Ask any of your mates who’ve travelled to Italy which cities they’ve visited, and I bet they all give you similar answers: Rome, Florence, Venice. It’s a shame, because my home country has so much more to offer once you get off the well-trodden path. With that in mind, here’s my guide to three must-sees among Italy’s less-visited cities.
Genoa: la Superba
As the sixth largest city in Italy, Genoa can often be overlooked by tourists with only a weekend to spare. But, nicknamed la Superba (‘the Superb one’) thanks to its stunning landmarks, the city is well worth a visit. My friend Sara and I wander the maze of narrow alleyways, called vicoli, that make up the medieval heart of Genoa – the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. Young people on bikes and scooters dart by, old women carrying bags full of groceries bargain with fishmongers and chatty students walk towards the university – the place really is the quintessential port city, bustling with life.
The thriftiness of the people here is often more of a façade than genuine meanness, but when it comes to money, no one can take on the Genoese – banking has a long tradition here. The city’s Bank of Saint George was founded in 1407, making it one of the oldest in the world. We take the Art Nouveau-style lift from Piazza del Portello to the Castelletto, a big esplanade that overlooks the centre. From here Genoa looks like a tangle of stone and concrete, with the bell tower of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo rising above the rest, and the city’s most iconic landmark, the Lighthouse Of Genoa (or La Lanterna) looming in the distance. On Friday evening, the alleys quickly fill up with people in the thousands getting ready for a long evening of al fresco
drinking and dining. Sara takes me into busy Piazza delle Erbe for a drink. I quickly reach for my wallet and buy Sara
a beer. She may not be one of the parsimonious Genoese, but I’d rather not push my luck.
DON’T MISS: The famous architect Renzo Piano redeveloped the whole port in 2001, with The Bigo, Genoa’s beloved panoramic lift, as its centrepiece. This was originally a crane mounted on cargo ships, and now the 40m-high lift features a rotating see-through cabin, enabling visitors to get the best views over the harbour.
Cagliari: the Sardinian capital
To get a real feel for what laid-back Cagliari (‘Castle’ in Italian) has to offer, I make the journey up the grand stairs of the 400-year-old Bastion of Saint Remy to reach Terrazza Umberto I, a terrace known for having simply glorious views. It’s worth taking your time here to study the scenery of this ancient city, which includes the pretty harbour, ponds where bright-pink flamingos feed and the mountain which is known as Devil’s Saddle, due to its shape. The temperature reaches a scorching 35°C outside, so I seek out some shade in the Cathedral of Santa Maria, admiring the stunning neo-Gothic façade and artworks inside, such as the marble sculptures and grand 15th-century paintings. A few blocks from here is the medieval Tower Of The Elephant, an imposing limestone structure built by the Pisans in 1307 that represents the entrance to the Castello neighbourhood. White limestone was also used to build the city’s walls, and the striking effect of the bright sunshine reflecting off them once prompted DH Lawrence to describe Cagliari as a “white Jerusalem” after his visit here in the early 1920s.
DON’T MISS: Cagliari has a vibrant nightlife, much of which takes place in kiosks (chioschi) along the 8km-long stretch of beach, Poetto. Try kicking the evening off at Emerson (emersoncafe.it) for a couple of aperitivo, before moving on to Fico d’India, an upbeat, gay-friendly bar that’s great for dancing and live music.
Trieste: capital of coffee
With its vibrant history, Trieste was last year voted one of the world’s most underrated travel destinations by Lonely Planet. I pant my way up the steep alleys leading to the hilltop of San Giusto where I’m rewarded with breathtaking views of
the history-rich city below. A giant crane, symbolising Trieste’s naval heritage, is the most prominent figure in the harbour, while to the right, a grey dome stands out against the backdrop of rooftops and mountains. This belongs to the beautiful Serbia-Orthodox church, San Spiridione. A few steps away from here is the elegant colonnade of the Catholic church of Sant’Antonio Taumaturgo. Also nearby is one of Europe’s largest places of Jewish worship, the Synagogue Of Trieste. This city’s diversity is in part due to its proximity to the Slavic world and its past as the Austro-Hungarians’ only port on the Mediterranean. I take a stroll to the charming Caffè San Marco (Via Cesare Battisti 18) for an invigorating espresso. My imagination travels back to when this was a famous rendezvous for intellectuals and the literati, such as James Joyce. The
Mittel-European ambience and its decor haven’t changed in almost a century, nor have the way cafès such as this are
used as places for people to meet and discuss culture and politics and gesticulate over a cup of Joe.
Trieste is known as the capital of coffee and locals even have their own vocabulary for the black stuff. If you want an espresso, make sure you ask for a nero – in the rest of Italy, it’s still an espresso. A macchiato is a capo, but if you want it served in a glass, ask for a capo in b. From here, I walk and admire the Neoclassical buildings of Piazza della Borsa, en route to Piazza Unità d’Italia, the main town square – the buildings’ golden decorations shine in the sun as passers-by stroll around the vast square overlooking the Adriatic Sea. From the tip of the Molo Audace, a pier stretching from the waterfront,
I look back at the city and realise it’s no accident Trieste has bewitched so many writers and travellers
over the years.
DON’T MISS: Trieste has its very own Grand Canal which is a more humble version of Venice’s famous waterways –perfect f or an afternoon stroll as you check out the boats. turismofvg.it/locality/trieste