We love Italy and have so many places still to visit there, with some areas we just can’t resist returning to again and again! We have passed through Naples a few times en route to the Amalfi coastline but this Spring we made a proper visit and it was wonderful. Yes there are areas that are run down and maybe you don’t feel like hanging around but these were few and far between for us – the grandeur and energy of Naples totally won us over!
We stayed at the the very grand and established Hotel Excelsior which is right on the waterfront and looks over the sweeping Bay of Naples, with Vesuvius looming dark and menacing, directly opposite – they have a huge roof top terrace with great views! When we first arrived during the day we thought we had made a mistake as it seemed very quiet around the hotel with not much anywhere nearby … but once entering our lovely room over looking the bay another world appeared in front of our eyes as over the sea wall we could now see a delightful harbour with an island full of fish restaurants, pizzerias and bars – perfect! And once night fell the whole of the lungomare also exploded into life with miles of more restaurants, gelaterias and bars that you wouldn’t know where there during the day! Crowds of people of all ages came out of nowhere and promenaded along, back and forth, hanging out, cycling along or trying to choose somewhere to sit and eat – the atmosphere was electric and right on our hotel doorstep – so not a mistake after all!
By day we came across huge squares and imposing buildings where you can’t but marvel at the architecture and beauty of it all and is no wonder that it is a Unesco World Heritage Site. The sweeping columns and vastness of Piazza del Plebiscito was a great place to get a gelato and just sit and watch the world go by – it is the square that links the seafront to the two main shopping streets which are both worth a wander along. Via Toledo is an extremely long road with high street shopping with Via Chiaia being more exclusive with boutique shops and lovely cafes where we enjoyed many a cappuccino break! To be honest we imagined Naples to be noisier, more frenetic and anarchic than we actually found it and felt slightly disappointed that it was quite so tame! The unbelievable food and colourful characters we came across on the streets made up for it … and then there’s the food! We can honestly say and guarantee that you will not taste a similar pizza outside of Naples, they are divine and hard to describe but because of the volcanic soil, the water, the ovens there is something very special about a Neapolitan pizza and we just had to keep trying them to put a finger on what made them so heavenly!!
In Rome the pizza base is thin but the further south you go the thicker and puffier it becomes. And with such simple ingredients it’s mind blowing that it tastes so good and the best place to get the real thing is Da Michele which has been much written about – it’s easy to miss as it is not more than a doorway (a crowd constantly around this unassuming entrance gives it away), yes you’ll have to queue TIP : make sure you push through to the doorway on arrival to get a ticket with a number on it and then listen out for it!!, once inside it is basic in decor and menu – 2 pizzas on offer, with or without the stunning bufala mozzarella, the service is minimal chat and fast = there’s a massive queue outside!! And yes this is where they filmed the pizza eating scene in Eat Pray Love – but the brilliant thing is that this place couldn’t care less and has one scrappy photo up of Julia Roberts as the only nod to the event – any other pizzeria may have plastered the fact that Hollywood had been in all over it’s advertising, but Da Michele doesn’t need to do a thing on the promotional front as we lined up for nearly 2 hours and we will do it again the next time we are in town for sure!!
Anyway we did do more than eat!! With Naples built up into a hill, it’s layered if that makes sense, as you look down the side streets they sweep upwards with graduated steps … there is also the Funicular which is very handy taking you high up and back down again from different zones of the city centre. We did find it hard to locate and spot the funicular entrances as they seemed to be buried amongst shops! But once up and out the panoramic views are spectacular with the city looking as colourful as the characters you’ll find there, sprawling, dramatic and fascinating. We will be back again soon!