Cradle of the modern Italian game, Genoa is enjoying a renaissance after years in the doldrums. While improvements to this cramped, historic sea port have given the city a higher international profile, local rivals Genoa and Sampdoria are both occupying spots in Serie A.
The Derby della Lanterna between them is named after the historic lighthouse once overseen by the uncle of Christopher Columbus. The fixture itself echoes tradition and bitter friction.
In 2015, Genoa should have enjoyed a rare foray into Europe, only to file the paperwork late to the authorities and let in the club below them: Sampdoria.
No, it’s not quite the golden days of 1992 when Sampdoria were European Cup finalists and Genoa reached the semis of the UEFA Cup but football here is back where it belongs – with the elite.
One of a handful of high-profile groundshares, along with Milan, Rome and Verona, Genoa’s Luigi Ferraris Stadium should be hosting both clubs for some time to come – plans for undercapitalised Sampdoria to move out to Sestri Ponente by Genoa Airport only reached the early stages. Italy’s failed bid to host Euro 2016 also ended dreams of a redeveloped Luigi Ferraris.
The Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club were formed in 1893 by and for British expatriates. The most notable among them was a certain James Spensley, who opened the club’s football section and initiated the inaugural Italian Football Championship between Genoa and clubs from another venerable football hub, Turin.
Spensley, a doctor from Stoke Newington who would die tending enemy soldiers on the battlefield in 1915, kept goal as Genoa won six of the first seven Italian championships. Two of their competitors in the burgeoning top flight were Andrea Doria and Sampierdarenese, also local.
Originally based in Campasso on the city’s western outskirts, the Genoa club moved to Marassi, on the east bank of the Bisagno river, where a ground was opened in 1911.
This became a regular stage for Italian internationals, renamed the Luigi Ferraris after another legendary Genoa player to perish in World War I. Andrea Doria played on a more modest pitch alongside, occasionally meeting Sampierdarenese in the Ligurian leagues.
Merged, then separated, then merged again as Sampdoria in 1946, the new club moved into the Luigi Ferraris.
Thus began one of the key city rivalries in the Italian game: the passionate, colourful Derby della Lanterna. The run-up to the match is frantic but can equally be comedic. Before the 2013-14 derby, Genoa youth-team coach Luca De Prà was caught spying on a Sampdoria training session. Decked out in full camouflage gear, De Prà was found hidden in the bushes overlooking the practice ground.
Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo airport is 7.5km (five miles) west of the city centre, linked by Volabus (every 30-45mins, journey time 30-45mins) that calls at both main stations, Principe and Brignole, set either side of the old town centre, Centro Storico. Tickets (€6 on board, €5 online) include one onward journey. Tickets for the bus network and one-line metro that connects the two stations are otherwise €1.50, €4.50 for a 24hr pass.
Brignole station is almost walking distance from the stadium.
A taxi (+39 010 5966) from the airport carries a fixed rate of €7/€8 for each person to each station, provided there are three people travelling.
Near Brignole Station closer to the stadium, the Hotel Moderno Verdi is a very comfortable four-star. In a quiet location on the stadium side of Brignole a 15min walk to the ground, il Borgo di Genova is a stylish, no-smoking B&B. The Hotel Brignole is a renovated three-star while cheaper I Capricci is a pleasant, three-room, off-suite B&B.
The many lodgings near Principe Station range from the historic, five-star Grand Hotel Savoia Genova to the family-run two-star Hotel Balbi. The nearby Hotel della Posta is similarly affordable. Even cheaper is the Bernhoef (via Balbi 15, +39 010 247 2166), a basic bargain-basement internet find.
Nightlife is concentrated off in little downtown hubs such as the piazza delle Erbe (most notably the beer temple of 28 Erbe itself) and nearby piazza San Bernardo (most notably contemporary evening-only BaR MoReTTi). Near San Bernardo, Mangiabuono (vico Vegetti 3r) is a great little pesto-with-everything restaurant run by a rugby-obsessed Anglophile. Also recommended are the Bavarian Hofbräuhaus on via Boccardo and the friendly little Fabrique bar with its Samp and Inter paraphernalia by the Galata Museo del Mare in the docks.
For something trendier, there’s a stretch of lounge-type venues on via Casarea off focal XX Settembre.
In summer, the action moves to the seafront, at Foce and along passeggiata Anita Garibaldi.