We continue with our appointment dedicated to the discovery of our beautiful country.
This month I am proud to give you some insider tips to get to know better my native region: Liguria. Everybody knows Cinque Terre and Portofino but I assure you there’s much more to see and do.
Beyond the touristic routes, Liguria will reveal its most genuine and authentic side.
Classic with a difference…
LIGURIA BETWEEN MOUNTS AND SEA
Liguria is in north-western Italy, bordering with France. The region features impressive mountains and lovely rolling hills, colored by the green Mediterranean turf and overlooking the Ligurian Sea. The two are divided by a high, indented coastline.
Liguria is a multi-faceted territory, where differences weave together to create a wide array of things to do and see during a visit here.
One after another, generous beaches, fishermen villages with minuscule yet gorgeous ports, natural parks, marine oasis and amazing sceneries greet visitors, and turn into vivacious centres by night, with plenty of entertainment during spring and summer.
Liguria possesses a number of charming attractions, some of them classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO for their uniqueness and their historical and natural value: Genoa, and the Natural Park of Cinque Terre are among them.
Places full of history, culture and traditions, which witness the passage of ancient peoples coming from the sea.
GENOA & EASTERN RIVIERA
Genoa, “The Superb”, combines the ancient with the modern, the past with the present, colours with shadows. This city belongs to the sea and the sea belongs to it; its culture, places, food and buildings tell the story of the old Maritime Republic.
Here you can breathe the authentic Genoese spirit among the narrow alleys called “carruggi”. Among small squares, churches, noble palaces you will find old barber shops, groceries, chocolate factories, artisan laboratories and art shops.
If you visit Genoa, you absolutely must stop at the Aquarium. Designed by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, it is one of the most complete and technologically-advanced marine life centres in Europe.
For art lovers the Palazzi dei Rolli are a must see. An extraordinary architectural work of the 16th Century built to host politicians and aristocrats. The aristocratic dwellings that would host State visits were chosen by draw from the rolli, or public registers. These noble palaces host precious paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Bernardo Strozzi and many other important painters.
Just a few kilometres from the city there the Paradise Gulf (Golfo Paradiso) you will find the Portofino Natural Park, still a preserved gem where you can enjoy pleasant trekking with amazing panoramas on the Gulf, have a lunch with genuine local products in family run country house and reach the intimate San Fruttuoso Abbey and its crystalline waters. Don’t miss Camogli and its colourful houses, once house to fishermen and their families.
Finally treat yourself with a slice of Cheese Focaccia in Recco and a glass of wine at the nice bar hosted in the Portofino’s Lighthouse.
CINQUE TERRE HIKE, WINE & SEA DISCOVERY
Composed of five villages overlooking the Ligurian sea, this narrow and beautiful strip of land called “Cinque terre” is included in the homonymous National Park that links 18 kilometers of coast to a protected marine area between Punta Mesco and Punta di Montenero.
Monterosso al Mare, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore and Vernazza reach out towards the blue of the water and seem to be suspended in the sky: protected by a mountain chain parallel to the coast line about 800 meters high, these five dream corners survey bays and beaches, while the vineyards and olive trees grown in terraces define their landscape. Behind them is the Val di Vara.
Cinque Terre National Park is a maze of mule tracks and paths among vineyards with incredible views on the Ligurian sea. Main paths allow you to move from one village to another one, on the ridge line or halfway, including breathtaking views such as in “Via dell’Amore” ( Love Road ) or places of ancient spirituality in the “Via dei Santuari” ( Road of Sanctuaries) .
The small churches are incredible works of art: admire the marble rose window of the Gothic-Genoese style Church of San Pietro in Corniglia, take a view from 12th century Church of Volastra, and finally don’t miss the canvasses signed by great artists such as Van Dick and Cambiaso at St Francis’ Church in Monterosso al Mare . The most characteristic village is perhaps that of Vernazza, which is also dominated by the remains of the fortifications of the eleventh century, a defence against pirates. Walk though narrow “carugi” and up the steep steps (“arpai”), between towers-houses and stone buildings before reaching the 13th century church of Santa Margherita di Antiochia.
WINE & FOOD
When we speak about Ligurian food, we immediately think of the famous pesto, a tasty sauce made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, pecorino and extra-virgin olive oil.
Liguria is also a region of vineyards and olive groves that produce excellent extra-virgin olive oils and quality wines such as Vermentino, Albarola and Pigato (white) and Ormeasco or Pollera Nera (red). A little treasure – also for the high price – is the dessert passito wine Sciacchetrà, which is produced only in the Cinque Terre area from natural dried grapes. The flavor – sweet and sapid– reveals the unique position of the terraced vineyards climbing on the sea.
Seafood and fish dishes are obviously renowned: fish soups like ciuppin and buridda with stockfish, as well as stuffed and fried sardines or the muscoli, mussels filled with garlic, parsley and lemon.
Among the meat dishes we can find the cima genovese , cold veal stuffed with greens and cheese, or stewed hare with famous taggiasche olives, pine nuts and rosemary.
But the biggest role in the Ligurian cuisine is plaid by herbs and vegetables. Besides the famous Trofie al Pesto, we have the Pansotti – ravioli filled with a mix of more than 10 spontaneous herbs and served with walnuts sauce, and the Borage ravioli with tomato sauce flavoured with thyme.
An ideal snack is the fugassa, a soft and thick focaccia covered with olive oil, or the thin farinata, a baked savoury pancake made with chickpea flour.
The most famous stuffed pies are Torta Pasqualina (Easter pie), thin pastry stuffed with greens, cheese and eggs, and Torta di riso ( salted rice cake ) – puff pastry of flour, water and wine and filled with cooked rice, eggs, oil and grana cheese.
Finally, we cannot forget the traditional desserts of this region: pandolce genovese, amaretti and cubeli (tiny butter biscuits)
EXPERIENCES IN LIGURIA:
- TREKKING: Immerse yourself on ancient paths at Portofino & Cinque Terre Natural parks or along the Fortresses way around Genoa
- MEET & COOK: visit the local markets, taste seasonal products and cook with local chefs the wine makers of Cinque Terre. You can choose among Pesto, Focaccia al formaggio or fish dishes
- TASTE: Treat yourself with street food tours or wine tasting guided by professional wine and gastronomy experts in stunning locations.
- ARTISANS: Meet the locals and visit the old shops and artisan laboratories in Genoa historical centre. You will take part to demonstrations and workshops such as Gold Leaf Gilding, Lacquering, Painting…
- SEA EXPERIENCES: Sail along the coast, be fisherman for a day in Monterosso, try the Mussel-farming in La Spezia Gulf
- ACTIVE EXPERIENCES: Immerse in nature and feel alive by Rafting and Canyoning in Val di Vara, Rock Climbing in Portovenere, Mountain biking in La Spezia Gulf, Snorkeling and Kayaking in Portofino bay.
How to get there: Fly to Genoa, Pisa or Milan airport
Best period to travel: All year long. The weather is mild even in winter time.
Means of transport: There’s a good network of regional trains and you can easily reach the coastal villages from Western to Eastern Riviera. The outback is served by trains or local buses, but it could be a little harder to find good connections in evening time.