Each week, we spotlight a dream vacation recommended by some of the industry's top travel writers. This week's pick is Genoa, Italy.
"Why do so few people visit Genoa?" asked Michael Frank at The New York Times. That's something I ponder every time I visit this port city, nestled in the steep curve of Italy's northwestern coastline. For sure, "Genoa is not Florence, Rome, or Venice": There's no set list of must-see sites and no romantic lagoon. What the hillside city does possess is unwavering authenticity, a distinct cuisine and language, and a "ferocious" past: From the 11th century to the 18th, it was one of the four great maritime republics of what is now Italy. A tightly packed urban patchwork, "Genoa invites — in fact, it requires — you to have your own experience." Plus, "it repays the effort."
Genoa's hills are crisscrossed with caruggi, narrow medieval streets, and secret footpaths called crêuze. A couple of years ago, a Genovese friend took me to one of her most cherished hidden spots, the Piazza della Giuggiola, an "exquisite" square paved with river rocks. She pointed out the double entrances to buildings set on slopes so steep they can be reached from the street below or the one above — sometimes by a catwalk that leads to a second front door on the roof. If you get tired of walking, hop on one of the dozen or so elevators and funiculars that whiz through the mountains. The so-called castle elevator will take you to the Castello D'Albertis, the fort-like home of a 19th-century sea captain. Stuffed with oddities the skipper collected on his travels, the castle is just one of the dozens of architecturally eccentric villas that are "tucked into these hills like almonds in a bar of chocolate."
Ultimately, everything Genovese is about the sea, and "that observation applies to its food as well." I like to eat at Antica Osteria di Vico Palla, which serves classic local peasant dishes including reconstituted dried cod and cundijun, a salad composed of hard biscuits soaked in tomatoes, capers, tuna, and onions. Other great Genovese traditions are on daily display at La Casana, the city's last tripperia, where boiled tripe is piled up on marble counters. At Pietro Romanengo, candy is still made the way the shop has for centuries. "What the Genovesi get right, they get spectacularly right, and they simply keep on doing it forever."