What brings two Venetians to Naples? The Comedy of Art and the figure of Pulcinella maybe? No, simply the curiosity to (re)visit one of the most wonderful cities on earth and the will to get some southern inspiration for my recipes! Naples is, in fact, the perfect city for foodies and art lovers, thus Vittorio and I couldn't wait any longer. As you know, this year there is the Biennale d'Arte in Venice, which means brief holidays for us, but five days are better than nothing and the need to detach our minds and get away had to be fulfilled.
Naples is an extremely chaotic place, a city that never sleeps, where life is so complicated and intriguing that it is really difficult to understand in depth how things work and 5 days are definitely not enough. What I can say is that the city is huge and that the diversity among districts is impressive, in the good and in the bad. I booked a B&B in the historical centre, exactly in the Decumano Maggiore, practically in the heart of Spaccanapoli (perfect location for two Venetians with no driving license) and close to many sites and monuments.
We took a FrecciaRossa train from Venice (which takes about 5 hours) and arrived in the afternoon, welcomed by a beautiful breeze and a buzzing atmosphere. So many things to do and to see that a lifetime wouldn't be enough, so we took it easy and focused on relaxing, knowing that we will definitely return in autumn. As you know, I am a Venice insider, therefore I wouldn't feel comfortable telling you about the best things to do and see in Naples, but what I will share is our amazing experience and a brief recollection of the things we liked the most.
The real heart of the city, the old historical centre, where you can really get a taste of the Neapolitan way of life. Streets that go up and down studded with bakeries, pizzerias, restaurants and all sorts of shops. Hot taralli and huge baba pastries at every corner, bars and bookshops (even a cocktail bar in a bookshop!) and, just before Piazza Dante, stalls selling used books and objects (I bought loads of props for my food photos!!!!I am so excited!). Here you definitely can't miss the Duomo, the Gesù Nuovo Church -ex private palace- the Cappella San Severo with the statue of Cristo Velato -amazing, I have never seen anything like that- and the gothic Santa Chiara Church.
For drinks...honestly, anywhere seemed good to me and -if I compare the average prices to Venice- very affordable if not dirt cheap. We mainly went to the bar A'Casa ra' Signora in Piazza Bellini because the waiter was just too nice and they served a cold Moroccan tea with mint that I will soon re-propose in my recipes!
The places we liked most for lunch and dinner were La Stanza del Gusto -modern design and organic food- and L'Etto -only female staff, clean and modern design and wonderful buffet where everything costs 2,50 for 100gr-, both in Via Costantinopoli, a vegetarian restaurant called Un Sorriso Integrale and, for the traditional Neapolitan ragù (which is cooked for three days), Tandem.
This is a fancier and richer area, quite different from where we were staying, from all points of view. This is where the upper class Neapolitans live, with elegant shops, small delicatessens and lots of green areas. Piazza del Plebiscito is impressive, it really does remind you of Piazza san Pietro in Rome. It was very hot and there was no shade, so to be honest, we just walked past it to reach the coastline and walk towards Castel dell'Ovo, my favourite place in town. That castle is magical, overlooking the sea and full of life: local families with their boats start their sailing journeys from there and many kids dive from its walls into the water.
Here we ate in a traditional family run business called Trattoria San Ferdinando, where I tried stockfish with tomatoes and olives and Vito had the most exquisite squid (stuffed with squid...so good) ever. At the end of our meal we tried a grappa made in Caserta, a new discovery for us! Elegant and round, finished in barrique and surprising. Another place I loved is Il Mangiafoglia, modern and elegant (but for lunch they offer a 10 euro menu which was really excellent!), that re-interprets the traditional Neapolitan cuisine in a fresh contemporary way. Highly recommend it.
From Castel dell'Ovo we just continued walking (hey, we're from Venice and we are used to using our legs and feet as means of transport, plus I think that walking is always the best way to see and understand a city) toward Mergellina and then Posillipo. The view of the sea and the Vesuvius volcano is outstanding. Unfortunately the local Mob had just set the Vesuvius park on fire...so we could see all the smoke and it was a shame. They do it every year because after the fire, obviously, some companies will be asked to take care of the renovation works...and guess who owns those companies...
Anyway, beautiful! The beaches of Mergellina and Posillipo are gorgeous and elegant! We hadn't had the chance of dining in the area, as you can imagine restaurants are more expensive here, but you will be facing the sea and savouring fresh seafood. We just had drinks and, yes, they were a bit more pricey, but still very affordable!
Another place we loved was Monteoliveto square. Here a visit to the Sant'Anna dei Lombardi Church is mandatory, once one of the biggest monasteries in Italy, so beautiful and with richly decorated side chapels that to see all the details you should spend a whole day inside it. I forgot to mention that most churches are free, no ticket is required, so if you are broke and still want to see amazing art, going from church to church could be an interesting solution. Just in front of Sant'Anna dei Lombardi there is one of the restaurants we preferred, and this is Garum. Fresh seafood, cooked in a simple way that totally enhanced the flavour of the ingredients. Excellent value for money too.
Capodimonte is just outstanding. Unfortunately, reaching it is quite complicated, in the sense that there are no signs and you need to cross roads with no traffic lights, but we were really motivated and went. Caravaggio's painting was hosted in another museum, but...we saw three paintings by Titian...so! These were three portraits of Pope Paolo III, so deep and touching that I cannot find the right words to describe how we felt. The museums needs investments and, despite the great improvements brought by the new English director, there wasn't even enough staff to keep all the rooms open. What a pity...
I still strongly advise you to visit Capodimonte. I am sure you will understand a lot not only about the art of the past, but also about contemporary Italy... We are glad we went and will go back probably in October. Naples is a complex and charming city, a magical place where everything happens and you need to see it yourself to understand.
So, from Venice... take a train and discover Naples!
Trattoria San Ferdinando Address: Via sardines 117, 80132 Napoli (NA) Phone: 081 421964
La Stanza del Gusto Address: Via Costantinopoli 100, 80135 Napoli (NA) Phone: 081 401578
Il Garum Ristorante Osteria Address: Piazza Monteoliveto, 2/A, 80134 Napoli NA Phone: 081 542 3228
Un Sorriso Integrale Address: Vico S. Pietro a Maiella, 6, 80138 Napoli NA Phone: 081 455026
Il Mangiafolgia Address: Via Giosuè Carducci, 32, 80121 Napoli NA Phone: 081 414631
Tandem Address: Via Paladino 51, 80134 Napoli (NA) Phone: 081 19002468
L'Etto Address: Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, 102, 80138 Napoli NA Phone: 081 1932 0967