"Even cities think they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other are sufficient to keep their walls upright". We could use this description of Italo Calvino, a famous Ligurian writer, to describe Genoa. All of the traits of the thin and bony Liguria are in Genoa, which the writer celebrates in one of his invisible towns. "A town that exists and that has a simple secret. It knows only departures and no returns. A white town exposed to the moon where the streets wind like balls of wool. Where men of different nations had the same dream and decided to build the town they had seen in their dream". Genoa, a city of churches, like the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, whose location caused the church-square to remain the only public space during the entire Middle Ages, in a city lacking squares and a seat for laic power. A beautiful city of Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval palazzi, such as Palazzo San Giorgio, which - built in 1260 - in 1451 became the seat of the Banco di S. Giorgio, at the time considered one of the most efficient and organized banks in Europe and strong-room of the Republic of Genoa until the 17th century. It is said that Marco Polo, when a prisoner there, dictated Il Milione to Rustichello da Pisa, his prison companion after the victory of the Genoese at Meloria.
A plunge into the glorious past of the Marine Republic is offered to the traveller who, between May and June, stops in the Ligurian district. Nevertheless this is completely possible only once every four years, when the regatta of the ancient Marine Republics is held. These distinguish themselves by different colours and figureheads. Blue and the winged horse for Amalfi; white and the griffin for Genoa; purple and the eagle for Pisa; green and the lion for Venice. With the idea of restoring the link between Genoa and the sea, the architect Renzo Piano has redesigned the whole area in the most ancient part of the harbour, located in front of Palazzo San Giorgio and Piazza Caricamento. Today this area offers walks along the seafront, great areas for feasts and concerts, Il Bigo, the panoramic lift, the 18th century houses of Porto Franco, a modern congress centre and the Aquarium, that since 1998 has opened La Nave Blu (the blue ship) (connected to the already existing structure through a large bridge), thus becoming the largest Aquarium in Europe.
In Pra, in the province of Genoa, the visitor receives the first of many culinary surprises: the tasting of pesto, made with basil that in Pra is picked the whole year round, garlic, pine-seeds, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Sardinian Pecorino cheese and extra virgin olive oil from the Ligurian Riviera, produced with olives of Taggiasca quality, first planted by the Benedictine monks in the 13th century.
Proceeding along the beautiful Ligurian coast, one first reaches Savona, the production centre of beautiful ceramics, then Alassio with its sweet surprises such as the fagoccio (sweet bread enriched with candied and dried fruit, aromatised with aniseed, orange blossom essence and Marsala) and kisses from Alassio, sweets made with hazelnuts. It is also advisable to stop at Imperia, a land rich in culinary treasures. Here one can taste another typical dish of Ligurian cooking: pansoti in salsa di noci (a mixture of eggs, flour and white wine, stuffing of beetroots, borage, spinach, eggs and curds, seasoned with minced nuts, marjoram, soft crumbs of bread, Parmigiano cheese, salt and oil) with Rossese di Dolceacqua Doc wine, best with meat and game, and with Riviera Ligure di Ponente Doc wine produced in the following varieties: Pigato, Rossese, Vermentino and Ormeasco.
In Dolceacqua, on the 20th of January is held another special event, linked to the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. A laurel plant, after being taken in procession, is planted in the earth in front of the church from which the procession has left. The believers take off one at a time the twigs of the laurel that should represent the tree to which Saint Sebastian was bound and martyrised.
One must not miss the neighbouring Sant'Agata D'Oneglia, where an excellent olive pâté is produced. After turning inland from the coast, one finally reaches Triora, a land of witches hunted by the Inquisition of the 16th century, and mountain summer pastures where goats and cows graze and which produces goat tumette and brusso, a very good white goat ricotta left in sealed wooden moulds for fermentation, stirred often and preserved under a veil of extra virgin olive oil, rigorously Pdo. A truly diabolical recipe.