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Episode #106: Beyond the Cinque Terre: Exploring Liguria

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Home to the famous (for very good reason) Cinque Terre villages, Liguria is a region that many visitors dip into but rarely see very much of.  If you’ve ever been captivated by those colorful Cinque Terre towns that seem to tumble into the sea, then prepare to be amazed, as there are plenty of other places just like that along the Ligurian coastline that stretches all the way from Tuscany to France. 

Show notes

We talk to Ligurian-born and bred Enrica Manzoni, founder of the delightful A Small Kitchen in Genoa – a bilingual food blog where she shares recipes and food stories from the Italian Riviera.  Enrica hosts cooking classes in her home kitchen and organizes food tours in Genoa and culinary retreats in Liguria. She also runs online cooking classes featuring the dishes from her region and loves to share the wonders of this lesser celebrated region.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Liguria is in the northwest of Italy – a coastal region starting from the border with Cote Azur, France, and stretches for 300 km until the border with Tuscany. It is 25 km inland, so there’s a lot of land squeezed between the sea and the mountain
  2. It’s mostly thought of for its coast, but Liguria is the most wooded region in Italy
  3. In medieval times Genoa, being in a key maritime position, for trading around the Mediterranean, was a very rich city
  4. The noble Genoise merchants were extremely rich and powerful. This richness reflects in their villas, and in their family churches. So all these incredible palaces and their exteriors and interiors have meant the city has UNESCO World Heritage status
  5. Don’t skim past Genoa – dedicate 3 to 4 days to see as much of the city and its impressive and historic building as possible. There are also lots of art museums, and it has a huge aquarium
  6. There is a small fishermen village buried inside the city of Genoa, called Bocadasse which easily rivals the Cinque Terre villages with its pretty and dramatic scenery with a lovely beach with boats across it, and the small, colored houses
  7. Pesto, probably the most famous sauce in the world, originates from Genoa and you will find it in most restaurants there, especially with Trofie, a pasta particular to Liguria
  8. Along with pesto, Genoa is also famous for their Focaccia flatbread which is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside – a very ancient recipe from medieval times and Farinata, a pancake-like tart made from chickpea flour
  9. Genova is packed with ancient eateries called Sciamaddi, where they used to bake food in big copper pants in big wood ovens.  People go there to buy pieces of food like savory tarts Focaccia, Farinata.
  10. Genova was an original hub of street food, with people were walking around because of the port activities and the merchant activities and of course they had to eat and be fed. So they didn’t have kitchens to cook in, but people setup up food stalls selling food to those passing by
  11. In Ventimiglia which is the first big city you reach in Liguria when crossing the French border, there are botanical gardens called Villa Hanbury. Although Ventimiglia itself doesn’t have a lot to see, the surrounding landscape is full of woodland and medieval villages – in particular Apricale, Perinaldo, (which is famous for their artichoke by the way), Pigna, they are all close to each other, so you can visit them the same day. They are off any normal tourist path and so have remained largely unchanged in the last century
  12. Pigna also has a thermal site so you can bathe in the waters there
  13. Bordighera is a city very famous at the beginning of the 20th century for the poets and famous painters like Monet who went there for their vacations. There are many small villas, and there is wonderful light and weather there. It is also where the Queen, Regina Margherita, used to spend her summertimes
  14. Inland of Bordighera, they grow Bitter Oranges, which are known for producing an amazing aroma. You can find this aroma in many of the traditional sweets like pan dulce or marzipans and it is one of the most precious essences in perfumery because with the Bitter Orange blossom you get the Neroli, a unique and expensive essential oil
  15. The harvesting of orange blossoms is an incredible time.  It takes place in May and they harvest all the white blossoms, just letting them fall down from the trees and collect them in huge pieces of white cloth. They then distill it. Participating in the harvesting of the orange blossoms is a lovely experience. In May, when the blossoms are at their peak just before being harvested, the perfume is so strong it was said to be of the sea and the sailors. In the past, the sailors knew that they were in front of Bordighera because they could smell orange blossom from their boat
  16. Sanremo is known as the village of flowers and is also famous for the music festival, which takes place in February – the most famous music festival in Italy
  17. From Sanremo to Diano Marina, which is 20 km eastward you can tour along the Liguria coast by bike because there is a wonderful cycling path built on the old railway track. Many kilometers of path devoted to cycling along the coast.  One of the first railway lines built in Italy, it was built in the middle of the 1900s, and it was to connect all the villages that in the past could only be reached by sea. The railway cut through the mountains but then the railway became too small for the increased traffic, so they decided to move it inland. So  now they are enlarging this old railway path a cycling route step by step – to eventually reach Albenga
  18. Imperia is the capital of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, producing a D.O.P oil. Compared to the other Italian oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it is milder and it has taste somehow, of artichoke and flowers. This is one of the main ingredients of Ligurian cuisine. There is even an Olive Oil Museum in the area
  19. Although many of the Northern regions in Italy have a lot of butter and cheese in their cooking, Liguria does not have enough space for cattle so you will not see butter in Ligurian cooking on the whole – it was something imported and for special occasions only
  20. Enrica can easily use one bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil per week – she uses it in so much of her cooking and food preparation
  21. Cervo is a stunning medieval village hanging over the sea. It has a huge Baroque Church with these small houses packed close to it. And it has a wonderful feel. It is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy and also Enrica’s hometown! You can get there by car, but to get to the Church and to the castle, you have to climb because there are just stairs because it is very steep.
  22. Cervo is Enirca’s base where she organizes her food experiences in the area. Cervo makes a great hub, because from there you can visit nearby cheesemakers, wine-makers, olive oil makers as well as many other wonderful food attractions. Also, close to Cervo is Albenga where most vegetables in the region are produced
  23. Toma di Pecora Brigasca cheese comes from the shepherds of La Brigue and also of this region comes the aptly named Cucina Bianca – white cuisine – cheese, potatoes, cauliflower, leeks, pasta
  24. Finalborgo is a fairytale, with a castle, towers, town walls, and bridge perfectly kept since the medieval ages. Inland from here is the capital of rock climbing in Europe because the land is made of deep cliffs within the woods and so there are many climbing paths. There are also caves and hidden villages – a very unspoiled area mainly accessed for activities such as mountain biking, hiking, climbing etc
  25. Borgio Verezzi is a great place to stay in this area, set in the mountains with the most spectator views over the Ligurian Gulf
  26. The fisherman village of Noli, unlike much of the coast with its rocky cliffs, has one of the few sand beaches in Liguria. With crystal clear water. Here they have built ‘Nemo’s garden’, a fascinating and unique project where they are researching ways to grow vegetables underwater which you can visit and go snorkeling around the underwater greenhouses
  27. Close to the town of Arenzano is the Beigua Geopark now a UNESCO-protected site
  28. Here you can find the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri which is a long-distance hiking trail of about 440 kilometres (270 mi) and 44 day hikes going all the way from Ventimiglia to Tuscany. Bridges link one mountain to another on this trail. 
  29. The Golfo Paradiso, is a bay that, like the Cinque Terre has five seaside towns – Camogli, Recco, Sori, Pieve Ligure and Bogliasco
  30. You can explore the towns of Golfo Paradiso by train but also by ferry. The ferry makes small stops on the coast and allows access to places that otherwise could not be reached unless hiking down from a high cliff – like the lookout battery of Punta Chiappa and the tiny beach of San Fruttuoso with its remote Abbey. There are few restaurants at this beach and you can even sleep at the Abbey as they have a flat there you can rent. Once the daytime tourists have gone this, of course, becomes a very peaceful place where you can feel the remoteness
  31. The area around this mountain around San Fruttuoso, it is a protected area so wonderful for snorkeling. In front of San Fruttuoso there is the Christ of the Abyss – an underwater statue of Christ
  32. This Portofino mountain area offers lots of hiking – through olive groves, lemon groves, pines with amazing views of the coast. It’s also accessible and family-friendly – lots of paths that are very easy and take just a couple of hours
  33. Portofino itself is very small and very expensive so not a place many people stay. This is where the super-rich come to park their yachts. If you want to visit, it’s best to go low season. Much more pleasant when the mass of tourists has gone and you don’t have a maxi yacht blocking the view of the harbor
  34. As well as you snorkeling you can also kayak which is a lovely way to explore the coastline
  35. Staying in Santa Margherita Ligure is more accessible and it’s a lovely walk from there to Portofino, along the emerald waters of Paraggi bay
  36. There is great shopping in Santa Margherita and great food shops including Seghezzo which is a true foodie heaven!
  37. Chiavari is another little town with wonderful food, is full of character, with its porticos, and has a monthly antique market. Many of the shops here have been preserved as they were years ago – these are known as Boutique historique
  38. Down the coast again the town of Sestri Levante has a bay on either side of it. On one side is Baia del Silenzio (the Bay of Silence) where the water there is always still. With no cars, quaint fisherman cottages, a sandy beach, and great shops, it is a delightful place to visit
  39. Inland from the coast in this area is the Aveto national park and this area produces a variety of products including mountain potatoes, hazelnuts, and cheeses (especially the cheese made from the Cabannina cow). Chestnuts are plentiful and very popular in the past, during times of famine people survived on chestnuts as they have always been cheap and easily available 
  40. In Parco Aveto you can also go wild horse watching. The park has around 80 – 90 wild horses – beautiful, large. shiny and powerful. You can go with a guide from I Cavalli Selvaggi dell’Aveto 
  41. The Liguria region is divided into many valleys running from the mountains to the sea and over the years, each valley has experienced different historical events and developed its own environment, culture, tradition. Enrica beautifully describes it as a mosaic – of many different worlds in the same region.

About our guest – Enrica Monzani from A Small Kitchen in Genoa

 

Enrica Monzani is a born and bred Ligurian food writer, photographer and cooking instructor. She is the lady behind the bilingual food blog A Small Kitchen in Genoa where she tells recipes and food stories from the Italian Riviera. 

She organizes regional cooking classes for foreigners in her home kitchen in Genoa and on-line cooking classes in English. She also leads food tours in Genoa and culinary retreats in Liguria. 

In 2020 she launched a virtual Italian Riviera cooking course on the e-learning platform Udemy. 

She is currently working on her first Liguria cookbook in Italian and English coming out in April 2022.

You can find Enrica on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Genoa (Genova in Italian) – the capital city of Liguria
  • Genoa Acquarium – impressive aquarium in the city
  • Boccadasse – an old fisherman’s village within the city of Genoa
  • Pastificio La Casana and Claretta – two eateries in which to find the best ancient style cooking of focaccia and other backed goods
  • Ventimiglia – the first big city as you cross into Liguria from France
  • Villa Hanbury – Giardini Botanici Hanbury botanical gardens in Ventimiglia
  • ApricalePerinaldo (famous for their artichoke) and Pigna (thermal) – pretty stone villages
  • Bordighera – a popular vacation location in the 20th century for poets and painters like Monet
  • Sanremo – the village of flowers
  • Diano Marina – one of the few places on the Ligurian coast with long sandy beaches
  • Albenga – the nickname of city of a hundred spires
  • Imperia – the capital of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Cervo – stunning town on the edge of the rocks
  • Pieve di Teco, Mendatica – mountain towns/villages
  • La_Brigue – area between France and Italy known for the shepherds
  • Finale Ligure – area of natural beauty popular with climbers
  • Borgio Verezzi – on the mountain with spectacular views 
  • Noli – fisherman village
  • Nemos Garden – a project researching ways to grow vegetables, create freshwater, and auto-sustainable environments underwater
  • Arenzano – coastal town
  • Beigua UNESCO Geopark –  a protected natural park taking its name from the highest mountain of the area, Monte Beigua
  • Alta Via dei Monti Liguri – a long-distance hiking trail of about 440 kilometres (270 mi) and 44 day hikes
  • Golfo Paradiso – a bay with five seaside towns (the same as the Cinque Terre) – Camogli (with its beautiful coloured houses and fishing boats), Recco, Sori, Pieve Ligure and Bogliasco
  • Revello – famous Focacceria in Camogli with wonderful focaccia formaggio
  • San Fruttuoso Abbey – remote Abby only reachable by sea or hiking dedicated to Saint Fructuosus, a third-century bishop of Tarraco
  • Parco Portofino – Portofino Park and protected coastal area
  • Christ of the Abyss – (Il Cristo degli Abissi) underwater statue of Christ in front of the Abbey
  • Portofino – glamorous resort on the Italian Riviera
  • Santa Margherita Ligure – a little town just outside of Portofino
  • Paraggi Bay – gorgeous bay between Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino
  • Golfo del Tigullio – gulf around Santa Margherita
  • Seghezzo – incredible food store in Santa Margherita
  • Chiavari – a small town with lots of charm with historic shops
  • Sestri Levante – town on the Baia del Silenzio, the (Bay of Silence)
  • Aveto Natural Regional Park – Parco Naturale Regionale dell’Aveto. National park inland of Chiavari
  • I Cavalli Selvaggi dell’Aveto – a company that will take you wild horse watching 

Food & Drink

  • trofie – a type of small, twisted pasta from Liguria
  • focaccia genovesethe flatbread from Genoa, which is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside
  • sciamadda – place to buy typical Genoese gastronomy
  • farinata – a pancake-like tart made from chickpea flour
  • pan dulce – literally meaning sweet bread – is an Italian breakfast staple
  • pigato – a white wine from Liguria
  • taggiasca – variety of olive grown in Liguria
  • toma di Pecora Brigasca – a cheese from La Brigue
  • focaccia formaggio Focaccia with cheese from Recco (IGP product) made with crescenza (also knowns as Stracchino) cheese

Resources

  • Luca – charming Disney animation film set on the Italian Riviera
  • Guy de Maupassant – 19th-century French author, a representative of the Naturalist school
  • Neroli – an essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree
  • Pistaciclabile – Cycling path Sanremo – Diano Marina  
  • Brigasca – sheep native to Liguria’s 
  • Outdoor Finaleligure – resource for climbing/hiking/mountain biking in Finale Ligure
  • Outdoor Portofino – sport activities around Portofino Promontory like kayaking
  • Golfo Paradiso ferry – ferry boat around Portofino Promontory
  • Portico – and extended colonnade with a roof structure over a walkway
  • cabannina – cattle breed from Liguria

Resources from Untold Italy

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