Yeah, Genoa. Because no one sighs and says, oh Genoa! when you tell them you’re going there. And for good reason. It’s an industrial port city, not the kind of aspirational Italian destination travelers dream of. In a country as touristed as Italy, you can be sure the entire place has been searched high and low for the undiscovered or underrated treasure. Genoa is well known, but is still mostly snubbed by travelers. And yet it was fascinating and a bit of a thrill to be there.
We came as many do, on a train layover. We wanted to break up a long ride, and since we changed trains in Genoa anyway, it was a no brainer. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and found our hotel by the station, where we got our first surprise. Our mid-range hotel had a sign on the door saying we would be checked in by the hotel next door. But in fact we would be be staying at said hotel, the Grand Hotel Savoia, a 5 star joint. So far so good! It was lux without being obsequiously so and we enjoyed every bit of it.
We relaxed a bit and then set out to see what there is to see. We dove straight into the medieval streets. I deliberately didn’t research Genoa before going there, for maximum surprise factor, but I did know that it has the largest and most densely populated medieval center in Europe. Large and dense it was. I’ve never been struck so forcefully by what life must have been like in the middle ages. Just a stone’s throw from the port, we were in a warren of dark, narrow streets. Before electricity this must have been very scary place to be at night. Not to mention that before modern plumbing it must have been intensely foul. As it was, the first word that popped into my mind that cloudy, late Sunday afternoon was insalubrious. Followed by dirty, dank, dodgy and downright dangerous. Not that it felt threatening to us by day, though there were an inordinate number of young men milling about with no apparent destination in mind. The following bright Monday, with the cellar-like shops open, it was entirely different. But I now know why cities would have wanted to raze their medieval quarters.
The dour center is not the only thing Genoa has to offer. It is replete with piazzas and more well-aired streets, and so, so many churches and palazzos. It was a major power center of the middle ages, rivaling Venice and Florence, which means there are plenty of surprises to walk around and discover. See for yourself.
We spent two nights here. Would I come back? Absolutely, and I’d spend more time. There’s much more to see and do. Should you put it on your list? I wouldn’t make it my main destination, but if you find yourself in Genoa’s neck of the woods, you would do well to stop by.
Ciao for now!