god’s own country

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Isn’t, as many would have you believe, Yorkshire. And, sadly, I can confirm it isn’t over the Pennines in Lancashire either. No, as it turns-out, God’s own country, with 288 centenarians, is the industrial capital of north-west Italy’s Liguria region, Genoa. Figures, released this summer, highlight the fact that individuals reaching the age of 100, currently numbering almost 15,000, are most definitely on the rise in Italy. And of that figure just shy of 10% are over 105, and counting. Over twenty are aged 110 and above.

Historically, studies have tended to take place in the traditionally coastal-beach regions of Rimini and Pisa, our equivalent of God’s waiting rooms in Bournemouth and Eastbourne, where longevity is appropriated to a relatively easy, tranquil and stress-free existence. Together with nice, flat expanses and easily accessible health facilities, the mobility scooter rules, OK. Though similarly on the coast Genoa, Italy’s sixth largest city, does not automatically comply to such a view: it is a sprawling, tangled conurbation of overpasses, subways and steep hills wedged between the Ligurian Sea and the Apennine Mountains. A local saying has it that if you’re not going up then you’re already in Heaven.

Consequently, it is now believed that the city’s topography plays a vital role in its inhabitants’ long lifespans. Piloting anything larger than an original Fiat Cinquecento through its ancient streets and alleyways is nigh on impossible and, as walking is difficult to avoid, the vast majority eschew modern forms of transport in favour of Shanks’s pony (your own two legs!). Genoa truly is a city where you can live as though they did a hundred years ago and a sedentary life is just not for these ol’ dears.

It will come as no surprise that the Genoese diet is largely based on the typical, well-researched Mediterranean mix of plenty of fish, fresh vegetables, fruit and, only occasionally, meat, but also includes some idiosyncrasies of their very own, which paint them in a slightly more hedonistic hue. The city’s most famous export is pesto sauce, made from lashings of extra virgin oil, roasted pine nuts and lots of basil: blended and allowed to settle, it is truly an Italian Ambrosia. Rich, buttery focaccia is also synonymous with the city, as is farinata, an unusual calorific flatbread made of chickpeas. Pasta, in the large triangular shape of Testaroli, will always be on the menu, and woe betide anyone who serves any meal, including breakfast, without ample wine as an essential accompaniment! Furthermore, like most Italians, the happy-go-lucky hill-climbing people of Genoa have a sweet tooth, particularly where the local sweetbreads and Veneto tiramisu are concerned.

We are often told we are what we eat so, after a hard-fought game of squash, a sprint up the hill in a big gear or dip in the pool, make mine a final supper of marinated anchovies, tomatoes and olives, pasta-pesto with hot dripping garlic bread, all washed down with a beautiful Barolo, and I’ll die a happy man. Though not until I’m at least a hundred!