48 Hours in Genoa

Vicolo del Fieno, one of Genoa's caruggi - Image by Yoggysot Alessio Sbarbaro

Vicolo del Fieno, one of Genoa's caruggi - Image by Yoggysot Alessio Sbarbaro

Nicknamed ‘La Superba’ Genoa is the capital of Liguria, lying on the Mediterranean coast of north-west Italy. Genoa’s proximity to Milan and Turin, forming part of the ‘Industrial Triangle’ of northern Italy, means it is a perfect get-away location for those travelling on business in Milan or Turin. With excellent transport links and frequent flights in and out of the city, Genoa is the perfect location for some winter sun or a short break.

 

Day 1- A whistle-stop tour…

For those of us who are subjected to cold, dark and wet winters, Genoa is the ideal destination for a mini break. On arrival a stroll around the old town, the winding streets and medieval alleyways known as caruggi will help to ease you into your surroundings.

Don’t forget to look UP! Yes that’s right, when you get the chance take in the impressive medieval and baroque buildings and piazzas dotted around the city. The light in Italy’s 6th largest city has attracted many artists over the years including Carravagio and Van Dyck.

The famous avenue Via Garibaldi is a UNESCO World Heritage site - why not do as the locals do and take your passeggiata making your way down into the Palazzo Bianco Gallery on Via Garibaldi. This collection of the crème de la crème of 16th, 17th and 18th century art will whet the appetite of the art lovers amongst you.

The lovely Via Garibaldi - image by Andrzej Otrębski

The lovely Via Garibaldi - image by Andrzej Otrębski

If you’d rather skip the fine art, preferring something more adventurous, we recommend you try the Galata Museo del Mare where you can learn all about Genoa’s maritime history and the life of Genoa’s most famous son - Christopher Columbus.

The Galata Museo del Mare - Image by Jensens

The Galata Museo del Mare - Image by Jensens

No doubt after a few hours sampling Genoa’s galleries, museums and impressive architecture you may be in need of a bite to eat. Walk down towards the port and head to Via Sottoripa - we recommend you take advantage of Genoa’s prime location on the Mediterranean coast and pop into one of the local friggitoria. Nestled under the arches these stalls sell the traditional Genovese speciality of fried seafood caught fresh that morning. Wrapped up in paper and served warm, squeeze some lemon juice on your whitebait and you’re ready to go…this is fast food Genoa-style!

A walk along the waterfront is a must and you will no doubt see world-famous architect Renzo Piano’s ‘Bigo’ landmark sitting proudly on the port. The crane-like structure contains a lift or elevator, and a ride to the top reveals 360 degree views of Genoa and the port. An aperitivo at sunset followed by an evening meal in one of the many restaurants in the lively Piazza delle Erbe would be the perfect end to your first day in the city known as La Superba.

Grande Bigo, designed by Renzo Piano - image by Christine Zenino

Grande Bigo, designed by Renzo Piano - image by Christine Zenino

Day 2- Ready, Set, Go!

For foodie fanatics a trip to Genoa’s famous Mercato Orientale is unmissable. The market is over 100 years old and offers the best in seasonal local produce- it’s a real feast for the senses!

If you’re in need of a break from the gastronomic greats of Genoa then check out the impressive Villetta di Negro gardens. This park is a haven within the heart of the city, dating back to 1785. Tucked away within the former botanical school, this little known oasis contains a waterfall, pretty grottoes, and also houses the Chiossones Museum of Oriental Art. The fresh air and panoramic views of the city might provide a welcome breather from the hustle and bustle of downtown Genoa.

Mercato Orientale - image by Daderot

Mercato Orientale - image by Daderot

Lunchtime might include a trip to one of the focacciaria dotted along the many street corners. Focaccia is said to originate from this city, and we suggest you try some fresh focaccia stuffed with mushrooms, olives and tomatoes served hot. Perhaps you’d like to try the traditional farinata –a type of pancake made from chickpea flour, delicious!

Farinata e Foccacia - image by Girlie and Mr. Pants

Farinata e Foccacia - image by Girlie and Mr. Pants

If you’re feeling contemplative then why not step back in time and visit the Duomo di San Lorenzo which dates back to the 12th century. The distinctive black slate and white marble striped cathedral has an impressive array of frescos and sculptures. The Indiana Jones in you may be aware that below the cathedral there is a museum housing the chalice supposedly used by Christ at the Last Supper.

San Lorenzo Cathedral - image by Alessio Sbarbaro (Yoggysot)

San Lorenzo Cathedral - image by Alessio Sbarbaro (Yoggysot)

On your final night in Genoa taste the city’s most famous sauce - PESTO! If you haven’t managed to eat a pasta dish served with pesto during your trip then take a short walk to Boccadasse, a former fishing village now a neighbourhood which is only a short walk along the port. The restaurants in this district are the best place to sample some pasta al pesto –it is said Frank Sinatra favoured Ristorante Zeffirino

A glimpse of Boccadasse - image by Stefano Mazzone Genova

A glimpse of Boccadasse - image by Stefano Mazzone Genova

If you have a little longer…

If you are fortunate enough to have a few more days in Liguria then Italian Special Occasions can help you make the most of your time away.

  • Cinque Terre- Genoa is blessed with direct trains to the world famous coastal villages, nestled between the hills and the sea. These gems of the Italian Riviera are especially popular through the summer season when they become crowded and expensive. Let us help you avoid the crowds and summer expense with a relaxing spring excursion!
  • Want to know more about Genoa’s local produce, seasonality, and gastronomy? Let us organise a market tour of the Mercato Orientale followed by a cookery class. Get your hands dirty and make some farinata, or focaccia, the more adventurous of you might want to try making some pesto to take home!
  • How about a teambuilding exercise on the high seas? Sailing the ‘Gate of the Mediterranean’ like Christopher Columbus could be an unforgettable experience!
Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

Jewish Rome, between history and authentic cuisine

Rome's district of the old Ghetto, image from romeinformation.it

Rome's district of the old Ghetto, image from romeinformation.it

A bit of history...

The Jewish community in Rome dates as far back as 161 BC, making it one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. It is thought that trade links, coupled with the harmonious way in which many communities coexisted in the city at the time, attracted many Jews to Rome.

Following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at 70AD many Jews fled to the relative safety of Rome. The Jewish community became well established and was able to live freely for a great number of years, until the growing movement towards Protestantism in northern Europe created suspicion within the Catholic Church.

Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913)

Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913)

Pope Paul IV became increasingly antagonistic towards non-Catholics, and in 1555 he decreed that all Jews should be forced to live in a designated area which became known as 'Il Ghetto.' The community soon faced restrictions on the type of jobs they could carry out, as well as travel in and out of the gated zone. The Jewish community faced many hardships, and as the population of the ghetto grew, living conditions deteriorated. The proximity of the ghetto to the river Tiber meant that much of the area was prone to frequent flooding.

With the reunification of Italy in 1870, the ghetto was demolished and Rome's Jewish community regained full citizenship. Sadly we know more horror was to follow with the rise of fascism and the second world war, and although many Italians tried to hide and protect Jewish friends and neighbours, tragically large numbers of Italy's Jewish population faced the concentration camps.

Today Rome's Jewish population thrives once more. It is still possible to see many remnants of the first generation of Jewish Romans, with the oldest synagogue in Europe Ostia Antica located in the suburbs of Rome.

 

Kosher Italiano

The old Jewish ghetto is now a well known spot for food lovers. The myriad of restaurants dotted around the area are a feast for the senses. The smells emanating from the many restaurants offering authentic Roman Jewish cuisine, the feel of the ancient walls and the taste of dishes such as the famous carciofi alla giuda, help to embed the strong ties between Rome and it's Jewish community.

Carciofi alla giuda (Jewish style artichokes); photo by Marco Iannantuoni

Carciofi alla giuda (Jewish style artichokes); photo by Marco Iannantuoni

This dish is a perfect example of the intertwining of both Italian and Jewish cultures and cuisine. Carciofi alla giuda, literally 'Jewish artichokes' was in the past eaten by many of Rome's Jewish community during festivals and holidays. The artichokes are deep fried whole, and once cooked resemble small flowers.

Caponata is a type of ratatouille using aubergines (or egg plants depending on whether you are from the UK or USA!). The dish originates from Sicily and there are many variations of this dish. Many Jews fleeing the inquisition and persecution took this dish with them from Sicily to mainland Italy. Although the dish may not have originated from the Jewish community in Sicily, this dish became a staple for many Jewish Romans and continues to be so. This authentic piece of Italian cooking can be served as an appetizer at room temperature and so is a popular Sabbath dish.

Sicilian Capotana; image by Massimoweb

Sicilian Capotana; image by Massimoweb

 

Let us show you something different...

For those of you who are seasoned travellers, or those who are new to exploring, it's easy to be swept away in the whirlwind of organised tours to the Spanish Steps, Coliseum etc...and there's nothing wrong with visiting these chart toppers of tourism. If you're looking for something more local, authentic, or seasonal, then look no further!

  • Jewish Museum of Rome, this museum contains many ancient artefacts and artworks not to mention a 3D virtual tour of the old Jewish ghetto. Follow a visit to the museum with a guided tour of what remains of the Il Gheto and it's ancient streets.
  • How about learning how to make carciofi alla giuda? Keeping things seasonal find out why now is the best time of year to eat this local dish and take a market tour to see where the artichokes are sourced.
  • Spend an evening with your family, colleagues or friends in one of the incredible restaurants in the old Jewish ghetto - soaking in the history and of the real Rome could have you extending your stay to sample more of these hidden gems!

 

Fancy a foodie adventure in historical Jewish Rome? Contact Italian Special Occasions for your free customized quote!

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

Italian chocolate: a gourmet itinerary

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and chocolate is the usual top-gift contender for this special occasion. Italian chocolate, in particular, is a favorite for many – and for obvious reasons: ancient tradition, artisanal creations and selected ingredients distinguish the genuine flavors of Italy’s cocoa products.

Italian chocolate! Image from ilsole24ore.com

Italian chocolate! Image from ilsole24ore.com

An original gift idea for St. Valentine’s or for any other special occasion – such as a honeymoon, incentives trip or family reunion – is to enjoy a foodie break in the historic regions behind Italy’s finest chocolate production, and to join the most important events that celebrate this delicacy.

Italy’s top choco-cities

TURIN, PIEDMONT

Vintage image of Talmone chocolate shop in Turin. Image from rivistacharta.it

Vintage image of Talmone chocolate shop in Turin. Image from rivistacharta.it

Turin has been one of the most important capitals of chocolate, not only in Italy but also at European level, since the 1600s. Here is where the very first chocolate house was opened in 1678 upon royal permission, and where machines were invented to work and mix the cocoa paste.

When the Napoleonic wars caused a shortage of cocoa, a Piedmontese chocolatier called Michele Prochet extended the little chocolate he had by mixing it with hazelnuts from the Langhe Hills. The result was the creation of Turin’s traditional chocolate called gianduiotto, named after Gianduja, one of the masks of the Commedia dell'Arte and symbol of Turin.

All major chocolate makers – such as Stratta, Talmone and Baratti – were born in Piedmont’s capital during the 19th century. Piedmont is also the birthplace of Nutella (Alba, 1964). According to legend, Pietro Ferrero casually invented the world’s most popular chocolate spread when the hot weather melted some of his gianduia cream.

MODICA, SICILY

The town of Modica is renowned for the local ‘Cioccolata Modicana’, characterized by an ancient and original recipe that gives the chocolate a peculiar grainy texture and aromatic flavor. The original Aztec recipe for Xocoatl (a cocoa-based drink) inspired this specialty during the Spaniards’ domination of southern Italy.

The unique texture of Modica's "aztec" chocolate. Image from quetzalmodica.it

The unique texture of Modica's "aztec" chocolate. Image from quetzalmodica.it

The traditional flavors of Modica’s chocolate are vanilla and cinnamon, as well as pepperoncino or hot chilli pepper, although you can find all sorts of flavors including nutmeg, white pepper and cardamom. The product is created with a particular "cold working" technique that leaves the organoleptic characteristics of cocoa unchanged.

The Bonajuto family owns Sicily’s most famous chocolaterie: the shop has been in the same spot in Modica’s city center since 1880!

ACTIVITIES

Along your gourmet itinerary on the footsteps of Italy’s master chocolatiers, you can enjoy guided visits in historic chocolate factories. You will be able to learn about the heritage, the manufacturing techniques, and the impact at local and environmental level. Chocolate tastings will help you taste ‘the food of the Gods’ in new ways, appreciating all the organoleptic properties of cocoa. One of our favorite activities is to get our hands dirty and join an expert pastry chef in the creation of typical chocolate-based desserts!

Infinite choice! Photo from travel.fanpage.it

Infinite choice! Photo from travel.fanpage.it

Chocolate Festivals!

Every year, Italy hosts a number of events that celebrate chocolate. Let’s have a look at the main ones:

  • Eurochocolate, Perugia (Umbria): This is Italy’s most famous chocolate fair, involving not only national and international brands, but also artists and cultural initiatives. It takes place in October.
  • CioccolaTò, Turin (Piedmont): The exhibition area is a proper factory where you can see chocolate creations come to life. Don’t miss the Gianduiotto Treasure Hunt in the city center! Held in November.
  • Chocobarocco, Modica (Sicily): Chocolate, history and art combined! Chocolate tastings surrounded by the beautiful Baroque architecture. Dates vary; in 2014 it was held in December.
  • Cioccoshow, Bologna (Emilia Romagna): Admire and taste the artisanal chocolate creations in Piazza Maggiore. Takes place in November.
  • Showcolate, Naples (Campania): Enjoy aubergines with chocolate, play tombola with chocolate cards and chips, and admire other examples of Neapolitan gastronomic creativity! Usually held in December.

Will you be giving the gift of chocolate for Valentine’s? Share a comment below!

If you would like to join a chocolate gourmet itinerary around Italy, please contact Italian Special Occasions for a customized quotation

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

North vs South: Italy’s Carnivals off the beaten track

If you are suffering from the February “blues” – i.e. you live somewhere with long winters and you have had enough of hibernating inside from the cold and dreary outdoors – it is time for a colorful and energizing break. And Italy offers just that with its thrilling Carnival events!

The most famous Carnival celebrations take place in Venice in northern Italy (see How to make a Mask, Venetian style), Viareggio in central Italy, and Putignano in the south of the boot (see Europe’s oldest and longest Carnival rocks southern Italy).

However, there are many less known, yet historic Carnivals that spice up off-the-beaten-track areas around Italy. Let’s explore some of them in today’s post: the Carnival of Ivrea (Piedmont) and the ones of Sciacca and Acireale (Sicily).

Carnival of Ivrea: watch out for oranges!

The spirit behind the Carnival of Ivrea is the re-enactment of the city’s liberation from tyranny back in medieval times: a baron who starved the city was driven away thanks to a miller’s daughter (Mugnaia) who rebelled against the jus primae noctis (an alleged “right” of lords to spend a night with newly-wed women), and roused the people to revolt.

Every year, Ivrea locals elect fellow citizens as the main protagonists of the story: the Mugnaia, the General, the Stato Maggiore (officers on horseback), the Assistant Grand Chancellor, the Magnifico Podestà. The Carnival also features a parade with the Flags of the Parishes and with Pipes and Drums.

Battle of the Oranges during Ivrea Carnival, by Valerio Minato

Battle of the Oranges during Ivrea Carnival, by Valerio Minato

What really stands out here at the Carnival of Ivrea is the spectacular Battle of the Oranges, which actually symbolizes the people’s rebellion against tyranny. During the battle, orange throwers on foot without any protection represent the revolutionaries. They throw oranges at the feudal lord’s army, personified by others throwing oranges from horse-drawn carriages, who wear protective masks reminiscent of ancient armor.

If you happen to be in Ivrea in the period preceding the Battle starting from the Thursday before Lent, you will notice townspeople and other visitors wearing the “Phrygian cap” (Berretto Frigio) as they go about their business in the streets. This red stocking-like hat symbolizes their support for revolt and their aspiration to freedom.

A carpet of oranges after the battle! Note: oranges must be imported from Sicily, mainly coming from the leftovers of the winter crop. Image from Zingarate.

A carpet of oranges after the battle! Note: oranges must be imported from Sicily, mainly coming from the leftovers of the winter crop. Image from Zingarate.

The Carnival of Ivrea was institutionalized in 1808, while the Battle of the Oranges - Italy’s largest food fight - started after World War II. In 2014, the battle took place on March 2nd and it attracted up to 50,000 visitors worldwide. In 2015, it will take place on February 15th and 16th. Do not miss it if you are around Turin, after all Ivrea is only a 40-minute drive away.

Even if the weather is not great, the colors of the medieval costumes, the scent of the oranges and the energy of the battle will make the experience extra special! And you can keep warm with the typical fagiolata, the Carnival bean soup distributed around town to remember the poor conditions of the local population back in the days. For a first-hand experience of the Carnival, read “Ivrea: THE Carnival in Piedmont” by Turin Epicurean Capital

A fantasy world in authentic Sicily

Sicily is the stage of different large and small Carnival celebrations. Among the most characteristic and unmissable are the events at Sciacca and Acireale.

The Carnival of Sciacca, near Agrigento, is one of the most ancient in the island; in fact, the origins go back to 1616 when Viceroy Ossuna announced that everyone should dress in masks for Fat Tuesday.

The Carnival in Sciacca, Sicily. Image from Sicilia Informazioni

The Carnival in Sciacca, Sicily. Image from Sicilia Informazioni

What characterizes this celebration, apart from the colors and cheerfulness of the party, is the ingenious “technology” behind the floats created with the participation of architects, artisans and sculptors. The figures represented on the carriages often perform quite “advanced” movements thanks to ingenious techniques and solutions.

The preparations start many months before with the engagement of the locals and the Arts Institute of Sciacca, and culminate with the assembly of the majestic floats on the streets themselves. The Carnival starts on Fat Thursday with the symbolic handing of the city’s keys to the King of the Carnival, Peppe Nappa, which is the local traditional mask. Throughout the event,  Nappa’s carriage distribute wine  and grilled sausages to the public on the street. The celebrations end on Fat Tuesday when Peppe Nappa’s float is burnt in the main square.

Sciacca’s fiercest competitor is the Carnival of Acireale, a Baroque city near Catania. It is often hailed as Sicily’s “most beautiful Carnival”. Since the 1700s, the main protagonist here is the Abbatazzu or Pueta Minutizzu, a folk poet that improvises funny and satirical rhymes.

Whereas in the 19th century the parade featured distinguished, horse-led carriages from which nobles launched confetti and candies at spectators, in the 1930s these were substituted by papier-mâché masks and carriages led by steers that slowly engaged the entire local population. These floats are truly imaginative and at times outrageous and grotesque, making Acireale’s Carnival truly spectacular!

If you cannot make it to the Carnival in February, do not worry: locals love it so much that the act is repeated in August!

Meanwhile, enjoy this video that can give you a tiny idea of the splendor, heritage, spectacle and excitement that explode in the streets of Acireale during this special event.


Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader

Why should you embrace seasonal travel?

At Italian Special Occasions, we are firm supporters of Seasonality, something we believe should be more than a concept - it is an actual movement for a more educated tourism. Why?

Seasonal travel means that you take advantage of the best seasonal time to visit a destination in terms of local events, of traditional food and recipes that vary according to the time of year, of a place that escapes mass tourism and is off the beaten track. With this type of travel, more people are conscious about seasonal festivals and authentic local features that they previously did not know of.

Fall grape harvest, a typical seasonal activity - image from olioevino.org

Fall grape harvest, a typical seasonal activity - image from olioevino.org

Apart from growing your personal cultural and geographic knowledge, seasonality helps the local economy and community by moving resources in the times of the year when tourism is usually low, and helps the environment by limiting the hordes of visitors that tend to travel in the same periods.

Seasonality can improve your traveler experience by exposing you to the authentic side of a local culture, history and food, and by allowing you to interact a lot more with locals.

For example, tourism in the Marche is on the rise – as we have seen, for a good reason. If you choose to visit the region during August, you would certainly find great sunny weather, but – most probably – also sultry days, thousands of tourists (both foreign and Italians who move to their summer homes), standard tourist menus, and possible unfortunate tourist traps… By choosing a different season, you can capture the essence of what the Marche are all about, and feel more connected with what surrounds you.

Have a look at this video by La Tavola Marche farm & cooking school, about a group who visited during spring (notice the short sleeves… sunny, warm but breezy weather!). One of the authentic itineraries they enjoyed was to forage for wild greens under the expert guidance of the chef, who helped them identify dandelion greens, poppy greens, grispigno… which they then used in their hands-on cooking class to create a rustic tart with the fresh picked wild greens, ricotta & prosciutto. The culinary adventure ends at the table with a dinner filled with local seasonal dishes!

Join the Seasonality movement! For ideas on when and where to travel, and what to enjoy in your chosen destination, have a look at Italy’s Seasonality Map by Italian Special Occasions.

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

 Subscribe in a reader