Have you ever heard of Livorno?
A real sea-town, it faces onto a Tuscan shore rich in destinations and attractions. As someone who lives there, I will never stop celebrating and propagating its beauty, and I want to propose a day's itinerary to help you live and breathe the city in her most authentic neighbourhoods and meeting spots.
Shall we begin?
Your visit to Livorno can start in Piazza Giuseppe Micheli with a visit to the statue of the Four Moors. This monument commemorates the victory of Ferdinand I de' Medici over Saracen pirates, merciless invaders who were a constant obstruction to trade in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Considered a symbol of the city, it cultivated a curious legend. It is said that managing to simultaneously see all four noses of the Moors, bowed under the feet of Ferdinand I, brings good luck, and a brilliant white tile was recently laid to mark the point from which you can get all four noses in perspective. The tile, however, is not readily signposted, so good luck finding it.
After breakfast head towards the splendid Venezia quarter, a picturesque neighbourhood lined with canals and navigable waterways. Go inside the octagonal church of Santa Caterina, which is crowned by a cupola fifty metres high, embellished with what remains of 19th-century frescoes. When back outside, lose yourself among the streets of canals and eye up the pier which moors the large fishing boat from the 'Livorno in Battello' association, which has been delighting travellers for years with boat trips along the Fossi Medicei. Let it carry you along the canals, under bridges and down secret passages, until you come to the piazzas.
Are you beginning to flag? It's time to head towards the colourful, noisy stalls of Piazza Cavalotti, the city's market district. Once you get through the stands you will find reach one of the entrances to the Mercato delle Vettovaglie, a historic covered market that developed inside a late 18th-century palazzo, designed by architect Angiolo Badaloni. Walk through the galleries, raise your eyes to admire the beautiful, metallically-trussed ceiling, and look for the shops that sell legumes and spices in little jute bags.
The market gives you the chance to buy the freshest fish, brought directly from the sea by a chain of boats that reach the centre via the waterways. The Mercato delle Vettovaglie is also in the perfect location to organise a lunch of street food and local specialities, like Cinque e Cinque, a chickpea flatbread served as a sandwich.
Before getting to the sea, you climb a hill. The neighbourhood of Montenero, developed on a promontory that dominates the city, holds a precious treasure: the Sanctuary of the Madonna in Montenero, a place of reflection and profound faith for the people of Livorno, and elsewhere. What makes the sanctuary special are the corridors, open to the visitors, which are hung with thousands of ex-voto offerings, votive paintings of every size, gifts of thanks made by the Livornesi to the Madonna of Montenero for delivering them from storms and catastrophes on the sea. Pass in silence through the sanctuary, read their stories, and once outside again admire Livorno from the many vantage points that open up over the coast and the city.
We turn towards the sea to reach the most famous and celebrated place in all the city, the Mascagni Terrace, a spectacular viewpoint that frames the jagged profile of the coast and almost seems to merge into the promenade which, further on, leads to the gates of the Naval Academy next to the Church of San Jacopo, to well-known aperitivo haunts or even further south to the Scalinata di Antignano and its romantic surroundings, known usually by the locals as the 'Ballerina's Cliff'. It is a favourite spot for workers during their lunch break, and for students, who never say no to a bit of hit-and-run sunbathing.
If you happen to be in Livorno during the sunny season, I would suggest that you take a refreshing dip in the rocky bays of Romito. They are perfect in summer and breathtaking in winter, when a strong south-west wind can make the waves almost threaten to swallow the cliffs of Calafuria or Castel Boccale.
A visit to Livorno is not complete without a steaming glass of Ponce alla Livornese. The recipe of coffee, sugar, 'rum fantasy', and lemon peel makes for a frank, fiery drink, served in a special, thick-bottomed glass to prevent you burning your fingers. Go to a local bar, ask for a pack of cards, organise a fierce game of briscola, and wonder at the multitude of generations around you: beardless youths, families, groups of friends and the last surviving pirates.