Liguria is quite literally a sliver of Italian coastline wrapping around the Northwest lip of Italy, bordering France and the regions of Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, and Tuscany. Fed by both the Alps and Apennines, the rocky strip of coast falls into the Ligurian Sea around which it curves. The unique natural environment has required the people of this area become resourceful in their agricultural development and the terraces have carved the steep slopes for more than 2000 years, for the production of grapes, lemons, basil, and olives. The clean waters and extensive coastline, with everything from rocky cliffs to satin-soft sand beaches, have inspired artists and vacationers for almost as long. The difficult landscape has also protected the region from over developing, allowing the natural beauty to shine, and allowing visitors a glimpse into a segment of Italy that has changed very little over the centuries.
What You Should See There
The great majority of visitors go for one area of this region: Le Cinque Terre (The Five Lands). Made up of five small villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, these charming towns offer up a pastel rainbow of buildings clinging to the side of cliffs for dear life, and amazing hiking, boating, or a cute train to connect them all. While not easy to get to from other areas of Italy and offering little in the way of accommodation options, staying just north or south of the small towns, in Santa Margherita Ligure, Sestri Levanti, Portofino, or La Spezia (among other numerous coastal towns) allows easy access to the Cinque Terre while providing numerous options for dining, shopping, and sleeping.
Visitors to Liguria do stop in a few other areas. Genoa is the capital and brings us the namesake pesto. A major shipbuilding port, it has given birth to the great seafarer Christopher Columbus and continues producing megayachts for the wealthy the world over. With such a history of water-based economy, it isn’t shocking that two of the best sites are related. One is the Aquarium, Europe’s largest, and the Museum of the Sea (MuMA). Both are in the redeveloped Old Harbor (Porto Antico) area, much of which was designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano. There are numerous beaches and resort towns along the coast. If you happen to visit that of Sanremo or San Remo around February, you may not want to take a dip in the water, but you will find yourself surrounded by some of the best of Italian pop music, for the annual Festival della Canzone Italiana di Sanremo. Since the 1950s songwriters from all over Italy have gathered to hear new songs from established artists and rising stars. The high level of talent attracts an international audience and occasional performer.
What You Should Eat There
Made up of so much coastline, it is understandable that the diet includes a great deal of fish. Anchovies in particular do well in the Ligurian Sea. From the land, many non-Italians are familiar with Pesto alla Genovese, which commonly uses the plentiful basil of the region, pestato (“stomped” – think also mortar and pestle) into a paste with pinenuts, garlic, parmesan, and olive oil. The indigenous beverages of choice, to wash down these delectable dishes include, white wines pairing well with fish, Limoncino (not Limoncello), and a funny dessert wine called Sciacchetrà. For those in the know, Limoncino uses grappa and of course Ligurian lemons, whereas Limoncello uses grain alcohol and typically Sorrentine Lemons. They are both served chilled after the meal and offer a hefty kick of lemon and alcohol. Sciaccetrà comes from a melding of the words for crushing grapes, the sound the cork makes coming out of the bottle, and the exhale you make after opening the bottle. It has been found in Pompeii indicating a history of quality drinks from this area.
Bring Liguria to Your Kitchen Table
I knew I wanted to write about this region when I saw the products Eataly Chicago was providing: Niasca Portofino Ligurian Pesto and Trofiette (a traditional Ligurian pasta). My family loves pesto! We have it almost every other week. My favorite moment is popping open the jar and smelling the fresh herbs, good olive oil, and garlic wafting out. I have used it on pizza (instead of tomato sauce…), sandwiches, bruschette, and of course pasta (usually penne or farfalle). However the Trofie are the traditional pasta to put with pesto. Most sauces have a perfect pasta pairing and vice versa. The Alta Valle Scrivia Trofiette are my new favorite all around. The boiling water was sweetly scented as the pasta cooked to a nice al dente (20 minutes) and the thick twists deliciously balanced the sharp salt of the pesto. While not necessarily Italian, I tossed all of this with spicy Italian sausage from my local market. A tip for pesto that not all non-Italians may have heard: as it is a paste, it is best to “lengthen” the sauce with a bit of water reserved from the cooked pasta. I’ve heard of using olive oil but that quickly becomes a lot of oil. The delicious pasta was washed down with a wine new to me, 2012 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose Golfo del Tigullio, a lovely rosè, that cut nicely across the delicate pasta. I’m eager for a Limoncino/Limoncello taste test and my next plate of trofie, sooner rather than later.
@ItalyFoodies: Join Our Discussion-What’s Your Take
1. What is your favorite dish to use pesto in, i.e. pasta (which), pizza, sandwiches, other?
2. Which type of beach is more of interest: rocky shore, pebble, or sand?
3. Which sounds tastier: Sciacchetrà or Limoncino?