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Aug 23, 2012 07:37 AM

Looking for Input on LIgurian Trip

We will be spending 8 days in Liguria - split between Chiavari (actually, Lavagna) and Genoa - in October. We will not have a car on this trip.

Ive read the existing threads (big thanks to barberinibee, Erica and others) and also the books (downie, Plotkin, Coleman Andrews, etc etc). We will have a day trip to Camogli to visit the Monte Portofino and also Nonna Nina and maybe a day trip to the Cinque Terre to walk some of the coastal trail to see what all the fuss is about.

Wondering if there are any new Chowhound recommendations in this area? Has anyone been to La Brinca in Ne? Thats solidly on my itinerary. Any input about Axillo, Bruxaboschi or Ruscin in Genoa? Any suggestions for lunch if we take the little Casella train out of Genoa for a day? We will be staying near Corso Magenta in Genoa - any recommendations up there? We know about La Funicolare there.

Finally, we will be in Pisa at lunchtime on our way north from Rome - where will we find a good meal there (near the historic sites)

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  1. Here is something I posted a few years ago. Nothing has changed at these two places.

    "La Brinca in Ne'. Ne' is just slightly south of Chiavari, not that far off the autostrada, albeit a little difficult to find (up a winding dirt and gravel road in the middle of the vineyards). Sergio Circella has basically taken his family's trattoria and enhanced the typical 'rustic' dishes (from the Ligurian hills) which are served, with a wonderful wine list and a cantina where you can buy anything from the list. Sergio is passionate about wine (with no snobbism of any kind) and loves to talk about food as well. A fun guy to be with. As Antonio Santini said: "this is a wine list which would rate a 17 or 18 in Gambero Rosso if they rated wine lists of trattorie." A trattoria which, except for the wine list, was commonplace in Liguria 25 years ago, but sadly is dying out. Cucina povera at its best.

    And another:
    We haven't been to dei Mosto in a few years and am happy to see that it is still the same old great place. We've been to La Brinca several times and actually prefer dei Mosto, certainly in terms of food. The wine lists are comparable. The ambiance at La Brinca is better if that has any meaning to you. Both are really excellent trattorie. BTW, La Brinca does open for lunch on Sunday. Wonderful Ne' local color at Sunday lunch.

    With regard to Pisa. IMO, unfortunately, there are no really good restaurants in the city.

    2 Replies
    1. re: allende

      thanks a lot. Interesting you preferred dei Mosto for the food - and we are more food than wine tourists But I think I wont be able to resist la Brinca. We will probably be going up there for Saturday lunch if we are able to go. Maybe foolishly I am expecting we will be able to walk up to the restaurant from the bus stop in Graveglia - is it far from the square?

      Any more commentary on the food at these places and what approach to take? for example, Downie urges moderation with the antipasto dishes to be able to experience more of the menu, and mentions wood oven dishes. I am hoping there will be funghi but maybe it will be too early.

      1. re: jen kalb

        Can you get from Graveglia to Ne' walking. Yes, but long and on a busy road. It is about 5 km. to the center of town and then to La Brinca it's another long km. up a steep hill. La Brinca is not in the square. Taxi from the bus stop and back would probably be better.

        La Brinca is a big sprawling place. A lot of fun, but the preparation of the food is not as good as Mosto, but I'm nitpicking. Mosto is up a flight of steps, and there are two rooms. A little stuffy (physically), but a great owner and wonderful place. Either one is fine. Remember, these are really basic trattorie and the food is regional but very basic.

        Totally disagree with Downie if he urges moderation with the antipasti (don't have his book with me in the Val Badia). As you know, antipasti and primi are generally the glory of Italian food... again, a generalization. It is especially true IMO opinion in Liguria and definitely true at both La Brinca and Mosto. Wood ovens? Really don't recall. Funghi?Most likely after the September rains.

        Chiavari. Luchin is a must. Even with all the publicity, it is a great osteria. Get there early for lunch or dinner and sit outside under the arches. If you get there late, you'll have to sit inside, which is fine, but not as good as outside, either at lunch or dinner. I can taste that farinata as I write.

    2. Da Giovanni in San Frutuoso is a unique experience. It's only accessable via a long hike from Portofino or by boat, but you can get a boat from Lavagna. It offers good, fresh traditional food (catch of the day and lasagna al pesto) in an extraordinary setting. You need to book a table with a view to enjoy fully. Service can be haphazzard / slow, but just order a bottle of Pigato and enjoy the view of the bay while you wait.
      The boat trip to get there is lovely too!

      1. While in Liguria: if you go to Luchin in Chiavari, Franco Cosoni makes pasta stamps for corzetti, and he is just down the street.

        It sounds like you have mixed feelings about Cinque Terre. It is quite lovely but sadly overrun with tourists. By September, though, the crowds may have thinned a bit. I don't have any particularly memorable dining experiences there (partly because we had lots of picnics with kids and partly because my husband doesn't like seafood), but I think that DeMananan in Corniglia might be a good choice for a meal. I can't personally vouch for it, but Corniglia doesn't get nearly the traffic of the other towns (too many steps) and remains more unspoiled than the other villages.

        1. Sorry to bring this up, but I think you might really feel (and be) stranded staying in Lavagna. There is a food market (probably once a week) and some very old and homey trattorie and bars in the centro (where I assume you staying to be within walking distance of the train station), but otherwise the centro is largely abandoned, mainly because the 90 percent of seafront is walled off and given over to yacht building and repair.

          All the food action is in Chiavari, but it is a full 30 minute walk from Lavagna's centro to the heart of Chiavari's food and bar scene. Shopping in Chiavari's gastronomia, or picking up farinata to go from Luchin (they also make a very tasty cima alla genovese) for a dinner at home will probably feel too far to go if you are staying in Lavagna,

          This is a great location for food shopping and restaurants in October, which can be rainy on the Riviera. Chiavari has porticoes.

          I hope you are planning to go to the Mercato Orientale for fruit, mushrooms, fish, and veg while you are in Genova. Also great olives and such. You can pick up excellent roast chickens there in the afternoon, although do shop around and choose by eyeball and nose. some shops are better than others. Some of the specialty food shops near the Mercato also have great stuff to take home (in particular, Danielli for fresh pasta). If you want to shop for olive oil to take home, I would do that in Lavagna, but you can also taste a lot of different local olive oils at E.V.O. in the piazza Colombo (near Danielli).

          In the old caruggi in Genova, I think Romenengo is overrated for candied chestnuts, but they are nice thing to look for in October in the city that invented them. If you have David Downie's book, he may have tips in the direction (like allende, I am nowhere near my copy of his book, but he is especially good on bakeries and historic food shops).

          I have heard that the over-the-counter pesto in the Co-Op supermarket in Camogli is especially good. But Nonna Nina makes one of my all time favorite pestos in the region. The prettiest way to get there is to take the train to Rapallo and catch the bus from there to Ruta, and switch to San Rocco, rather than going to Camogli to take the bus up. You can walk down to Camogli after your lunch, via the staircase. The best coffee in Camogli is not on the lungomare, but on the upper level in a hole in the wall called "Bricco".

          If you can arrive in San Rocco before the shops close at 1pm, it is worth going into the butcher shop directly under Nonna Nina and getting an ounce or two of sliced testa in cassetta (home made there), and also walking to the bakery (just down the stairs in front of the San Rocco church) for either handmade grissini, fruit pies by the slice or delicious home-made pesto to take home. (Skip the foccacia.) It will all keep until you get back to wherever you are staying.

          Caffe Delfino in Chiavari makes an exquisite shakerato, and an amazing little chocolate confection called "un sorriso." It is fun to also go around the street and poke around the Chiavari branch of the torrefazione Bocchia (main store is in Recco). You can usually buy bags of excellent amaretti there, and other Ligurian baked sweets. Roam the streets to check out the gastronomia, some of which offer great stuffed anchovies and pressed octopus for sale, as well as quite a range of cheeses.

          Hands down, best gelato in the area is Frigidarium in Rapallo. There are also good gastronomia and at least 3 good wine stores in the Rapallo's small centro, and it is fun to walk around in the afternoon, when everybody comes out to shop and chatter.

          You probably shouldn't leave the region without sampling foccacia col formaggio. I'm not the best guide to it, but I tend to agree with Downie that Moltedo in Recco is the best -- but only at their main location, which has no place to eat and the service is rude. If you are moved to go to Nervi (which has two unique museums -- the Arte Moderne and the Wolfsonia), I love the view from La Marinella and their foccacia col formaggio is my 2d favorite version. Da o Vittorio has just opened a branch in Chiavari (next to Luchin), and it has a loyal following in Recco (its home base) for its foccacia col formaggio.

          Also, in October, you shouldn't leave the region without sampling pansoti con noci. Try to track down a good version in Genova. If nothing else, you can buy the pansoti and the sauce at Danielli and literally toss it together at home.

          12 Replies
          1. re: barberinibee

            PS: Don't know if the recession will change this, but for 8 years running, Lavagna has held an October pesto festival (usually a weekend around Oct 10) and it is a great opportunity to taste a lot of Ligurian olive oil, and catch some subtle differences between pesto makers. (But I'd still stay in Chiavari.)

            1. re: barberinibee

              thanks a lot for responding! I have been struggling with the San Rocco bit - originally I was going to stay at a b&b up there and hike and eat...but the logistics got too complex and I was spending too much time studying autobus orari - I think your suggestion of the bus from Rapallo is a good one and my question is only whether we will be able to fit in some hiking on Monte Portofino or not - Id wanted to hike down to San Fruttuoso, and maybe take a boat back but Im not sure we have enough time for all that with the eagerly anticipated lunch - I guess we can abbreviate the hikes..

              Im going to have to assimilate the ream of info you have provided (along with the reams I got elsewhere.

              You know, after looking at the towns on street view, Ive taken your advice and switched or reservation over to a hotel in Chiavari. It seems like both towns have interest - David Downie calls Lavagna "a wonderful sleeper" but your points, about the length of walk for dinner (esp after a day of touring) is a good one. Im really looking forward to this region and Im sure will have more questions as I go along..

              1. re: jen kalb

                I haven't got Downie's book in hand, but my recollection is that he considers Lavagna a "wonderful sleeper" when it comes to food. It is certainly asleep when it comes to rescuing its atmospheric, decaying centro, most of which is boarded up. I think you will be much happier in Chiavari. But hop over to Lavagna for the pesto festival if you are there at the same time (and pet the lonely lions).

                You could hike before lunch at Nonna Nina if you take a train to Camogli and then take a boat to Punta Chiappa and walk up the mountain to Nonna Nina (1 hour.) Just bring a change of shirt, even in October. (there's a restroom by the church bus stop.) It is also pleasant to get off the bus in Ruta and walk to Nonna Nina (40 minutes, flat walk). You could also walk after lunch in Nonna Nina down to Punta Chiappa instead of Camogli (about 35 minutes), and from Punta Chiappa get a boat to San Fruttuoso or Camogli. If you go to San Fruttuoso after lunch, I don't think you have enough hours of daylight left to hike to Portofino, especially not in the latter part of October. It's a solid 2-hour walk through unlighted, poorly marked trails. Remember if you hike in the Monte Portofino in October to use Autan PLUS tick spray There is lyme even though there are no deer (wild boars and wild goats). Remember you need PLUS, not mosquito spray.

                You'll need to book restaurants in advance if your travel dates coincide with the Salone di Nautico, this year Oct 6-14. It's the annual yacht show and it jams up good restaurants as far south as Sestri Levante, and certainly in Genova. Upside is that you may get some extra boat runs in and out of San Fruttuoso.

                Three more tips: I am not a huge fan of trofie, the local stubby pasta that is simply twisted between the thumb and first finger and served with pesto. For me, eating pesto with lasagna noodles (cut to resemble postcards) is really the way to go, That said, in October you will see a fair amount of handmade chestnut trofie and that is tasty.

                Closer to your travel dates, take a look a Nonna Nina's autumn menu on line. The one they hand you in the restaurant is handwritten in Genovese dialect, and it is hard to decipher.

                Yet another autumn treat of the region in addition to mushrooms and chestnuts is huge Abate pears. One will last you several days, unrefrigerated. Sliced thin, they are delicious.

                1. re: barberinibee

                  I will indeed be in Genova during the boat fair. When I started planning this trip I would have been there a week earlier so it wasnt on my radar screen - it was only when the itinerary had to flip that I found it became a factor - many fewer apartments suddenly available for let and some with higher prices. How soon do you think I need to think about booking the restaurants? I don't want to be too compulsive and Im still hoping we can walk up early and get in without reservations at simpler places for lunch per our usual practice.

                  Re the pesto i dintorni festival in Lavagna, thanks so much for the info - Im not seeing anything about it online yet. Our last day in Chiavari will be October 7 so I think it will be marginal whether the festival if held will be that weekend or next. I will report in any event.

                  BB and Lisacape, I understand the fascination with the corzetti stamps as artisanal objects - are you aware of any restaurants in the area that actually serve corzetti?

                  Im so looking forward to the fruits of fall, which taste so delicious in northern italy., pears,
                  apples and moscato-type grapes! thanks for the reminder!

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I've eaten corzetti in Manuelina's in Recco. For reasons I've never figured out, it seems to be very popular in Sestri Levante. I'm not fond of it. While the imprints can be pretty, the pasta itself doesn't seem to go well with any sauce I've had it with. They are like mushy eucharists, and they tend to stick together.

                    You can usually find dry corzetti in all the boutique tourist markets that sell artisinal pastas. Maccarini in San Rocco (down the steps from the church) usually has them. Or buy them in them in the pasta fresca shop on the lungomare in Camogli (again near that church, next to Revello's bakery). They are probably everywhere in Chiavari. Rather than waste a restaurant meal on sampling corzetti, pick up a bag to take home. If you cook up a sauce you like with them, let me know!

                    I don't think you need to book simple lunch places in Genova during the Salone. If you dearly want to try someplace, calling the same morning should do. It's only if you want to go to one of the highly-regarded places you should reserve when you get to Italy. You should definitely book anything in Ne, and probably Nonna Nina too.

                    Apart from the apples that grow in my garden, I've never had a good apple in Liguria. A lot of them are shipped in from Trentino, and by the time they arrive on the coast, they are mealy. If you seen some locally grown ones, maybe give it a go, or consult with the vendors in the Mercato Orientale (my very favorite place to buy fresh produce).

                    1. re: barberinibee

                      Ha, mushy eucharists! - sounds about right. I was attracted by some of the recipes where the corzetti seem to be made in part with chestnut flour, and the "saucing" is with pignoli, and marjoram,
                      did you see this nonna nina corzetti youtube?
                      Maybe I can try to cook them in Genoa.

                      Re the apples you are right, in the north the pears are better - actually the very best apples I have had in Italy are the anurche, grown in campania - we had these in Napoli and they were very apple-y.
                      When we were in Salon del Gusto/Squitizze in Naples, they were pickling the anurca for inclusion in their christmas pickled salad (seems sort of like giardeniera, otherwise). Would have liked to try that version!

                      Your advice on the booking makes is reassuring- its more what I would expect anyway, if I were visiting say Rome, florence or Venice.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        You might be able to get corzetti made with chestnut flour at Maccarini panificio in San Rocco di Camogli.

                        Big chunks of mushrooms and just a few corzetti disks would help defeat the stuck-together quality.

                        and the best pears...




                        1. re: barberinibee

                          yum. I love good pears. and pears with pecorino. Maybe we wont need to go to restaurants at all.

                          1. re: jen kalb

                            If you do (:)), would love to know that stoccafisso in any form (in umido, al forno, whatever) is still on menus. It's been a whiole since we were in Liguria, whose cooking I love, and whose stoccafisso I adore, as well as pansoti, farinata in trattorie and ristoranti whose names have long since been misplaced. But we will be back. Buon soggiorno!

                            1. re: bob96

                              Stoccafisso is still ubiquitous, particularly in Genova, where you will often see it offered "accomodato" , a tomato-ey stew that includes potatoes, olives, capers, pine nuts and plenty of herbs. In my experience, best to try it in a well regarded place, because stoccafisso can get pretty funky if not handled with care.

                              1. re: barberinibee

                                I REALLY love bacalao or actually salt/dried cod in all its forms, my least favorite are the pureed form (like brandade or the versions in the veneto) my most favorite a version in one of Paula Wolferts books that is like a creamy version of gomes sa. looking forward to stocafisso! Once the fish is desalted/hydrated it spoils easily, just like fresh fish.

                                1. re: barberinibee

                                  Good news. Having grown up with it and baccala, a little funk is OK. At least in our NY Calabrese home, stocco was more prized than baccala, but I love (and miss) both forms of dried/salt cod. "Accomodato" is mostly what we had in Genova, and in some similar form in Calabria as well.