Genoa; the hidden gem in Northern Italy

Talk to people about Northern Italy and they will wow you with talk of Milan, Turin, Venice and Lakes  but very few will mention Genoa. In fairness we too had dismissed it as another large port town and were planning to leave after a night’s sleep when fate stepped in.  

We had high expectations of Italy and for the most part it fell short. Don’t get me wrong, we met some lovely people and made some amazing memories but by enlarge it was a struggle.  Unlike Spain and Portugal, where driving, parking and motor home services weren’t a concern, Italy was been an exercise in careful planning, researching and then getting to places and finding services weren’t available or accessible. The driving is shocking and the other major for us was the amount of rubbish. We’d stop somewhere stunningly beautiful and it would be overshadowed by the bottles, nappies and household waste scattered everywhere.

Genoa is different. Even as we drove off the boat it was noticeable. There isn’t that chippy edge that you find in so many Italian cities, the roads are wider and the drivers more considerate and it’s clean! Genoa is the first place I’ve seen a native dog owner pick up dog poo since we left Spain and I think it has Italy’s entire allowance of rubbish bins (they are everywhere).

The birthplace of Christopher Colombus, Genoa gained wealth and power by virtue of the port which has exported honey, leather and wood since the Roman Empire. Having been heavily damaged during WWII, it was rebuilt post-war and this has enabled it to reinvent itself as a major European port for both passenger and freight ferries as well as a modern cruise liners stop.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Belle Vue Hotel, next to Piazza Principe station.

It cannot be described as glamorous and the facilities are basic but what it lacks in decor, it more than makes up for in service and location. The staff are friendly and helpful without being overbearing and our room is huge. When my bag was taken by the taxi driver, they were helpful in trying to get it back, going to the lost property at the station and the taxi rank for me. I never got it back but you live and learn.

Piazza Principe is the major hub for train travel across Europe and connections to both the airport and ferry terminal so it’s ideal for families who only have to negotiate the steps or the ramp up to the hotel (it’s less than 50m). It’s also close to a myriad of cheap food options.

Getting to and from Genoa

Genoa is well connected. We arrived by boat from Sicily and there are regular passenger ferry connections to Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Tunisia, Morocco, Algiers, Malta and Spain in addition to the cruise liners which dock.

We flew back to the UK, and it appears that there are several budget options. We found flights for as little as £35.00 one way with British Airways (hand luggage only but we get 23kg each!) A word to the wise, we were delayed for 4 hours and shipped to Pisa on our way home because the plane was unable to land. A fate which only seemed to affect BA flights as everyone else was able to land and take off. Whilst, we’ve only done it once, I’ve heard this is a regular occurrence so it might be worth flying Ryan Air after all.

Attractions

Genoa’s pride and joy is the family orientated water front. It has the same feel as the Darling Harbour in Sydney.  There are various museums, family attractions and eateries situated here and as we found out it seems like every family in Genoa was there at the weekend.

Aquario Di Genova

It’s billed as the biggest and best aquarium in Europe. We’ve visited most of them and confirm that it lived up to the billing. It was huge! We were there for over 3 hours and it seemed like 5 minutes. Issy’s favourite area was the touch pools where she stroked rays, skates and other fish.

My advice, if you can avoid the weekends as it was very busy.

The Biosphere

A mini-Eden project on the water, it houses a number of Ibis and rainforest plants.

The Bigo Elevator

A rotating viewing platform at the waterfront allowing you to see the whole of Genoa set out before your eyes. It is here that you get a full appreciation as to just how big and beautiful Genoa is. The pastel coloured buildings set out in layers before you.

The Old Town

The Old Town is full of narrow lanes and quirky alleyways which we loved just heading down in search of great food and coffee. They come alive in the evenings as people gather after work.

Basillica della Santissima Annunziata Del Vastato

We found this stunning church by accident. From the outside it looks like nothing special, in fact we’d walked past it about 5 times before we happened to be going past and the door was open. My curiosity took over and in we went. Wow, it was incredible!

Piazza di Ferrari

We were exploring the lanes whilst looking for somewhere for lunch and suddenly having seen a pretty building found ourselves standing in the Piazza.

Funicular Railway

Genoa is built on a series of hills and the upper residential areas can be accessed by a series of funicular railways. We headed up to Granarolo where we go spectacular views of the city looking down. 

There is something strangely endearing about Genoa. I can’t really explain it. In so many ways, it’s no surprise we love it, it has everything we look for; history, culture, a stunning marina and mountains close by, and yet there is something else, unexplained. It will always be a city which has a place in our hearts.

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