One of my favourite walks in any city, anywhere in the world, starts at the Brignole railway Station end of the Genoa’s Via XX Settembre. Walking uphill towards the Piazza de Ferrari, the street seems to come directly from a film by Fellini: High, wide arcades display windows full of fashion and food, all illuminated by the nostalgic glow of neon signs and advertising hoardings. By the time you’ve reached the grand piazza, complete with its spectacular fountain and classical architecture, La Superba has got you captured.
But you’ll have to walk further to really see what makes her tick…
Keep going and behind the Palazzo Ducale, wander a little way downhill then take a left or a right. From here on a good map might be useful, but a healthy sense of adventure is better, because this maze of tiny streets and alleyways is Europe’s most complete medieval old town, known simply as the Caruggi – Genoese dialect for “little streets”. This is where visitors can find whatever it is they might be looking for.
And I really mean anything…
When I’m in the Caruggi it’s mostly just to explore and soak up the atmosphere of the place, and take a look in the tiny, specialized stores (there’s an umbrella maker, a stamp dealer and a model ship builder in there). But Liguria is a place where I always feel hungry, so it’s not long before I’m following my nose to a delicious aroma. The Caruggi are the best place for farinata, Genoa’s answer to pizza and just as delicious.
At the restaurant Sa Pesta you can see the thin chickpea flour batter being poured into wide copper pans, to be baked in a wood oven. Another place I always have to stop is at the friggitoria, the fish fryers who have their stalls under the archways of the Sottoripa, at the very bottom end of the Caruggi, opposite the aquarium. Arrive late morning to avoid the lunchtime rush. The fish is made fresh and is sold by weight, so try “un etto di pignolini”, a fantastic snack of deep fried whitebait, served in paper with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Sometimes the aromas in the Caruggi can be a little suprising as well… I remember once catching a whiff of something which smelled like a ton of old socks being boiled. When I realized this odour was coming from a tiny side street, I had to take a look, and that’s where I found the tripe shop! In a simple kitchen, an old man was cooking and cleaning up two huge cauldrons of raw tripe. I peeked in, and he laughed when he saw me wrinkling my nose at the pungent aroma. He beckoned me into the kitchen, and explained to me that the harbour workers in the old port had eaten tripe as a staple for centuries.
“It’s what made them so strong”, he said, then asked me to wait a moment, before coming back with a saucer of “Trippa Genovese” for me to try. An utterly traditional Genoese dish, cooked with onions, garlic, white wine and potatoes, it smelled wonderful and tasted even better. What a great Genoa moment that was… In the Caruggi it always pays to follow your nose!