Sunday, March 8, 2015

Genoa: Birthplace of Columbus Awaiting Discovery

Planning a trip to Italy this coming spring or summer? Chances are you’re planning to visit Florence, Venice or Rome, right? But why not add one more destination, one that’s not on most travelers’ itineraries?

Birthplace of Columbus, ancient seapower and still-functioning seaport, Genoa, Italy attracts few tourists—a shame for it, but a great opportunity for the curious traveler seeking that rarity: an Italian city without tante turiste.

To wit: these days it’s tougher than ever to escape crowds. Paris hosted 32.3 million tourists last year, Machu Picchu 3.1 million, and the Grand Canyon 4.5 million. Every year, more travelers crowd the world’s most popular sites and cities—which makes the less popular ones all the more appealing.

My parents taught me to get off the beaten track and stray from where tourists clustered, so from my first stop in 1989 at the atmosphere-rich, old Genoa train station sandwiched between bluffs and crumbling, terra cotta colored walls, I knew I had to visit.

And that visit finally occurred this past October.

And what did I find? An active seaport that boasts a row of grand palazzi, a harbor lined with cafés and restaurants, and one of the largest medieval quarters in Europe.

And the icing on the cake: the seaside city receives barely a trickle of tourists.

So why isn’t Genoa thronged with tourists? Well, the Mediterranean seaport is a little rough around the edges, more Naples than Florence. But if you prefer a city with streets lined with shops and businesses that serve residents instead of tourists, you’ll find plenty that pleases.

Winding, dark streets in the medieval quarter don’t have an abundance of polished cafés and restaurants, but serve as home to middle and working class Genovese. Toward the west, the quarter is occupied by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Throughout the neighborhood you’ll find small shops, stand up coffee bars, churches, small groceries, and few t-shirt shops. Churches are dusty, grand, and quiet.

Once one of the toniest streets in the world, Strada Nuova still boasts palazzi, but today they’re open to the public (complete with rooftop views of the harbor and medieval quarter).

For the kids there is a harbor side aquarium and sea cruises that feature dolphin sightings and views of seaside towns. For the parents, there’s great shopping (including, um, leather goods) and Old World cafés just outside the medieval quarter.

Best of all, Genoa is relatively undiscovered by the American tourist, so you can play a little like Columbus in reverse and discover his hometown.


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