Monday, 22 Oct 2018

Italian Imperia. Loano. Genova

imperia-italy

IMPERIA

I discovered this town through my friend Forrest. He asked me along to meet some artist friends for drinks here one day, and the charm of the industrial setting was not lost on me. It’s become a regular cocktail destination. Near the working marina, the pink portico and retro bars captivated me immediately. Imperia is a little rough around the edges, but the lack of polish makes it authentically Italian, and gives it a very working-class feel, which endears it to me.

Italian Imperia. Loano. Genova - photo 1

Imperia is the capital of the Provence of Imperia. Mussolini created the city in 1923 to be the capital of Liguria, hence the autocratic name. In truth, although the town was founded to be the seat of Liguria, it never became that. Instead, it remains a pretty little Riviera town with quaint narrow streets, a rather industrial boardwalk, and a pink portico on the old marina at the edge of town, named Portici della banchina di Oneglia.
The old marina mainly docks fishing boats and, every once in a while, a yacht or two. The setting provides a very hip urban backdrop to the city. Just steps from the marina, one can have an aperitivo or two under a striking pink portico. Sitting here is decidedly pleasant, enjoying the vintage shop and restaurant signs—very post WWII, very old school. There’s one retro bar I cannot get enough of: Bar La Conchiglia. The art deco shell décor is spectacular, and the swoon-worthy, stripey chairs make me want to move right in.
The Museum of Olive Oil is located there and like San Remo, Imperia also has a huge flower industry. Imperia is very Italian in the sense that a large population lives there all year-round and in the summer, and it is an Italian tourist destination.
Imperia is a great stop on your way down the coast—the seafood is sublime and you will feel like you’re in an undiscovered gem. I like to visit just to see what’s new, and to lunch at old favorites like Braceria Matama. I suggest you make a stop mid-day for coffee or an aperitif at Canna Ramella. It is a super shop that sells kitchen wares and gifts, with a magical little bar and a lovely bartendress. Aperitivo crowds are smaller here, with many locals in attendance, and the overall feel is more casual.
There’s something really groovy about Imperia that makes me want to come back again and again.
Imperia is a great stop on your way down the coast—the seafood is sublime and you will feel like you’re in an undiscovered gem. I like to visit just to see what’s new, and to lunch at old favorites like Braceria Matama. I suggest you make a stop mid-day for coffee or an aperitif at Canna Ramella. It is a super shop that sells kitchen wares and gifts, with a magical little bar and a lovely bartendress. Aperitivo crowds are smaller here, with many locals in attendance, and the overall feel is more casual.
There’s something really groovy about Imperia that makes me want to come back again and again.

LOANO
This classic Italian town is not on most tourists’ must-see radar. But the insider scoop is that the state of the art marina and yacht club has the most beautiful bar on the Riviera. Stop in and lounge with the locals—you’ll be happy you did.
Italian Imperia. Loano. Genova - photo 2

 

Loano used to be a sleepy beach town, not particularly scenic or hip—a town mainly visited by Italian families who have been going to the beach club all their lives. In other words, Loano is a strictly Italian destination. That is, until about five years ago.
That was when Loano made the brillaint decision to build a state of the art marina, Yacht Club Marina Di Loano. The Yacht Club has restaurants and a chic hotel. It’s one of the most modern and beautiful locations I have had the pleasure of visiting for aperitivo on the Riviera—definitely worth the stop.
I adore going there with friends and watching the sunset from the wrap-around terrace at Yacht Club Marina di Loana. The restaurant has first class service and an amazing local menu, plus the owner (and sometimes bartender) is a hoot.
I was happy to discover it a few years ago, thanks to friends, and it’s now on my must-do list every summer.

GENOVA
With its historical center, bustling street life, and working port, Genova is the best kept secret in Italy and one of my favorite destinations. If you stay long enough, you will discover the magical portocelli that can be found all along the bay. Portocelli are tiny fishing ports that are always great aperitivo hangouts. The local fishermen and shopkeepers stop by after work and enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine before heading home. It’s fun to see elegant patrons in suits standing on the sand enjoying their daily ritual of apero.
One of the prettiest and busiest of these ports is called Boccadasse. Its pretty, brightly-painted buildings reach down to a breathtaking bay—it’s the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset.

Italian Imperia. Loano. Genova - photo 3

Our introduction to Genova was about twenty years ago. My husband and I were staying in Santa Margherita, and wanted to take our small children to visit an aquarium. The closest big city with an aquarium was Genova. It is the capital of Liguria, and—though we didn’t realize it at the time—also one of the capitals of industry in Italy. We piled into the car and traveled forty-five minutes up the coast from our summer rental until we found ourselves in the center of this industrial port town, hopelessly lost. Finally we found the aquarium, situated on the port between container ships the size of skyscrapers.
Our friends Forrest and Roberto live in a swanky postwar flat on the port side of the city, with amazing views of the docked ships in the harbor. They look like sculptures that are part of the living room decor. Over the past decade, Forrest introduced me to his city with walking tours and, of course, many stops for aperitivo. He is my partner in crime and drinking, and we have done our share of hanging out and eating in a variety of bars across the city.

Being an important port, Genova is known for its international food flavor profiles, based on spices imported from all over the world. It would be worthwhile to take a food tour when you visit. However, aperitivo retains a distinct Italian flavor all around the city, even though the cuisine reflects an international flare. Genova holds firmly to its Italian heritage when it comes to the tradition of apero. The magical aperitivo hour offers myriad choices, from small family-owned bars with signature drinks like Cavo-Marescotto, to the classic locals’ bar like Bar Mangini in the heart of Genova.
The old center of the city flaunts wide walking streets and beautiful architecture with unique trompe l’oeil embellishments on many buildings. You can get lost in the maze of tiny streets and wind up on a beautiful piazza with grand fountains and towering buildings embellished with stone patterns—distinctly Genovese.
Genova is a city that’s overlooked by most American tourists, but should definitely be included on your travel agenda. It’s an Italian Riviera treasure and a great place to take an apero and spend some relaxing hours simply people-watching.

CANAPES
Serves 8
Genova is a little more formal, so canapes are served at the more refined establishments. Here’s an easy recipe to use when you want to impress your guests.
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
½ cup sundried tomatoes in oil
½ cup pesto
2 tablespoons Italian tuna in oil,
1½ tablespoons salt
12 pre-made 2-inch diameter tart shells, available online
12 2-inch diameter puff pastry shells, available online
Toppings:
¼ cup pancetta pieces
1 (2-ounce) can anchovies, ¼ cup parsley leaves
1 hardboiled quail egg, quartered
¼ cup chives
1 small tomato, quartered
Divide the cream cheese into 3 equal portions and place each portion in a separate small bowl. Puree or finely dice your sundried tomatoes.
Add 1 tablespoon pesto to one bowl of cream cheese, 1 tablespoon pureed sundried tomato into second bowl, and 2 tablespoons tuna to cream cheese in the third bowl. Add ½ teaspoon of salt to each mixture. Whisk all three mixtures in their separate bowls until smooth.
Place the mixtures into 3 separate piping bags, about 5 ounces per bag, and pipe the mixtures into alternating tart and pastry shells.
Cook the pancetta in a sauté pan for 3 to 5 minutes until crispy and drain on paper towels.
Top the tuna canapés with a 1-inch sliver of anchovy, the parsley, and quartered quail egg.
Top the sundried tomato canapés with the pancetta.
Top the pesto canapés with bits of tomato and chives and serve immediately.

Italian Imperia. Loano. Genova - photo 4

 

 

PESTO, PREGO
Liguria, on the Italian Riviera, invented pesto. Pesto is the basil-based paste made from olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese. Tons of chefs, including Mario Batali, have tried to import the Ligurian sweet basil back to America without any luck. I’ve been told that chefs have brought back seeds, plants—even Ligurian dirt—to see if they can grow the basil found only here on the coast. One interesting fact is the pesto in Liguria has no garlic added, like pestos made in most other regions. The truth is that on the Riviera very little garlic is used, period.

“Cocktail Italiano” by Annette Joseph

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