The Places Where Beauty Hides
There are many well-known cities in Italy that attract large numbers of tourists like water attracts schools of fish. The main places of course we all know as Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan and probably Verona too. Whilst I too adore these places and the attractions they offer (Although I have yet to see Florence) I have found that some of my favourite places in Italy have been the most underrated in terms of tourism.
Turin and Como were high on the list for best overall experience and both are still fairly popular destinations. I spent my last few days however in Genova and Bergamo. When I told my Italian friends that I was visiting these places they looked at me like I was crazy or stupid, or both. “Why would you want to go there?” they would ask me, “they’re not the beautiful places of Italy, not like Florence” they would tell me.
I stuck with my plan and headed to Genova based on a Google image search which showed me some beautiful coastal scenery, coupled with the typical Cinque Terre like terracotta coloured buildings. Genova has one of the oldest old towns in Italy and it certainly does seem old. There has been no attempt to clean up and idealise the ancient parts of the town, it has been left just as it is. In some ways this can be seen as a dirty and un-satisfactory city but in other ways the authenticity of it is what makes it beautiful.
The novelist Paolo Coelho is said to have written “Among the marvels of Italy, it will take some digging to find the beauties of Genova, but it is worth visiting it”. In these words he is not wrong. Genova is characterised by narrow streets and alley ways, providing a great discovering ground as well as a sure fire recipe to getting yourself lost. I loved exploring Genova, stumbling across markets and second hand book stores, in this sense Coelho’s words depict the essence of this city. However at the same time I would not recommend exploring the city solo at night time. With the secluded and hidden narrow alley ways it can also make for a potentially dangerous place when the lights go out.
The old town consists of the old port with an array of restaurants show casing typical Genovese pesto and focaccia, two things they do extremely well. To get a view of the city you can climb some narrow streets up to the panoramic viewing of the city via Spianata Castelletto. My favourite place however was a little east of the center in Boccadasse (see Snippets – Genova) where there’s a real feeling that you’re part of the small town seaside lifestyle. The views here are much like at Cinque Terre but the little village is less crowded and has a very easy going vibe. Genova was also a great base for exploring Cinque Terre with only a two hour train (slow train) to Monterosso. I think if you give yourself time to explore this city beyond the surface, you will leave knowing it’s true worth.
Beyond Genova, my travels took me to the medieval style small town of Bergamo. I planned on spending a day or two here because that is where I could get my cheapest flight out of Italy. Bergamo airport is frequented by Ryan Air and it is actually one of the better cheap airports I have been to. They have a wide range of cafés and places to relax there and there is a direct airport bus to and from the city.
Everybody told me that there was nothing in Bergamo but I managed to find lots! The main attraction is the high city or Cittá Alta. Here you can find vast panoramic views if the city and beyond and many independent and unique stores selling a range of local goods. The great thing about the high city is that it is enclosed by city walls so it’s pretty hard to get lost! The buildings and the cobbled streets are unique and full of history. The local bakery’s look and smell divine and if you are here you should definitely try the polenta. It looks like nothing special but it’s a traditional food here and quite often is made by pouring hot polenta over slabs of traditional cheese, making a melted cheese surprise. Unbelievably tasty.
If you are taking a flight from Bergamo or if you are spending time in Milan it is a place that is definitely worth checking out. It’s easy to manoeuvre and has a lot to offer with the main shopping streets in the low city and the more traditional and unique places in the high city. I only had a morning to spend in Bergamo but I wish I could have spent the whole day wandering. I think it is a place that has a lot more than people give it credit for. What’s great about these places is that with less tourists there’s more time and space to discover the hidden beauty’s. Sometimes the best places to visit are the ones that really aren’t the best places at all. ¡viva finding beauty’s hiding places!