Genoa Would Like You To Drop By. But If Not, That's Okay, Too
THURSDAY, JANUARY 13, 2022 -- The fourth or fifth time you get lost trying to find a new hotel just 500 feet from where you stand you'll have to decide whether you love or hate Genoa.

From my first visit in 2017, I decided to love it--although I must warn you that Genoa really doesn't give a damn what you think about it. It toddles along in its hermetically sealed way, mostly unvisited by the tourist hordes that have picked apart every other square inch of Italy and largely unmentioned in the endless torrent of words showered on each quirky little section of the country. Countless subsequent visits reaffirm how totally disinterested locals are to the city's global image and popularity.

Almost no one comes to Genoa except the Zena--what the Genovese call themselves--and the city is just fine with that. Strategically nestled between the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre to the south and Milan to the north, Genoa remains a redoubt of Italians being Italians without the slightest care what straneri (foreigners) think.

Example: Porto Antico and the surrounding Caruggi District are navigable only via impossibly narrow, often seedy alleyways and passages that confound both printed maps and Google Maps. There are few signs, fewer cars and no concessions to visitors. You either figure out where you're going or you don't. You either ignore haggard streetwalkers trolling for (I assume) visiting sailors or you recoil in disgust. You either laugh at the graffiti--"Fuck Gentrification," urged an English one in big, black letters painted on a storefront gate--or you don't. Genoa genuinely doesn't care.

Example: the Genoa Metro was built in 1990 and serves 15 million passengers a year. Yet for reasons known only to the Zena, it is a paltry 4.4 miles in length with just eight stations. It connects Genoa's main railroad terminals (Principe and Brignole) and reaches into the suburban hills. Yet no one thought to extend the subway to the city's small airport. "Take the Volabus," said a passing Zena who overheard me explaining the oddity to another visiting American in a passenger walkway leading to the Principe station. "The Metro doesn't go."

Example: The Port of Genoa is the second-busiest cargo entrepôt in Italy and sprawls for 13 miles along the Ligurian Sea, yet the city of 675,000 people remains overwhelmingly Italian. There are small Asian neighborhoods and some pockets of Latin Americans and North Africans, but Genoa seems immune to all of the immigration spreading throughout Italy. Yet those few who settle in Genoa seem to adore it. "I love this place best of all," a waitress born in Siberia once told me in Italian-inflected English. "I hope to never leave."

The "secret" of Genoa struck me late one night on my first visit as I wandered along the Via Luccoli, a street I belatedly realized connected the Caruggi District to the Via Garibaldi, one of the city's main arteries. Genoa is the Philadelphia of Italy. It's ignored because it exists in the shadow of Milan, Italy's fashion and finance capital, much as Philadelphia is overwhelmed by New York City. They are even geographically proximate. Genoa is just 88 miles from Milan, a cheap, easy train ride away. Much as some folks commute the 95 miles from Philadelphia to New York for business, you can live in Genoa, commute to Milan and totally ignore the Milanese mania for overpriced restaurants, oppressively expensive housing and fashion slavery.

As everyone knows from their wildly inaccurate schoolbook history, Genovese sailor Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World. Genoa wouldn't mind if you returned the favor and visited sometime. But, if not, the Zena are okay with that, too.

GETTING THERE Genoa Airport is compact and calm, with a roving gelato cart, a common-use club lounge and a branch of Pietro Romanengo, the city's oldest and most elegant sweet shop. But there are no nonstops from North America. Try connecting via Lufthansa (Munich) or KLM (Amsterdam). British Airways flies to Genoa, too, but from London/Gatwick. Otherwise, fly nonstop to Milan/Malpensa and train it in. Cars are useless in wide swathes of the city, although major rental firms are represented at the airport.

GETTING AROUND The aforementioned Volabus connects the airport and the city's centrally located train terminals, Principe and Brignole. It's 5 euros each way. A cab between the airport and most center city locations costs about 24 euros. ... Buses and ferries, like the Metro and the Volabus, are controlled by AMT Genova, the city's omnibus transit agency. It even operates a narrow-gauge railroad and funiculars, including one that runs horizontally and vertically. All forms of transit can be bundled into AMT's network of passes. ... Uber and Lyft do not operate in Genoa.

WHERE TO STAY Except for a Marriott AC Hotel far from the city center and a Holiday Inn near the ferry terminal, big chains haven't reached Genoa. The "best" hotel is probably the Melia Genova, but it's on the edge of the centro storico (historic city center) and far from the action. ... The NH Genova Marina has great harbor views. Unfortunately, it's also next to the city's most hectic tourist attractions. But if you drive from elsewhere in Italy, you can park your car here--and that's no small perk. ... That newish hotel I kept misplacing is the Hotel Palazzo Grillo. It opened in 2017, and is in the heart of the Caruggi District. It was a bit stark for my tastes. Your design aesthetic may vary. ... Your best bet may be the Best Western Hotel Metropoli. It's a solid three-star property and perfectly located at the top of Via Luccoli right where it meets Via Garibaldi. ... Prefer an apartment for a longer stay? Contact Roberta Bruzzone. She and her husband, Andrea, rent three lovely, modern and perfectly equipped apartments in a luxury building on the Via Luccoli.

WHAT TO DO I'm a sucker for towns where you can walk endlessly and explore odd little nooks and crannies and unique shops. If you need more, there's the city's Renzo Piano-designed aquarium and the maritime museum. Genoa's glorious main square, Piazza De Ferrari (above), is a genuinely uplifting bit of urbanity. Sufficiently heartened, you can then shop or wander along all the streets leading out of the square. ... A bracing hour's walk along the seaside Corso Italia from the heart of Genoa is Boccadasse, a charming fishing village. There are lovely views and a fusillade of fun shops, bars and restaurants. Even in the off-season, the stony beach attracts both locals and curious tourists. ... For other ideas, consult the city's surprisingly decent tourist site.

WHAT TO EAT I first went to Genoa so I could say that I once ate genuine pesto. I did, but mostly I gorged on focaccia, the puffy Ligurian bread of life. It's everywhere. I adore Titti & Fede's product. The onion-topped version is great and the Pizza Margherita may be my second-favorite pizza in Italy. ... I often forget farinata, Genoa's famed chickpea pancakes. ... Italy is currently obsessed with traditional, thin-sliced roast beef. At Roast 'n Roll, you will find perfectly cooked, carefully sliced beef nestled in quality rolls and topped with a variety of cheeses and a choice of intriguing condiments and sauces. It lately added sandwiches with pork sourced from Macelli44, a butcher that works with local suppliers.

WHERE TO DINE No one agrees on the best pesto in Genoa, but try Osteria Rustichello, a charming place near Brignole Station. ... My favorite meal in Genoa--a Sichuan pepper-infused version of cacio e pepe--comes from Bella Bu Bistrot. Everything on its menu is similarly inventively tweaked. ... Seafood and the surroundings are stylish at Icuochi. Yet you may leave admiring the food and the dining room more than loving them. ... The fare at Ombre Rosse is as creative--and it has a better wine list. If you are lucky, you sit in a nice little garden. ... La Buca di San Matteo is a warm, bi-level dining room with terrific pasta and fish, fine cheese and salumi courses and creative desserts. If you want to watch the Zena be themselves, come here for lunch or dinner. This is what Genoa "feels" like: urbane and utterly oblivious to what the rest of the world thinks.

READ AND LEARN After decades of editorial neglect, publications finally are writing about Genoa. To plug a book about the city's maritime tradition, historian Nicholas Walton talked to The Guardian about his favorite bits of Genoa. ... The writer Michael Frank penned a long love note to Genoa in The New York Times. ... A few years back, Conde Nast Traveler offered a solid eating guide while TimeOut published a useful touring guide.

LOCAL COLOR Genovese love their food halls and the biggest and most phantasmagorical is the Mercato Orientale. The name is a misnomer. There's nothing Oriental about it, just endless stalls of fresh fish, meats, vegetables, pastries, breads, spices, groceries and wine. A massive redevelopment added a spread of sit-down restaurants, coffee bars and gelato joints, too. ... Genoa is famed for leaving bits of its storied past right where they fall. Not so the 55-year-old Morandi Bridge, which collapsed in 2018 and killed 43 people. Mortified Zena reacted with fury and a new structure across the Polcevera River was built in record time. It opened in 2020; the remains of the Morandi were demolished in 2019.

A note to readers: This is a completely updated and re-reported version of a Brancatelli File I first posted in June, 2017.