f you are in Pra’ and you don’t grow basil, you are nobody,” declares the basil farmer Roggerio Rossi. The sky above his sprawling greenhouses is gray, the air heavy, a climatic state called macaja in the Genoese dialect. Inside, the atmosphere is static, still, electric green. The scent is peppery, briny, more delicate than freshly clipped grass, but intoxicating and pungent. A carpet of Basilico Genovese runs full-bleed from wall to wall. It’s fluffy—almost awake—and appears to be reaching up, exploding with small, teardrop-shaped leaves. Five workers recline on their sides across wooden planks suspended over the fragrant flora. Like a pack of Titian’s Venuses, they pick individual stems, roots intact, and fashion them into bouquets. Liguria is Italy’s most famous basil-growing region. The herb is lifeblood here. It floods the stands of Genoa’s Mercato Orientale, a dizzying, circular market hidden on the interior of a city block. It’s sold in pots in tiny town squares and arranged in vases on restaurant tables. Everyone agrees that the best basil in Liguria is grown in the village of Pra’. Proximity to the shore is said to give a bright, oceanic quality to the crops. Much of the Italian Riviera is beautiful—coral- and butter-colored beach towns, slightly decayed but shimmering with low-key wealth and domestic tourism. Pra’ is not beautiful. The waterfront is a gray mass of industrial docks and slips. Older, broken-down greenhouses disintegrate along a highway skirting the ocean. Newer basil farms are tucked into terraced hillsides high above.