"Why do so few people visit Genoa?" asked Michael Frank at The New York Times. That's something I ponder every time I visit this port city, nestled in the steep curve of Italy's northwestern coastline. For sure, "Genoa is not Florence, Rome, or Venice": There's no set list of must-see sites and no romantic lagoon. What the hillside city does possess is unwavering authenticity, a distinct cuisine and language, and a "ferocious" past: From the 11th century to the 18th, it was one of the four great maritime republics of what is now Italy. A tightly packed urban patchwork, "Genoa invites — in fact, it requires — you to have your own experience." Plus, "it repays the effort."