The Italian city of Naples: colourful disorganised chaos or sleek luxury and style? Discover where to stay to enjoy the very best of Naples
Naples never fails to inspire emotions. Its fantastic position and vivacious character have been recorded by artists and writers throughout history and as far back as ancient Roman times when Virgil fell in love with the place.
Although the city has been afflicted by a rather negative image in the more recent past, it's managing to shake that off thanks to a widespread clean-up of the centre and main monuments, an influx of new upmarket bars, restaurants and designer stores and with the help of organisations such as Naples Bay of Excellence (Via Partenope 37D, +39 0817640419, www.bayofexcellence.org) which work to promote the very best that Naples has to offer. Visit them for local advice, maps and so on – their office is on the seafront near the landmark Castel dell'Ovo, a 12th century Norman castle jutting out into the sea that's well worth a visit. Exhibitions are held inside the castle and there are fantastic views from the terraces across the bay to Vesuvius on one side and Posillipo on the other as well as across to the islands of Capri and Ischia. Numerous bars and restaurants cluster in the villagey area at the foot of the castle – it buzzes round here each evening.
A room with a view
To savour Naples in style book a room at one of the top class hotels that offer far more than just a bed for the night. The fabulous Grand Hotel Vesuvio (Via Partenope 45) is one of the best. It has a stunning location on the seafront overlooking Castel dell'Ovo and a star-studded guest list with names that range from Woody Allen to Oscar Wilde, Mariah Carey to Pablo Picasso, Spike Lee to the Spice Girls and even includes Bill and Hillary Clinton. Built in 1882 by a Belgian financier whose love for the city led him to invest in the newly constructed seafront, the 5* luxury hotel is a large graceful structure with spacious rooms and a classic elegance. If money really is no object, opt for the Presidential Suite where you can spend happy hours watching television on the giant screens or in the bath, wallowing in the circular Jacuzzi tub and gazing up through the cupola which opens to the sky.
Shop, shop, shop
When you feel like stretching your legs and maybe splashing a bit more cash, the exclusive shopping streets of Via Chiaia and Via Calabritto are just around the corner - all the top designer stores are here including Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada.
There's more shopping along Via Toledo and if you feel like feasting your eyes on some local colour carry on into the maze of streets that make up the old centre of town. While in many parts of Naples the city's noble character dominates, here a colourful chaos lingers on. Nowadays, although petty crime does exist, the area is more an appealing photo opportunity than a cause for concern with a mishmash of tiny shops that spill out onto the pavement selling everything from fruit and veg to Christmas crib models. These specialist nativity craft studios, such as Ferrigno (www.arteferrigno.it), are famous worldwide and are a year-round draw in Via San Gregorio Armeno.
The best pizza
Just round the corner and ideal for a lunch stop is one of Naples' best pizzerias - Sorbillo (Via Tribunali 32; +39 081446643; www.sorbillo.it). It's run by Gino Sorbillo, the latest in a family that counted 21 brothers and sisters who all became pizza chefs – Gino is the dynamic young son of one of these. Naples is justly proud of its pizza and even more so since it was granted TSG (traditional speciality guaranteed) status by Europe on 9th December 2009. Since then, ingredients, methods and even utensils need to comply with regulations for a pizza to be called a true Neapolitan. Try one of Gino's Margheritas or the house speciality calzoni to taste the difference.
Later, whether you've had a hard day shopping or you've been trekking round the city's famous sights – don't miss the exceptional Archaeological Museum (http://marcheo.napolibeniculturali.it) or Palazzo Capodimonte (www.museo-capodimonte.it). An ideal way to relax and re-energise is at the Grand Hotel Vesuvio's Echia Club spa and fitness centre. Rather than a modest afterthought as can often be the case, the centre is well thought out and professionally run with décor that's reminiscent of ancient Rome and there's a swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and gym as well as all sorts of massages and treatments.
Another feature of the hotel that's not to be missed is the Caruso Roof Garden Restaurant. Its excellent cuisine and stunning views across the Bay of Naples make it an unforgettable experience.
Higher and mightier?
The views over the bay are even better the higher up you go and there's no end of opportunities to admire the panorama thanks to the geography of Naples, which resembles a steeply tiered auditorium, the buildings that face out across the bay taking the role of spectators. There are some exceptional places to stay in the higher areas too, such as the refined Grand Hotel Parker's (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135), named after George Bidder Parker, a British marine biologist who asked for the hotel to be added to his bill so he could sleep rather than be evicted when the previous owner had gambled away the whole establishment one heady night in 1889. The panorama from the hotel's statue-lined Terrazza delle Muse is nothing short of spectacular.
Further along the same road, back towards central Naples is another even more atmospheric hotel - Hotel San Francesco al Monte (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 328). Set in a 16th century monastery building, the conversion has managed to retain the ancient character of the building, conserving numerous original features. Cells have been put together and made into bedrooms, each of which faces the bay and an original fresco of the saint favoured by the former inhabitant of the cell marks each doorway. The corridors of the hotel are worth exploring to discover further frescoes, 18th century local Reggiola tiles and an ancient bread oven among other aspects.
In summer the best place to be is without a doubt the roof terrace. There's a restaurant up here and a panoramic infinity pool with a whirlpool cave carved into the tufa stone cliffs. Vines and olives that grow on the hotel's land here are used to make wine and olive oil and footpaths lead up the hill to the Certosa San Martino – another former monastery, now a museum – above. In such a tranquil environment you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd been transported to Umbria or Tuscany but look down and you can see the whole magnificence of Naples and its splendid bay stretching out below you.