Yesterday was incredibly muggy. The day cooled as the sun sank and the old town seemed to come back to life as refreshing breezes finally made their reappearance.
It’s become my favourite part of town to wander around.
I was close to Christopher Columbus’s House when I finally felt hungry and there is one particular street that is trattoria after trattoria. The smells wafting out are amazing and they look amazing as the streets darken and the lights start to go on.
After my food tour on Tuesday, I’ve found that everywhere I’ve eaten is just really good – particularly when choosing the places that focus on Genovese food: simple, light, tasty.
The place I went to last night was tiny – the last of the restaurants down this long line of tempting eateries. There were three tables outside. You had to go into the kitchen, past the cooker to use the toilet. The menu had no more than twelve dishes on it – the food was going to be good.
Aside from being concerned that we now have an aperol spritz shortage (this is not the measure I have grown accustomed to), I felt pretty confident in what I was about to eat: mushroom ravioli in a Genovese sauce.
It was one of the nicest meals I’ve had while I’ve been here and it quickly became clear that the owner and his wife prepare the vast majority of their components from scratch. His wife didn’t speak a lot of English and he explained how they make their own pesto and their preference for ingredients and once I heard that she had prepared the tiramisu fresh this morning, that was the dessert chosen.
Today was my last day in Genoa… another train tomorrow. So, today was mostly going to be fairly lazy and mostly spent around my favourite areas, so yes, mostly in the old town.
That was a superb plan until I discovered that Genova is a city with a funicular and ancient walls so NO PRIZES for guessing how I spent my morning.
I’m not sure why but both Genova’s lift (not a glass elevator but very nice nonetheless) up the cliffs and its funicular are both free to all passengers until July. The views from, well a quarter and then possibly half way up the hills are amazing.
It’s got more walls (though not necessarily complete) than any other city in Italy, largely because it’s spent most of the last thousand years building them.
During the Roman era, the city centre was up on Sarzano Hill and if there was a wall, there is no archeological evidence for it. Even if the rocks had been used for building houses, there would be some traces. The first evidence for walls goes back to the 9th Century and each time the city expanded, the walls had to be built to enclose the new spaces. This continued with each major period of growth through the 12th, 14th, 16th and 17th Centuries.
By the 16th Century, it wasn’t sufficient to just build walls. Advances in military technology required defensible forts. The walls extended along the sea and up through the mountains – the natural defences having shown themselves to be not terribly effective in the face of repeated imvasions.
Parts of the walls have been turned into parks and today, they were full of school kids trekking through on their way to the observatory – which looked too small for that many children, so I didn’t go. The invasions are clearly continuing.
I made my way back to the old town seeking a pasticceri I found yesterday. This turned out to be easier said than done – those rabbit warren streets.
I’d called in for a coffee in the afternoon and the barman told me they served the best cappuccino in Genova. I was sceptical and kept my mouth shut until I tasted it. I don’t think he was wrong so I went back for lunch, though I probably arrived a good 40 minutes later than I intended to.
Marina (who led the food tour on Tuesday) was standing outside the venue, settling the bill for a group she had just taken there. She heartily congratulated me on my independent discovery and led her tour into the winding streets.
Every table (all seven of them) were taken so I found one of three inside. These are not big venues.
Lunch: first, a slice of focaccia baked with sweet onions and one of their very fine cappuccinos. Approval from the manager: “That’s the traditional Genovese lunch”. Traditionally, the thin slice of light and fluffy focaccia (far lighter than anywhere else I’ve tried it) would be smeared in pig fat – cheap and filling. The pigs were brought to Genova by Gaul invaders. In the last twenty years, pig fat has been replaced by olive oil and now only very old establishments/bakers, a fairly long hike from the old town serve this. Marina had told us that it’s very hard to find this and the shops that do so are probably serving a dwindling clientele.
The cakes were tempting and as I’d walked in, I had passed a man tucking into a delicious-looking tart. I spotted it on the counter and pointed to it, as well as asking for another coffee.
“Oh, that’s a very traditional Genovese tart,” said the manager. I suspected that this pasticceri (particularly with it being on the food tour trail) specialised in traditional Genovese recipes, so I was unlikely to struggle. It was an almond tart, essentially a frangipane but not as moist and without any jam – it was utterly delicious. I’ve been looking for recipes online and I can’t find anything resembling what I ate.
And the pasticceri? It’s in a 13th Century building and opened as a chocolatier in 1780. It formed a partnership with the patisserie of the House of Savoy and people would travel to Genova to seek out this establisment. Whatever the chocolatier could not supply they could rely on the Savoy patisserie to support.
In 1906, the business changed its name to Marescotti – the name it still carries today. In 1979, after the death of Irma Marescotti, the family decided to shut down the business but not to sell the premises since they had no guarantee that the tradition would be continued or that the shop’s interior decoration would be preserved.
As a result the Charles X style furnishing, as well as all the brass and marble, were hidden from public view for three decades until the business was revived.
Meanwhile, on the docks… something not seen since before the pandemic… a Living Statue!
This chap was the only one I’ve seen on this trip. They used to be everywhere. I noticed he was wearing a mask… a precaution or because it actually makes the job of keeping still a bit easier?
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