1. Eat pesto in its hometown
The local cuisine is big on vegetables, so you can eat your fill and avoid packing on the pizza pounds. Star of Genoese cuisine is pesto alla genovese, a much greener, herbier and tastier dish than any pesto you’ll have eaten elsewhere.
The basil – strictly from nearby Prà – is a small-leaved variety that’s incredibly flavoursome.
Pesto is a serious business here: the biennial pesto-making world championship is held in the Palazzo Ducale amid statues and frescoes, participants pulping the ingredients with family-heirloom pestle and mortar, following generations-old recipes.
In town, you can also learn to make your own pesto: try the Creattivando cookery classes, run by enthusiastic Mario at the Mercato del Carmine, where you’re taught how to rustle up a knockout pesto with ingredients from the market.
Pasta with pesto alla genovese © Nelli Syrotynska/Shutterstock
2. …but leave room for the focaccia
Focaccia – deliciously oily, salty local flatbread stuffed with cheese, tomato, olives or whatever you fancy – will tempt you everywhere you go in Genoa.
The caruggi (medieval lanes) of the centre hold numerous hole-in-the-wall focaccerie; a hunk of focaccia with a glass of the local bianchetta wine is a typical morning pick-me-up.
Follow the crowds to Il Gran Ristoro, a tiny spot in the port area that serves gourmet focaccia sandwiches like sliced swordfish marinated with orange and lemon, at bargain prices.
3. Have lunch at a sciamadda
Farinata is another Genoese speciality. This tasty pancake made with chickpea flour is best sampled in one of the city’s sciamadde, typical Genoese hostelries with wood-burning ovens.
At historic Sa Pesta, the farinata is cooked in a vast pan in the fireplace, and the closely-packed tables are crammed with locals gobbling up vegetable pies and seasonal speciality friscieu, fried batter balls stuffed with whitebait.
4. Walk off lunch in the old town
Genoa’s medieval old town – the largest in Europe – is ripe for exploring: Henry James called it “the most winding and incoherent of cities, the most entangled topographical ravel in the world”.
Wandering the twisting alleys you’ll spot faded frescoes, reliefs of St George (the city’s patron saint), the remains of columns and skeletons of arches that were filled in as the old town expanded.
If hunger strikes – and you’re feeling adventurous – you could always sample another of Genoa’s traditional snacks: strips of tripe, smothered in oil and salt and sold to take away in little cardboard cones.
Genoa old town © Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock