Arguably Naples is one of the least visited cities in Italy, and for that matter in Europe. I guess over the years its garnered a less than stellar reputation for a host of things from the overcrowded nature of the city, it’s crime rates, corruption or the rampant pollution… Clearly not things that draw a host of tourists to this southern Italian city. So why travel here?
Although not up there with Rome, Milan or Tuscany as a destination in terms of name recognition, Naples has a ton of charm, and not only are the locals incredibly friendly, polite and hospitable, but extremely welcoming in every facet of life. This resilient and hearty lot has been forged over centuries from the multitude of peoples calling this port city home.
I suppose the history of Naples has a lot to do with why it’s considered a lesser entity that their better known Italian neighbours further north. From 1504 the Spanish ruled this city state for more than two hundred years, only then was it passed to the Austrian Habsburgs, before being conquered by the French under Napoleon in 1806. Its final alignment was to Sicily prior to reunification of Italy under Garibaldi in 1860.
It’s no wonder that Naples is considered the ugly duckling of Italy!
Indelible Tip #1: Where to stay? Like with many European cities I prefer to stay within the confines of the old city, and this time was no exception. The Decumani Hotel De Charme is a revitalized four-star hotel tucked away in a medieval alley way narrow enough only for the smallest car, but watch out if you have a scooter or another car parked in the alley as its almost impossible to get by. Parking can also be tricky unless you book ahead, so my advice is to book parking in advance when you book with the hotel.
What you give up in terms of easy motorized access you gain in terms of the intimacy of the local neighbourhood and the ability to walk everywhere. This centrally located hotel is rooted in its past, and although modern and up to date on the inside its exterior dates from the middle ages. An awesome spot to make your home base for a few days!
Indelible Tip #2: What to eat? The Neapolitan palate is an eclectic one to be sure, and so when you’re visiting Naples or indeed southern Italy what you’ll notice most is that they love their fried foods and sweet cakes. Little fried take away shops dot the narrow streets and alleyways with the smell of fried foods permeating the air, almost a carnival feel if you will. The locals fry everything from vegetables, to the standard fish but also go well beyond to fry pasta balls and the like (absolutely delicious by the way) anything that can be fried – will be! 🙂
Actually what caught my fancy were the sweet cakes from the little cafés that also dot the city, OMG they’re so delicious! Try the Sfogliatella (the true local delicacy) or perhaps the Nuvolette as an afternoon walking snack…be warned they are addictive!
I discovered two unforgettable little restaurants during my stay in Naples, the first was less than 100 meters from the hotel in a little back alley called Pulcinella (Via S. Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli, Naples). This local gem was a recommendation from the Concierge at the hotel and was an absolute delight. Try the seafood risotto – it’s simply delicious.
The second restaurant to try during your stay in Naples is Garum (Piazza Monteoliveto, 2/A, 80134 Napoli), although a little further afield from the hotel it was about a 10-minute walk but well worth the stroll. Gino and his staff provided a warm welcome, the food and wine selection was spectacular, especially the Caprese salad with Gamberoni, followed by the grilled Dorado… I can’t say enough about the fresh seafood in Naples, it was both fresh and plentiful!
Indelible Tip #3: What to do? Naples means “new city” and is the second largest city in Italy after Milan, yep even larger and more populated than Rome. Not surprisingly Naples has been inhabited continuously since the Neolithic period, with permanent settlements being established by the Greeks in the second millennium BC. Naples has been fought over and conquered and reconquered by a host of waring nations over the centuries, including the Sicilians, Spanish, French and Austrians but to name just a few.
Hence the architecture is eclectic, not only because of the many owners but also because it was heavily bombed during WWII and so huge swathes of the city were destroyed. My favorite landmark was the Royal Palace built on the Piazza of the Plebiscite by the King of Spain – just stunning!
No trip to Naples can be complete without visiting Pompeii and indeed Mount Vesuvius. The eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD, and subsequent calamity that befell Pompeii has been rooted in my imagination since I was young boy growing up in Australia, so clearly I had to take some time to fulfil my childhood dream and walk the streets of Pompeii.
One thing that is vitally important when you visit Pompeii is to use a guide or take a private tour so that you get the full effect of the excavations that they have taken place over the past 140 years. Not surprising as you visit the site you get a true appreciation for the modern amenities that were on hand to the locals of Pompeii prior to the city being covered in up to 7 meters of ash.
The history buff in me couldn’t get enough during my visit and it was one of the most memorable tours I’ve taken!
Next was a hike up Mount Vesuvius (no, not all the way) as it rises over 1250 meters above the surrounding plains and is the only active volcano in Europe…yes, it’s still smoking and giving off gases from its many fissures from within the crater. I must admit it was pretty cool to walk the edge of the crater on a gorgeous winters day, the view was outstanding! And a definite must do on any trip to Naples.
Naples is messy…its jumbled…its frenetic…and because of this wonderful mix it’s like nowhere else in Italy.
So why not come visit, you’ll be glad you did!