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Arriving at one of Europe’s great port cities other than by boat is a travel no-no. The planners who oversaw the growth of great ports such as Cádiz or Constanta, Venice or Genoa assumed that visitors, be they friend or foe, would naturally arrive by sea.
Yet so many travellers today, in their pursuit of speed, choose back-door routes into ancient ports, and thus fail to get the right perspective on their chosen destination.
Venice: Arriving in style
That’s one of the reasons why we at hidden europe are so keen on the Alilaguna water bus services that connect Venice’s Marco Polo airport with the city centre. Our favorite Alilaguna run is the “blue route” which takes 80 minutes to reach San Marco from the airport, with stops along the way at the island of Murano and the Venice Lido. The final run into San Marco is exquisite, with superb views of the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and tantalising glimpses, up beyond the landing stage at San Marco, to the seaward end of the Canal Grande.
Last week, we hopped along the coast of Liguria by boat, and much enjoyed the forty-minute run from Pegli into Genoa’s old port on a local ferry. This was not one of those posh tourist boats, but rather a humble municipal ferry run by local company AMT Genova.
Pegli is a nice enough spot, worth a visit in itself. The ferry from Pegli quay to Genoa leaves ten times each day (six times daily at weekends and public holidays), and is a great deal. A modest outlay of €1.20 (€2 if purchased on board) will get you an AMT Genova ticket valid on the company’s buses and boat services (and local trains, too) for 90 minutes. Enough to allow you to cruise from Pegli to Genoa and back again if you wish.
Ports for the future
True, if you have time and funds to spare, you could board one of the stylish Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV) ferries in Tunis or Tangier and a day or two later arrive at the modern ferry terminal west of Genoa’s city centre. But the AMT ship, called the “Onda Azzurra,” outsmarts the GNV long distance ferries by sailing right into the very heart of Genoa’s old port. On the way over from Pegli, you’ll see thousands of cranes, skirt the wharves of a busy working port, and then gaze on Genoa at its best—a fabulous medley of palazzi and churches rising in tiers behind the old port.
It would be sheer perfection, had not traffic planners in the mid-sixties constructed an elevated highway that skirts the waterfront, so creating an eyesore that unhappily severs the visual link between the old port and the ancient city it once served. The “Strada sopraelevata” is an environmental disaster, a travesty that mocks a once handsome port, but built at a time when city planners thought that ports were a mere relic of history.
The renaissance of the Porto Antico in Genoa over the last fifteen years shows just how wrong those planners were. Today the quaysides bustle as visitors queue to see one of Europe’s largest aquariums, locals throng waterfront bars and restaurants, and migrants from Senegal tout some of the strangest designer handbags and sunglasses that we’ve ever seen.
Also see: Our recommended list of budget hotels in Venice.