Sori is a tiny seaside town and fishing village only 20 km from Genoa on the Ligurian coast, known for its deliciously salty olives and fresh fish.
The town is built up into the hillside, backing away from the central sea front. We had no idea what to expect having booked it fairly quickly after our original Airbnb cancelled on us, but the remoteness was definitely a shock – going from a population of 1.4 million to just a few thousand in one train journey.
We got off the train at the singular platform and walked straight up the steps onto the main road to discover there was no train station or ticket machines at all. After lugging our bags up the massive hill and a ridiculous number of steps we finally made it to our room with stunning panoramic views over the Ligurian Sea.
We headed down to the sea front and caught a gorgeous sunset over the beach before wandering around to explore the local restaurants. With only a handful of restaurants serving pretty much exclusively seafood, it was a nice change not having to worry about where to eat or what we were in the mood for – it had to be seafood. We stopped for an aperitif, and were brought a variety of snacks including the incredible local olives (usually black, harvested late and intensely salty), genovese pesto, tomato and anchovy bruschetta and french fries. Surprisingly it was one of the few places in the whole of Italy that I was able to find Peroni on draught. We manage to get all this plus the two drinks for around €8! We eventually decided on a small beach bar and restaurant (Bar della Piscina) with a single handwritten menu, passed around from table to table. We both tried to the spaghetti with prawns, garlic and orange. It was ridiculously good! The prawns were so fresh and had beautifully meaty texture, unlike the rubbery pre-cooked ones widely used in the UK. The sauce was simply the sautéed garlic, fresh tomato chunks, olive oil and a little orange zest, which used sparingly, gave incredible balance and flavour to the dish. The recommended white wine was dry with citrusy notes, a perfect match for the prawns and the orange. For dessert we had the deconstructed tiramisu which was wonderfully light, had all the bold flavours and even more texture than your average tiramisu.
Sori is only a few stops on the train and a boat ride from the glamourous resort of Portofino – a luxurious holiday destination popular with celebrities and the super-rich. The gorgeous little harbour at the heart of the villageis s hidden away between the hillsides, almost adding to the sense of exclusivity. The marina is lined with pastel houses, wine bars, restaurants and designer stores. We strolled along the cobbled streets, looking at all the different seafood on offer. We ate outside in the sunshine at a beautiful restaurant on the marina serving a variety of simple, but excellently cooked seafood. We had mixed seafood platters including: langoustine, mussels, squid, octopus, prawn, anchovies, olive oil potatoes, tomato, rocket and lemon. It’s impossible to describe just how good the seafood is when it’s this fresh, you just have to try it. We later discovered this restaurant is one of the highest rated in the whole of Portofino, so not a bad spur of the moment decision!
We spent the rest of our afternoon people watching and resting our weary legs in the Winterose wine bar, commonly regarded as one of the best places to visit in Portofino. With only 4 small tables all directly overlooking the sea at the end of the port, it’s always in high demand and as you can imagine, quite pricey. The couple who own the bar stock only the finest and most exclusive wines and champagnes, starting at around €12 a glass, but all served with an amazing deli board to nibble from. We both had a beautiful glass of Château Léoube sparkling rose, something we don’t drink very often but this was perfect to savour on a warm day. The deli platter was so big that we probably shouldn’t have eaten before and the red onion chutney was unbelievably good, unlike anything I’ve tasted before!
We got stuck in our room for the rest of the evening because of a huge thunderstorm, but luckily managed to pick up some dinner on the way home before it got too heavy. We had a quiet night in with a Birra Moretti, a local baked pasta dish and regular visits from the cat from upstairs.
We’d been looking forward to doing some home cooking since arriving in Italy, so thought we’d try out the two ring portable stove provided in our room. We travelled to Recco, one of the neighbouring fishing towns on the Riviera in search of some fresh mussels. We soon realised that it was a Sunday and nothing was going to be open, so stopped in a seafood restaurant to make sure we could have the mussels we’d been craving. We shared a starter of mussels in white wine, garlic, celery and lemon followed by an incredible langoustine and prawn risotto, made with black rice and mint – unlike any we’d had before. The black rice gave the dish more bite than usual, and because it was less starchy than normal the flavours came through more. The only shop we could find open for ingredients was a 24hr supermarket, so after some quick menu rethinking and accidentally spending €30 on a 3 course meal 😬, we headed back on the train to Sori.
I set up our stove on some bricks next to a little wooden table outside. I got the pasta sauce on straight away so it had time to slow cook, intensifying the flavours and tenderising the beef. After seasoning and searing a beautifully marbled cut of stewing steak, I added plenty of tomato puree, passata and a bit of garlic, and left to simmer away for a good 3 ½ -4 hours. We watched the sun set from the terrace before having our mixed antipasti starter of buffalo mozzarella, genoese olives, grilled artichokes, extra virgin olive oil and focaccia. Although different regions of Italy claim to be the home of Focaccia, it is regarded a local speciality on the Ligurian coast and comes in many variations. We had the classic bread, drenched in olive oil and course sea salt – simply amazing. I served the sauce with penne rigate and Parmesan, reserving the meat and spare sauce to enjoy later with some bread, the way my grandma has always done. It’s best to enjoy the meat on its own to appreciate how rich and tender it is. Cooking beef this way is great on a budget and something I often do at Uni – it’s a cheap cut yet packed with flavour so you don’t need a huge amount, and if cooked the right way, wonderfully soft and falling apart at the touch of a fork. We found a great bottle of sangiovese for only €4, which was fairly young but had the perfect acidity level to cut through the fatty meat and the olive oil in the bread and artichokes. We spent the rest of our evening wrapped up in blankets and reading underneath the stars. This night was a perfect and one of my favourite memories of Italy.
We were too full for dessert so ended up having some unexpectedly boozey profiteroles for breakfast (unfortunately not made on the little stove), then squeezed in a final couples of hours in the pool. We left around midday and headed towards our final destination – the South of France 🇫🇷⛱☀️