Naples is one of the most, if not the most beautifully authentic Italian city. When you initially think of Italy a few places immediately spring to mind; Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, but Naples is often at the bottom of the list, or sometimes not on it at all. Here at Hero & Leander we think this needs to change, so we discovered what the home of the pizza has to offer culture hungry couples and find out why Napoli needs to be on your Italian bucket list.
Rich in history and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Naples is bursting at its dusty seams with art, culture and of course, food. Our immediate impression of Naples was that it was rather run down, chaotic, a little tatty and unlike any other Italian city we had previously visited. In recent decades, Naples has constructed a large business district and developed an advanced subway infrastructure, however the city still suffers from political and economic issues. Even with all of the regeneration going on, we found ourselves enticed by the old part of the city and its crooked narrow alleyways, uneven cobbled streets and authentic rustic charm. There is something so genuinely Italian about Naples; a city full of locals. The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is so apt you could be forgiven in thinking that is was created for the city itself. You have to look past the dilapidated crumbling façade and the unloved graffiti adorned alleys and uncover a city full of art, breathtaking vistas, regal architecture and humble and proud locals. The historic city centre (centro storico) is a Unesco World Heritage Site and it is home to some of the world’s most impressive archaeological treasures as well as magnificent grand churches around every corner and palaces so beautiful it is hard to relate them to the city itself.
Palazzo Caracciolo Napoli – MGallery by Sofitel
Deciding upon a hotel in Naples was not easy but we soon came to the conclusion that we would rather be in the thick of it in the Old Town. We made the right choice; less tourists, easy walking distance to the famous Cathedral Duomo of San Gennaro, the Madre Museum and the Archaeological National Museum. Palazzo Caracciolo was a wonderful hub from which to explore Naples. Situated in an ancient building dating back to the XIII century, the hotel provides a historic whistle stop tour. This ancient palace was once the residence of the Caracciolo family and even of the King of Naples, Joachim Murat.
Renovated in 2009, Palazzo Caracciolo has retained its personality and the original style of the Palace. Crossing the impressive threshold of the main entrance you are suddenly caught by the fascinating atmosphere of Palazzo Caracciolo and you can easily imagine coaches passing through the ancient cloister into the courtyard. Elegance is the essence of every nook of the Palace. It permeates every room, giving them a taste of uniqueness and character, in harmony with the original features in a timelessly elegant composition. We were lucky enough to be booked into a duplex junior suite with full length windows looking out onto the faded colour-washed Napoli streets. The tremor below of the subway passing by kept us on the edge of our seats, constantly mistaking it for a Vesuvius eruption; something that is never far from your thoughts. And although the excitement/terror of this added to our stay, pretending we were Italian royalty residing in an opulent palace was far more exciting.
For more information about the hotel please visit www.sofitel.com
Food, Food, Food
The third largest city in Italy, Naples is arguably the most delicious, although the competition is incredibly fierce. But how could any other city possibly compete with the fertile volcanic soils of Vesuvius, the prime location of an ocean full of fresh seafood on its doorstep, not to mention years of pizza making know-how passed down through the generations? Naples is a foodie paradise, and we only just scratched the surface.
On our way into Naples from the airport we quizzed the cab driver in our pigeon Italian about the best places to try a traditional and authentic pizza. Locals definitely have the best knowledge of the area and tend to reveal hidden gems that you would never have found in a guide book. He told us that we needed to go to Di Matteo’s but to be prepared to queue with locals to get in. That evening we decided to go there for dinner. Google maps was a little confused by the alleyways and side streets but after several time of walking past it, we finally found Di Matteo. At first glance it would not have been the sort of place that we would have walked into off the streets; distressed store front with minimal signage and old Italian men standing outside smoking, shouting and gesturing at each other. We tentatively walked through the front door and were ushered up a flight of stairs. The pizzeria was much larger than expected with many rooms leading into each other. Tables were covered with red and white checked plastic and menus were flung down in front of us. The service may be questionable but the experience of sitting amongst locals chatting, drinking wine and eating pizza is priceless. We ordered classic margarita pizzas and waited. The wait was worth it. The pizzas were the best we had ever tasted and with the combination of delicious food and a buzzing atmosphere it was our most memorable dining experience in Naples.
The following day whilst wandering the streets of the city we stumbled across Gran Gusto; a deli/supermarket full of the best Italian food money can buy. Imagine an Italian version of Wholefoods; a magical foodie paradise filled with Vesuvius sun blushed tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, giant blocks of delicious parmesan, creamy buffala mozzarella, cured meats and Italian wine galore.
Tip: Make sure that you leave enough space in your suitcase for Gran Gusto goodies. You will be amazed at how much you will want to bring home.
Browsing the aisles of Gran Gusto is enough to make any tummy rumble, so after you get your shopping fix head to the Gran Gusto restaurant. The menu includes scrumptious pasta dishes, fresh fish and seafood as well as the traditional Neapolitan pizza- the wine list is also not to be sniffed at. We opted to go for pizza- when in Naples. The quattro formaggi was a delight; an oozing jumble of gorgonzola, parmesan, emmental and provolone all on a crispy base. As we were about to leave the restaurant we noticed a freezer full of fresh fruit ice lollies and couldn’t resist. Two pineapple lollies for the road and we were good to go.
A trip to Naples wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to Pompeii; one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. It has always been a huge interest of ours at here at Hero & Leander so we decided to book onto a Viator half-day trip to Pompeii to explore the Unesco-listed remains of the Roman town.
We were picked up from our hotel (Palazzo Caracciolo) by the tour guide and driven a short 35 minute drive to Pompeii. We will not lie to you- it is very busy and full of tourists but despite the buzz of backpacks and hiking sticks it is a once in a lifetime experience. Our fantastic guide was both informative and funny and showed us the highlights of the site, frozen in time from the massive eruption of Mt Vesuvius that spewed volcanic ash over the thriving city of Pompeii on a summer’s day in 79AD. As a result, the entire town and around 20,000 of its inhabitants were buried under tons of ash and burning pumice. We wander through the incredibly advanced Roman city and witnessed relics such as the piazza, brothel, baths and fresco-covered walls of Vetti’s House. Until you are standing in the streets of Pompeii with Mt Vesuvius towering above, it is hard to imagine what life would have been like.
Witnessing such well-preserved buildings, shops, forum and houses; standing on the cobbled roads that the Pompeii natives once walked and realising that they were just like us filled us with sadness at their tragic demise. But also provided us with a fascinating insight into life in the Roman-era. They didn’t know what was happening- to them Vesuvius was nothing more than a mountain. What is more terrifying is that today Naples is home to over 3 million people and half of the city is in the danger zone if/when Mt Vesuvius next erupts, which could be any time now. For the brave at heart Viator also offer an extended day trip where you can go on to climb Mt Vesuvius, but the idea of that was too hot for us to handle!
What to do…
Naples is a crazy city, encapsulating the expression hustle and bustle. Look behind through this unique façade and you’ll find a city that is full of charm and an incredible heritage. We look at a few of the great things to do in Naples.
There are churches on what seems like every street corner. In fact there are more churches here than any other Italian city. If you’re a fan of classical architecture then these sites are definitely worth visiting. Some are run down, some are gloriously grand and opulent and some are both! There are also numerous catacombs under the city making a fascinating trip if you’re in to the macabre due to Neapolitan culture of caring for their dead.
Continuing on the historical theme Naples’ Archaeological museum is also a must visit for those fascinated with antiquities. Predominantly on show are artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum so we’d recommend visiting these cities first to gain an understanding of context.
Perhaps an odd site to see is the Old Town street, Via San Gregorio Armeno lined with model makers occupying the stores and selling their productions of nativity scenes. During Christmas times these shops are particularly busy and the models command high prices too to reflect their incredibly detailed craftsmanship.