We’ve found another great destination within easy reach of Britain using low-cost airlines. And if you follow our recommendation, you’ll be rewarded with good food and grand buildings in a beautiful and historic northern Italian city.
Genoa has over forty impressive old palaces, built in the 16th and 17th century by the rich merchant families who made their fortunes there. Cesare Torre is the city councillor responsible for tourism in Genoa. He says there are many ornate buildings around the city because it was once a republic. Without a formal royal palace, the city’s noble families took it in turns to host visiting dignitaries and royalty from other parts of Europe. But there was some competition over who could provide the most lavish accommodation.
“These buildings still remain and most can be visited, even though some are in private ownership,” says Cesare. “Some hold important art collections including the Red Palace or Palazzo Rosso. Others are used as museums.”
UNESCO recognised these historic buildings in 2006 and guided palace tours can be booked from any of the city’s four tourist information offices.
Genoa is also known for its old traditional shops – the longest established is a sweet manufacturer, Romanengo, which is now run by the seventh generation of its founding family. They claim it is Europe’s oldest confectioners, having traded since the 18th century. The shop has retained its original furnishings and the sweets are still made using traditional methods. “It offers a unique taste and a unique view,” says Cesare, adding, “The Royal family used to buy their confectionery there.”
There are 32 historic shops within the centre of the city and, again, a guided tour is available. If you have a more savoury tooth, pesto was developed in the Genoa and the locals are proud of it. “It’s known all over the world now,” says Cesare, “but the only genuine pesto sauce is available in Genoa. The most important chefs say the basil grown around the city has a distinctive taste. It is the best.”
Food will form an important part of any holiday in the city. Cesare is convinced that even the bread is better. He told me that Genoa was the birthplace of the olive oil infused focaccia bread. And as you’d expect, there’s lots of good seafood, too. “All the history of our city is connected with the sea and Genoa is most important port in the Mediterranean. It’s also a very important cruise ship destination,” says Cesare.
“The sea is part of our soul,” he adds. That’s why one of the city’s biggest events is the Italian boat show. The massive Salone Nautico is a must for anyone interested in marine activities and it’s held each September.
Genoa’s first tourists came from Britain, attracted to the food and the milder Mediterranean climate. “It’s a good destination to avoid the chill of a British winter because it’s always mild due to our coastal location,” he says, assuring me, “It never falls below zero in winter.”
Whether it’s palaces, pesto or the thought of not having to pack a pullover, Genoa might offer the perfect, affordable getaway for you. One-way flights from London Stansted are available from £17 and take two hours using Ryanair. You can connect cheaply through Stansted from Ryanair’s other airports, like Edinburgh.