When I found out, last year, that I was coming back to Genoa, my heart sank. To me, it was grey, old and dirty. There was so little to do and there were far more interesting cities to stay in. Given, we were going to be here for a very long time. Fast forward 7 months and I find myself in a position where the streets scream of familiarity, the smiling faces at my local focaccia shops and fruit stalls call out “Ciao, Natasha”. I call my favourite Italian restaurant and as soon as they hear my voice they say “Si, Natasha, english?” and the sun creeps in and around buildings shining a light onto a city that has endless beauty to reveal.
I have found my rhythmn here, I have found my place.
When you first walk along these streets, it’s hard not to be confronted by the dog markings, rubbish and bizarre odours. Everything seems dark and unfriendly. The greyness of the overriding port and shipping containers coming in and out of the harbour. But, take time my friends, because as soon as you open your eyes to Genova, Genova will not stop showing you its little dazzling surprises.
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt, is to look up, open doors and peak around corners. One of the most magical evenings I have had, I had had a hard day at work and I couldn’t go to sleep, there were a million things running through my head and I needed to walk. So I pulled my leggings on, wrapped up in a warm jacket, put my headphones on and started to stroll. With Ludovico Eiunadi calming my thoughts and the gentles drops of the rain washing away my day, I slowly started to feel my shoulders relax and my mind unwind. And with that my eyes started to adjust to the gorgeous buildings around me. The first image I saw was this ridiculously old painting of Madonna and her child, framed in a beautiful ornate gold frame, hanging above the door of a Chinese take-away shop. What a juxta-positioning. I smiled to myself. And not even two steps forward, was another sculpture, dug into the wall. My inner art LOVER got overly-excited and I started to take myself on a late night art tour of the old streets of Genova. And trust me, it did not disappoint. Between the old art baked into the walls of the cities and the exquisite architecture of the numerous cathedrals, an artistic eye cannot be bored.
And if that is not enough, every month there is a new gallery exhibiting some insanely famous artist, be it Monet, Picasso or Remrandt. Whatever your pick, you will find your poison. I have spent many rainy an afternoon, roaming the opulent galleries of Via Garibaldi. Not to mention the evenings at Teatro Carlo Felice listening to musicians, watching performers or ballets.
As art is not my only vice, and I cannot live off art alone, the restaurants that I have discovered in the side streets have turned me into the most hungry South African in Genova. My absolute favourite restaurant here (where they greet me by name as soon as I answer the phone), Cucina Valoria, has become an expensive regular treat. The beautifully simple restaurant is surrounded by orange walls and a simple brass sign on the outside. As you walk in, the only waitress, greets you with the warmest smile and the chef, who can see you enter from his kitchen, looks up with an equally warm smile. you want to sit down. And once you do, the warmth continues to roll in. With the options on the menu, the wine list and the warm homemade bread, you know you have made a good choice. With every course, comes the chef to ask if you are happy. Of course you are and he walks away smiling a little wider. The octopus dish that I have there is BELLISIMO! And to be honest when I choose to indulge in the dessert, I kind of feel like I have slipped into some kind of chocolate coma. Yum.
This is not my only recommendation of restaurant in Genoa, but it is my favourite. The others are well worth a visit, so if you are going to the area, message me, Ill give you my extensive list.
My readers know I crave the mountains, and so when the opportunity arises for me to go for a trail run, I drive myself up the petrifying-ly narrow streets to the mountains of Righi. Half the time I have my eyes half closed, praying I don’t hit the oncoming bus or the cars that are parked hapharsoudly all over the single lane street. And then you hit the green , the bright colours of green that are dosed in sunlight, and you feel that calm that you (or maybe just me) gets from being closer to nature. My smile sets in wider and my legs just want to run. And so after parking my car, I let loose into the mountains and run for as long and as hard as I possibly can. There is something so incredible for me being able to run in the mountains alone. As a Capetonian there has been so many incidents on our mountains that have made me feel unsafe there alone, that running alone up here feels like the ultimate freedom. And the biggest reward is after a long 3km trail climb up a rather steep track you get the reward of a 360 degree view of the whole of Genova, stretching all the way from Ventimiglia to La Spezia. On a sunny morning, trust me this reward is worth the climb!
The best is that the mountain adventures don’t end there. We are still lucky enough to not be working weekends (although this is the last) and so the ability to go further afield has been available to us. In fact my blog post today was inspired by a night away in Cinque Terre last night. Although it was pouring with rain to be in the gorgeous coastal town of Riomaggiore overnight feels like the greatest treat of them all. I feel so lucky that that is a hop, skip and jump away for me, as I know many people have dreamed of going there all their lives. And trust me the dream is so worth fulfilling. Catch the train to La Spezia, park your car at the station, take very little luggage and then journey on to one of the 5 little villages. They all have their own magic and every single time I have been there, I have fallen more and more in love with these charming coastal villages. We didn’t get to hike this time (I have had a chest infection) but the hike between all 5 villages is one of my favourite Italian excursions.
And not far from Genoa is also the stretch of Camogli, Nervi, Portofino, San Fruttuoso, none of those Italian seaside villages will disappoint even the most discerning traveler. For my birthday we drove to the beautiful town of Camogli and then hiked the path from Camogli to San Fruttuoso. It is beautiful. It is steep. But there are so many Prosecco stops along the way that by the time you get to the highest point, you wouldn’t even notice the stairs, because you have had 3 Proseccos already and just in time for your 4th with a breathtaking view of the sparkling azure water of San Fruttuoso. So, do the hike. Trust me, it is worth it. The greens, the blues, the history, the culture, the food, the wine, the people…all of these along the way, take it from great to greatest.
And that, my dear readers, is my very short and sweet Sunday summary of the Ligurian coastline for you, with so much left to add, there will no doubt be a part 2, but for now, I hope you enjoy my musings on Genova.