3 Nights in the Heart of Genoa

I like port cities for the same reasons some people hate them. Immigrants from far-off places bring life to the streets and create a market for exotic foods that eventually merge with the local cuisine. I feel a warm embrace in the dim light of Genoa’s caruggi and am drawn to the pangs of adventure when, on a stroll I turn and realize I’ve found a Creuza, a narrow path to the sea.

All this darkness in the busy alleyways and the creatures attempting to thrive in them is balanced by the opulence of the Rolli Palaces, Palazzi dei Rolli, a short walk away.

If I’ve piqued your interest in this fine destination, I will tell you how you can reserve a modest apartment in a palace and where to shop, dine well on the traditional cuisine, and buy Genovese specialty foods to eat inside if you so desire.

Let’s set as our datum point the Rolli de Mar, an apartment in a fine location across from the Palazzo Spinola National Gallery. The apartment has a green marker on the map below; the attractions and restaurants are marked in blue. The Wi-Fi was fine, the building had an elevator, and it was very quiet. The owner was accessible any time we had a question.

Map: The Heart of Genoa

Palazzo Spinola National Gallery

Since it’s a 40-second walk or so, a visit should be on your itinerary. The palace introduces you to the life of the well-to-do in the 17th century, and is also an art gallery for the art of the period. The 16th century Palazzo Spinola is one of the 163 Palazzi dei Rolli of Genoa.

A room in the Palazzo Spinola National Gallery

Good Eats Near the Palazzo Spinola and the Rolli de Mar

Locanda Spinola offers some traditional Genovese fare and some very interesting riffs on the cooking of local fish. While the menu might appear to deviate from tradition, we found, upon arriving at the official dinner time listed upon the door, that we were free to sit and have a glass of wine, but service didn’t start until the focaccia was out of the oven. Very good food close to the apartment we recommend.

Traditional Food and Attitude at the Ostaia De Banchi

We were in search of a good place to eat one lunchtime, and we came upon the Ostaia de Banchi’s menu posted on the wall outside the door of the restaurant. The menu was just what we wanted and more.

We were met by the waiter as we entered, blocking us from going forward. “You have seen our food, no?” he said, “do you like this kind of food?”

Upon our enthusiastic affirmation of the facts presented, we were allowed to sit at a table. I’ve never been tested for my suitability to dig into a steaming bowl of zuppa di pesche before.

Zuppa di Pesce

A unique thing about the Ostaia de Banchi’s menu is that it offers a Genovese specialty cocktail (in Italy, it is customary to have a cocktail in a bar rather than in a restaurant). I couldn’t resist an Asinello, served with a small bowl of olives. For more about the cocktail and food, read our review of Ostaia di Banchi.

More Traditional Genovese Food at the Osteria La Lanterna

In a dark alley close to the entrance to a church we very much recommend visiting, San Siri, is the Osteria La Lanterna. It’s so traditional the tables are covered with red checked tablecloths.

We had to ring to get in, which made the experience very much like entering a speakeasy.

In any case, I had the black paccheri with a ragu of mussels perfumed with basil and Martha opted for the “Tortelli di polpo in crema di zafferano e julienne di zucchine” They were good, as were the secondi piatti, the second plates of seafood.

The entrance to the Osteria La Lanterna adjacent to the entrance of the Basilica di San Siro.

Amazing Take Out at the Rotisserie La Maddalena

If you’d rather eat Genoa’s specialties at home, the Rotisserie La Maddalena is a fine place to go. At first you’ll take a number and then squeeze your way across the narrow store and find a bewildering array of prepared foods and breads you’ll want to try. Maybe someone next to you will get a sample of a particular cheese and get that look people have when they’ve come upon the holy grail of foodstuffs. Patient people wait on you when your number comes up. Point if you don’t know Italian. Making a mistake can’t happen here unless you’re a finicky eater.

Follow Your Nose! Focaccia & Dintorni

The iconic snack food of Genoa is a piece of Focaccia or the like, and if you want your senses to be jerked to attention, just walk in the vicinity of Focaccia e Dintorni and its specialties from the oven. Here’s the display window:

Focaccia and the like at Focaccia & Dintorni

Basilica di San Siro

San Siro is old. Quite possibly one of the oldest in Genoa. It started in the 4th century as a church dedicated to the Apostles. It went through a Romanesque phase, then became Baroque in the 16th and 17th centuries. We visited twice. It’s chock-full of things to see. Go there after you’ve lunched at Osteria La Lanterna above.

Duomo di Genova, Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

The other church you should visit is a short walk away. Genoa’s main church or duomo is fascinating enough that I’ve gone every time I’ve been in the city. The interplay between the interior and the light is amazing.

The Organ of the Cathedral of Genoa

Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli

After visiting the recommended churches, you might want to see the big, elegant buildings that housed the rich Genovese and visiting dignitaries to the city called the Palazzi dei Rolli. Best to go during Rolli Days, when everything is open. Below, you can see a couple of these palaces in the foreground. Where can you get this view? Take the fancy little elevator up to Belvedere Castelletto. It’s free to ride.

Genoa View from the Belvedere Castelletto

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little slice of Genoa. Don’t think for a moment we’ve covered all the things to do. You’ll find more about Genoa at Martha’s Italy:

Genoa Travel Guide

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