Ask anyone who has been to Genoa and they’ll tell you that this city casts a spell on its visitors. Alexandre Dumas and Charles Dickens were enthralled by its unsettling charm, Rousseau praised its long-standing love of freedom and countless travellers have developed a bizarre obsession for its strange and mysterious atmosphere. And yet, nowadays, most tourists only get a glimpse of Genoa on their way to somewhere else. The Italian region of Liguria, admittedly, has much to offer and destinations such as Le Cinque Terre and Portofino enjoy a well deserved popularity among international visitors, but the city itself is a gem that we feel should rank much higher in the priorities of those visiting Italy for business or pleasure. In Italy we could be said to have a knack for building cities in places where cities should not, by all reasonable standards, be built. Venice is the most popular example of how the basic rules of building a city (such as providing streets, for instance) can be bent in order to achieve something unique and extraordinary. Genoa is one such case: approaching it from the sea (and, to some extent, from the highway), one might get the impression of a much larger city that has been forcibly crammed between the mountain and the sea, so that a settlement that was meant to spread out horizontally has been piled up vertically against the mountain’s side. Genoa’s history has been linked for centuries with its international harbour, through which goods, people and ideas passed, creating an exciting melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. For all this, visiting the city today is a rich, complex and multi-layered experience. As usual, we’ll offer you a quick guide to the many wonders of Genoa that can be enjoyed for free. If your business trips takes you to this region and you have a some extra time on your hands, you might want to try a few of our tips.
1. Climb up to Castelletto and behold the beauty of Genoa
How do you move about in a vertical city? Either you are (or are planning to get) ridiculously fit or you take the lift. There are several elevators and funicular railways to take you literally up- or down-town. The best known lift in Genoa is the one that will take you to the neighbourhood of Castelletto, with its famous belvedere. From this wide terrace on the hills, you will enjoy a view of the city that will give the word “breath-taking” a whole new meaning. Pick a sunny day or a summer evening and set aside some time, simply to sit on a bench or – if you are very good with heights – lean from the terrace and take in the vastness and majesty of the scenery before you. You will have the whole city laid out at your feet, every alley and chimney, every rooftop and passage, and then the sea, locked in a millenary embrace with the gulf and the port. You’re welcome.
2. Rubens in the Chiesa del Gesù
The Chiesa del Gesù (Church of Jesus, also known as the Church of St. Ambrose and Andrew) is a trove of artistic masterpieces, the best known of which is probably a Miracle of St. Ignatius by Dutch master Pieter Paul Rubens. The church is located in the central Piazza Matteotti, it was built in the XVI century and underwent several amendments and restorations throughout the years. The first church was built on this site in the late VI century, as the Bishop of Milan was forced to flee because of the Longobard persecution of the catholic clergy. That explains why the church was originally dedicated to St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan. The richness of the decoration is probably the most striking characteristic of this church, both in the architectural layout and the wealth of paintings and sculptures that grace its naves and altar. Other celebrated artworks include Guido Reni’s Assumption of Mary, Andrea Pozzo’s Saint Francis Borgia and four imposing statues by Francesco Biggi.
3. Take a walk among the roses
Take half a day off your busy schedule to visit the Nervi Parks. Over 20 acres of overwhelming natural beauty surrounding three ancient villas (each containing its own museum). The Parks are located west of the city and are elevated, so that you will be able to look at the sea, directly below you, suddenly appearing as you are taking a stroll among the lush vegetation. This beautiful natural complex was built on a romantic architectural scheme and it contains a unique blend of mediterranean flora and fauna and exotic plants. This fits Genoa perfectly: quintessentially Italian in its spirit, its tradition as an international port has opened it to fascinating contaminations and influences from every corner of the world. If you happen to visit in spring or early summer, you might be lucky enough to find the Nervi Park’s famous Rose Garden in full bloom.
4. Have an aperitivo at the Old Port
This is where it all started. Genoa’s fortune, its whole history was built around the city’s port. Today, Genoa’s port has been moved and expanded and the location of the original port has undergone a complete makeover. Redesigned by Renzo Piano, this large seaside square holds all the mysterious charm of its millenary history as well as the modern-day glamour of its new life. This is the perfect place to meet for an aperitivo or a meal and it is an equal favourite of tourists and locals. Genoa is always described as having two souls: the old town with its melancholic charm, is just a little too dark to be considered quaint, and the new city, bustling with life, business, culture and art. The old port is the ultimate fusion of these two aspects: here you will be able to stop, sit, rest, contemplate the blue horizon and breathe in the salty air, while gearing up for a buzzing night in one of the city’s clubs.
5. Visit the old neighbourhood of Boccadasse
This neighbourhood, as is often the case, used to be a village in its own right, but was eventually absorbed by the expanding city and became part of the suburb known as Albaro. The original settlers of this area were sailors and fishermen and the whole precinct still holds on to its maritime tradition. Boccadasse is said to owe its name to the shape of the bay, which, when seen from above, is shaped vaguely like the open mouth of a donkey. This is the perfect place to snap a postcard-like view of Genoa, with its characteristic multi-coloured hold buildings, crammed against one another and facing the sea. This neighbourhood has its own small bay, in which small fishing boats are docked and unloaded. The best time of day to visit Boccadasse is probably just before dusk. Buy a traditional gelato, walk to the bay and enjoy a glorious sunset at the end of a long day. If the weather allows it, you might even sit on the pebbled beach among the wooden boats and let the sound of the waves take you to another world.