Noisy, proud and stylish, Naples boasts archaeological and cultural riches, frenetic street life and food that is an art form. Here is the riotous home of pizza and pasta
Roman ruins, medieval churches and Renaissance palaces lie in a great curve against the deep blue Bay of Naples, with Vesuvius looming massively in the background. This is no hushed, restored city centre: the history here is all around you, props in the grand theatre that is Neapolitan street life. The soul of the city is in its bustling alleys, busy markets and baroque palazzos. Neapolitans are proud, stylishly dressed and prone to loudly conversing on impossibly narrow streets shaded by billowing laundry strung between the tall buildings. And then there’s the food. Whether experienced from the café-lined streets or in top restaurants, the city has elevated its cuisine to an art form.
What to do
Restored to its original 13th-century glory, San Lorenzo Maggiore (00 39 081 454 948; www.sanlorenzomaggiorenapoli.it) conceals one of the city’s most impressive archaeological sites - the streets of ancient Naples as they were 2,000 years ago.
Visit the Duomo (www.duomodinapoli.com), Naples’ great cathedral, for an abundance of Renaissance paintings, frescos and gleaming silver and bronze statues. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Piazza Museo Nazionale 19), housed in a 17th-century palazzo, is home to the immense Farnese collection consisting of four floors of artefacts, from ancient Egypt through to the 17th century. Also worth a visit is the Museo di Capodimonte (Parco di Capodimonte), which has an excellent Italian art collection, including pieces by Raphael, Botticelli, El Greco and Caravaggio.
For underground art take the metro and stop at Piazza Dante for the eye-boggling neon Dante quotation, or at Materdei for its murals and plastic stalagmites. If all this culture gets too much, explore the steep streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli or wander around the labyrinthine Pignasecca market.
Where to stay
Hotel Excelsior is a luxury hotel overlooking the Bay of Naples – enjoy spectacular views and Mediterranean cuisine at its rooftop restaurant, La Terrazza. Rooms exude an atmosphere of 19th-century decadence. Donna Regina B&B is a centrally located converted convent. The bedrooms are adorned with antiques and original paintings by the helpful artist-owner. Hidden deep within the winding backstreets and up several rickety staircases, this charming residence offers an authentic Neapolitan experience. A warm, stylish welcome awaits slightly out of town at Costantinopoli 104; a converted 19th-century palazzo, it provides a tranquil break from the hectic city centre.
Where to eat and drink
To get a real taste of the city sit down at a streetside trattoria or osteria. Most serve basic but tasty fare such as pasta al ragú or parmigiana di melanzane (baked aubergine with mozzarella and tomato). La Vecchia Cantina (00 39 081 552 0226; Via San Nicola alla Carita 13-14) is a little osteria serving delicious and traditional food at very good prices. The menu depends entirely on what’s fresh in the fish market next door.
At La Stanza del Gusto (00 39 081 401 578; Vicoletto Sant’Arpino 21) diners select the ‘theme’ of their meal, for example lamb or seafood. Owner Mario Avallone then chooses seasonal ingredients to create your menu and the resulting dishes are partnered with local wines. Da Michele (00 39 081 553 9204; Via Cesare Sersale 1-3) has no menu, just two heavenly pizzas: margherita and marinara.
Time running out?
Sit at a café in Piazzale San Martino. Order coffee, admire the view across the old city and up to the mountains, and watch as the space fills up with noisy locals.
Be sure to visit Gay Odin (www.gayodin.it), a charming chocolate factory on Via Vetriera. Watch chocolatiers use traditional tools and machines before buying a selection for the journey home.
Currency is the euro. Naples is one hour ahead of GMT and a two-hour 45-minute flight from London.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies direct from Heathrow to Naples, while easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies direct from Stansted. Alitalia (08714 241424; www.alitalia.com) flies daily from Heathrow to Naples, via Milan or Rome.
Naples Tourist Board: 00 39 081 245 7475; www.inaples.it. Information centres at Via Santa Lucia 107, Via San Carlo 9 and Piazza del Gesù.
The Food Lover’s Companion to Naples and Campania by Carla Capalbo (Pallas Athene Arts, 14.99). A guide to the region’s restaurants, wineries, food shops and artisan producers, including descriptions of local specialities and regional recipes.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.