Savona is undoubtedly one of the lesser-known Italian cities.
Right in the heart of the Italian Riviera, the city is often neglected by tourists who focus their attention on the more attractive seaside locations. After all, most of the tourists come to the area for its beaches and pristine waters and do not even think that Savona might be an interesting place to visit.
However, as it happens frequently with little-known places, Savona hides some true gems in terms of art, history, and culture and it is totally worth visiting. If you spend a few hours there, you’ll discover a lot of interesting things – and eat amazing food, as it always happens in Italy.
To tell the truth, the city has experienced some sort of awakening lately because it has become a very important cruise hub. Many Mediterranean cruises arrive and depart from its port, bringing lots of tourists to the city. Therefore, it is common for people on a cruise to have a few hours to spend in Savona and I thought it might be useful to write a blog post focusing on what to see and do if you visit Savona in one day or less, since I think this is the average time visitors spend in the city.
I am a local, I live just a few kilometers from the city and I love Savona from the bottom of my heart, so I’d love to take you with me to visit this enchanting little town, telling you more about it and making you discover its hidden treasures.
some palaces in the city center
Shall we take a tour around Savona, then?
If you are visiting Savona while on a cruise, you’ll most likely start your visit from the port. Actually, you might do the same even if you are an independent traveler, as some of the biggest parking places are there, so it’s convenient to begin our tour from there.
The first thing you’ll see, when at the port, is a nice little tower. Such tower, the Torre Leon Pancaldo or Torre della Quarda, is commonly known as La Torretta and it is the symbol of the city. The tower dates back to Medieval times and carries the name of Leon Pancaldo, a mariner who explored the world with Magellan. It also holds a little statue of the Nostra Signora della Misericordia, who is the patron saint of the city.
la Torretta, the symbol of Savona
But there is actually another important tower, not far from the Torretta, and it’s the Torre del Brandale. This tower is part of a bigger complex of buildings, known as the Complesso del Brandale. The tower dates back to the 12th century and was the biggest of the 50 towers on the city walls. It holds a big bell called the Campanassa, whose tolls highlight all the most important events in the city.
the harbor with the Brandale Tower in the distance
Just a few steps away from the Torre del Brandale, there is one of the most important monuments in the city. It is the Priamar, a huge fortress built by the Genovese people between 1542 and 1544 while trying to enslave the city of Savona. The fortress is the biggest in the area and it is a nice spot to visit for its historical interest and for the great views of the city and the port.
The Priamar now hosts the Archeological Museum, the Sandro Pertini and Renata Cuneo Museum, with amazing works of art, and it is a location for temporary exhibitions and events. There, you can also visit the prison cell of Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian politician who contributed to the unification of the country and who was imprisoned there in 1830-1831.
the Priamar seen from the harbor
We have stayed by the sea so far, but it’s now time to move into the heart of the city.
Savona has a Medieval hub of streets and narrow alleys, which are articulated around Via Pia, a pedestrian street lined with trendy shops and bars. The area is quite small, yet it’s packed with things to see and do.
First of all, you must look for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta and visit the Cappella Sistina. Yes, you’ve read it right: there’s a Sistine Chapel in Savona as well. As a matter of fact, Savona is the birthplace of two Popes, Sisto IV and Giulio II, and is known as “la città dei Papi” (the city of Popes). Sisto IV, who was the promoter of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, had another Chapel built in Savona as a mausoleum for its parents and the Chapel is an amazing example of rococo style frescoes.
the old town at Christmas time
If you are interested in art and feel like visiting museums, there are two important museums in the area: the Museo della Ceramica and the Pinacoteca Civica, both hosted in the historic Palazzo Gavotti. The Museo della Ceramica is one of the most important museums of ceramic art in the world and testimonies a local tradition which has been active for more than six centuries now,
The Pinacoteca Civica, the City Art Museum, is now directly connected to the Museo della Ceramica, giving visitors the opportunity of seeing Renaissance paintings but also an amazing selection contemporary art, with masterpieces by famous artists such as Picasso, Miro, Magritte, De Chirico, Twombly, Jorn, Capogrossi, and Fontana.
Now I am sure that all this walking and visiting monuments and museums made you a bit hungry.
You are in the right place as in the oldest part of Savona you can find some of the best food in the city and actually taste some dishes you’ll hardly find somewhere else. As a matter of fact, two are the specialties of Savona: panissa and farinata bianca.
Panissa is some sort of polenta-like dough, made with chickpea flour, water, and salt, which is cut into slices and then eaten either raw or deep fried. The perfect place where you can taste this delicacy is a small shop, with no sign on the door, hidden in a narrow alley called Vico Crema. If you don’t know how to find it, just ask people where you can buy “il panino con le fette” (the sandwich with slices) and everybody will know. In that little, busy shop passed down from generation to generation two ladies will serve you a sandwich filled with some slices of panissa, which is just the best street food ever.
a few slices of farinata
The other delicacy you’ll find in Savona – and in Savona only – is farinata bianca. Farinata is a thin, unleavened pancake made with chickpea flour, which can be found everywhere in Liguria. Farinata bianca, instead, is made with wheat flour and the legend says that it was born in 1528, when the Genoese Andrea Doria destroyed Savona and imposed a ban on chickpea flour, forcing people to use wheat flour for their farinata. The best farinata in town can be eaten in Via Pia, in a restaurant called Vino e Farinata.
After filling your stomach, I am sure you are ready for another nice walk. Just a few steps away from Via Pia, you’ll find Via Paleocapa and its covered walkways, the commercial hub of the city and probably the best-known street in town. There you’ll find lots of nice shops and bars but there’s something you must not miss: il Palazzo dei Pavoni (the Palace of the Peacocks), built in 1910, an amazing example of Art Nouveau architecture, especially influenced by the Viennese Secession Movement.
Actually, there are many examples of Art Nouveau around town and if you are interested in seeing more of them, you can walk down Corso Italia, another main street in town, and get to Palazzo delle Piane, commonly known as Palazzo delle Palle (the Palace of the Balls). one of the best examples of Art Nouveau style in town. The building is known as “the palace of balls” because it has six big copper balls on the roof. It is awesome in terms of decoration and style, both inside and outside.
the Palazzo dei Pavoni, in the city center
No matter what you want to do now, there’s a place you absolutely can’t miss.
As a matter of fact, there’s something quite unique happening in Savona every day. Every day at 6 pm sharp, the bell of the Monumento ai Caduti, the Monument devoted to the dead in the wars, starts ringing. It rings 21 times, as the 21 letters in the Italian alphabet, one for each name of the dead. What is peculiar, though, is that when the bell starts ringing everybody stops: passersby and cars stop where they are and wait for the bell to stop ringing to move again. It’s an incredibly moving thing and something I am very proud of. If you want to see for yourself, you can either come to Savona or check this video on YouTube.
The Monumento ai Caduti is in Piazza Mameli and while there you can take the opportunity for some shopping. In Piazza Mameli there’s one of the oldest shops in Savona, Bar Confetteria Besio, where you can find a lot of gourmet foods and specialties. In particular, Besio is famous for its products made using the chinotto di Savona, some sort of sour orange typical of the city. The most popular product is the Chinotto, a beverage made with the zests of the fruit, but the chinotti canditi (candied chinotto oranges) and the chinotti al Maraschino are a must-try.
fried fish at Alalunga
After a full day in Savona, it might be time for you to end your day. If you go back to the port and still have some time and energy, you may visit another peculiar place in Savona: the All About Apple Museum. Founded in 2002, this unique place is currently the most comprehensive museum in the world containing nearly almost all the personal computers, peripherals, accessories, prototypes made by Apple since the beginning in 1976 to the present day.
If you feel like relaxing and having an aperitivo at the end of your day, you are in the right place. The old port of Savona is the center of nightlife in the city and the area is literally bustling with trendy bars and cool restaurants, where you can have typical food and amazing cocktails. If you want to try something unique, though, search for Alalunga, a boat run by three young guys who cook the fish they have caught during the day.