According to chef Simone De Vanni, who runs a YouTube channel on local cuisine, food also reflects the Livornese character. “[Livorno’s distinctive cuisine] is a result of the influences of the many nations that created the city in the 16th Century,” he told me. “Unlike the other, more ancient Tuscan towns, which already had their well-defined food traditions, the young and cosmopolitan Livorno was able to mix the new and old and create a cuisine of its own.”
Dishes like cuscussù alla livornese (Livornese couscous) reveal historical maritime relations with North Africa and Jewish Spain, “while cacciucco, Livorno’s signature dish, perfectly embodies the Livornese”, De Vanni said. “Many different types of fish are cooked together, creating something that is neither a fish soup nor a fish broth, but rather something unique, a bit like Livorno.”
This singularity could be a draw. As Paola Ramoino, head of the Livorno Tourism Office, explained: in past decades the city did not need to rely on tourism thanks to its thriving port business – but there has been a shift in that thinking. “Livorno has a lot to offer, from sea and culture to food and wine, but we want our tourism to be sustainable, ‘niche’. We want to offer authentic, non-stereotypical experiences,” she said.
Things seem to be changing from a cultural point of view as well. “In the last years, the artistic scene has become more lively, with music festivals, theatres, art galleries and exhibitions, especially in summer,” said Alessandra Falca, a Livorno-born musician who is very involved in the city’s cultural scene.
In other words, the Tuscan city is made for visitors who are willing to dig a little deeper into the local history and take in its easy-going attitude and atypical character. According to Falca, “The Livornese think there is no better city in the world. But judging by the number of tourists who come to Livorno, they are just saying it to themselves.”
Perhaps it’s time travellers gave it another chance.
Comeback Cities is a BBC Travel series that showcases under-the-radar capitals, champions the urban underdogs and revels in the success stories of cities that have turned their fortunes around.
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