Finding Hidden Gems in the Rough of Genoa
From its gritty neighbourhoods to its historic streets Genoa beguiled me. I had no expectations and had merely added Genoa to my itinerary to break up the train ride from Lyon, France to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre. First impressions of Genoa were from my ride from the train station to my hotel and I was struck by its stark contrasts of a city rough around the edges yet in a beautiful setting on Italy’s north-west coast. Little did I know I’d stumble upon Genoa’s hidden gems.
The neighbourhood my hotel was located in reminded me of the soiled area of Rome’s Termini railway station at first glance. But after a wander I realized it was merely void of other tourists, home to locals. Teens hung out on the steps of the strip of food and clothing joints, elderly professor-like men browsed the second-hand book stalls in a nearby square and couples cuddled at pocket-sized cafes down the pedestrian only thoroughfare.
After a morning spent exploring the Genoa Aquarium I decided to make my way through the old town. At first I felt trapped in a maze of narrow passageways. Winding my way through I passed littered trenches and ladies of the night getting an early start. From darkened alleyways I stumbled upon a grand street lined with striking palaces, stopping me in my tracks with its contrast. I’d found Via Garibaldi, a 16th century thoroughfare with stunning palaces lining each side and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Turns out I had great timing as Rolli Days were on. Rolli Days take place every year where they open up parts of the palaces to the public to explore. Some palaces had volunteers to guide you through, telling tales of their residents, the artists who helped create them and showing off their grandiose ceilings, staircases and works of art. I was captivated by this expanse of wow in an otherwise dull and rough around the edges city. Little did I know it wouldn’t be the last surprise.
The next day I found myself with no plans, no agenda, nor idea of where to go. Strangely enough little did I know starting out that it would be an awesome day full of Genoa’s hidden gems. Just outside my hotel’s neighbourhood I not only found an oasis of green in this urban jungle but also a waterfall. Turns out I had found my way to the Villetta Di Negro. It’s this beautiful park with winding paths up and around this awesome waterfall and through artificial caves. The higher you rise the better the views of Genoa you are awarded. Because of the winding paths the views are a complete 360 degree over the city. As I stood atop one path looking out over the harbour, with couples cuddling the stone benches behind me, it was as though the city’s buzz of life, cars and hustle slowed right down to a melodic hum and the wind swept the clouds away and let the sun shine down with a smile.
Speaking of views, another great spot is from Castelletto. The Castelletto is a hilly residential quarter of Genoa that originally sat just outside the historic city walls. You can reach it by funicular or walking up a steep hill. Once atop there’s a stretch of boulevard that offers fantastic panoramas out over the harbour and city. There’s a great little gelateria nearby to grab a refreshing cone and sit and enjoy the view.
If there is one thing Genoa taught me is not to judge a city on first impressions. Every city has stories to tell, beautiful vistas and hidden gems. You just need to be open to finding them.