You’ve probably heard of Liguria, even if not by the region’s name. But I am sure you recognize the images of Portofino and Cinque Terre, and certainly, you’ve had pesto once or twice in your life. Liguria is a quiet region on the radar, but a beautiful one. It’s a favorite for culinary delights and a seaside destination for residents of Northern Italy. Let’s explore Liguria together.
History of Region
Liguria has a wonderfully rich history that dates back to prehistoric times. The earliest known inhabitants of this coastal area were the Ligurians, an ancient Indo-European tribe from whom the region takes its name.
Being strategically located along the coast, Liguria caught the attention of the Romans who conquered it in 220 BC. The region’s importance grew under Roman rule, developing into a significant center of trade and commerce.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Liguria became a battleground for the Goths, Lombards, and Byzantines, each leaving their distinct mark on the region. This period of turbulence was followed by the Middle Ages, a time during which Liguria experienced a resurgence under the Republic of Genoa.
The Republic of Genoa transformed Liguria into a major maritime power, with wealth pouring into the region from trade and banking. This economic prosperity led to the creation of magnificent palaces and stunning works of art that still grace the region today, standing as a testament to the grandeur of its past.
In the 19th century, Liguria witnessed another significant shift as it was incorporated into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.
Today, Liguria’s rich history is proudly displayed in its architecture, archaeological sites, and enduring cultural traditions.
Language of Region
Like most regions of Italy, even Liguria has its own dialect, closer to an individual language. Zeneize is the traditional language of Liguria. It is classified as a Gallo-Romance language, closely related to Piemontese and more distantly to French, Occitan, and Catalan.
Of course, Italian is the official language, so don’t worry about communicating. This local language can still be heard when listening in to older residents’ conversations. It’s worth noting that even the language varies considerably across the region, with different dialects found in different areas. While efforts are being made to preserve the language, the number of Ligurian speakers has been declining, and it is currently classified as an endangered language by UNESCO.
While there is plenty to explore in Liguria, there are a few sites you might hear of being the “must-sees”. Although I do list them here, I also encourage you to explore the region beyond these spots and fully immerse yourself in the local culture.
- Cinque Terre: A classic that you’ve probably seen along your social feed. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a string of five captivating seaside villages with colorful houses nestled in the rugged cliffs along the Italian Riviera. You can hike between the five towns, explore Liguria’s natural beauty, enjoy local cuisine, and take a rest along the water.
- The Aquarium of Genoa: One of the largest and most impressive aquariums in Europe, the Aquarium of Genoa offers an immersive experience into the world of marine biodiversity. Genova has plenty to explore, but this is definitely a favorite stop!
- San Fruttuoso Abbey: One of my personal favorites and a stunning site. Accessible only by boat or hiking trail, the San Fruttuoso Abbey is a beautiful and serene monastery nestled in a small, secluded bay.
- The Royal Palace of Genoa: Another spot to add to your Genova list. A stunning example of Baroque architecture, the Royal Palace of Genoa offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Liguria’s past nobility.
- Portofino: A true classic of the nostalgic Italian culture. The beloved seaside town of celebrities throughout the years. Portofino is famous for its picture-perfect harbor and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors, it is a charming fishing village that’s a must-visit.
Wine & Food
Liguria’s location on the coast means that seafood features prominently in many dishes. Anchovies, for example, are a staple and are often used in sauces or served fried, marinated, or stuffed.
One of the most famous dishes from the region is pesto alla genovese. This classic sauce is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a grana cheese – most often Parmigiano and olive oil, and is typically served with pasta.
Another well-known Ligurian dish is focaccia, a type of flatbread that can be topped with a variety of ingredients. Focaccia al formaggio, or di Recco, is a thin bread with melty cheese in the middle, it’s a particularly popular variety that hails from the town of Recco.
Liguria is also known for its excellent wines. The region produces both red and white wines. Its most well-known whites from from Vermentino – which are typically dry and aromatic, with notes of citrus and herbs. There is also Pigato, which produces wines that are lightly herbal with notes of sage and honey. The seaside cultivation often adds a saline touch to these wines.
For reds, be on the lookout for Rossese, which is identical to the French Tibouren, it produces wines that are bright with good acidity, floral and red berry aromas, with an herbal note. You’ll also find bottles of Ormeasco, which is the local name for the Piedmontese Dolcetto.
Now, although I am sure you are all familiar with some areas of Liguria, I did want to share just a few personal favorites. You can also find my recommended spots in Genova with this guide.
Sestri Levante – I’ve been back a few times to Sestri Levante and I love it. It is a very low-key spot. While historically it was an important coastal town, today it is much more known for its sandy free beach. Here the peninsula sticks into the bay giving you a free and paid option for beaches. The local center has plenty of excellent restaurants and from here you can even grab a boat to explore the other coastal towns.
Cinque Terre Wine – While in Cinque Terre, don’t skip out on a bottle of local white wine. Production is small, but it is excellent. They are refreshing with a light edge of minerality, with delicious citrus and herbal notes.
Nervi – just on the edge of Genova, outside of the bustling city, you’ll find the beautiful corner of Nervi. Hanging over the coast, you can wander small streets of colorful houses, and take a rest in the lush parks overlooking the waves. It’s a perfect spot for an afternoon trip.
Don’t miss the mountains- While we often focus on the coast of Liguria, we forget they are also where the Appenines meet the Alps. Just behind Genova begins beautiful mountain scenery, it is a region where you can head from the slopes to the sea in just a matter of an hour.
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