Here’s the scenario: It’s 9:00 AM and you’ve just landed at Naples International airport. You’re bursting with excitement to finally be in Italy, traveling to the magnificent Amalfi Coast for a week of sun, sea, scenery, and seafood!
Before heading south, you’ve decided to check out Naples for a couple of days, a city known for its delicious food. Will the pizza you’ve heard about for years from Uncle Tony, a native Neapolitan, live up to its reputation? Having grown up with the Americanized version of southern Italian cuisine, you can’t wait to sample the real deal in the city where it was born.
But there’s this nagging uneasiness about being in Naples. The city, known for simple, mouthwatering cuisine and incredible architectural gems, is also notorious for being dirty and dangerous.
Many of your friends have told you to skip Naples and head straight to the Amalfi coast. But you’re adventurous and love to explore new cities, and, well, Naples is just so intriguing — a city with an active volcano staring down on it from across the bay! And then there’s the legendary pizza that’s been tempting you from afar for so many years.
Like any major city, petty theft can be an issue in Naples and you must stay aware of your surroundings, I walked just about everywhere, day and night, without encountering any problems, except for streets full of cars speeding by, making it difficult to cross streets that have no crosswalks. The best way to see Naples is to take in the wonderful texture of the everyday life: winding, narrow streets (watch out for the motorcycles whizzing by!), laundry hanging off the balconies, kids running around shrieking with laughter, and nonnas (grandmas) arguing with the vendors at the local food markets. While I had been warned not to go to the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarters) at night, one day I did spend an hour wandering its crowded, energetic, and gritty streets and loved the bazaar-like feeling.
As for the food, traditional Neapolitan cuisine is all about seasonal, fresh, local ingredients. Naple’s world-renowned pizza takes center stage with its fresh tomato sauce, homemade mozzarella, and thin, soft crust with a puffy, charred edge. And there’s so much more than pizza! Don’t miss the oven baked or lightly fried local fish, eggplant parmigiana, pasta frittata, escarole pizza (more like a pie), pasta dishes and seafood-laden soups.
Like every other Italian region, wine is a big part of the local cuisine. Naples is the capital of Campania and just beyond the city are vineyards with mineral-rich, fertile soils that are perfect for growing grapes. The restaurants of Naples serve mostly local wines that go so well with the cuisine.
Be on the lookout for crisp, white wines that go incredibly well with the fresh seafood: Falanghina, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio. For the reds, you will find that the light, earthy Piedirosso goes great with pizza, and the full-bodied Aglianico and Taurisi wines are excellent with pasta in a rich sauce and roasted meats. Before your trip, check out Elliot Eglash’s excellent overview of this wine region in Grape Collective, Campania: Volcanic Wines from Pompeii to Present.
Day 1: After checking into the hotel, make your way down to the waterfront for a seaside stroll, stopping for photos at the many beautiful sights along the way, like the Fountain of The Giant and Castel dell'Ovo, a castle dating back to the 1st century BC (photos above).
Stop in at Gino Sorbillo Lievito Madre al Mare where the views of Naples harbor are unparalleled and the famous pizza and other specialties will make you swoon. Make sure to secure a table outside and order handmade mozzarella, called Zizzona, (busty) because of its similarity to — yup, you guessed it — a woman’s breast. Via Partenope, 1
Day 2: L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele is, arguably, one of the best pizzerias and known to be the place where Neapolitan pizza was born. The restaurant has only two pizza options: the classic Margherita with cheese, tomato sauce, and a single basil leaf, and the Marinara (without cheese) topped with a traditional garlic and oregano-flavored tomato sauce.
This historic restaurant, founded in 1870, was made even more famous by the 2010 movie Eat Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts, who is seen devouring a pizza at Da Michele. Make sure to arrive a few minutes before the restaurant opens (11 AM) to avoid a long wait. Via Cesare Sersale, 1.
LATE AFTERNOON CAFE
Caffe Gambrinus is a perfect spot (at the busy corner of Plaza del Plebescito) for a little pick-me-up, just don’t be put off by the brusque service. Tourists and locals alike gather here to admire the beautiful gilded 1890s Belle Epoch interior while enjoying the excellent coffee and legendary pastries. Favorites include a moist and potent rum babà and a light and crispy sfogliatella, both traditional Neapolitan pastries.
Fun fact I learned from the website Tripsavvy: Saying “si nu' babbà” (you’re a babà) to someone is to compliment them in one of the sweetest ways possible. Via Chiaia, 1/2.
Ristorante Europeo Mattozzi. The Mattozzi family has been making pizza since 1833 and theirs is a true version of the classic ‘Napoletana,’ cooked in an antique wood-fired oven.
As good as the pizza is, the main courses, served family-style, are incredible: freshly caught and lightly fried seafood, fresh and succulent mozzarella, the best Italian sausages, tender fillets of steak, pasta dishes, and a wide range of fresh vegetables and side dishes. All so good! Via Marchese Campodisola 4.
Ebbrezza di Noè’s name (translated as Noah’s Drunkenness) pays homage to a fresco of the same name painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This charming, wine-shop-by-day turns into a bustling restaurant at night and offers top quality food and a fantastic selection of wine in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Try the crunchy octopus on a potato purée with glazed cherry tomatoes, and the scallop risotto with asparagus and pumpkin. Vico Vetriera, 8
AFTER DINNER WINE BAR
Strolling the streets of Naples’ historic center at night is one of the most beautiful ways to see it. Most of the historical buildings and monuments are lit up and glowing, including all seven castles.
Make your way to Enoteca Belledone, a cozy wine bar in the heart of the chic Chiaia district. Here you will find an extensive wine list, along with a few small plates in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Vico Belledonne a Chiaia, 18.
Some of the many beautiful wines of Campania.