Monday, October 27, 2008

Focaccia, Fish, Pesto and a Playful Port

Genova is one of my favorite day trips from Pisa, and I highly recommend it to everyone from foodies to families to art and architecture lovers. A two hour (ICplus) train ride from Pisa Centrale snakes up the Tuscan, then Ligurian coast and offers gorgeous glimpses of seaside villages and craggy inlets in between the many dark tunnels. A port city, Genova feels much more exotic than Tuscany with its many spice and confection shops, ethnic groceries and restaurants. As a region, Liguria is blessed with a microclimate that provides year-long temperate weather and flourishing flora like orange, lemon and palm trees, flowering plants like bougainvilla and a special type of basil that makes Genova famous the world over for its pesto.
Called a “vertical city” because of the way buildings rise up from the port and cling to the surrounding hills and to each other like a tower of cards. (Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a genovese entering his house through the roof, instead of the door.) I love simply moving through the varied spaces of Genova: the narrow caruggi (lanes) of the medieval quarter (the biggest in Europe), the sweeping piazzas such as Piazza De’ Ferrari with its exploding fountain (and a fantastic focaccia bakery across the street at Via XXV Aprile 22r), the baroque churches that appear out of nowhere and the generous embrace of the recently renovated (by genovese architect Renzo Piano) port. Art lovers will enjoy the Palazzo Rosso and Bianco museums along the Via Garibaldi as well as the small gem dedicated to the surreal, theatrical work of illustrator and set designer Emanuele Luzzati (link).
Genova is heaven for children, especially those under 10, and offers a handful of big spaces and sure-fire attractions that many Tuscan towns do not. Not only does the port sport the biggest aquarium in Europe, but it’s also home to a new children’s museum, La Città dei Bambini, which has exhibits for children ages 1-12.
If you take the 9:02 train from Pisa and arrive at Piazza Principe at around 11, here’s a game plan that works well with the impending lunch hour: Pick up a map at the train station’s info spot, then stroll for a while, taking Via Balbi to Vias Garibaldi and XXV Aprile (peek at Piazza S. Matteo and around the narrow shop-dotted streets for a while) to Piazza De’ Ferrari, then see the Duomo and Christopher Columbus’s house before stopping for lunch at Sa’ Pesta trattoria on Via dei Giustiniani (2 blocks south of Via San Lorenzo). In this charming, popular trattoria (tiled walls, wooden tables and stools) you can taste Genovese specialties like trofie al pesto, farinate (chick-pea pies cooked in a wood oven), stuffed anchovies and a variety of seafood dishes like moscardini affogati (baby octopus stewed in a tomato sauce) and an exquisite octopus and potato salad (insalata di polpo). After lunch, you’ll have a good 4 hours to explore the port and its bigger attractions like the aquarium, children’s or Luzzati museum, before strolling slowly back through the medieval quarter, perhaps stopping for an aperitivo in Piazza Matteotti before heading, tired but exhilarated, back home.

No comments: