Frommer's Italy (2015)
A beach along the Amalfi Coast.
Bienvenuti al sud—welcome to the south. Your first encounter with southern Italy, for better or worse, will probably be Naples. If you’ve enjoyed the grandeur of Venice, the elegance of Florence, the awesomeness of monumental Rome, be prepared for a bit of a shock. Naples lives up to its reputation for dirt and grime, delights with its energy and good cheer, and surprises with the sophistication of its monuments and museums. It can be overwhelming, but that’s part of the city’s allure. And Naples is just the beginning.
There’s so much more right around Naples—some of the most extensive remains of the ancient world in Herculaneum and Pompeii; the favorite playgrounds of the rich on Capri and along the Amalfi coast; the natural, ominous wonders of Mt. Vesuvius and the Campo Flegrei; plus miles of coastline, hillside carpeted with olive groves and orange and lemon orchards. You might want to think of Naples and Campania as Italy on overdrive. Hang on and enjoy the ride.
219km (136 miles) SE of Rome
In Naples, Mt. Vesuvius looms to the east, the fumaroles of the Campo Flegrei hiss and steam to the west, and the isle of Capri floats phantomlike across the gleaming waters of the bay. For all the splendor and drama of this natural setting, one of Italy’s most intense urban concoctions is the real show. Naples shoots out so many sensations that it takes a while for visitors to know what’s hit them. Everything seems a bit more intense in Italy’s third-largest city, the capital of the south. Dark brooding lanes open to palm-fringed piazzas. Laundry strewn tenements stand cheek by jowl with grand palaces. Medieval churches and castles rise above the grid of streets laid out by ancient Greeks. No denying it, parts of the city are squalid, yet in its museums are an embarrassment of riches. It seems that most of life here transpires on the streets, so you’ll witness a lot. The pace can be leisurely in that southern way, and amazingly hectic. When you partake—in a meal, in a passegiata, or just in a simple transaction—you’ll notice the warmth, general good nature, and a sense of fun. You get the idea—but you won’t really, until you experience this fascinating, perplexing, and beguiling city for yourself.
GETTING THERE Naples’s Aeroporto Capodichino (www.gesac.it; 081-7896259 and 081-7896255), is only 7km (4 miles) from the city center. It receives flights from Italian and European cities, plus a few intercontinental flights. From the airport, you can take a taxi into town (make sure it is an official white taxi with the Naples municipal logo); the flat rate for the 15-minute trip to the station is 16€ and to Molo Beverello for ferries to the islands 19€. There is a convenient bus service to Piazza Municipio and Piazza Garibaldi, called the Alibus, run by the ANM bus company (www.anm.it; 800-639-525; 3€ one-way). The bus runs every 30 minutes from the airport (6:30am-11:50pm) and from Piazza Municipio (6am-midnight).
Naples is on the main southern rail corridor and is served by frequent and fast train service from most Italian and European cities and towns. EuroStar trains (ES) make very limited stops, InterCity trains (IC) make limited stops, and AltaVelocità (AV) trains are high-speed express trains. Regular trains take between 2 and 21⁄2 hours between Rome and Naples, while the AV train takes only 87 minutes, making it by far the best method of transport between the two cities. The fare is 44€ one-way, but varies, and specials are often available, as are lower rates for advance booking. The same journey on an InterCity train will cost about 22€. Unfortunately for travelers trying to save money, InterCity trains run with less frequency than AV trains do, making cheaper transport quite inconvenient at times. Rail Europe and Eurail pass holders should note that AV trains require a reservation and an extra fee (10€). Contact Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.it; 892-021) for information, reservations, and fares.
The city has two main rail terminals: Stazione Centrale, at Piazza Garibaldi, and Stazione Mergellina, at Piazza Piedigrotta. Most travelers will arrive at Stazione Central. Nearby, on Corso Garibaldi, is Stazione Circumvesuviana Napoli-Porta Nolana (www.vesuviana.it; 800-053939), the starting point for commuter lines serving the Vesuvian and coastal area south of Naples, including Sorrento, Pompeii, and Ercolano.
Although driving in Naples is a nightmare, driving to Naples is easy. The Rome-Naples autostrada (A2) passes Caserta 29km (18 miles) north of Naples. The Naples-Reggio di Calabria autostrada (A3) runs by Salerno, 53km (33 miles) north of Naples.
From Palermo you can take a ferry to Naples that’s run by Tirrenia Lines (www.tirrenia.it; 892-123), Via Pontile Vittorio Veneto 1, in Palermo’s port area. A one-way ticket costs 35€ to 55€ per person for an armchair in first class and 50€ to 70€ per person for a first-class cabin for the 11-hour trip.
GETTING AROUND The Metropolitana (subway) has two lines: line 1 from Piazza Dante to the Vomero and beyond and line 2 from Pozzuoli to Piazza Garibaldi and beyond. Several new stations have opened in recent years, with more under way. You can also use the urban section of the Cumana railroad from Montesanto, which is convenient to Mergellina and other coastal locations north of the city center.
Taxis are an excellent, relatively inexpensive way to get around the city, and are very reliable and strictly regulated. Official taxis are painted white and marked by the COMUNE DI NAPOLI. Inside, you’ll find a sign listing official flat rates to the seaports, central hotels, and major attractions; don’t fret if your driver doesn’t use the meter—not using the meter is legal for all rides that have established flat rates. Taxis do not cruise but are found at the many taxi stands around town, or, for an extra 1€ surcharge, can be called by phone ( 081-444-444 or 081-555-5555).
As for driving around Naples, we have one word: Don’t. If you’re tempted, take a look at the cars on the street. In the rest of Italy, even the simplest models are kept in pristine condition; here, cars look like they’re used in demolition derbies.
Funiculars take passengers up and down the steep hills of Naples. The Funicolare Centrale (www.metro.na.it; 800-568-866) connects the lower part of the city to Vomero. Daily departures (6:30am-12:30am) are from Piazzetta Duca d’Aosta just off Via Roma. Be careful not to get stranded by missing the last car back. The same tickets valid for buses and the Metro are good for the funicular.
While walking, remember: For Neapolitan drivers, red lights are mere suggestions; cross busy streets carefully, and stick with a crowd if possible. Always look both ways when crossing a street, because a lot of driver’s scoff at the notion of a one-way street. The zebra stripes (white lines) in the street meant to indicate pedestrians have the right of way mean absolutely nothing here.
VISITOR INFORMATION The Ente Provinciale per il Turismo, Piazza dei Martiri 58 ( 081-4107211; bus: 152), is open Monday to Friday 9am to 2pm, with another office at Stazione Centrale ( 081-268779; Metro: Garibaldi; Mon-Sat 9am-7pm). The AASCT (www.inaples.it) maintains two excellent tourist information points: Via San Carlo 9 ( 081-402394) and Piazza del Gesù ( 081-5512701), both are open daily (Mon-Sat 9:30am-6:30pm; Sun 9:30am-2pm).
The Neighborhoods in Brief
CHIAIA Naples cleans itself up a bit in this seaside and hillside enclave that stretches from Piazza del Plebiscito west along the bay, skirting the seaside park, Villa Communale. By day, strollers follow the bay along the Lungomare di Chiaia all the way to similarly genteel Mergelina. Come evening, crowds head inland for a passegiata along Via Chiaia. To join them, just move along with the flow west from Piazza Plebiscito. Before you leave this lovely expanse, find the two bronze equestrian statues, turn your back to the Palazzo Reale, close your eyes, and try to walk between them (it’s a local thing—hard to do, but success brings good fortune, along with some stares).
HISTORICAL CENTER This warren of many tight lanes, a few avenues, and some boisterous piazzas is also known as the Decumani, and just as often as Spacca-napoli (that’s the name of the street that runs straight through the center of the neighborhood, as it has ever since the Greeks established a colony here). Roughly, the heart of Naples extends north from seaside Castel Nuovo to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and east from Via Toledo and Quartieri Spagnoli to the Porta Nolona Fish Market. On the edges of this neighborhood are two of Naples’ grandest landmarks, opposite each just off the Piazza Trieste e Trento. The stately Teatro San Carlo is one of the world’s finest opera houses, awash in acres of gilded stucco and plush red velvet. Galleria Umberto is one of the world’s first shopping malls, a beautiful late-19th-century concoction of domes and steel girding, where commerce transpires in style on beautifully tiled promenades beneath glass arcades.
PIAZZA GARIBALDI No need to linger in this decidedly unsavory quarter of grungy streets and some decidedly unsavory denizens. The train station is here, as is a station of the Circumvesuviana line for Pompeii and Sorrento. Descend into the flashy subway station for the metro and Circumflegrea line. The perpetually torn-up piazza is also a stop on many bus and tram lines, but you’ll need to summon the ancient oracle of Cumae to find the right stop—short of her, check with the friendly folks in the tourist office in the train station if they’re on duty.
SANTA LUCIA It’s been a while since anyone but yachters set sail from this old fisherman’s quarter made famous by the song. Neapolitans come here to stroll along seaside Via Mazzuro Sauro and Via Partenope (both closed to traffic) and gaze across the bay toward Capri. The nautical atmosphere cranks up a notch or two once you cross the bridge to Borgo Marinari, the little island where old houses huddle alongside Castel dell’Ovo.
QUARTIERI SPAGNOLI This is the real Naples, where age-old rituals of city life hang on—just like the laundry that perpetually hangs across the narrow streets. It’s not street life you’re witnessing but just plain Neapolitan life, because everything seems to transpire in narrow, gridlike streets wedged between Via Toledo on the east and the San Martino hill on the west. Residents talk to one another from balconies, guys in T-shirts lower baskets from windows and haul up cigarettes, and kids play amid street stalls selling everything from fish to votive candles. If it all gets to be a bit much, just keep heading south (toward the bay) and you’ll emerge in airy, semicircular Piazza del Plebiscito, where the huge Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola, copied on the Pantheon in Rome, faces the Palazzo Reale.
VOMERO Life in Naples never really becomes too gentrified, but it calms down quite a bit in the hilltop enclave of the Napoli bene (the city’s middle and upper classes). Aside from fresh air and spectacular views, the big draws in this quarter of some elegant 19th- and early-20th-century villas and one too many banal apartment houses are the Castel Sant’Elmo and Certosa San Martino. The trip up here from the center is on the Centrale and Montesanto funiculars.
Consulates The U.S. Consulate is on Piazza della Repubblica 1 (http://naples.usconsulate.gov; 081-5838111; Metro: Mergellina, tram: 1). Consular services are open Monday to Friday 8am to noon. The U.K. Consulate, Via Dei Mille 40 ( 081-4238911; Metro: Amedeo), is open Monday to Friday (9:30am-12:30pm and 2-4pm). The Canadian Consulate, at Via Carducci 29 (www.canada.it; 081-401338; Metro: Amedeo), is open Monday to Friday (9am-1:30pm). Citizens of Australia and New Zealand need to go to the embassies or consulates in Rome (see chapter 4).
Drugstores There are several pharmacies open weekday nights and taking turns on weekend nights. A good one is located in the Stazione Centrale (Piazza Garibaldi 11; 081-440211; Metro: Piazza Garibaldi).
Emergencies If you have an emergency, dial 113 to reach the police. For medical care, dial 118, but only in an emergency. To find the local Guardia Medica Permanente, ask for directions at your hotel.
Safety The Camorra-related crime for which Naples is infamous will have little bearing on your visit. Street crime is another story and it’s best to err on the side of caution in this city with catastrophically high unemployment, a big drug problem, and lots of dark, empty streets. If you have a money belt, by all means use it. Also use common sense. Do not carry a lot of cash, wear expensive jewelry, walk around with a fancy camera hanging from your neck, place your smartphone on cafe tables, or plunge down dark, deserted lanes at night. Do leave your valuables in a safe at your hotel (most rooms are equipped with them). When going out for a meal or excursion, carry only as much cash as you are going to need and only the credit card you will be using, and leave the others behind (including your debit/cash cards unless you need to make a withdrawal). Beware of pickpockets in crowds and on the subways and commuter trains—they’re crafty. Do not carry a wallet in your back pocket, of course, or even in your inside jacket pocket, where someone brushing against you can easily get to it. When walking, carry any bags on the side away from the street to thwart thieves whizzing past on motorbikes.
Where to Stay
Where you stay in Naples makes a difference—as in, enjoyable stay versus “I never want to set foot in this hellhole again.” You want a safe neighborhood close to the sights, and our suggestions below meet that criterion. Some snazzy business-oriented hotels have opened near the train station, but this area is not very convenient or, for that matter, particularly savory after dark. Naples hotels often post special Internet rates on their website, especially in summer, which is low season in the city.
Chiaia Hotel de Charme With its bright shops and bars, spiffy, pedestrian-only Via Chiaia may be the city’s friendliest address, and this warmly decorated inn that ranges across two floors of an old nobleman’s residence does the location justice. Some smaller rooms face interior courtyards and have snug, shower-only bathrooms, while many of the larger ones on the street side (with double panes to keep the noise down) have large bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs. Decor throughout is sufficiently traditional and regal to suggest the palazzo’s aristocratic provenance, and services are more wholesome than they were when the place was an upscale brothel. Pastries and snacks are laid out in the sitting room in the afternoon and evening, the buffet breakfast is generous, and the staff is good at recommending restaurants and providing directions.
Via Chiaia 216. www.hotelchiaia.it. 081-415555. 33 units. 145€-165€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 18€ in nearby garage. Bus: R2. Amenities: Bar; concierge; free Wi-Fi in lobby and some rooms.
Costantinopoli 104 A 19th-century Art Nouveau palace that once belonged to a marquis is set in a palm-shaded courtyard that’s mere steps from the archeological museum but a world removed from the noisy city—there’s even a small swimming pool for a refreshing dip. Contemporary art and some stunning stained glass grace a series of salons; some rooms are traditionally done with rich fabrics and dark wood furnishings, others are more breezily contemporary, and some spread over two levels. The choicest rooms are on the top floor and open directly off a sprawling roof terrace—a magical retreat above the surrounding rooftops and definitely what you should ask for when booking.
Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 104 (off Piazza Bellini). www.costantinopoli104.com. 081-5571035. 19 units. From 140€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 25€. Metro: Museo. Amenities: Pool; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Decumani Hotel de Charme The heart-of-Naples neighborhood outside the huge portals can be gritty, but the piano nobile of the palazzo of the last bishop of the Bourbon kingdom, Cardinal Sisto Riario Sforza, is still sprucely regal. In guest rooms that surround a vast, fresco-smothered ballroom-cum-breakfast room, plush draperies and fabrics and a few antique pieces complement shiny hardwood floors and timbered ceilings. Larger rooms include small sitting areas and face the quiet courtyard, while many of the smaller, street-facing doubles share small terraces with the adjoining rooms.
Via San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli 15 (off Via Benedetto Croce, btw. Via Santa Chiara and Via Mezzocannone). www.decumani.it. 081-5518188. 22 units. 124€-144€ double. Rates includes breakfast. Parking 25€ in nearby garage. Metro: Piazza Dante. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Grand Hotel Vesuvio Old world glamour holds sway in this famed waterfront hostelry that pampers the rich and famous and provides a Grand Tour-worthy experience (with all the 21st-century amenities, including a spiffy spa and small indoor pool). Expanses of shiny parquet, handsome old prints, fine linens on the firm beds, and classic furnishings give the large, bright, and very comfortable guest rooms sophisticated-yet-understated polish. The big perk, though, is the view of the bay, the Castel dell’Ovo, and Mt. Vesuvius outside big glass doors that open to balconies off many rooms and suites. You’ll get the same eyeful from the bright salon where a lavish breakfast buffet is served and from the rooftop restaurant. High-season prices are geared to the pocketbooks of celebrities and dignitaries, though off-season rates and the occasional special offer brings the memorable experience of a stay here within reach of the rest of us.
Via Partenope 45 (off Via Santa Lucia by Castel dell’Ovo). www.vesuvio.it. 081-7640044. 160 units. 180€-460€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 25€. Bus: 152, 140, or C25. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; fitness center and spa; pool (for a fee); room service; smoke-free rooms; Wi-Fi (fee).
Hotel Il Convento If you want to experience a slice of Neapolitan life—as in laundry flapping outside your window—this is the place for you. While the narrow Spagnoli streets outside teem with neighborhood color and busyness, a 17th-century former convent provides all sorts of cozy ambience, with lots of wood beams, brick arches, and terracotta floors. Two rooms are real retreats, with their own planted rooftop terraces, and two others spread over two levels. Main artery Via Toledo is just 2 short blocks away, taking the edge off comings and goings at night. An eager staff will steer you to neighborhood restaurants and shops.
Via Speranzella 137/a. www.hotelilconvento.com. 081-403977. 14 units. 83€-110€. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 15€ in nearby garage. Bus: R2 to Piazza Municipio. Small pets allowed. Amenities: Bar; fitness room and sauna; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Piazza Bellini The archaeological museum and lively Piazza Bellini are just outside the door of this centuries-old palace, but a cool contemporary redo takes the edge off city life. An outdoor living room fills the cobbled courtyard, and the rooms that range across several floors are minimalist chic with warm hardwood floors, neutral tones with warm-hued accents, sleek surfaces that make plenty of space for storage, and Philippe Starck chairs and crisp white linens. Some of the rooms have terraces and balconies, a few are bi-level, and some with limited views are set aside in an “economy” category—but rates for any room in the house are reasonable and make this mellow haven an especially good value.
Via Costantinioli 101. www.hotelpiazzabellini.com. 081-451732. 48 units. 100€-150€ double. Metro: Piazza Dante or Piazza Cavour. Amenities: Bar; concierge; Wi-Fi (free).
San Francesco al Monte This ex-Franciscan convent just above the Spanish quarter and halfway up the San Martino hill makes the monastic life seem pretty appealing. The hillside location is a handy refuge above the fray but an easy walk or funicular ride away from the sights, and views from all the rooms and several airy glassed-in and outdoor lounges sweep across the city to the bay. The monastic tenants left behind a chapel, a refectory, secret stairways, and all sorts of atmospheric nooks and crannies (one houses an elaborate nativity scene), and their cells have been combined into large, tile-floored guest rooms, all with sitting areas, and some sprawling suites. In the contemplative, sky-high monk’s garden, shaded walkways are carved out of the cliffside and a swimming pool and outdoor bar are delightful un-monastic perks.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele 328. www.sanfrancescoalmonte.it. 081-4239111. 45 units. 165€-225€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 25€. Metro: Piazza Amedeo; Montesanto or Centrale funiculars to Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Amenities: Restaurant; bar; pool; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
Neapolitans love to eat, and you’ll love dining here, too. What’s not to like about a cuisine in which pizza is a staple? Other dishes to look out for include mozzarella in carrozza (fried mozzarella in a “carriage”), in which mozzarella is fried between two pieces of bread and topped with a sauce of the chef’s design, often with tomatoes and capers; gnocchi alla sorrentina, little pockets of potato pasta filled with mozzarella and topped with tomato sauce; ragu, a sauce of several meats cooked for hours and served atop pasta, of course, or served in a bowl with thick slices of bread for dunking; parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmigiano), yes, the now-ubiquitous dish of fried eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmigiano, and basil originated here; crocchè di patate (fried potatoes, pronounced “croquet”), mashed with herbs, cheese, sometimes salami, lightly coated in breadcrumbs and fried; and pasta e fagioli, beans and pasta, nothing could be more Neapolitan. Think, too, of seafood—any kind, especially cozze, mussels, often served alla marinara (simmered in tomato sauce)—and polpette, succulent little meatballs. For a sampling of street food—especially the above mentioned crocchè di patate and arancini, fried rice balls—stop by the stand on the ground floor of Matteo, a venerable pizzeria at Via Tribunali 94 ( 081-455262), open Monday to Saturday 9am to midnight.
Europeo di Mattozzi NEAPOLITAN/PIZZA/SEAFOOD Just about all Neapolitans rank this attractive center-of-town eatery as a favorite, and the walls covered with copper pots, framed photos, and oil paintings provide welcoming surroundings that suggest that dining here is serious business. Even connoisseurs claim the pizzas are some of the best in town, and if one of the large pies doesn’t suffice as a starter, choose from zuppa di cannellini e cozze (bean and mussel soup) or pasta e patate con provola (pasta and potatoes with melted local cheese). Seafood secondi are the house specialties and include ricciola all’ acquapazza (a local species in a light tomato and herb broth) and stoccafisso alla pizzaiola (dried codfish in a tomato, garlic, and oregano sauce). Reservations are a must on weekends.
Via Marchese Campodisola 4. 081-5521323. Main courses 12€-18€. Mon-Wed noon-3:30pm; Thurs-Sat noon-3:30pm and 8pm-midnight. Closed 2 weeks in Aug. Bus: R2 or R3 to Piazza Trieste e Trento.
Campania is famous for its pizza.
Nenella NEAPOLITAN No one here is going to stand on formality, but the guys at this Spagnoli favorite will make you feel like one of the neighborhood regulars who crowd into the tent-covered terrace or plain white room for the satisfying home-cooking. Stick to the specials, listed on a board and recited by one of the busy waiters—pasta e patate (pasta and potatoes), maybe some fried fish or roasted pork, and salads of fresh greens. Even when accompanied by wine a meal here won’t cost more than 12€ or 15€ a head.
Vico Lungo Teatro 103-105. 081-414338. Main courses 6€-8€. Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 7-11pm. Metro: Montesanto.
Pizzeria Da Michele PIZZA According to about half the residents of Naples, this no-frills, zero-ambience place serves the best pizza in town—the other half would vote for Sorbillo (see below). Take a number at the door and prepare to wait for a table, as the place is always packed. But you won’t have to wait long for one of the enormous and simply delicious pizzas that come in just two varieties, margherita or marinara (toppings are for snobs, say the guys behind the counter): they emerge from the oven in a mere 20 seconds, an act of wizardry that keeps the tables turning quickly. No credit cards accepted.
Via Sersale 1. www.damichele.net. 081-5539204. Pizza 4€-5€. Mon-Sat 11am-11pm. Metro: Garibaldi.
Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo PIZZA Don’t let the crowds out front put you off, and don’t let one of the other pizza places on Via Tribunali lure you in (a couple of others are also confusingly called Sorbillo, set up by other family members). Just make your way through the crowd, give your name to the friendly, bemused woman with the clipboard, and enjoy the partylike atmosphere on the street out front as you wait for a table. The wait is never as long as you think it might be, and once inside you’ll probably be ushered to the vast, upstairs dining room where a long menu of pizzas is accompanied by a palatable house wine. This attractive place is the Ritz compared to serious-contender Michele (see above), and the Quattro Stagione (Four Seasons) defies Michele’s no-topping policy with its quadrants of mushrooms, salami, prosciutto, and cheese.
Via Tribunali 32. www.sorbillo.it. 081-0331009. Pizza 4€-5€. Daily noon-3:30 and 7-midnight. Metro: Dante.
Rosiello NEAPOLITAN/SEAFOOD It’s a cab ride or long bus trip out to this retreat on a hilltop above the sea in swanky and leafy Posilipo, but the trip is worth it. Ask your hotel to make reservations and help arrange transport, because a meal on the terrace here is one of the city’s great treats. Everything comes from the waters at your feet or the restaurant’s extensive vegetable plots on the hillside; even the cheese is local. These ingredients find their way into seafood feasts that might include risotto alla pescatora (with seafood) and pezzogna all’acquapazza (fish in a light tomato broth), but even a simple pasta here, such as scialatielli con melanzane e provola (fresh pasta with local cheese and eggplant), is elegant and simply delicious.
Via Santo Strato 10. www.ristoranterosiello.it. 081-7691288. Main courses 10€-25€. Thurs-Tues 12:30-4pm and 7:30pm-midnight (May-Sept open daily). Closed 2 weeks each Jan and Aug. Bus: C3 to Mergellina (end of line), and then 140.
Squistezze/La Stanza del Gusto CREATIVE NEAPOLITAN Chef Mario Avallone prepares some of the most innovative food in town, and he offers it two ways: In a casual, ground-floor cheese bar/osteria (Squistezze) and in a simple-but-stylish upstairs restaurant. Downstairs, daily offerings are written on blackboards and include the best lunch deal in town—a main course of the day, dessert, wine, water, and coffee for 13€. Or, you can pair cheese and salumi (cured meats) with carefully chosen wines or what is probably the city’s largest selection of craft beers (the staff makes suggestions) or tuck into hearty salads and several unusual specialties, such as arancino di mare, a fresh take on classic fried rice balls, in this case concealing a core of fresh seafood. Upstairs, locally sourced ingredients find their way into dishes that you’ll probably want to enjoy on one of several tasting menus that start at 35€; choose one that includes the variazione di baccalà, an amazing presentation of salt cod prepared in several different ways.
On top of their many other sterling qualities, Neapolitans make delicious sweets and desserts. Clam-shaped sfogliatelle, filled with ricotta cream and topped with powdered sugar, is the city’s unofficial pastry, delicious and available at bars and in pastry shops all over the city. Il baba are little cakes soaked in a rum or limoncello syrup and often filled with cream; delizia al limone (delicious lemon) consists of sponge-caked soaked with lemon or limoncello syrup, filled with lemon pastry cream, and iced with lemon-flavored whipped cream; and dark, flourless torta Caprese, topped with powdered sugar, is the chocolate cake of choice.
Scaturchio, Piazza San Domenico Maggiore 19 (www.scaturchio.it; 081-5517031), makes some of the best sfogliatelle in town and also serves excellent coffee. Naples’s ice cream parlors dispense some of the best gelato in the country; try Gelateria della Scimmia, Piazza della Carità 4 ( 081-5520272).
Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli 100. www.lastanzadelgusto.com. 081-401578. Main courses (upstairs restaurant) 14€-20€. Tues-Sat noon-11:30pm; Sun noon-3pm. Upstairs restaurant Tues-Sat 7-11pm. Closed 3 weeks in Aug. Metro: Piazza Dante or Museo.
Tandem NEAPOLITAN Forget about the gimmick here—all you can eat for a charge of 1€ a minute. Instead, take a seat in the simple room or the pleasant little terrace on the lane outside and linger over the house specialty, ragu. A lot of locals come here for their fix of this city staple, which comes in two varieties, meat (three or four kinds, slow-cooked) or vegetarian, which is a bit of a desecration. It’s served over spaghetti or a choice of other pasta, or by itself with thick slices of bread for dunking, along with carafes of the house wine.
Via Paladino 51. www.ristorantetandemragu.it. 081-4074833. Reservations recommended Fri-Sat. Secondi 10€-18€. AE, DC, MC, V. Mon-Fri noon-3:30 and 7-11:30 and Sat-Sun noon-4 and 7-midnight. Metro: Piazza Dante.
Large as Naples is, it’s easy to get to the sights you want to see on foot, allowing you to experience one of the city’s greatest allures—its street life. From Piazza Trento e Trieste, with the magnificent Teatro San Carlo and Galleria Umberto I, Via Toledo/Via Roma, leads north. To the left is the Quartieri Spagnoli, a neighborhood of tightly packed narrow lanes, while to the right, just beyond Piazza Dante, is the atmospheric historical center of the city, where many of the churches you want to see face airy piazzas. At the northern end of Via Toledo, about a 10-minute walk beyond Piazza Dante, is the celebrated Archaeological Museum.
THE TOP MUSEUMS
Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina (MADRE) ART MUSEUM It’s not New York’s Guggenheim or London’s Tate Modern, but the sprawling Palazzo Regina in the middle of medieval and baroque Naples provides a dramatic counterpoint for works by such contemporary artists as Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, and Jeff Koons. Painter Francesco Clemente, who was born in Naples but made his reputation on the international art scene, creates an illusionary experience in two rooms he’s decorated with colorful tile floors and frescoes replicating ancient symbols of the city. Conceptual sculptor Anish Kapoor has transformed a room into a white cube with rich blue pigments on the floor that seem to draw you into the bowels of the earth; he has also designed the entrance to the Monte S. Angelo subway station just outside the city center to resemble his version of Dante’s entrance to the underworld (and perhaps sympathizing with riders that commuting can indeed be hell). Across town, the Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, or PAN (Via dei Mille 60; palazzoartinapoli.net; 081-7958604) houses rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.
Via Settembrini 79 (btw. Via Duomo and Via Carbonara). www.madrenapoli.it. 081-19313016. Admission 7€ Wed-Sun, free Mon. Mon & Wed-Sat 10:30am-7:30pm, Sun 10:30am-11pm. Bus: E1. Metro: Cavour.
National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazion-ale) MUSEUM The echoey, dusty, gloomy galleries of the rundown Palazzo degli Studi provide one of the world’s great time-travel experiences, from grimy modern Naples back to the ancient world. Two treasure troves in particular are what bring you here. The superb Farnese Collection of Roman sculpture shows off the pieces snapped up by the enormously wealthy Roman Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who became Pope Paul III (1543-1549) and was at the top of the Renaissance game of antiquity hunting. His remarkable treasure trove ended up in the hands of Elisabetta Farnese, duchess of Parma, who married Philip V of Spain and whose son and grandson became kings of Naples and brought the collection here in the 18th century. Among Cardinal Farnese’s great prizes was the magnificent Ercole Farnese, a huge statue of Hercules unearthed at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The superhero, son of Zeus, is tuckered out, leaning on his club after completing his 11th Labor. He looks a bit troubled, and who can blame him? After slaying monsters and subduing beasts, he’s just learned he has to go into the fray again, descend into Hell, and bring back Cerberus, the three-headed canine guardian. It’s a magnificent piece, powerful and wonderfully human at the same time. The colossal “Toro Farnese,” 4m (13-ft.) high, is the largest sculpture from antiquity and is carved out of a single piece of marble. Cardinal Farnese also had this prize unearthed at the Baths of Caracalla, and he had a team of Renaissance masters, Michelangelo among them, restore it, piecing together bits and pieces here and there. The intricate and delicate work depicts one of mythology’s greatest acts of satisfying revenge, when the twin brothers Amphion and Zethus tie Dirce—who had imprisoned and mistreated their mother, Antiope—to the horns of a bull that will drag her to her death.
A typically narrow alleyway in Naples.
On the mezzanine and upper floors are mosaics, frescoes, and bronzes excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Those sights, of course, are remarkable, but seeing these objects from villas and shops hauntingly brings the ruined cities to life as they show off the residents’ tastes and preoccupations. Some, such as baking equipment and signage, are quite mundane, touchingly so; many, such as the bronze statues of the Dancing Faun (on the mezzanine), the Drunken Faun (top floor), and five life-size female bronzes known as Dancers (top floor) show off sophisticated artistry. Most of the mosaics, on the mezzanine, are from the House of Faun, one of the largest residences in Pompeii. The million-plus-piece floor mosaic, “Alexander Fighting the Persians,” depicts the handsome, wavy-haired king of Macedonia astride Bucephalos, the most famous steed in antiquity, sweeping into battle with King Darius III of Persia, who’s looking a bit concerned in his chariot. The Gabinetto Segretto (Secret Room; also on the mezzanine) displays some of the erotica that was commonplace in Pompeii. Some works are from brothels, among them frescoes that show acts lively yet predictable and some bestial (literally, as in Pan copulating with a goat) and others include phallus-shaped oil lamps and huge phalluses placed at doorways to suggest fertility and good fortune. We might titter at the bulges under togas and a fresco from Herculaneum’s House of Papyri showing a gent weighing his huge member, but they weren’t necessarily intended to be pornography and rather suggest the libertine attitudes of the time.
Piazza Museo 19. http://cir.campania.beniculturali.it/museoarcheologiconazionale. 081-4422149. Admission 10€. Daily 9am-7:30pm. Closed Jan 1 and Dec 25. Metro: Museo or Cavour.
National Museum & Gallery of the Capodimonte (Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte) MUSEUM Italy has many better art collections, and the trip here inevitably involves a change of buses or a taxi ride. That said, there’s plenty to lure you out to the former hunting preserve of the Bourbon kings. For one, the bosco reale (royal woods) are one of the few parks in Naples, and sharing the greenery with picnicking families can be a refreshing change of scenery. The core of the collection is from Elisabetta Farnese, the duchess of Parma who handed down the family’s paintings to her children and grandchildren after she became Queen of Spain, and they in turn brought them back to Italy when they became kings of Naples. By the time the works got here, many of the best had found their way into other collections, and what remains includes a roster of the greatest Italian and Northern masters, but often secondary works. In fact, the two standout pieces here have nothing to do with the Farneses. Caravaggio executed his dramatic “Flagellation of Christ” for Naples’ Church of San Domenico Maggiore (for more on Caravaggio in Naples, see box) and it was brought here in the 1970s, not long after another Caravaggio was stolen from a church in Palermo. In the contemporary galleries hangs Andy Warhol’s “Mount Vesuvius,” an almost-corny comic-book depiction of an eruption that renders the mountain as an age-old icon of volatility. If you’ve found other royal palaces around town fairly empty, it’s because many of the furnishings are upstairs here, in the Royal Apartments. There’s enough Sèvres and Meissen to put together a royal feast of epic proportions. Some of the pieces, the Capodimonte ceramics, were fired right here on the grounds throughout the 18th century.
Palazzo Capodimonte, Via Miano 1; also through the park from Via Capodimonte. http://cir.campania.beniculturali.it/museodicapodimonte. 081-7499111. Admission 7.50€; 6.50€ after 2pm. Thurs-Tues 8:30am-7:30pm. Closed Jan 1 and Dec 25. Bus: R4 (from the Archaeological Museum).
Cappella di Sansevero MUSEUM Only in Naples would a room as colorful, fanciful, mysterious, beautiful, and macabre as this exist. Prince Raimondo di Sangro of Sansevero remodeled his family’s funerary chapel in the 18th century, combining the baroque style then in fashion with his own love of complex symbolism and intellectual quests. Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino crafted “Christ Veiled Under A Shroud,” in which a thin transparent covering seems to make Christ’s flesh seem even more tormented and his suffering greater. (Antonio Canova, the Venetian sculptor, came to Naples to see the work a century later and said he would give 10 years of his life to create something so beautiful.) The prince’s father lies beneath a statue of “Despair on Disillusion,” in which a man disentangling himself from a marble net suggests a troubled soul and mind seeking relief—provided by the winged boy who represents intellect. Prince Raimondo’s mother, who died at age 20, lies beneath a statue of “Veiled Truth,” in which a woman holds a broken tablet, symbol of an interrupted life, with her veil in this case suggesting the unfulfilled promise she took to the grave with her. Raimondo himself is surrounded by colorful floor tiles arranged in a complex maze, symbol of the quest to unravel the secrets of life. Downstairs are two skeletal bodies in which the circulatory systems are perfectly preserved and brightly colored, allegedly with the injection of a substance the prince devised (and the subjects are probably not, as legend has it, the prince’s servants, who he supposedly scarified in the interest of science).
Via Francesco De Sanctis 19 (near Piazza San Domenico Maggiore). www.museosansevero.it. 081-5518470. Admission 7€. Mon and Wed-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-1:30pm. Closed May 1 and Easter Monday. Metro: Dante.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara CHURCH Despite its vast, light-filled interior and unabashedly cheerful cloisters, the church of Naples’ 13th- to 15th-century French rulers, the House of Anjou, is steeped in a stormy past. It’s not a sign of a good marriage when a wife’s only desire is to be a nun, but that’s what Queen Sancha, second wife of Robert the Wise wanted, so the king founded Santa Chiara in 1343 as a place for her to retreat from the world. Robert’s tomb is in the nave; the poet Boccaccio eulogized him as “unique among kings of our day, friend of knowledge and virtue.” His granddaughter Joan was crowned queen here in 1343, launching an enlightened reign nonetheless marred with plotting, intrigue, the murder of a husband, and her own demise at 56, when she was smothered with pillows. Her body was thrown into a deep well on the grounds of Santa Chiara and, once retrieved, she was denied Christian burial because of her heretical anti-papal views and laid to rest in an unmarked grave under the church floor. During World War II, Allied bombers laid waste to most of the church’s colorful frescoes, though a few fragments remain in the reconstructed nave. Other frescoes line the walls of the delightful cloisters, where columns are decorated with colorful Mallorca tiles. This is one of the most refreshing corners of Naples, and well worth the 5€ admission fee if you’ve been walking around the old city and need some peace and quiet.
Church: Via Santa Chiara 49. 081-7971235. Free admission. Mon and Wed-Sat 7:30am-1pm and 4:30-8pm. Cloisters and museum: Admission 5€. Mon and Wed-Sat 9:30am-5:30pm; Sun 10am-2:30pm. Metro: Dante.
Il Duomo Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta CATHEDRAL Three times a year—the first Saturday in May, September 19, and December 16—all of Naples squeezes into the great cathedral that King Carlo I d’Angio dedicated to San Gennaro in the 13th century. On these dates the dried blood of the city’s patron saint liquefies, or sometimes doesn’t. Not doing so foretells terrible events for Naples, such as the earthquake in 1980 that killed 2,000 residents or an outbreak of the plague in 1528. The rest of the year the blood is kept in a vault inside an altar in the Canella di San Gunnar, where a reliquary houses the head that soldiers of the Emperor Diocletian severed from the rest of the bishop’s body around 305.
Within the cathedral are Naples’ two oldest remaining places of worship. The Capella di Santa Restituta served as the city’s 4th-century basilica and is supported by a forest of columns from a Greek temple, and the Capella di San Giovanni in Fonte was a 5th-century baptistery; if you crane your neck and squint (binoculars or a telescopic lens come in handy) you can make out some endearingly rendered frescoes in the dome, including one showing Christ multiplying the fishes.
Via del Duomo 147. 081-449097. Free admission to the cathedral, but the archaeological zone is 3€. Mon-Sat 8am-12:30pm and 4:30-7pm; Sun 8am-1:30pm and 5-7:30pm. Metro: Piazza Cavour.
Castel dell’Ovo CASTLE As every Neapolitan knows, the poet Virgil placed an egg under the foundations of the city’s outrageously picturesque seafront fortress (Castle of the Egg) and when it breaks, a great disaster will befall the city. Considering earthquakes, eruptions of nearby Mt. Vesuvius, plague outbreaks, and World II bombings, it’s probably safe to assume the egg is no longer intact. The castle is enchanting even without such legends, squeezed onto a tiny island the Greeks first settled almost 3 millennia ago, built over the foundations of the villa of the Roman emperor Lucullus, and a royal residence from the 13th through 20th centuries. The little lanes beneath the thick walls are lined with the houses of Borgo Marinaro, a former fisherman’s haunt where quaint lanes are now lined with pleasant bars and pizzerias. For Neapolitans, a walk across the stout bridge onto the island is a favorite Sunday-afternoon outing.
Borgo Marinari (off Via Partenope). 081-7954593. Free admission. Mon-Sat 8am-6pm; Sun 8am-2pm. Bus: 152, C25, 140, or E5 to Via Santa Lucia.
The Castel dell’Ovo.
Castel Nuovo CASTLE/MUSEUM Now that the Giotto frescoes that once decorated the palace chapel have faded away, you can settle with admiring this medieval sea-girt beauty from the outside. As you do so, consider the plight of prisoners who once shared their dungeons with crocodiles imported from Egypt for the express purpose of snacking on them. The view from the Piazza Municipo is especially impressive, providing an eye full of towers, crenellations, and the white-marble Triumphal Arch of Alfonso I of Aragona squeezed between two turrets, a splendid example of early Renaissance architecture.
Piazza Municipio. 081-7952003. Admission 5€. Mon-Sat 9am-7pm. Bus: R1, R2.
BAD BOY WITH A BRUSH
The painter Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606, fleeing authorities in Rome after he killed a man in a fight over a debt. With his taste for gambling, prostitutes, young boys, rowdiness, and drunkenness, the tempestuous artist must have felt right at home in colorful Naples. The city was then the second largest in Europe after Paris, with 350,000 inhabitants, more than a few of whom shared Caravaggio’s predisposition for recklessness. His sumptuous canvases, with their realistic portrayals of saints and martyrs and dramatic use of light, have become emblematic of the city’s emotion-filled baroque style. Three Caravaggio works are in Naples.
The dark, moody, and chaotic “Seven Acts of Mercy” altarpiece is in the chapel of the Pio Monte della Misericordia, Via Tribunali 253 ( 081-446944; Metro: Dante) a fraternity founded by nobles in 1601 to loan money to the poor. As you pick out the merciful acts—St. Martin in the foreground giving his cloak to the beggar is easy (clothing the naked)—you’ll probably only detect six. But look again at the scene of the old man sucking at the breast of the young women: That counts as two, visiting prisoners and feeding the hungry. Classicists might recognize the pair as the Roman Cimon, who was sentenced to death by starvation; his daughter, Pero, secretly suckled him, and this act of family honor won him his release. It’s open Thursday to Tuesday 9am to 2pm; admission 5€.
Located in the Capodimonte gallery (p. 472), the “Flagellation of Christ,” depicts two brutish tormentors whipping a nearly naked Christ with almost rote determination (“another day, another flagellation”); a third is in the foreground, preparing his scourge to join in the action. Lighting emphasizes the arms in action and Christ’s twisted, suffering body, providing an almost-hard-to-witness depiction of cruelty in action. This is one of two flagellation scenes Caravaggio painted while he was in Naples (he did this one for a family chapel in the Church of San Domenico).
The “Martyrdom of St. Ursula” hangs in the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano (Via Toledo 185; 081-425011; Metro: Montesanto), the lavish headquarters of the Banco Intesa Sanpaolo. Ursula appears relatively unfazed as the king of the Huns, from whom she has just refused an offer of marriage, shoots an arrow into her breast at point-blank range (given that, as legend has it, the 11,000 virginal handmaidens accompanying Ursula on a pilgrimage had just been beheaded, she could not have been terribly surprised at the cruel reaction of her jilted suitor). Caravaggio himself looks on from the background. This was his last painting and the last image we have of him, for he died of fever while returning to Rome a couple of months later. The palazzo is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (Sat until 8); admission is 4€.
Castel Sant’Elmo CASTLE The Spanish gave this star-shaped fortress atop Vomero Hill its present appearance in the 16th century, taking advantage of a strategic position high above the city that today offers the best 360-degree views in town.
Via Tito Angelini. 081-5784120. Admission 5€. Wed-Mon 8:30am-9:30pm. Metro: Vanvitelli and then bus V1 to Piazzale San Martino.
Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) MUSEUM If your decorating tastes lean toward royal pomp, you’ll love following a designated route (accompanied by a really dry audio commentary) through some 30 grandiose yet strangely vacuous rooms where Neapolitan royalty ruled and entertained in the 18th and 19th centuries. You won’t miss too much if you give this pompous old pile a miss, though it’s hard not be impressed by the sweep of the marble double staircase, the opulent Teatrino di Corte (the private theater), and the ridiculously large, tapestry-hung Hall of Hercules (the ballroom). Most seductive of all are the manicured private gardens, tucked away above the city and the Bay of Naples; those, you can enter for free.
Piazza del Plebiscito 1. www.palazzorealenapoli.it. 081-5808111. Admission 4€; courtyard and gardens free. Thurs-Tues 9am-7pm. Bus: R2 or R3.
Catacombs of San Gennaro (St. Januarius) RELIGIOUS SITE San Gennaro’s head is in the duomo, but the rest of him is in his namesake two-story underground cemetery, used from the 2nd through 11th centuries. Some of the city’s earliest frescoes (those from Pompeii aside) are here, including one depicting a haloed San Gennaro with Mt. Vesuvius on his shoulders. Even earlier are a charming 2nd-century scene with Adam and Eve and a portrait of a family, with figures of each of the three members added over the years when their times came. Guides (most speaking English) will lead you down the wide aisles past the frescoed burial niches and early basilicas carved from the tufa rock, providing fascinating insights into the city’s long past—with a special nod to Sant’Agrippino, a 3rd-century bishop once interred here and who is almost as popular among Neapolitans as San Gennaro.
Via Capodimonte 13. www.catacombedinapoli.it. 081-7443714. Admission 8€. Tours Mon-Sat on the hour 10am-5pm; Sun 10am-1pm. Bus: 24 or R4.
Napoli Sotterranea With so much happening above ground, it’s hard to see the appeal of “Naples Underground,” but guided tours of the city’s ancient water works are wildly popular and a surefire hit with kids. Some 2,000 years ago, Roman dug huge cisterns beneath the city and connected them with a system of tunnels. Neapolitans used the ancient water supply well into the 19th century, when some cholera outbreaks necessitated purer sources, and the emptied cisterns came in handy as quarries then as bomb shelters during World War II (some of the wartime furnishings and graffiti remain in place). Adding to the mix is a Greek theater that’s been unearthed amid the subterranean network. Tours last about 90 minutes, include some broken-English commentary, and usually meet at Piazza San Gaetano 68, on Via dei Tribunali near the church of San Lorenzo (Metro: Dante); sometimes they meet in front of Café Grumbus in Piazza Trento e Trieste. Exit points vary a bit, too, but usually you’ll climb out of the dark up a long staircase and emerge into the courtyard of an ordinary-looking apartment house (a good illustration of this city’s many age-spanning layers). Aside from climbing stairs, you’ll also be asked to squeeze through a very tight passage (not recommended for the claustrophobic or the overweight).
EVERY DAY IS CHRISTMAS IN NAPLES
Among the many delights of Naples are the presepi, nativity scenes that pop up everywhere, any time of the year and, not surprisingly, come out in force at Christmas time. Figures are carved in wood or fired in ceramic. Mainstays are Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus, the donkey, the Wise Men, and angels, though the Neapolitan repertoire often expands to soccer stars and other celebrities. The settings are often a lot more elaborate than a humble manger: medieval town squares, rusticated villages with thatched cottages and spinning water-wheels, elaborate caves that look like some troglodyte fantasy. The Museo di San Martino (Largo San Martino 8; 081-5781769; admission 6€; open Thurs-Tues 8:30am-7:30pm) shows off the world’s largest presepe, an 18th-century concoction with hundreds of figures and objects; it’s the museum’s most popular display, and it’s thronged at Christmas time. You can piece together your own scene with a walk down Via San Gregorio Armeno, where year round, dozens of shops sell figures beginning at about 15€. You can also buy a complete scene for anywhere from 100€ well into five digits, or have one specially made with figures of your family and favorite celebrities (as many Neapolitans so). As you peruse these holy scenes, be aware that pickpockets flock to the street like sheep to a Bethlehem hillside with the unholy intent of preying on distracted gawkers glued to shop windows. Among the most reputable shops are Gambardella Pastori, Via San Gregorio Armeno 40 ( 081-5517107); Giuseppe Ferrigno, Via San Gregorio Armeno 10 ( 081-5523148); and Amendola, Via San Gregorio Armeno 51 ( 081-5514899).
Vico S. Anna di Palazzo, 52. www.lanapolisotterranea.it. 081-296944. Admission 9.30€, 6€ for children under 10. Tours in English are scheduled daily, year-round, at 10am, noon, and 2 and 4pm.
San Lorenzo Maggiore CHURCH The most beautiful of Naples’s medieval churches seems to inspire great literature. Petrarch, the medieval master of Italian verse, lived in the adjoining convent in 1345, and it was here on Holy Saturday 1338 that Boccaccio (author of the “Decameron”) supposedly first laid eyes on his muse, Maria d’Aquino. The daughter of a count and countess but rumored to have been the illegitimate daughter of Robert of Anjou, king of Naples, Maria was married but preferred refuge in a convent to life with her debauched husband. For Boccaccio, it was love at first sight; he nicknamed her La Fiametta (Little Flame), wooed her with his romantic epic “Filocoppo,” and eventually won her over and convinced her to become his mistress (she jilted him for another man a few years later). You can ponder 14th-century romance as you stroll through the delightful cloisters, then descend a staircase to witness more of the city’s multilayered history: Ongoing excavations have unearthed streets from the Greco-Roman city lined with bakeries and shops, porticoes, an entire covered market, and an early Christian basilica.
Piazza San Gaetano, Via Tribunali 316. www.sanlorenzomaggiorenapoli.it. 081-290580. Free admission to church. Mon-Sat 8am-noon and 5-7pm. Excavations: Admission 4€. Mon-Sat 9:30am-5:30pm; Sun 9:30am-1:30pm. Metro: Piazza Cavour.
Bags of dried pasta hang in the doorway of a Naples shop.
Entertainment & Nightlife
Neapolitans make the best of balmy evenings by passing the time on cafe terraces. Top choice is the oldest cafe in Naples, with a Liberty-style interior from the 1860s, the elegant Gran Caffè Gambrinus, Via Chiaia 1, in Piazza Trento e Trieste ( 081-417582). Another very popular spot is La Caffetteria, Piazza dei Martiri 25 ( 081-7644243), top choice for evening aperitivi.
OPERA & CLASSICAL MUSIC The venerable Teatro San Carlo, Via San Carlo 98 (www.teatrosancarlo.it; 081-7972412 or 081-7972331), stages world-class opera, along with dance and orchestral works, Tuesday through Sunday, December through June. Tickets cost between 30€ and 100€.
Associazione Alessandro Scarlatti, Piazza dei Martiri 58 (www.associazionescarlatti.it; 081-406011), organizes a concert series at Castel Sant’Elmo; ticket prices range from 15€ to 25€.
BARS & CLUBS This is a port, a cosmopolitan city, and a university town all rolled into one, so the Neapolitan nighttime scene is eclectic and lively. Piazza Bellini, near the university at the edge of the historical center, is an especially lively venue. Enoteche, or wine bars, provide a good choice of wines by the glass and by the bottle, a bit of food, and usually a relaxed atmosphere. Some top choices are quiet Berevino, Via Sebastiano 62 ( 081-0605688; closed Mon); Enoteca Belledonne, Vico Belledonne a Chiaia 18 (www.enotecabelledonne.com; 081-403162; closed Sun), with a local Chiaia vibe; chic, starkBarril (Via Giuseppe Fiorelli 11); and Trip (Via Giuseppe Martucci 64; www.tripnapoli.com; 081-19568994), with welcoming overstuffed couches.
Side Trip to Campo Flegrei (The Phlegrean Fields)
On this seaside peninsula just west of Naples, volcanic vents steam and hiss (the name is from the Greek, “Burning Fields”), ruined villas testify to ancient hedonism, and mythic characters and oracles seem to spring to life. Moonlike landscapes interspersed with lush hillsides carpeted with olive groves and orange and lemon orchards are rich in history and have long evoked colorful storytelling. Our alphabet was invented here, when the Latin language officially adopted the characters used for written communication in Cuma and have come to comprise what’s known as the Roman alphabet. Nero murdered his mother, the ambitious and villainous Agrippina, outside Baia, the Palm Beach of the ancient world, where Caesar relaxed and Hadrian breathed his last.
A day exploring this strange, mythic landscape begins in seaside Pozzuoli, reached from Naples by Line 2 of the Metropolitana (subway) or via the Cumana Railroad ( 800-053939), starting from Piazza Montesanto. From Pozzuoli, SEPSA buses run to other nearby sights: Baia, Cumae, Solfatara, and Lago d’Averno (www.sepsa.it; 081-7354965).
POZZUOLI More than 40,000 spectators could squeeze into the Anfiteatro Flavio, built in the last part of the 1st century and the third largest arena in the Roman world. Much of the seating remains intact, as do the subterranean staging areas with “mechanics” that hoisted wild beasts up to the field of slaughter and pumped water to flood the arena for mock naval battles (Via Nicola Terracciano 75; 081-5266007); admission 4€; Wed-Mon 9am-1 hour before sunset). Screen legend Sophia Loren was born in this seaside town in 1934, contributing another bit of local color.
SOLFATARA The ancients called this dormant volcano just 2km (11⁄4 miles) above Pouzzoli “Forum Vulcani” and believed it be the residence of the god Vulcan and an entrance to Hades. It’s easy to see why: lunar landscapes hiss, steam, bubble, and spew sulfurous clouds that reach a temperature of 160°C (320°F). Despite all the bubbling and steaming, the volcano has not erupted since 1198. (Via Solfatara 161, Pouzzoli; www.solfatara.it; 081-5262341; 6€; daily 8:30am to 1 hr. before sunset.)
BAIA Most of the villas and thermal baths are underwater, though enough remains on terra firma to suggest the grandeur of this ancient spa town where Julius Caesar, Nero, and other Roman elite once relaxed and debauched. Seneca the Younger called the place a “vortex of luxury” and a “harbor of vice.” It was here that Caligula supposedly had a bridge fashioned from a string of boats and road across it on his horse, defying the oracle’s prediction that he had “no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Gulf of Baiae” (http://cir.campania.beniculturali.it; 081-8687592; admission 4€; Tues-Sun 9am to 1 hr. before sunset). The evocative 16th-century Castello di Baia shows off statuary and other artifacts from the ancient city (http://cir.campania.beniculturali.it; 081-5233797; admission 4€; Tues-Sun 9am-2:30pm).
LAGO D’AVERNO This placid lake just north of Baia fills an extinct volcanic crater—and if legends have any truth to them, was once so vaporously lethal that the name comes from a Greek word meaning “without birds,” because winged creatures flying over the waters would plunge to their deaths. The Cumaean Sibyl (see below) is said to have ferried Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, across the lake, where he discovered the River Styx, the Gateway to Hades. In the 1st century B.C., Agrippa had a canal dug to connect the lake with the sea, providing safe harbor for Roman ships. A couple of centuries later the Romans built the lakeside Temple of Apollo, a huge thermal complex covered with a dome almost as large, but not as long lasting, as the one on the Pantheon in Rome.
CUMAE The Greeks founded nearby Cumae, their first colony on mainland Italy, in the 8th century B.C., and they discovered they had a helpful neighbor: the Cumaean Sibyl, who, according to legend, passed on messages from Apollo. A little less poetically, the sibyl’s long, narrow trapezoidal tunnel was probably gouged from the rock as part of the colony’s defense system. The cave is in an archaeological park that also includes temples dedicated to Jupiter and Apollo, later converted into Christian churches (cir.campania.beniculturali.it/archeocuma; 081-8543060; admission 2.50€; daily 9am to 1 hr. before sunset). On Via Domitiana, to the east of Cumae, you’ll pass the Arco Felice, an arch about 20m (64 ft.) high, built by Emperor Domitian in the 1st century A.D.
The Cave of the Cumaean Sibyl, just outside of Naples.
Side Trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum
24km (15 miles) S of Naples, 237km (147 miles) SE of Rome
On that fateful day, August 24, A.D. 79, the people of Pompeii, a prosperous fishing town, and Herculaneum, a resort just down the coast, watched Mount Vesuvius hurl a churning column of gas and ash 10 miles high into the sky. It was only a matter of time before ash and pumice buried Pompeii and flows of superheated molten rock coursed through the streets of Herculaneum. Volcanic debris quickly hardened into a layer of mud that fossilized everything—furniture, wooden beams, clothing, skeletons, graffiti, mosaics. Terrifying indeed for the ill-fated townsfolk, but lucky for us, the layer of ooze preserved Pompeii and Herculaneum as time capsules. Pompeii is much more extensive than Herculaneum, with more to see, while Herculaneum provides an easier-to-manage, less crowded experience. You could easily do both in one day, though that might be “excavation overload.” If you have to choose, Pompeii provides the more sensational experience.
TREAD LIGHTLY ON MOUNT VESUVIUS
The towering, pitch-black Mount Vesuvius looms menacingly over the Bay of Naples. The volcano has erupted periodically since the day of doom, August 24, A.D. 79, when it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum: in 1631, in 1906, and most recently on March 31, 1944.
It might sound like a dubious invitation, but it’s possible to visit the rim of the crater’s mouth. As you look down into its smoldering core, you might recall that, a century before the eruption that buried Pompeii, Spartacus hid in the hollow of the crater, which was then covered with vines.
The Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio (www.parconazionaledelvesuvio.it; 081-8653911; admission 8€) contains an Observatory at 608m (1,994 ft.) that is the oldest in the world, dating from 1841. The park is open daily from 9am to sunset.
To reach Vesuvius from Naples, take the Circumvesuviana Railway and get off the train at Ercolano station, the 10th stop. From here, you can catch the shuttle bus to the entrance of the park (summer daily 9am-6pm; winter daily 9am-3pm). The cost is 18€. Once at the top, you must be accompanied by a guide, which will cost 10€. Assorted willing tour guides are found in the bus parking lot; they are available from 9am to about 4pm. For more information, call 081-7393666 or visit www.vesuvioexpress.it.
GETTING THERE The Circumvesuviana Railway (www.vesuviana.it; 800-053939) runs between Naples and Sorrento every half-hour from Piazza Garibaldi. For Herculaneum, get off at Ercolano/Scavi (scavi means “archaeological excavation”). Herculaneum is about 20 minutes from Naples and 50 minutes from Sorrento; the entrance is about 10 blocks from the station. Pompeii is about 40 minutes from Naples and 30 minutes from Sorrento; exit the train at Pompeii/Scavi and the entrance is about 45m (150 ft.) from the station at the Villa dei Mister.
To reach either by car from Naples, follow the autostrada toward Salerno. If you’re coming from Sorrento, head east on SS. 145, where you can connect with A3 (marked NAPOLI). Then take the signposted turnoffs for Pompeii and Herculaneum.
LOGISTICS Hours for both excavation sites are the same: April to October, they are open daily 8:30am to 7:30pm and November to March daily 8:30am to 5pm (last admission 90 min. before close); Admission to each site is 11€, but a cumulative ticket (20€) will grant you access to both. You can purchase it at the Circumvesuviana Railway Station, Piazza Garibaldi, in Naples.
The ticket offices at both provide a free map and booklet that will guide you through the site. Inside the entrance at Pompeii, you’ll find a bookstore, where you can purchase additional guidebooks to the ruins (available in English, complete with detailed photos). Pompeii also has a cafeteria inside the archaeological zone, which is handy for sandwiches and beverages.
If you’re visiting the sites on a sunny day, wear sunscreen and bring along a bottle of water. At both sites you can leave bags in checkrooms near the entrances for free.
Excavations began at Herculaneum in the 18th century and continue to this day, with the fairly recent discovery of a beached boat full of desperate souls trying to make an escape by sea. The archaeological remains of Herculaneum, the Scavi di Ercolano (Corso Resina; www.pompeiisites.org; 081-7324311), give the unsettling impression not of a ruin but of a ghost town from which residents have only recently walked away.
The excavated area stretches from the Decumanus Maximus (the town’s main street) to what was once the shoreline (now a kilometer to the west); the rest of the Roman town remains inaccessible beneath the buildings of modern Ercolano.
Elegant mosaics of fish, dolphins, and other sea creatures decorate the Thermal Baths, with several entrances. In the men’s section, the Terme Maschili, has an abundance of practical facilities include a latrine, benches, and shelves for stashing sandals and personal effects. In the Terme Feminili, a mosaic of a naked Triton decorates the floor of the changing rooms.
The Casa del Tramezzo di Legno (House of the Wooden Partition), with its perfect facade, is named for a well-preserved wooden screen that separated the atrium from the tablium, a little room that served as an office.
The Casa a Graticcio (House of the Latticework) is one of the very few examples of working-class housing that has survived from antiquity; the name-giving lattices, though cheaply made of interwoven cane and plaster, are remarkably well preserved.
The Casa del Mosaico di Nettuno e Anfitrite (House of the Neptune and Anfitritis Mosaic) is so called for its bright blue mosaic of the sea god and his nymph. Goods still line the shelves of the adjoining shop.
The Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags) was one of the most elegant houses in town, with terraces and porticos overlooking the sea. Decorations say much about its fun-loving inhabitants: Frescoes depict cheerful and playful cherubs, while courtyards were filled with statues of drunken satyrs and a drunken, peering Hercules. The house is named for a statue of dogs attacking a pair of innocent, noble-looking deer, perhaps a commentary on the cutthroat politics and social echelons of the Roman world.
Among the other elegant showplaces with seaside addresses is the Villa dei Papiri, so called because of the 1,000-odd badly charred papyrus scrolls (now in the library of the Palazzo Reale in Naples) that were revealed during excavations. The villa also yielded a treasure trove of nearly 90 magnificent bronze and marble sculptures, Roman copies of Greek originals now housed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.
Italy’s most famous archaeological site is the Disneyland of the ancient world. Not that there’s anything shallow or ersatz about the extensive excavations of this town on the Bay of Naples where life stopped so abruptly on August 24, A.D. 79. It’s just that no other ancient town has been brought to light so completely, providing an opportunity to step into a world locked in an ancient time. The 30 feet of volcanic ash with which Vesuvius buried the city preserved 44 hectares (109 acres) of shops, civic buildings, and private houses. Over the past century archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered the town, and the ruins provide the vicarious thrill of sharing space with 35,000 residents of a lively, ancient Roman port.
Most visitors come to the Scavi di Pompeii, Via Villa dei Misteri 1 (www.pompeiisites.org; 081-8610744), the best-preserved 2,000-year-old ruins in Europe, on a day trip from Naples or Sorrento (allow at least 4 hr. for even a superficial visit to the archaeological site).
Pompeii was a workaday town, and what stands out amid the ruins is a remarkable evocation of everyday life—streets, shops, bakeries, brothels, baths. The first thing you’ll notice is the typical Roman plan of gridlike streets, on which stepping stones appear at every intersection. These were laid down to allow residents to cross the pavement even when the streets were being flushed with water, as they were at least once a day. Raised sidewalks conceal water and sewage pipes. In the center of town is the Forum (Foro), the small marketplace that had been severely damaged in an earthquake 16 years before the eruption of Vesuvius and hadn’t been repaired when the final destruction came. Surrounding the Forum are the basilica (the city’s largest single structure), a law court with a floor plan later adopted by Christian churches, along with the name; the Temple of Apollo (Tempio di Apollo), and the Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove). The city’s bathhouses are among the finest to survive from antiquity. Vividly colored frescoes depicting graphic sex acts in one of them are the subject of ongoing controversy: Were they meant to advertise sexual services available on the upper floors or were they simply amusing decorations?
Unlike Herculaneum, with its seafront district of lavish villas, Pompeii was a proletariat town, and the wealthy lived among the working classes. Their houses are interspersed with shops (which were often combined with dwellings) all over town.
Pompeii’s most elegant patrician villa, the House of the Vettii (Casa dei Vettii), was the ultimate bachelor pad, the home of wealthy merchants, the Vettii brothers. The huge phallus resting on a pair of scales at the entrance was not intended as a come-hither for female guests but was a sign of good fortune—which the black-and-red Pompeian dining room with its frescoes of delicate cupids and colonnaded garden show the brothers had plenty of.
The House of the Faun (Casa del Fauno) is ancient proof that money and good taste can go together. Two of the great treasures of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples come from this huge, 2,500 sq. m (27,000 sq.-ft.) spread: a bronze statue of a dancing faun and the much-celebrated “Battle of Alexander the Great.”
A layer of ash ensured that the House of the Mysteries (Villa dei Misteri), near the Porto Ercolano, just outside the walls (go along Viale alla Villa dei Misteri), retained its remarkable frescoes. Set against a background of a deep hue that’s come to be known as Pompeian red, figures are shown going through some sort of elaborate rituals that, scholars argue, might be preparations for a wedding or initiation into a sect of Dionysus (Bacchus), one of the cults that flourished in Roman times.
A view of Pompeii’s Forum, with its destroyer, Mount Vesuvius, in the background.
SORRENTO & THE AMALFI COAST
50km (31 miles) S of Naples, 256km (159 miles) SE of Rome, 50km (31 miles) W of Salerno
The beautiful Sorrento peninsula has been tempting travelers ever since Ulysses was forced to fill the ears of his sailors with wax and to tie himself to the mast of his ship to avoid the alluring call of the Sirens. Today, the pull of the sea and imposing rock-bound coast remain as compelling as they were in Homer’s day. Graceful old Sorrento is a lovely place, perched high atop a cliff gazing across the sea toward the isle of Capri. The spectacular but nerve-racking Amalfi Drive heads vertiginously east, clinging to cliffs and rounding one bend after another until it comes to Positano, a tile-domed village hugging a near-vertical rock, then to Amalfi, a little seaside town that was once the center of a powerful maritime republic.
As transporting as the green hillsides and azure seas are, as much as the scent of lemon and frangipani entices, be warned. The charms of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are no secret. American writer John Steinbeck let the cat out of the bag half a century ago when he wrote about a trip down the coast, “Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing … . We didn’t see much of the road. In the back seat my wife and I lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically.” He was fortunate—today, in the summer, you’ll be lucky to be moving at all, so crowded is the coast road. You’ll do yourself a favor to save the pleasure of a visit for the early spring or fall, before and after the summer crowds, and even then accept the fact that you will not have this slice of paradise to yourself.
GETTING THERE Sorrento is connected to Naples by the Circumvesuviana railway (www.vesuviana.it; 800-053939), and the ride takes about an hour. It departs one floor underground at Stazione Centrale (see “Essentials,” earlier in this chapter).
By car from Naples, take the A3, then exit at Castellammare di Stabia and take the SS145. From Sorrento, Positano lies along SS145, which becomes SS163 at the approach to the resort.
GETTING AROUND SITA buses leave from Sorrento frequently throughout the day, more often in summer than winter, for the rather thrilling ride around the hairpin turns on the coast road to Positano and Amalfi; a one-way fare is 1.40€. From Amalfi, buses leave for Ravello from the terminal at the waterfront at Piazza Flavio Gioia almost every hour 7am to 10pm, costing 1.10€ one-way. For information, contact SITA (www.sitabus.it; 081-405145).
VISITOR INFORMATION The tourist office in Sorrento is at Via de Maio 35, off Piazza Tasso (www.sorrentotourism.com; 081-8074033); it’s open Monday to Friday 9am to 4:15pm; in summer it’s also open on Saturday mornings. Positano’s tourist office is near the beach at Via del Saracino 4 (www.aziendaturismopositano.it; 089-875067), and is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday until 2pm, with shorter hours in winter. In Amalfi, the tourist office is near the port at Corso della Repubbliche Marinare 27 (www.amalfitouristoffice.it; 089-871107) and is open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm. Ravello’s tourist office, Via Roma 18 (www.ravellotime.it), is open daily 9am to 7pm; November to May it closes at 6pm.
Where to Stay
If you’ve ever wanted to spend a lot of money on a hotel room, this is the place to do it. Some of the world’s most legendary hotels are tucked into the Amalfi Coast, and the price of one of their attractive and comfortable rooms often comes with sea views, a terrace, pool, often a private beach, and a much valued commodity on this coastline, a place to retreat from the crowds. (Remember, shoulder season rates, late spring and early fall, are usually substantially lower than they are in high season.) While many less expensive hotels are perfectly comfortable, staying outside a secluded retreat in one of these crowded towns in the middle of the season can be a less-than-ideal getaway. This is also the place to opt for an alternative rental, such as those offered on Airbnb.com, where owner’s list accommodations, often rooms in private homes or apartments, or apartments and houses offered on vacation-rental websites, such as VRBO (www.vrbo.com) or HomeAway (www.homeaway.com).
Hotel Lidomare One of Amalfi’s few bargains is set on a small square just beyond the main street fray, and provides a lot of pleasant, old-fashioned ambience in a 13th-century palazzo. Some of the large, high-ceilinged, tile-floored guest rooms have sea views, and all are furnished with a scattering of antiques. Amalfi’s beach is just steps away, and this is a handy base for excursions up and down the coast.
Largo Piccolomini 9, Amalfi. 089-871332. 15 units. 103€-145€ double. Rates include continental breakfast. Parking 18€. Amenities: Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Santa Caterina One of the world’s great hotels provides a stay of a lifetime while making guests feel right at home in comfortable-yet-unpretentious rooms and suites tucked into gardens and citrus groves hovering above the water. Colorful Vietri tiles and handsome antiques add notes of elegance, while balconies and terraces make the most of the cliffside location. Glassed-in elevators and a winding garden path descend to a private beach and saltwater swimming pool, and memorable meals are served in a vine-covered, glassed-in dining room and on a seaside terrace in good weather. Several private bungalows with private pools tucked into citrus groves provide the ultimate getaway.
Via Nazionale 9, Amalfi. www.hotelsantacaterina.it. 089-871012. 49 units. 420€-790€ double. Rates include lavish buffet breakfast. Parking 15€. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; beach; concierge; gym; pool; room service; spa; Wi-Fi (free).
Hotel Savoia Your won’t find a lot of luxurious amenities, but the great location right in the heart of Positano, steps from the beach, couples with pleasant decor—bright tile floors, comfortable beds, and attractive traditional furnishings. Some rooms have sea views, and others take in the sweep of the old town climbing the hillside. The old-fashioned ambience comes with a provenance: The D’Aiello family has been running this place since 1936, when Positano was a getaway for a select few, and that’s still how they treat their guests.
Via Cristoforo Colombo 73, Positano. www.savoiapositano.it. 089-875003. 42 units. 120€-190€ double; 240€ suite. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 25€ nearby. Amenities: Bar; babysitting; concierge; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Palazzo Avino A 12th-century patrician palace strikes just the right balance between comfort and opulence, with enough antiques, Vietri ceramic floors, and fine linens to satisfy the most discerning guests. Especially winning are the views that, making the most of Ravello’s aerie-like position, extend for miles up and down the coast. They’re enjoyed through the huge windows in just about every room, on the rooftop terrace with two Jacuzzis, and from the sumptuous gardens and pool that cascade partway down the cliff. A free shuttle takes guests down to the Clubhouse by the Sea (open May-Sept), the hotel’s beach club where there is a small outdoor pool, a waterside terrace with lounge chairs and umbrellas, and a casual restaurant, while formal dining is in the hotel’s Michelin-rated Rossellinis.
Via San Giovanni del Toro 28, Ravello. www.palazzoavino.com. 089-818181. 44 units. 350€-710€ double. Rates include lavish buffet breakfast. Parking 34€. Closed mid-Oct to Mar. Amenities: Restaurant, bar; concierge; gym; Jacuzzi; pool; room service; spa; Wi-Fi (free).
Palazzo Murat Gioacchino Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law and king of Naples, built this enticing and vaguely exotic 18th-century baroque palace near Positano’s small port as a summer getaway. It’s still a retreat of royal magnitude, set amid a vast garden and orchard dripping with flowering vines and scented with lemons and jasmine. Five especially large rooms, filled with handsome antiques, are in the original palace, and others are in a new yet extremely tasteful addition, where tile floors and traditional furnishings adhere to the historical ambience. Most rooms have balconies though only some have sea views, but the surrounding greenery, tile domes of the church of Santa Maria Assent, and views of the town provide delightful outlooks. A buffet breakfast is served in the garden in good weather.
Via dei Mulini 23, Positano. www.palazzomurat.it. 089-875177. 31 units. 200€-450€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Parking 25€ nearby. Closed Jan to week before Easter. Amenities: Restaurant; concierge; pool; room service; Wi-Fi (free).
Where to Eat
Lunch and dinner on the Amalfi Coast will often end with a limoncello, often complimentary and more often than not homemade. Almost everyone on the Amalfi coast has a time-honored recipe for this potent lemon liqueur.
Cumpa’ Cosimo AMALFITAN Netta Bottone runs the restaurant her family started back in 1929, serving generous portions of pastas (including an extravaganza with seven pastas topped with seven different sauces) and big platters of frittura di pesce (fish fry) and some very well done lamb and veal dishes. Artichokes and other vegetables are right out of the nearby garden plots. Whatever you order, Netta herself may well serve it with a flourish and a kiss on the cheek.
Via Roma 44. 089-857156. Main courses 11€-18€; pizza 6€-10€. Daily 12:30-3pm and 7:30-11pm. Closed Mon Nov-Feb.
Da Adolfo AMALFITAN/SEAFOOD One of Positano’s old-time favorites makes the most of its beachside location with a laidback ambience and an emphasis on fresh seafood and water views. You can venture into some local specialties here, including mozzarella alla brace (grilled on fresh lemon leaves) followed by a beautifully seasoned zuppa di cozze (mussel stew). Come for lunch and spend the afternoon, making use of the adjacent changing rooms, showers, and chair-and-umbrella rentals. Sooner or later, though, you’ll have to face the 450 rugged steps that climb the hillside up to the road—better yet, take the free water-shuttle service to Marina Grande.
Via Spiaggia di Laurito 40. www.daadolfo.com. 089-875022. Main courses 10€-18€. Daily 1-4pm. Closed mid-Oct to early May.
Da Gemma SEAFOOD/AMALFITAN Amalfi’s old-time classic, in warm-hued rooms tucked behind the cathedral and in the hands of the Grimaldi family for several generations, holds high standards for the seafood it serves to a loyal and discerning clientele. The house zuppa di pesce is a meal in itself, prepared only for two, and equally memorable is a special pasta, paccheri all’acquapazza, made with shrimp and monkfish. The dessert of choice is crostata (pie with jam), made with pine nuts and homemade marmalades of lemon, orange, and tangerine. Reservations, especially on weekends, are a must.
Via Frà Gerardo Sasso 11. www.trattoriadagemma.com. 089-871345. Main courses 16€-26€. Daily 12:30-2:45pm and 7:30-11pm (closed Wed Nov to mid-Apr). Closed 6 weeks Jan to early Mar.
Sant’Anna da Emilia SORRENTINE The simple pleasures of this old boat shed in Marina Grande are well known, so getting a table during the summer rush usually requires a long wait. Patience pays off with some old-time classics, such as gnocchi alla Sorrentina (Sorrento-style potato dumplings with cheese and tomato sauce), and fritto misto (deep-fried calamari and little fish). The best tables are on the pier outside.
Via Marina Grande 62. 081-8072720. Main courses 8.50€-14€. No credit cards. Daily noon-3:30pm and 7:30-11:30pm (closed Tues in winter). Closed Nov.
Exploring Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast
Unless you’re doing the driving, one of the most enjoyable experiences in these parts is riding along the two-lane road that clings to the coast between Sorrento and Amalfi. Steep forested mountainsides on one side, sheer, 150m (500-ft) drops to the azure sea on the other—the thrills and views are of epic proportions. Provided you can get a seat, the trip along this coast on one of the SITA buses that ply the route is one of the cheapest scenic thrill rides anywhere.
50km (31 miles) S of Naples
How does that old song, “Come Back to Sorrento,” go? “Vir ‘o mare quant’è bello” … or, “See the sea how beautiful it is.” You’ll be humming a few bars, because the sea, the scented gardens, and sun-drenched vistas that have been luring visitors to this cliff top town for millennia really are beautiful. Monuments are few and far between, but views from center of town Piazza Tasso or a trek down to Marina Grande, a fisherman’s port, show off the town’s irrepressible appeal. Besides, Sorrento provides easy access to such fabled places as Capri, Positano, Amalfi, and the ruins at Pompeii and is usually thronged with happy holidaymakers, providing pleasant company. When the happy hordes get to be too much, find refuge in the 14th-century atmosphere of Chiesa di San Francesco, Via San Francesco ( 081-8781269), a delightful spot where flowering vines climb over delicate arches. The cloister is open daily 9am to 6pm, and admission is free.
The tourist office is at Via de Maio 35 (www.sorrentotourism.com; 081-8074033), off Piazza Tasso. It’s open Monday to Friday from 9am to 4:15pm; in summer it’s also open on Saturday mornings.
The town of Positano.
16km (10 miles) E of Sorrento
Hugging a semi-vertical rock formation, Positano is the very essence of picturesque. In mid summer, appreciative admirers can seem like an invading horde that might have attacked the little seaside kingdom back when it was part of the powerful Republic of the Amalfis (9th-11th c.) and rival to Venice as a sea power. You might take solace in the still-true words of American novelist John Steinbeck, who was much taken with Positano during a visit in 1953, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone… . The small curving bay of unbelievably blue and green water laps gently on a beach of small pebbles. There is only one narrow street and it does not come down to the water. Everything else is stairs, some of them as steep as ladders.”
The tourist office (www.aziendaturismopositano.it; 089-875067) is at Via del Saracino 4. It is open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 2pm, with additional hours (3:30-8pm) in July and August.
Bottles of limoncello for sale in Amalfi.
19km (12 miles) E of Positano
From the 9th to the 11th century, the seafaring Republic of Amalfi rivaled the great maritime powers of Genoa and Venice, and its maritime code, the Tavole Amalfitane, was followed in the Mediterranean for centuries. This document is on view in the Civic Museum (Museo Civico), in Town Hall on Piazza Municipio ( 089-8736211; free admission; open Mon-Fri 8am-1pm). Amalfi enjoys some prominence today as the major resort on the Amalfi Drive, tidily tucked between the slope of the steep Lattari mountains and the Bay of Salerno, where narrow public beaches flank the harbor.
The Duomo, Piazza del Duomo ( 089-871059), evokes Amalfi’s rich past with a black-and-white facade and mosaics, sitting atop a monumental staircase. The Cloister of Paradise (Chiostro del Paradiso), to the left of the entrance, is decidedly Moorish, with a whitewashed quadrangle of interlaced arches and brightly colored geometric mosaics.
The tourist office (www.amalfitouristoffice.it; 089-871107) is in Palazzo di Città, Corso delle Repubbliche Marinare 19. It’s open Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm, Saturday 9am to noon. In winter, it is only open in the mornings.
7km (4 miles) N of Amalfi
Clinging to a mountainside overlooking the sea, Ravello can seem miles away from the clamor down on the coast. This sense of escape, along with views and some of the world’s most splendid gardens, has long made the town a refuge for the rich and famous—these days, given the presence of many luxury hotels, mostly the former.
The wines produced in the harsh, hot landscapes of Campania seem stronger, rougher, and, in many cases, more powerful than those grown in gentler climes. You’ll encounter them in shops and restaurant tables. Ones to try are Lacryma Christi (Tears of Christ), a white that grows in the volcanic soil near Naples, Herculaneum, and Pompeii; Taurasi, a potent red; and Greco di Tufo, a pungent white laden with the odors of apricots and apples.
Ravello’s tourist office, Via Roma 18 (www.ravellotime.it), is open daily from 9am to 7pm; November to May it closes at 6pm.
Villa Cimbrone The eccentric Englishman Lord Grimthorpe (who also designed London’s Big Ben) redid this grand villa from the 14th century in 1904. The lavish salons and gardens soon became associated with the 20th-century elite, few more elusive than Greta Garbo, who hid out here in 1937 with her lover, the conductor Leopold Stokowski. The high point of the lavish gardens, quite literally, is the Belvedere Cimbrone, where you’ll have the dizzying sensation of being suspended between sea and sky.
Via Santa Chiara 26. www.villacimbrone.it. 089-857459, for hotel reservations. Admission 6€ adults, 4€ children. Daily 9am-sunset. Last admission 30 min. before close.
Villa Rufolo The 14th-century poet Boccaccio was so moved by this onetime residence of kings and popes that he included it as background in one of his tales. The most famous visitor to the Moorish-influenced palace was Richard Wagner, who composed an act of “Parsifal” and used the surroundings for his “Garden of Klingsor.” Paths wind through flower gardens to lookout points high above the coastline.
Piazza Duomo. www.villarufolo.it. 089-857621. Admission 5€. Summer daily 9am-8pm; winter daily 9am-sunset. Last admission 15 min. earlier.
A Side Trip to Capri
5km (3 miles) off the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula
Rugged, mountainous Capri (pronounced Cap-ry, not Ca-pree), lying just off the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula, has beguiled the ancient Greeks, Roman emperors, and legions of modern visitors. VIPs, millionaires, and just plain folks delight in the spectacular scenery and impossibly azure seas that surround the rugged coasts. Most visitors come on day trips from Naples and Sorrento, but the longer you stay, the more charms this enchanting beauty reveals.
GETTING THERE You can reach Capri from either Naples or Sorrento. From Naples’s Molo Beverello dock (take a taxi from the train station), the hydrofoil (aliscafo) takes just 45 minutes and departs several times daily (some stop at Sorrento); a one-way trip costs 19€. Regularly scheduled ferry (traghetto) service, departing from Porta di Massa, is cheaper but takes longer (about 11⁄2 hr.; 17€ each way). Contact Caremar (www.caremar.it; 199-116655) for ferry schedule; for hydrofoils, try SNAV (www.snav.it; 081-4285555).
The Eerie Emerald Grotto
The millennia-old Emerald Grotto (Grotta di Smeraldo) gives Capri’s Blue Grotto (below) a run for its money. This chamber of stalactites and stalagmites, some underwater, produces transcendent light effects. The ceramic nativity scene is artificial, added in the 1950s and making a trip through the grotto a popular Christmastime pilgrimage. The only way to get into the grotto is by boat from Amalfi’s docks (10€ roundtrip); you’ll transfer to a small rowboat for a leisurely glide through the grotto. You can visit daily 9am to 4pm, provided that the seas are calm enough not to bash boats to bits.
From Sorrento, go to the dock at Marina Piccola (just below Piazza Tasso), where you can board one of the fast ferries (nave veloce) run by Caremar or a hydrofoil run by Gescab (www.gescab.it; 081-8781430). The hydrofoils are slightly faster (trip time is 20 min., compared to 25 min.) and cost 15€ one-way; a one-way ticket for the fast ferry is 13€. Departures are 11 times per day from 7:15am to 7:15pm (the last boat back leaves Capri at 6:30pm).
Gescab ( 081-811986) also runs a service between Positano and Capri from April through October. Hydrofoils cost 18€ one-way, and a ferry ticket goes for 16€ one-way.
VISITOR INFORMATION The Tourist Board is on Piazzetta Italo Cerio (www.capritourism.com; 081-8375308) in Capri town. From April to October, it’s open Monday to Saturday 8:30am to 8:30pm, Sunday 8:30am to 2:30pm; November to March, hours are Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 3:30 to 6:30pm.
GETTING AROUND The island is serviced by funiculars, taxis, and buses. From the ferry dock in Marina Grande, take the funicular to Capri Town. When you’re ready to move on from there, a bus will take you up to Anacapri. If you wish to go still farther, the funicular will take you to the top of Monte Solaro.
Whether or not the island’s beauty will transcend the crowds who overrun the island all summer will depend on your tolerance levels and when you come. Avoid summer weekends, when daytrippers come from as far away as Rome; on any day, arrive early and leave late. This way you’ll avoid the worst of the crowding on the boats, and in the early morning and late afternoon, lines for the funicular, Blue Grotto boats, the bus to Anacapri, and the chair lift to the top of Monte Solaro are shorter. And take heart: Once you get off the Piazzetta in Capri Town and have been rowed through the Blue Grotto, you’ll be able to find some almost-tranquil spots on the island.
Capri Town A funicular railway links Capri’s port, Marina Grande, with its mountainside main town, an enticing warren of narrow lanes lined with walled villa gardens. Town life radiates from the Piazetta, a small square that at times is so full of visitors that it’s called the “world’s living room.” From there the old town’s narrow streets lead west to the Giardini di Augusto, the terraced, pine-shaded public gardens that overlook the sea.
Kayaking to the beach in Capri.
Villa Jovis From Capri Town, a comfortable stroll of about 2.4km (11⁄2 miles) ends with a steep climb to the northeastern tip of the island and the most sumptuous and best preserved of the 12 villas built by Roman emperors. Tiberius spent the final years of his reign here and installed elaborate baths, forcing his architects to devise an ingenious system of canals and cisterns to collect rainwater. The covered Loggia Imperiale follows the cliff edge to the Salto di Tiberio, a 330m-high (1,083-ft.) precipice from which Tiberius allegedly used to hurl those who did not please him. The views are stunning. Admission is 2€ and it is open daily 9am until sunset (the ticket booth closes 1 hr. before sunset).
Marina Piccola The island’s largest beach, on the southern shore, provides views of the famous Faraglioni, three rock stacks that jut out of the sea. The outermost rock is home to a particular type of bright blue lizard that is found nowhere else on the planet.
Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) Italy’s tourist trap extraordinaire can be beguiling, in spite of the frenzy of climbing off a motorboat into a small rowboat, lying back, squeezing through a narrow opening, and being rowed out again just as you beginning to enjoy the experience. The magical colors of the water and walls of this huge grotto are extraordinary, even more so than they appear in countless images—little wonder postcard writers have rhapsodized about it since it became part of the tourist circuit in the 19th century. Actually, a small, ancient Roman dock suggests this outlet of a vast system of shoreline caverns was known long before then; it’s open daily 9am to 1 hour before sunset. In summer, boats leave frequently from the harbor at Marina Grande to transport passengers to the grotto’s entrance for 25€ roundtrip (and includes the fee for the rowboat that takes you inside).
Anacapri Capri’s second town, perched on heights surrounded by vineyards, is a pleasant place where, once away from the main square, island life transpires independently of visitors. The Church of San Michele is delightfully colorful, made so by a majolica floor picturing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, accompanied by a unicorn, a goat, and other unlikely creatures. (admission 2€; Apr-Oct daily 9am-7pm, Nov-Mar 10am-2pm; closed the first 2 weeks of Dec). Villa San Michele was the home of Swedish doctor and writer Axel Munthe, who built this house in the 19th century on the ruins of one of Tiberius’s villas. The gardens are lovely, with peaceful, flower-lined paths that lead to a view-providing terrace (www.sanmichele.eu; 081-8371401; admission 6€; Jan-Feb 9am-3:30pm, Mar 9am-4:30pm, Apr 9am-5pm, May-Sept 9am-6pm, Oct 9am-5pm, Nov-Dec 9am-3:30pm). The chairlift Seggiovia Monte Solaro ( 081-8371428) departs from Via Caposcuro and whisks you to the top of Monte Solaro, Capri’s highest peak, in 12 minutes. Tickets cost 7€ one-way, 9€ round-trip, free for children 8 and under; hours of operation are March through October 9:30am to 4.30pm.
WHERE TO EAT & STAY
Grottelle CAPRESE On the panoramic terrace, a simple meal of zuppa di fagioli (bean soup) and spaghetti con pomodoro e basilica (with fresh tomatoes and basil) comes with a view of the Arco Naturale, a wonder, wave-buffeted formation in the surf far below. To find this delightful spot, wander through the little lanes east of the Piazetta.
Via Arco Naturale 13, Capri. 081-8375719. Main courses 15€-30€. Fri-Wed noon-3pm and 7-11pm. Closed Nov-Mar.
Pulalli Wine Bar CAMPANIAN To find a hideaway in the jam-packed Piazzetta just look up, to this little terrace next to the clock tower. A bird’s-eye view comes with wine, a selection of cheeses, or a meal—the risotto al limone (lemon-flavored risotto) is specially transporting in this magical setting.
Piazza Umberto 1 4, Capri. 081-8374108. Main courses 10€-25€. Wed-Mon noon-3pm and 7pm-midnight. Closed Nov to just before Easter.
Take a Hike
Following the trails along Capri’s cliffs allows you to soak in the island’s beauty and get away from the crowds. The Scala Fenicia (Fenician Staircase) descends—or climbs, depending on which way you go—from Anacapri to Capri. Built by the Greeks in the 8th century B.C., the steep path is basically a long staircase with 881 steps—and many superb views. Another good hike is the descent from Mount Solaro (see above), on a clearly marked dirt path, embarked upon after a chairlift ride to the top. Stop by the tourist office (p. 492) to pick up a map of the paths.
Capri Palace If you find it hard to leave the island, a perfect place to give into temptation is this delightful getaway in Anacapri on the slopes of Monte Solaro. Everything here seems geared to soothing relaxation: An expanse of green lawn surrounds the swimming pool, lounges are quiet oases with contemporary flair, and guest rooms are done in restful creams with rose-colored tile floors and white linens and upholstery. Some suites have private pools, and some rooms look across the sea all the way to Vesuvius, but even the quiet outlooks over the green flanks of Monte Solaro are relaxing. A shuttle bus runs to the port, Capri, and a delightful beach club where platforms make it easy to dip into the Mediterranean.
Via Capodimonte 2, Anacapri. www.capri-palace.com. 081-9780111. 79 units. 340€-1,250€ double. Rates include buffet breakfast. Closed Oct 17-Mar 31. No children under 10 accepted June-Aug. Amenities: 2 restaurants; bar; beach club; heated pool; room service; spa; Wi-Fi (free).