reinterpretation of sushi. It was a brave move as Italy was still in lockdown, so they started with deliveries only, but a few months later were able to open up to walk-in customers. As the name itself suggests, acciughe (anchovies) are one of the highlights of Baccicin. ‘Ligurian fishermen called it pan du ma, the bread of the sea,’ Raoul explains when we meet. ‘It was widely available and allowed families to survive. In bygone days, fish was also used as a means of exchange and therefore exported elsewhere. The men were away at sea and the women turned towards the countryside,’ continues Raoul, a firm believer in the importance of putting food in a historical context to see the bigger picture. ‘This explains why most of our food tradition is surprisingly terrestrial and vegetable-based.’
It all makes perfect sense; olive trees abound along the harsh Ligurian coastline. Olive oil, the base of the many fried delicacies, is exceptionally light and delicate because it’s made of only one olive variety, the highly valued Taggiasca. The other most exported local ingredient of this area is, not surprisingly, basil, grown on terraced greenhouses perched on steep slopes facing the sea. A quintessential ingredient all over the country, in this city it is almost a religion. The herb floods markets stalls, it’s sold in pots on the street and displayed in fancy arrangements on restaurant tables.
The local variety, Basilico Genovese, is the only one to have been
granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by the EU and its
intense perfume is the secret behind Genoa’s world-famous pesto
sauce. If pesto is made with a different variety of basil, it inevitably
gets some minty notes. Late singer and songwriter Fabrizio de
Andrè, one of Genoa’s most famous and beloved sons, admitted
he had to add plenty of walnuts to his sauce whenever he was
away from his hometown to try to cover ‘that minty taste’.
‘Genoese Basil is the perfect balance of different elements,’ says
Annamaria Carrea of family-run Azienda Agricola R&C Ruggero
Rossi, one of Genoa’s main basil producers.
‘The soil, the passion of men but, firstly, the sea. Our basil must face the sea.’
There’s no doubting that the relationship with the sea is an
indispensable one. From his kitchen, chef Marco Visciola
from Il Marin restaurant enjoys the most beautiful view of the
ordered lines of boats in the Porto Antico and the visionary
architecture of Renzo Piano, who spruced up the once run-down
area for the 500th anniversary of Columbus landing in the New
World in the Nineties. Making food every day with that kind
of backdrop must have had an impact on his philosophy.
‘I am a chef of the sea,’ says Marco, ‘but respectful of
biodiversity and sustainability.’ His attention to the environment
is a 360-degree one – from the choice of the fishermen he works
with (‘their tuna-fishing nets are made of a coconut fibre, which at
the end of the season is released in the sea, becoming fish food’),
to his fondness for pesce povero, the fish of the least valuable
variety. Fish guts are the main ingredient of his fish finanziera, a
reinterpretation of an ancient Piedmontese stew with sweet and
sour flavours made with offal and entrails. It is a true kaleidoscope
of textures, using all the resources of the Ligurian Sea and aiming
at a zero-waste policy. ‘Fish bones are the only thing we throw
away,’ he chuckles. His cuisine is one of the most innovative
in the local panorama, his dishes are not only a pleasure for
the palate but also enticing to look at.
The secret, he believes, is the horizon he looks at every day: ‘And with a view like this, I would never be able to cook boring food.’
Words and photography by Marina Spironetti
This feature was taken from the April 2022 issue of Food and Travel. To subscribe today, click here.
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