I’m a fully paid up member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and have written for and edited dozens of city and lifestyle guides for Time Out including the latest Naples & the Amalfi Coast (2009) and Time Out’s first country guide Perfect Places: Italy. Born and brought up in London, I’ve spent most of my life in the often-grimy but never-dull east end, so small wonder that when I discovered often-grimy but never-dull Naples I felt right at home (but with better food and weather). There are few cities in the world that can boast the attributes of Naples: food, wine, sights, art, history – and yet it remains seriously underrated. My mission is to change that. In between trips to Naples and Genoa (both cities have a family connection), I'm a keen gardener and discovering the delights of beekeeping!
Where I always grab a coffee: The coffee in Naples is the best in Italy and the coffee in Italy is the best in the world so anywhere is good but I love Bar Mexico on Piazza Dante. For people-watching you can’t beat Gran Caffè Gambrinus on Piazza Trieste e Trento.
My favourite stroll: In Naples, it’s strolling along busy Via Toledo then stepping into the quiet of Banca Intesa Saopaolo to gaze at Caravaggio’s last painting: Martyrdom of St Ursula or people-watching on a Sunday as Neapolitans, dressed up in their finest, take a passeggiata to Mergellina. Further afield it’s a walk around pedestrianised Capri looking for lunch, or a new pair of sandals.
Books for inspiration: Norman Lewis Naples ’44 is a wonderful introduction to the city. Lewis was an intelligence officer in wartime Naples and his obvious fondness for the Neapolitans is heartfelt. Less tender, but gripping nonetheless, is Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah.
Great Neapolitan films: The film version of Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah (directed by Matteo Garrone) is a sad indictment of the city. Happily, most visitors will have no more sense of its dark underbelly than visitors to London’s Soho. A more romantic view of this part of the world can be found in Roberto Rossellini’s L’Amore (filmed with Anna Magnani in the little fishing village of Furore). Massimo Troisi’s last film was the heartwarming Il Postino which was filmed on Procida and around the bay of Naples. And John Turturro's Passione promises to be a Buena Vista Social Club for Naples.
Where to be seen this summer: On any of the islands less than an hour’s ferry ride from Naples: Capri, Ischia, Procida all have their individual merits while the Amalfi Coast, a short train/boat or bus ride from the city, boasts breathtaking scenery.
The most breathtaking view: Where to start: the view from the restaurant at the Romeo hotel in Naples looking straight across the bay to Vesuvius; from the garden terrace at Villa Maria in Ravello looking across the Dragone Valley; from a chartered boat looking back up at the pretty, pastel-coloured, cliff-hanging town of Positano…
The best spot for some peace and quiet: It doesn’t really exist in Naples but a stroll around the city’s botanical gardens can be refreshing. Vomero is slightly cooler than the rest of the city and a little less hectic but the real peace and quiet is to be found on the islands, whether it’s in one of Ischia’s many natural spas or at Susana Walton’s fabulous La Mortella. Alternatively, take a boat out and find your own cove to drop anchor in.
Shopaholics beware: Naples is the home of sharp suits, handmade shirts and silk ties, and Chiaia is home to all the designer brands, but the less well-heeled head to fabulous markets dotted around the city. Kitsch-seekers love the year-round presepi (nativity crèches) and there is plenty of produce to stock up on but be warned, nothing tastes as fabulous as it does when eaten in the southern Italian sun.
City soundtrack: Pietra Montecorvino's version of a saucy song (in Neapolitan dialect) from the 1920's Comme Facette Mammeta? (How Did Your Mother Make You?) sounds like she might have a 40-a-day habit, but her voice is wonderfully hypnotic. It's from John Turturro's film Passione.
Don’t leave without... visiting the Archeological Museum. Even the most hardened cynic couldn’t fail to be moved by its treasures, including exquisite mosaics from the archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, such as the original Alexander Mosaic taken from Pompeii's House of the Faun. Then there's the incredible 'mountain of marble' known as the Farnese Bull depicting the cruel punishment of Dirce.
My expert information
When you picture the Amalfi Coast you might imagine miles of perilously narrow roads that snake around cliffs that drop sharply down to an azure sea (perhaps you're driving an Alfa Romeo? We're imagining, right?), or maybe you're swimming in a cliff-top infinity pool gazing out over the sea; or perhaps you're about to have lunch: the sun is shining, the sea is sparkling and you've just been served a wonderful dish of fresh pasta and it will taste better than any you've had before because the tomatoes were picked just up the road and the mozzarella was made two miles away. Read more...
It is said that the Sirens lived along the coast here and they lured sailors to their deaths by enchanting them with their hypnotic song. The legend goes that when they failed to captivate Ulysses, the Sirens flung themselves into the sea, where they turned to rock and you can still sea them today: the islets known as Li Galli.Read more...
Everything you've heard about Naples is probably true: it's as gritty, noisy and energetic as the animated people that live in it. There's crime too, but I've never experienced anything more 'criminal' than a €5 taxi over-charge. Perhaps that's just luck or perhaps it's that, having lived in London all my life, I take the same precautions as I would in any big city (and a bit more around the port or the bus station). But scratch the surface a little and you'll discover what an incredibly beautiful, vibrant, cultured, sexy city Naples really is…Read more...
Where the sun shines brightly all the time…
Well, most of the time. There are a million reasons to head to the Neapolitan Riviera but one of the best is the wonderfully long season that means that you can often don your shorts and tees as early as March and continue to do so well into October. See my link When to Go.Read more...