Genoa for a long weekend - don't mind if I do!

When thinking of a long weekend away in Italy the city of Genoa doesn't immediately spring to mind, which is one of the many good things about a visit to this historical city : fewer tourists than Florence, Venice or Rome, and a shorter flight time to get there too. I went there almost by chance, having been invited to a special birthday party, and just marvelled in delighted surprise at the magnificent buildings : old palaces dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, whose walls are hung with  paintings by Tintoretto and Van Dyke; and cathedrals oozing with gold and beautiful marble statues.

Originally founded by the Phoenicians, this port in the northernmost gulf of the Western Mediterranean is described as a "vertical" city, stretching way up from the bustling port to the surrounding verdant hills. Entrance doors to houses are often on the balcony, and cars are sometimes parked on the roof.  To get a magnificent view of the city and the harbour you can either take a gentle hike up through the narrow streets or take a local bus (not forgetting to buy your ticket from a "tabac" kiosk beforehand - either a 100 minute ticket or for a couple of euros more, one that gives you the option to take as many bus rides as you like over two days), or-  even more fun - take one of several old  funiculars. I took a funicular from Staz Zecca ( right in the centre of the old city)  right to the last stop, turned left and found the most wonderful restaurant serving excellent food and offering a magnificent view of the city and harbour.

The old city centre is easy to navigate and small enough to wander around on foot. You might get a little lost at first in the many little alleys full of spice shops and fresh fish or meat kiosks, but "down" always leads to the sea, and no matter which corner you turn there is another fabulous  building to be investigated. Of course these palaces were mostly built at vast expense with the enormous amount of money made in the days when Genoa was a huge commercial trading centre. Never a great political power, Genoa however played a vital role in the European financial affairs in the 16th and 17th centuries. The influential Banco di San Giorgio that helped finance the doge's palace actually dates from 1407.

Apart from palaces and cathedrals, in a totally pedestrian area in the port there is a splendid Aquarium, where you can find sharks, penguins, dolphins, rays, alligators and hummingbirds. In contrast, a short bus-ride away there is the cemetery, with row upon row of funerary monuments, plus hundreds of well tended gravestones covered with fresh flowers - the many flower stalls by the entrance to this huge cemetery do a great trade. Among the tombs, there is that of Mazzini, one of the main heroes of the Risorgimento and a founding father of United Italy.

No holiday in Italy is complete without a certain amount of indulgence in  food and drink, and there is no shortage of cafes and restaurants where you can find whatever you want at whatever price. Pesto is one of the most traditional "tastes" of the area, and basil is considered to be the "King" of Ligurian cuisine, and both meat and seafood is plentiful. For breakfast "focaccia" (a tasty oven baked bread similar in style to pizza dough) is favourite along with a cappuccino, then topped with onions, olives and filled like a sandwich it makes an ideal afternoon snack. In my experience local wines were all good, certainly very drinkable, along with - of course - Prosecco, which I was lucky enough to be able to indulge in on the terrace of the beautiful Gran Hotel  Savoia. So, why not give Genoa a go for a long weekend? Like me you will probably decide you absolutely  must return and explore more.

Our guest blog is by Pat Pearson who travelled to Italy with Travel Matters in April 2016.