Jenny Southan finds underground art, unforgettable pizza and saintly relics in the Italian city.
BAY OF NAPLES
With your starting point for a tour of Naples being one of the Mediterranean’s busiest ports, you may be tempted to hop on a ferry and escape to the island of Capri, only 40 minutes away. But try to resist. This Neapolitan hub may prove one of the few Italian cities that is hard to fall in love with – given that the streets are strewn with rubbish and many of the buildings are falling into disrepair – but a little persistence will go a long way. About 2km along the coast from Molo Beverello terminal is a peninsula on which Castel Dell’Ovo resides. It doesn’t cost anything to climb the slopes of the abandoned 12th-century stone fortress and, from the top, the view of the city, the sea and Mount Vesuvius in the distance is well worth the effort. There is a small harbour called Santa Lucia at the base of the castle, where locals flock to swim and sunbathe on the giant boulders in summer. Directly opposite, back on shore, is the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, which has a glamorous al fresco fine-dining restaurant (open for lunch and dinner) on the ninth floor. Tel +39 081764 0044;lhw.com/vesuvio
UNIVERSITA METRO STATION
Above ground, Naples is suffering from widespread corruption from the Camorra mafia, with public funds for refuse collection being diverted and construction projects delayed for years. But below the surface, amazing things are happening. Metro Napoli is opening subterranean “art stations” across the city, and the space-age Universita, designed by Karim Rashid, is the latest, unveiled in March. From Hotel Vesuvio take a ten-minute taxi ride to Piazza Borsa. Then, descending the steps to the station, you will see words such as “digitale“ and remix” written on the white tiles on the walls. Once inside, buy a ticket to Museo and head down the escalators. The walls and floors are a psychedelic mix of holographic surfaces in fuschia pink, lime green, tangerine and electric blue patterns – and there is not a speck of dirt in sight. Visit metro.na.it
NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
A short walk from Museo metro is this museum of archaeological finds. The pink building houses marbles, mosaics and bronzes, but most interesting are artefacts recovered from nearby ancient Roman cities Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were buried in ash after Vesuvius’s 79AD volcanic eruption. Look out for the little statues and amulets of men with giant erect phalluses. The talismans were considered less erotic, more symbols of fertility, prosperity, and protection. If you have time to visit Pompeii, you are likely to spot them carved into walls. The museum also reveals that sex was an important part of daily life in ancient times, with raunchy bordello frescos and eyebrow-raising sculptures preserved for all to see. Piazza Museo Nazionale 19. Open 9am-7.30pm (closed Tues). Visit museoarcheologiconazionale.campaniabeniculturali.it
A short walk away, down Via Santa Maria Costantinopoli, is the Greco-Roman Piazza Bellini – one of the prettiest spots in the city to stop for an aperitivo. There are a couple of café-bars here with outdoor seating, parasols and pots of flowers. Service is laid-back, and you may be forced to play audience to the odd busker strumming a battered guitar, but the general air of the place is more salubrious than the rest of the city. Take a seat outside the arty Caffe Letterario Intra Moenia (intramoenia.it) for a chilled glass of Prosecco or Campari and soda, accompanied by complimentary pretzels and the sound of families chatting. It’s open long into the evening and is a good entry point into the narrow streets of the historic old town.
Duck down Via San Pietro a Maiella and continue along Via dei Tribunali until you get to Sorbillo Pizza at number 38. It’s easy to spot as there tends to be a crowd of people waiting outside – if this is the case, leave your name at the door then pop to the adjacent open-fronted Enoteca for a glass of wine while you wait on the street until they call it out on the speaker. A family business dating back to 1935, the rustic establishment serves beer by the can, wine by the glass and incredible pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven – in fact, pizza is the only thing on the menu, and you can’t leave Naples without trying one. Priced from about €3, they measure more than a foot in diameter, have satisfyingly thin yet doughy bases, fresh tomato sauce and a wide variety of toppings – from buffalo mozzarella and torn basil leaves to spicy sausage and artichoke. Tel +39 081 446 643 (but no phone reservations).
DUOMO DI SAN GENNARO
Make your way along the cobbled streets in the direction of Via Duomo. Feel free to take a more convoluted route by cutting down the shadowy side streets to get a sense of local life. Washing hangs from high balconies, open shutters reveal people smoking or watching television, and graffiti and religious shrines coexist side-by-side on crumbling walls. Neapolitans tend to be strict Catholics so the Duomo di San Gennaro cathedral is a good place to end your tour. Dating back to the 14th-century, it is famous for housing a vial of blood from Saint Gennaro, a local bishop who was martyred in the 4th-century. In May, September and December a ceremony is held in which the blood miraculously turns to liquid. It’s said if this doesn’t happen, the city is doomed.
Open daily 8am-12.30pm, 4.30pm-7pm (8am-1.30pm, 5pm-7.30pm Sun). Visit duomodinapoli.it