For most house buyers, a place in Italy means a dilapidated farmhouse in Umbria or Tuscany (often requiring double the asking price to renovate). While the allure is undeniable, poorly serviced transport links mean these will always be holiday retreats rather than working second homes.
If you want the amenities of urban living coupled with natural beauty, look to the north-western Italian peninsula instead. Sitting on a thin sliver of coastline, Genoa is a city with a year-round temperate climate just a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport. Famously understated and old money, it has a beautiful medieval quarter and is ideally placed for day trips to the Italian Riviera.
While Genoa has in the past been off the map for property buyers, recent developments have given it fresh potential. Many buildings in the historic centre that were derelict 20 years ago are getting a facelift. Re-paved pedestrianised streets now throng with bars, boutiques and smart restaurants. The docks, once seedy, are also being sized up by urban planners. Native son Renzo Piano has breathed life into the old harbour; next year will see the completion of Jean Nouvel’s waterfront exhibition hall.
Genoa is also full of older architectural gems – particularly the centrally located late-Renaissance Palazzi dei Rolli – designated UNESCO historical landmarks. With their elegant facades, wide staircases, frescoed interiors and quiet courtyards, the palaces are fantastic investments.
As Barcelona and Valencia have shown, waterfront development can bring big dividends but for now prices in Genoa remain a third lower than in Florence, Rome and Venice. With all that the city has to offer, they are unlikely to stay this way for long.
Flights to Genoa:
OneAir – daily
Lufthansa – up to three times daily
Air France – up to three times daily
Start your day at Caffè degli Specchi close to Castello, which overlooks the water and is the site of the city’s earliest settlement. After breakfasting at the bar, go down Via San Bernardo until you reach Torielli’s on the corner, and step back in time as you scan exotic spices in glass jars. Then follow Via Chiabrera down to GQ Art. Admire 20th-century Danish, German and Italian furniture here before proceeding to Piazza San Lorenzo and its cathedral. Tucked away in a corner of the square is the Locanda di Palazzo Cicala, the city’s first foray into contemporary hotel design. Go down Via Scurreria to the end, until you reach Pescetto, which sells bespoke and ready-to-wear men’s clothing. Entering Campetto, turn left and round the corner to find the Romanengo sweetshop. If you’re hungry, continue along Via Macelli di Soziglia to Piazza del Ferro and eat at Maxelâ. Afterwards, stroll past the mansions on Via Garibaldi. At no.12 is a concept store offering eclectic furniture and stylish household goods. Follow this with a visit to Palazzo Rosso and its rooftop viewing platform. Then head for Via Roma and drop in at Finollo. The A-list Genoese order their ties here, as Gianni Agnelli of Fiat did before them. A few paces away is Pupi Solari, where chic locals buy children’s clothes. After the shopping tour, cocktails can be had at Nouvelle Vague (understated) or Le Colonne di San Bernardo (bohemian). Follow that with dinner at the elegant Chichibio or Berlocca, where they whip up delicious homemade pasta. Those wishing to dance into the night can go on to Beautiful Loser.
Via Scurreria 8R; + 39 (0) 10 247 3433
Besides the made-to-measure service fit for a shipping magnate, there is a rich collection of sumptuous sweaters in cashmere, alpaca and Shetland wool. Upstairs is a stock of vintage clothing and accessories for men and women, with Drumohr sweaters jostling for space with 1970s Hermès bags in crocodile.
Via Roma 26R; + 39 (0) 10 595 8354
Genoese designer Maria “Pupi” Solari’s elegant creations ensure that boys and girls (up to the age of 12) are always decked out in the smartest outfits.
Via Garibaldi 12
Via Garibaldi 12/1; + 39 (0) 10 253 0365
This stylish emporium offers a well-edited mix for the discerning shopper. Watches designed by Achille Castiglioni and furniture by Zaha Hadid share space with top-quality household goods. Its bespoke collection of diaries, magazine racks and the like, in various kinds of leather and different colours, make perfect gifts.
Via Roma, 38R; + 39 (0) 10 562 073
The beautiful craftsmanship of their bespoke shirts and handmade silk ties could easily lead to defections from Jermyn Street.
Via Chiabrera, 13R; + 39 (0) 10 246 5261
Hidden down a narrow lane, this shop touts a collection of 20th-century furniture that includes work from such masters as Ettore Sottsass, Marcel Breuer and Otto Wagner. They also do valuations and restoration work.
Via San Bernardo 32R; + 39 (0) 10 24 68 359
Purveyor of unusual herbs, spices, teas and infusions, all neatly arrayed in jars behind old-fashioned counters. Scour the handwritten labels for ingredients that are seldom to be found on today’s supermarket shelves.
Via Orefici 74R; + 39 (0) 10 247 4574
Giuseppe Verdi was a fan of the shop’s sweets, which are still exquisitely presented in antique display cases. Candied fruits, syrups and chocolates are all delicious, but crystallised sugar pastilles are the house speciality.
Via Macelli di Soziglia 45R; + 39 (0) 10 247 4162
You’ll need to book ahead, as the restaurant seats just over two dozen (there is, however, a section reserved for non-smokers). There’s Ligurian fare such as cappon magro (a salad of white fish and vegetables in a salsa verde), chestnut-flour pasta with pesto, or beef prepared several ways – with Castelmagno cheese, or curried with apples and Calvados.
Vico dietro al coro di; San Cosimo 6R; + 39 (0) 10 254 1254 The well-heeled Genoese flock to this nightspot to unwind with food and drink in basement rooms that are decorated all in black and white with subdued lighting. There’s a small dance floor where patrons can cut loose until late.
Via David Chiossone 20R; + 39 (0) 10 247 6191
The owners executed a modernist makeover when they converted a former antiques shop into an upmarket restaurant. Sample truffles at the bar, along with wine from a formidable list that includes plenty of unusual varieties. Those seeking privacy should ask for a table at the back. The comfy chairs are from Poltrona Frau.
Via San Bernardo 16R
Let Maurizio pick the ripest Sicilian blood oranges and the best avocados for your basket as you marvel at the marble bas-relief sculpture on his storefront.
Le Colonne di San Bernardo
Via San Bernardo, 61R; + 39 (0) 10 246 1252
The place feels bohemian despite being housed in a Renaissance palazzo. The bar area, surrounded by massive columns, was once the portico. Try the tagliolini pasta with lobster or ravioli in Portofino sauce (half pesto, half tomato).
Caffè degli Specchi
Salita Pollaiuoli 43R; + 39 (0) 10 246 8193
A well-known fixture that has survived the passage of time. Although the bar area can be a bit cramped, upstairs there’s room to linger over lunch and scan the papers.
Vico Inferiore del Ferro 9/11; + 39 (0) 10 247 4209
Meat lovers choose their cut of beef from the butcher’s marble counter and then get it served to them in a rustic, no-fuss atmosphere.
Vico De’ Gradi 4R; + 39 (0) 10 256 272
Part drinking den, part library, this underground space was converted from an old cellar. Patrons can browse the books on the shelves and even buy them. This place is perfect for a few drinks (some cold dishes are served) and a good chat with friends.
Via Serra Gropallo 4; Genoa-Nervi; + 39 (0) 10 323 1329; 10am–7pm, closed Mondays
The American philanthropist Mitchell Wolfson Jr’s love of Italian art resulted in this excellent private collection, which focuses on Italian Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Futurism and encompasses painting, sculpture, furniture, ceramics and drawings as well as propaganda posters.
Museum at Palazzo Rosso
Via Garibaldi 18; + 39 (0) 10 247 6351
Slightly younger than most of the buildings on this street, the palazzo is home to several roomfuls of paintings and frescoes. Visit the spare apartment designed by the rationalist architect Franco Albini and then take the elevator to the roof for panoramic views.
Piazza San Lorenzo 16; + 39 (0) 10 251 8824
This palazzo houses the city’s first boutique hotel. Rooms are minimalist with high ceilings and white walls. Opt for Room 7 with cathedral views. For old world faded luxury, head for The Bristol on Via XX Settembre.
29, shop manager at Via Garibaldi 12
“On Sundays I like to visit galleries or a museum and then relax with a cup of tea at Nouvelle Vague later. If I need to get my girlfriend a present, I’ll go to Polvere di Stelle, a vintage clothing shop where you can find Pucci and other classic designers. A good place to pick up a bottle of wine is Migone, next to Piazza San Matteo. For a quick bite, you can’t go wrong with Maxelâ. It’s not smart but they have lots of great meat dishes and know how to cut it just right.”
40, gallery owner
“I live above my gallery, what more could you ask for? The area around here used not to be very nice. In the 1970s you could almost give away a rental here. Now it’s a lot better. What I like about living here is that the shopkeepers know you by name and let you put things on tab. Torielli’s is great, as they have every spice you can imagine. Ask for pepper and they’ll look at you a bit funny, because they have about 32 different kinds. If you had some amazing couscous dish in Marrakech and don’t know how to do it, they’ll give you just the spices you need.
38, art restorer
“It’s more like a village here than a big city. But at the same time there’s lots going on. There are always exhibitions and shows on. It’s easy to make friends even if one is single. It’s a very comfortable lifestyle. Now that Renzo Piano has redone it, the old port has places to hang out. In good weather you can have drinks in bars like La Rosa dei Venti. In summer you can go there at weekends and have breakfast by the water, or you can go out to Boccadasse, the old fishing village on the outskirts of town, and take a walk along the coast.
Here’s how the city by the sea stacks up against its rivals.
Centrally located renovated flat
Genoa €3,588 – €5,172 per sq m
Milan €6,616 – €9,750 per sq m
Rome €5,824 – €8,813 per sq m
Venice €6,191 – €9,346 per sq m
Centrally located unrenovated flat
Genoa €2,931 – €4,229 per sq m
Milan €5,656 – €8,108 per sq m
Rome €5,111 – €7,905 per sq m
Venice €5,150 – €7,367 per sq m
Source: Nomisma (www.nomisma.it)
Salita Pollaiuoli 53R; + 39 (0) 10 246 5211; immobiliarepugliese.it
Bardazzi & Morelli
Via Roma 83/85R; + 39 (0) 10 868 0285; bardazziemorelli.it
In Italy, a buyer makes an offer and puts down 3 per cent of the property value as a “caparra” (deposit). At this point the estate agent sets down the terms of sale and agrees a date for the preliminary contract. This contract involves the buyer handing over about 20 per cent of the property value. The seller must declare any modifications. The two parties close the deal in the presence of a notary, when the deed is handed over. The process usually takes about 18 weeks. In Italy the estate agent is a mediator who receives a fee from buyer and seller; he doesn’t necessarily act in the buyer’s interest. For fees, budget an extra 10 per cent above the price, and be aware that the state taxes capital gains if you sell on a property within five years.