Travel: Vedi Napoli e poi muori (see Naples and then die)
Many people flying from the UK to Naples head straight for the Amalfi coast, put off entering the city by stories of the Camorra, handbag snatchers on scooters, crazy traffic and Vesuvius, an active volcano. But is Naples really that dangerous? I took the airport shuttle (€5) into town to find out.
The art of crossing the road
Step out into the traffic and cars and scooters will slow down to allow you to cross. If you do it the British way, waiting for a gap in the traffic, not only will you be there all day but you may as well have the word ‘tourist’ tattooed on your face.
If you’re a fan of Starbucks and its buckets of watery coffee, then you’re in the wrong place. In Naples, the coffee is small, strong and hot. And while some cafes are better than others, you can almost never go wrong if you stand at the bar, pay your euros and order un caffè. If you want your coffee in the best location then go to Caffe Gambrinus , a grand 19th century coffee house looking out onto the spectacular Piazza Plebiscito and the Royal Palace. But if you want your coffee next to a shrine to football god Maradona, get yourself to Bar Nilo.
The Neapolitans favour a sweet breakfast and, as luck would have it, our hotel was 20 yards from the best cake shop in town, Sfogliatelle Attanasio. Sfogliatelle are pastry shells filled with creamy custard made from polenta, ricotta, egg, sugar and candied orange peel. Sprinkled with icing sugar, they are sold hot. If you’re not near a good baker then these delicacies are found in most decent Naples cafés. Just order a sfoy-a-tella.
Getting a table for dinner
Popular restaurants don’t take bookings and the massive queue of locals outside any restaurant is generally testament to its quality. Push through the crowd, give your name and size of group to the guy with the clipboard, and wait to be called.
Naples invented the pizza and we sampled the best. In first place is the Antica Pizzeria da Michele, open every day (except Sunday) from 11am to 11pm. Michele’s has been serving pizzas since 1906 and offers just two types, Margarita or Marinara. Michele’s also featured in the Julia Roberts film Eat Pray Love which not only put me off but had me worried that the place would be packed with tourists. Wrong. The queue was more than 90 per cent local and the pizzas were terrific. In second place, Sorbillo (which has a great street bar opposite meaning your queue time can be accompanied by Aperol Spritz), where from the longish list of pizzas we chose Margarita with Mozzarella di bufala. Huge and perfectly formed and, same as at Michele’s, just 4 euros.
Naples is full of splendid faded grand architecture. If you want churches, head to Spaccanapoli, the street that cuts right through the old town, and have your fill. My favourite is the Cappella San Severo with its extraordinary Cristo Velato carved from marble by Guiseppe Sanmartino in 1753. For art galleries, don’t miss Madre Naples, a three-storey 18th century Palazzo converted into an art gallery by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza and with an excellent collection of contemporary art. Also worth a visit is Thomas Dane’s fabulous Naples outpost with its views over the bay.
So those people warning you off Naples – have they even been there?
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