“See Naples and die.”
Thus goes the saying, referring to a time when Naples was so beautiful you had to see it in your lifetime. These days? Well, I travelled to Naples this Autumn, and I can’t help thinking the saying takes on a whole new meaning.
Naples has a pretty unsavoury reputation. Before my visit, I’d heard stories about the strong mafia presence, heavy crime levels and piles of refuse heaping the streets. As soon as we exited the airport, it looked like the rumours were true. An angry taxi driver gesticulated and shouted at quaking young tourist. The mêlée of screeching crowds vying with zigzagging mopeds in the dirty, graffiti-plastered historic centre was both dismayingly loud and claustrophobic.
So it’s not an inviting city, that’s fair to say. The historical centre, with its narrow almost derelict houses and swathes of laundry, almost feels like a step back into the middle ages. People fling buckets of dirty water out into the street, household refuse piles up in unsuspecting corners, and vagrants paw through the communual rubbish bins. By day, there is a certain charm about some of the streets, peddling their wares of nativity scenes, red horns to protect against the evil eye, gelato, and local specialities. By night, the poorly lit alleyways are menacing rather than exciting.
We did try our hardest to explore Naples, and behind its grimy coating, the city does offer some bright, albeit well-hidden gems. Traditional taverna Cantina del Gallo was the best place we ate at. We arrived at the doorway, only to be warmly welcomed by the owner and tempted with plate after plate of delicious nibbles.
The arancini were delicious, as were as the mini pizzettes and the croquetes. The pizzas you could watch being made in the open plan kitchen and they came generously topped and full of fresh flavours.
For the home of pizza we tried out a fair few. Neopolitan favourite Gino Sorbillo also do a roaring trade in traditional stonebaked pizzas. You won’t get good customer service, but you will get a very very tasty pizza. Go early or be prepared to queue for a very, very long time.
For the sweeter-toothed, Pastisserie S. Caparelli did the best sfogliatella, delicious ricotta filled pastries, and you got them with a smile too, which was a bonus.
Gay Odin do very tasty fruit sorbets, gelato and the Italian classic, torrone morbido. I’m going to try and make some of this soft, almost truffley torrone soon once I find a workable recipe.
There aren’t a lot of exciting attractions to see in Naples otherwise. The archeological museum is worth a glimpse for the stunning mosaics and rude roman paraphenalia, but often the good exhibits are shut due to staff shortages. The Capella Sansevero is worth a visit due for the beautiful sculptures and anatomical machines. Italy has a wealth of beautiful churches, and I guess once you’ve seen a few, there’s only so much you can gasp in awe.
I imagine most travellers use Naples as a pit stop for the Almalfi coastline (where we didn’t go, sob) or the sights of Pompeii. It’s probably quite harsh of me to say so, but I certainly wouldn’t regard Naples as a place to return to again. There are a few goodies, but it’s not enough to entice me back.