8 Places For Foodies Along The Italian Riviera

Aerial view of city of Recco, Genoa (Genova) province, Ligurian riviera, Italy.

Aerial view of Recco, home to a famous variety of focaccia.

Getty

Delectable offerings throughout Italy have made it onto the world's culinary stage, although some of the country’s most popular dishes hail from only a few areas, like Rome and Naples and their surrounding countrysides. (Thank the Eternal City and Lazio for spaghetti alla carbonara and pasta all'Amatriciana; Campania and its capital for pizza and inslata Caprese.) Even though Ligurian cooking is perhaps best known for its pesto, foodies find that this seaside region, running from the French border near Ventimiglia to Marinella di Sarzana south of La Spezia, and encompassing the Italian Rivieras and Cinque Terre, has an especially rich culinary lode to mine. Despite the mountainous terrain and the challenges that go with farming it, Liguria has produced a bounty of specialties in addition to what it draws from the sea (make sure to try the fish stews ciuppin and burrida when here). As elsewhere in Italy, the region's hamlets, towns and villages have their own unique dishes, and while you can sample many of them throughout Liguria, there’s nothing quite like tasting a dish or pastry at its source. Here are a some of the places (listed alphabetically) with scrumptious local edibles not to miss.

ALASSIO. In the seaside resort of Alassio on the Riviera di Ponente, the western part of the Italian Riviera, you’ll find the elegant Caffè Pasticceria Balzola, an historic gathering spot long visited by some of Italy’s most prominent names. In the early twentieth century Rinaldo Balzola, a pastry chef for the Italian royal family, created the extraordinarily delicious Baci di Alassio ("Alassio kisses"). Somewhat like chocolate macarons, each bacio has two cookies made with cocoa, egg whites and hazelnuts sandwiching a creamy dark-chocolate ganache filling. Sample these addictive treats in the stylish tea room at Balzola, today run by the fourth generation of the family.

GENOA. You can try a wide range of the region's specialties in Liguria’s capital, in addition to those with origins in the city itself. Minestrone Genovese is the local variation of the popular vegetable soup made in many parts of Italy, most famously in Milan. Like many minestrones, the soup’s vegetable mix depends on the season, but what separates this zuppa from its equivalents is the addition of pesto. Pandolce Genovese, the raisin, pine nut and candied citrus bread-cake, is believed to have roots in Persia, but according to local lore it became firmly linked to the city when Andrea Doria, Genoa’s mighty admiral, ordered a competition to create a new version of the cake, one that could stay fresh for extended periods of time so that the Republic’s mariners could it enjoy it on their lengthy voyages.


The street food and fast food here are especially tasty. Head to the city's sciamaddas, small eateries preparing quick bites; and friggitorias, where fried goodies are served up (you’ll find many of these spots in the historic Sottoripa section of Genoa near the Porto Antico), that are perfect for on-the-go snacking. Here you can try such edibles as veggie tortas, or tarts; panissa fritta, chickpea fritters seasoned with herbs; and cuculli, another type of fritter made with chickpea flour or potatoes and flavored with marjoram; and an assortment of focaccias. If you have room for a sweet, try Genoa’s pànera, a coffee-flavored semifreddo (a mousse-like dessert), first made in the city’s Boccadasse neighborhood.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE/CINQUE TERRE. Monterosso, one of the wildly popular group of villages and towns comprising the Cinque Terre, is not only famous as a travelers’ destination; it’s also renowned in culinary circles for the anchovies farmed off its shores. Harvested at night in the Ligurian Sea, these tiny squiggles of fish turn up in everything from appetizers—try them fried or stuffed—to pasta and in main courses like capon magro, a seafood salad prepared in the region. L’Ancora della Tortuga restaurant in town serves spaghettini with anchovies and other fish dishes in a perch overlooking the sea. Considering the importance of anchovy farming, Monterosso holds two anchovy festivals—one in June (celebrating fried anchovies), the other in September (for salted anchovies). Wherever you dine make sure to try the locally produced sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, with dessert.

PORTOVENERE/GULF OF LA SPEZIA. Mussels farmed in the waters off Portovenere’s harbor and in the Gulf of La Spezia are a delicious local treat. Try the muscoli ripieni, or stuffed mussels, usually prepared with a cheese and mortadella filling; or spaghetti with mussels in a tomato and garlic sauce. Another dish special to Portovenere and La Spezia is mescuia, a tasty bean (cannellini and chickpea) soup made with grains like spelt, says Antonella Cheli, owner of the Antica Osteria del Carugio in the historic part of town. She also cites the pasta barbotte, which her restaurant serves unique to the area with pumpkin/courgette flowers and anchovies. “It’s a typical, ancient pasta from the hills above La Spezia made in terracotta dishes,” she says. Another area specialty is Testaroli, also with origins in ancient times and also made in terracotta dishes. The often triangle-shape pasta is cooked like a crepe and usually served with pesto or mushroom sauce, or the region’s EVOO and parmigiano, says Cheli. It is also popular in the nearby Lunigiana. Scoglietti di Portovenere, cookies made with ingredients similar to what you’ll find in a pandolce, are another local treat and were created from a Cheli family recipe.

RAPALLO. At the Caffè Pasticceria Canepa 1862, they’ve been baking cubeletti, a type of jam-filled pastry based on historic recipes, for more than 150 years. While they can be found elsewhere along the Riviera, cubeletti have become identified with Rapallo, thanks to Canepa’s superb and long-standing production of these small cupcake-shaped sweets, created with a dough using fresh-cream butter and filled with quince or sometimes apricot or other flavored jams.

RECCO. Early forms of focaccia were likely made on the Italian peninula during the Etruscan era, which means there’s been plenty of time for Ligurian villages to refine this delicious salty bread and claim a version of it as their own. One of the most famous types is the focaccia di Recco, produced in the small town a short train ride from Genoa. Here focaccia, pretty irresistible in its most basic forms, comes laced with creamy stracchino cheese, a recipe devised in the late 19th century by Manuelina Capurro, who served it at her tavern, which attracted such diverse names as the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and Albert Einstein. Her descendants followed with a restaurant and focacceria, where you can sample this delectable today.

SAN REMO. This seaside resort is known for Sardenaira, a focaccia-style treat with tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers, a culinary cousin to pissaladière, popular across the nearby French border, which uses many of the same ingredients, minus the tomatoes. 

SORI. While ubiquitous in Liguria today, the pasta called trofie was once most closely associated with the towns and villages of the Golfo del Paradiso. Made by hand and shaped in tight swirls, trofie are then mated with pesto, string beans and potatoes. In June each years Sori holds a festival honoring the dish called Sagra delle Trofie—Trenitalia even makes special stops at the town's train station to bring in fans of this artisanal pasta. At other times of the year you can sample it in local trattorias and at the Ostaria Da Drin, a restaurant located in a village about 10 minutes by car from Sori.



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Delectable offerings throughout Italy have made it onto the world's culinary stage, although some of the country’s most popular dishes hail from only a few areas, like Rome and Naples and their surrounding countrysides. (Thank the Eternal City and Lazio for spaghetti alla carbonara and pasta all'Amatriciana; Campania and its capital for pizza and inslata Caprese.) Even though Ligurian cooking is perhaps best known for its pesto, foodies find that this seaside region, running from the French border near Ventimiglia to Marinella di Sarzana south of La Spezia, and encompassing the Italian Rivieras and Cinque Terre, has an especially rich culinary lode to mine. Despite the mountainous terrain and the challenges that go with farming it, Liguria has produced a bounty of specialties in addition to what it draws from the sea (make sure to try the fish stews ciuppin and burrida when here). As elsewhere in Italy, the region's hamlets, towns and villages have their own unique dishes, and while you can sample many of them throughout Liguria, there’s nothing quite like tasting a dish or pastry at its source. Here are a some of the places (listed alphabetically) with scrumptious local edibles not to miss.

ALASSIO. In the seaside resort of Alassio on the Riviera di Ponente, the western part of the Italian Riviera, you’ll find the elegant Caffè Pasticceria Balzola, an historic gathering spot long visited by some of Italy’s most prominent names. In the early twentieth century Rinaldo Balzola, a pastry chef for the Italian royal family, created the extraordinarily delicious Baci di Alassio ("Alassio kisses"). Somewhat like chocolate macarons, each bacio has two cookies made with cocoa, egg whites and hazelnuts sandwiching a creamy dark-chocolate ganache filling. Sample these addictive treats in the stylish tea room at Balzola, today run by the fourth generation of the family.

GENOA. You can try a wide range of the region's specialties in Liguria’s capital, in addition to those with origins in the city itself. Minestrone Genovese is the local variation of the popular vegetable soup made in many parts of Italy, most famously in Milan. Like many minestrones, the soup’s vegetable mix depends on the season, but what separates this zuppa from its equivalents is the addition of pesto. Pandolce Genovese, the raisin, pine nut and candied citrus bread-cake, is believed to have roots in Persia, but according to local lore it became firmly linked to the city when Andrea Doria, Genoa’s mighty admiral, ordered a competition to create a new version of the cake, one that could stay fresh for extended periods of time so that the Republic’s mariners could it enjoy it on their lengthy voyages.


The street food and fast food here are especially tasty. Head to the city's sciamaddas, small eateries preparing quick bites; and friggitorias, where fried goodies are served up (you’ll find many of these spots in the historic Sottoripa section of Genoa near the Porto Antico), that are perfect for on-the-go snacking. Here you can try such edibles as veggie tortas, or tarts; panissa fritta, chickpea fritters seasoned with herbs; and cuculli, another type of fritter made with chickpea flour or potatoes and flavored with marjoram; and an assortment of focaccias. If you have room for a sweet, try Genoa’s pànera, a coffee-flavored semifreddo (a mousse-like dessert), first made in the city’s Boccadasse neighborhood.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE/CINQUE TERRE. Monterosso, one of the wildly popular group of villages and towns comprising the Cinque Terre, is not only famous as a travelers’ destination; it’s also renowned in culinary circles for the anchovies farmed off its shores. Harvested at night in the Ligurian Sea, these tiny squiggles of fish turn up in everything from appetizers—try them fried or stuffed—to pasta and in main courses like capon magro, a seafood salad prepared in the region. L’Ancora della Tortuga restaurant in town serves spaghettini with anchovies and other fish dishes in a perch overlooking the sea. Considering the importance of anchovy farming, Monterosso holds two anchovy festivals—one in June (celebrating fried anchovies), the other in September (for salted anchovies). Wherever you dine make sure to try the locally produced sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, with dessert.

PORTOVENERE/GULF OF LA SPEZIA. Mussels farmed in the waters off Portovenere’s harbor and in the Gulf of La Spezia are a delicious local treat. Try the muscoli ripieni, or stuffed mussels, usually prepared with a cheese and mortadella filling; or spaghetti with mussels in a tomato and garlic sauce. Another dish special to Portovenere and La Spezia is mescuia, a tasty bean (cannellini and chickpea) soup made with grains like spelt, says Antonella Cheli, owner of the Antica Osteria del Carugio in the historic part of town. She also cites the pasta barbotte, which her restaurant serves unique to the area with pumpkin/courgette flowers and anchovies. “It’s a typical, ancient pasta from the hills above La Spezia made in terracotta dishes,” she says. Another area specialty is Testaroli, also with origins in ancient times and also made in terracotta dishes. The often triangle-shape pasta is cooked like a crepe and usually served with pesto or mushroom sauce, or the region’s EVOO and parmigiano, says Cheli. It is also popular in the nearby Lunigiana. Scoglietti di Portovenere, cookies made with ingredients similar to what you’ll find in a pandolce, are another local treat and were created from a Cheli family recipe.

RAPALLO. At the Caffè Pasticceria Canepa 1862, they’ve been baking cubeletti, a type of jam-filled pastry based on historic recipes, for more than 150 years. While they can be found elsewhere along the Riviera, cubeletti have become identified with Rapallo, thanks to Canepa’s superb and long-standing production of these small cupcake-shaped sweets, created with a dough using fresh-cream butter and filled with quince or sometimes apricot or other flavored jams.

RECCO. Early forms of focaccia were likely made on the Italian peninula during the Etruscan era, which means there’s been plenty of time for Ligurian villages to refine this delicious salty bread and claim a version of it as their own. One of the most famous types is the focaccia di Recco, produced in the small town a short train ride from Genoa. Here focaccia, pretty irresistible in its most basic forms, comes laced with creamy stracchino cheese, a recipe devised in the late 19th century by Manuelina Capurro, who served it at her tavern, which attracted such diverse names as the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio and Albert Einstein. Her descendants followed with a restaurant and focacceria, where you can sample this delectable today.

SAN REMO. This seaside resort is known for Sardenaira, a focaccia-style treat with tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers, a culinary cousin to pissaladière, popular across the nearby French border, which uses many of the same ingredients, minus the tomatoes. 

SORI. While ubiquitous in Liguria today, the pasta called trofie was once most closely associated with the towns and villages of the Golfo del Paradiso. Made by hand and shaped in tight swirls, trofie are then mated with pesto, string beans and potatoes. In June each years Sori holds a festival honoring the dish called Sagra delle Trofie—Trenitalia even makes special stops at the town's train station to bring in fans of this artisanal pasta. At other times of the year you can sample it in local trattorias and at the Ostaria Da Drin, a restaurant located in a village about 10 minutes by car from Sori.



I have worked for Italian publications in the US and Italy, including Harper's Bazaar, Mondadori's Linea Italiana and RAI's Moda. For Clarkson Potter/Crown I produced an...