Memories of my first visit to Naples in 2002 are a little patchy, to say the least. A train station, the dim and narrow passages of Centro Storico (Historic Centre), eating really good pizza and sweating it out with the tourist hoards at Pompeii.
Let’s just say our return in 2017 was along the same lines, just a tad hotter. Man, that Italian summer sun can be a killer!
Naples is a bustling, rough-around-the-edges kind of place. Whether you’re there for the shopping, the museums, the beaches or the pizza, there’s always something to occupy yourself with.
Our little apartment was in Montecalvario up near Piazza Dante, just a short walk from Centro Storico and its character-filled lanes and passages.
The piazza itself is a wide open space that’s very popular with local families. Especially in the afternoons as parents sit about and socialise and kids tear around in the shadow of the ornate semicircular façade of Convitto Nazionale; complete with marble statues peering from above.
The ‘pizza 1830’ at Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba – Via Port’Alba, 18
At the piazza’s northeast corner is Via PortÁlba, the start of which is beneath a large archway; one of the old gateways to the city. This cobbled passage is known for its vintage books and unlisted music, and its here you’ll find numerous shops and street vendors peddling it all.
Head to the second archway and you find Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, one of the city’s first pizzerias, which opened in 1738. Its life started as a street food vendor, later becoming a restaurant in 1830 where diners could sit and enjoy their pizza.
It’s here that we sampled a couple of very good specimens, sitting beneath the old archway in the balmy summer breeze as we sipped on decent house vino.
Cross over Via San Sebastiano and follow Via San Pietro a Maiella and Via dei Tribunali and you end up in the thick of Centro Storico. This is one of the city’s most popular areas as it’s saturated with a huge variety of stores, restaurants, cafés, bars and the famous “Nativity Street”.
The pedestrian only Via San Gregorio Armeno is lined with numerous tiny stores selling figurines of Mary and Jesus, nativity scenes as well as other collectibles.
Everything along here is sold in miniature: houses, trees, restaurant tables complete with diners, household items and even tiny fruit markets.
Trattoria Annarè – Vico Lungo del Gelso, 78
Food choices are virtually endless in these parts, which goes for most of the city, so it’s best to find somewhere to sit and enjoy a cooling lemon granita or aperol spritz as you work out where to eat.
The moment you stop to read a restaurant menu somewhere, you’re often pounced on by a waiter or business owner. As annoying as that may be, one very friendly guy did persuade us to try Trattoria Annarè, a very traditional restaurant in Quartieri Spagnoli.
It’s your typical menu split into antipasti, primi and secondi, but as lovely as it would have been to work our way through each course, the budget didn’t allow it. Instead it was a couple of tasty plates and very nice bottle of local vino bianco.
Food-wise, it was a deliciously rustic pasta e patate con provola (6), which is much like mac & cheese, just with a little flair, and a lovely pollo alla sorrentina (8) – very simple-yet-tasty wine-poached chicken topped with prosciutto, provolone, basil and tomato.
Pizzeria del Portico – Via dei Tribunali, 354
Hosteria dei Sapori – Vico Mastellone, 12
Our budget liked pizza and pasta a lot on our Italian travels, which is perfect as, well, most of what you try is excellent. The busy thoroughfare of Via dei Tribunali may be clogged with people and a few too many tat stores, but it’s a great spot to kick back at an alfresco bar or restaurant and watch the people parade.
Pizzeria del Portico may be a hole-in-the-wall eatery that has stiff competition from the pizzeria across the way, but lining up for over an hour for any type of food is purely insane, in my opinion.
As the line barely moved on the other side of the laneway, we tucked into a couple of delicious pizzas and cooling beers. Perfect way to spend an early evening.
Over in Montecalvario, the tiny family-run and very friendly Hosteria dei Sapori is the perfect spot to grab a bite after you’ve descended the 414 steps from Castel Sant’Elmo. Or for us, two flights of stairs from our apartment. The food is typically Neapolitan and cooked by one of the family members, and despite the guy insisting there were anchovies in my pasta, my anchovy-loving palate didn’t come across a breath of them.
In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius had one of its biggest eruptions, a catastrophic event that covered many areas around it in almost 6 metres of ash.
Something like 11,000 inhabitants were killed in Pompeii, now one of the country’s most popular attractions. Last time we were in town we loved visiting Pompeii, but didn’t have the time to see Herculaneum.
Pyroclastic flows devastated the ancient port city of Herculanium and more than 120 skeletons were uncovered, with much of the town’s buildings still intact. The modern town of Ercolano now lies over part of the ancient city, so who knows what lays beneath.
It may be much smaller than Pompeii, but many buildings are well-preserved, including the stunning mosaics and frescoes. The advantage of Herculaneum, over Pompeii, is that tour buses don’t really come here, so tourist numbers are much lower. Plenty of room to move!
To get there by train, as we did, simply get the local train to Ercolano Scavi station and simply walk down the hill to the site. Entry into Herculaneum is €11 per person.
Due to its close proximity, the island of Procida is the perfect day trip from Naples. An easy 40 minute ferry ride in the Bay of Naples, the island feels like a world away from the frantic, traffic fuelled city.
Other than the obvious architectural landmarks such as the 11th century Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, the imposing Santa Maria delle Grazie and historic Santa Margherita Nuova, Procida has few attractions to draw the tourist. Instead, people come here to escape the city and experience the colourful, lived-in village feel of the island.
Pasticceria Bar Roma – Via Roma, 164
Things feel a lot more ‘real’ compared to places like Ischia, Portofino and Capri, and as soon as you step off the boat in Marina Grande you notice it. It’s so much more laid back, less ‘showy’ and much less touristy.
Fuel yourself on espresso and some pastries, including a lingua – a local pastry specialty filled with lemon-scented cream – then hit the pedestrian-friendly streets and passages for a day of exploration.
View over Corricella
Spiaggia delle Grotte
The highlight would have to be walking up to Terra Murata, the 16th century fortified citadel built on the highest point of the island. Along the way you’re met with that jaw-dropping panorama over Corricella village, the setting for films including Il Postino (The Postman) and The Talented Mr Ripley.
Be sure to pack your swimmers as the island has several beaches to enjoy. Spiaggia delle Grotte near the ferry terminal is a great place to cool off, but the more popular Il Positano and Ciraccio Beach are the main draws. Whatever the pick, the water is beautifully cool and refreshing!