Almost Four Days in Genoa and One Book

We booked a short break back in March thinking that it might be our last chance to join the EU citizen passport queue but once again we were reprieved. Or at least that’s how I think of it. This time we were heading for Genoa, home of two of my favourite things to eat: focaccia and pesto – the real thing not that stuff out of a jar. After a fabulously warm and sunny Easter weekend at home, we tried not to be disappointed as the rain lashed the cab windscreen on our way to our apartment but failed. Being British we were prepared and strode out into the narrow medieval streets of the old town with their many-storied buildings shaking our heads politely at the umbrella sellers. Our first impression of Genoa was of nicely faded grandeur which reminded me a little of Lisbon.

The next day, minds on our stomachs as ever, we headed off to the Mercato Orientale by way of the stupendously grand Via 20 Settembre – a shopping street with gorgeously decorated colonnades, resplendent with mosaic pavements and painted ceilings. Genoa is known as ‘La Superba’, a reference to its glorious past evident from the street’s extravagant decoration. The market was a treat, too, full of stalls displaying beautiful produce including purple asparagus, courgette flowers and shiny aubergines, some of which we snapped up for supper.

If Via 20 Settembre hadn’t rubbed in Genoa’s past glories there was no escaping them on Via Garibaldi which is filled with impressive palazzos. The city owes its Unesco World Heritage status largely to these extravagant but often beautiful buildings which hosted the state visits of the great and possibly not so good in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We returned to the Via Garibaldi for an aperitivo before supper, alerted by the excellent Travel Gourmet, whose blog I consulted frequently (almost obsessively) while in Genoa, to the delicious snacks served alongside drinks rather like tapas. We each had a glass of bone-dry prosecco at the Baribaldi, chosen by H who can’t resist a pun, and felt so much better at the prospect of yet more rain afterwards.

Thursday was Liberation Day in Italy, and for us, too, with some sunshine and swifts flying past as H opened our apartments’ shutters. We took ourselves off for a stroll along the Corso Italia, looking out to sea with the many locals walking their splendid dogs, several of which looked as if they belonged in the mountains. The afternoon was taken up with visiting a few of those flamboyant palazzos on the Via Garibaldi which turned out to be even more overwrought inside than their exteriors suggested. I couldn’t help feeling Genoa’s nobility were trying to outdo each other rather like the owners of the outrageously decorated art nouveau villas we’d marvelled at in Riga, Budapest and Antwerp.

Another day, another palazzo, this one – the Palazzo di Andrea Doria – commissioned by the eponymous admiral instrumental in regaining Genoa from the French in the sixteenth century. His palace is quite stunning, opulent yet not nearly as florid as those lining the Via Garibaldi. Not exactly understated either, of course, but I found it much more appealing and its gardens are gorgeous, filled with roses and lavender already in bloom. We loved it although H described it as a bit ‘Trumpian’ given Doria’s penchant for having himself and his cronies portrayed as conquering Roman heroes.

We spent our last afternoon ambling around the city, taking the funicular up one of its steep hills and admiring the view then wandering back to our apartment through streets lined with tiny shops. Rather like our experience in Lille, we’d heard few foreign tourists throughout our stay which seemed a shame. That said, Genoa Cover imageclearly has a life of its own rather than relying on pandering to the likes of me for its income which is surely a good thing.

And the book? Set in 1930s Montreal, Heather O’Neill’s The Lonely Hearts Hotel tells the story of two orphans besotted with each other but separated when Pierrot is adopted by a rich man, escaping the brutality of the orphanage but left yearning for his soulmate. O’Neill’s imaginative, sometimes heartrending novel is a tale of gangsters, vaudeville, ambition, beauty and above all, love. It went down very well.

38 thoughts on “Almost Four Days in Genoa and One Book”

  1. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip, Susan. I really wish we had more street markets over here like they do on the continent. The rise of farmers’ markets is great, but I haven’t yet found one that matches the lovely buzz and extent of those in Italy, France etc.

    1. I love them, Liz. We always make a point of visiting the local market if we can and self-catering means we can actually cook with some of that gorgeous, tasty produce. One of the best we went to filled four disused hangars in Riga!

  2. I really enjoyed my wander around Genoa with you – and Iike H, I would have stopped in at Baribaldi as well! One of the things I miss most from having lived abroad is the street markets and markets in huge hangar-like buildings. Both Ponty and Cardiff have them but nowhere near on the scale as continental Europe.

    1. Delighted to hear that, Kath. I so wish we had them here. They’re both beautiful and stuffed with such tasty food. The supermarkets have done for many of them, and ruined our diets in the process.

  3. Lovely! We spent a fantastic two weeks in Genoa last year. This brings back so many happy memories. Che bella città!

  4. Sounds like a nice trip despite the rain. I’d never particularly thought of Genoa as a place to visit, but then again I tend to look at places south, east and north of Budapest. Many of them equipped with lovely markets.

    1. We didn’t let the rain deter us – it was just a little galling having left such gorgeous weather behind us in the UK. I’ve not explored Hungary, only a short break in Budapest, but I’d like to see more of it and you’ve tempted me with the promise of markets.

    1. I’m afraid mine’s often wandering off in that direction! Vegetables and fruit picked when ripe and not wrapped in (unnecessary) plastic are entirely different from the pallid supermarket variety, aren’t they.

  5. Sounds like a gorgeous pace to visit, especially if it’s anything like Lisbon. I love the look of that street market with all the wonderful produce on display. A food-lover’s paradise!

  6. Then I feel I should clarify: Hungary has many really nice places (towns, countryside, lakeside, riverside) to explore but access to good food and good produce is very uneven. So when I spoke of “lovely markets” I mostly had places outside of Hungary in mind. Still it’s really worth spending more time exploring Hungary and I’d always be happy to help with suggestions when needed.

    1. Thanks, Ali. The photos are down to H who’s better at that kind of thing than me. The Lonely Hearts Hotel turned out to be a good travelling companion.

  7. Am putting this on the list of Italian cities to visit – who can resist the combination of architecture, coffee, ice-cream, wine and the language……Wish markets in this country had the range of produce that you find in continental europe.

      1. that’s the one downside about places like Rome and Florence, the numbers of visitors makes the whole experience of just wandering more difficulty. Especially when you have large tour groups …

          1. Oh I bet you do. I have fantasies of living in these kinds of places but then I think of the reality and just how frustrating it must be to get normal things done when you can’t park anywhere and all the cafes etc are full

  8. buriedinprint

    Phew: just gorgeous! And I feel like that O’Neill book would be a good match for that kind of holiday. Almost eerily beautiful. (I”m behind with her, but a fan, overall. And this one made me LOL a few times, unexpectedly.)

    1. Thank you. I’m delighted to say the O’Neill turned out to be an excellent fit! It made me laugh, too, but also wrenched my heart – sign of a good book.

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