Evening Standard

Things to do in Naples: where to stay, eat and drink

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are putting Naples firmly on the map, says Susannah Butter

A mafia heartland in the shadow of a volcano might not immediately sound like an enticing holiday destination. But mysterious author Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym — her true identity remains a secret) has changed all that. Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels are putting the biggest city in southern Italy firmly on the visitor map. Tours of Naples as featured in the books sell out fast, and enterprising stalls on the Gothic Via dei Tribunali now even serve Ferrante pizzas. A television series is also coming, made by the producers of Sky’s Naples-set crime drama Gomorrah, which is only set to increase its appeal.

For now, though, Naples is just busy enough — only 13 per cent of visitors to Italy make it here, mostly en route to Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. That means you can explore the faded grandeur of its historic centre — a Unesco World Heritage site — without having to navigate hordes of other travellers. Down by the sea, there are plenty of hidden masterpieces within churches and monasteries, and shady squares serving spritzes. Up in the hills, reached by funicular railway, the note is more cool luxury, with imposing villas looking out over the Bay of Naples.

Where to stay

On the Riviera di Chiaia, the recently renovated Micalo (00 39 081 761 7131; micalo.it) is one of the city’s few modern design hotels, and a calm antidote to the hectic corniche outside. British expat owner Michelle Lowe has tastefully converted the top floors of a 17th-century palazzo, using natural materials wherever possible — limestone from Trani, wooden floorboards — and the predominant colour is a cooling white. Breakfast is local pastries and fresh fruit, and the hotel conveniently located for ferries to Capri and Ischia. Doubles from €130, B&B.

A room at Micalo

Where to eat and drink

You’re never more than a few blocks away from a proper pizza in Naples. The city claims to have invented the dish in 1889 and its signature Neapolitan style — emulated by the likes of London’s own Franco Manca and Pizza Pilgrims — keeps keen gourmands flocking in for a slice of the action.

In a crowded field, the unassuming-looking Di Matteo’s is well worth a visit (00 39 081 455 262; pizzeriadimatteo.com). Downstairs there’s a hatch selling hot arancini and pizza straight from the vast oven; upstairs you’ll find checked tablecloths and tattooed pizzaiolo. The classics come with impeccable dough and just the right fresh-tomato-to-cheese ratio, while there’s also pizza fritta — deep-fried calzone, crisped up at the edges with a salty, melted filling. Round it off with a €1 glass of prosecco from the nameless wine shop next door at number 91. Generous portions are poured into plastic cups that you can take away.

Pastries at Scaturchio (Alamy Stock Photo)

Southern Italy specialises in baked goods, and the sfogliatella at Scaturchio (00 39 081 551 7031; scaturchio.it) is a must: thin, flaky pastry layered into a shell shape, packed with sweet ricotta and candied fruit. It also does rum baba in the shape of Vesuvius.

For afternoon refuelling, stop off for ice cream at Gay Odin (800 200 030; gay-odin.it), an old-fashioned, low-lit sweet shop. The classic chocolate is rich and satisfyingly bitter but the star flavour is a light ricotta and pear.

Young Neapolitans’ favourite place to unwind with an aperitif is bar-lined Piazza Bellini. Start with a €4 peach bellini or Aperol spritz at Il Taschino Café (72 Piazza Bellini), best enjoyed under a parasol by the ruins of the fourth-century Greek city walls. Then proceed around the square for dinner at Caffè Arabo (64 Piazza Bellini). Buttery courgette spaghetti and mustard greens with cheese goes especially well with a bottle of local Primitivo wine.

In upscale Vomero, go to Renzo e Lucio Lounge Bar (00 39 081 191 710 22; renzoelucianapoli.it). It’s more expensive than the bars in central Naples but worth the extra spend for its sea and skyline views.

Where to shop

In Ferrante’s novels, Lila runs a shoe shop in Chiaia, where she stares at “wealthy, elegant people”. Although her empire, Cerullo, is fictional, the boutiques of this well-heeled area are among the best in the city. Prefer a bargain? Avoid the hefty price tags of Chiaia’s busy Piazza dei Martiri and head to the soaring, glass-domed

19th-century arcade Galleria Umberto I (Via San Carlo; 00 39 081 795 1111), in nearby Quartieri Spagnoli, where the fashion is a little more frugal.

(Alamy Stock Photo)

But the best buys in Naples are undoubtedly edible. Stock up on lemon pasta and limoncello made with

Sorrento lemons at Neapolitan institution Limonè (00 39 081 299 429; limoncellodinapoli.it). Friendly staff encourage you to try before you buy, and if you’re lucky they might offer torrone (nougat) as a parting gift.

What to see & do

The Museo di Capodimonte (00 39 081 749 9111;museocapodimonte.beniculturali.it) is worth a trip for the view over the Bay of Naples from its lush, well-manicured gardens alone. But its collection — from Titian to Andy Warhol’s colourful take on Vesuvius — is also impressive. The Flagellation by Caravaggio is here, too; the troubled painter fled to Naples after killing a pimp in Rome, and you can see another of his works, the Seven Acts of Mercy, in Pio Monte Della Misericordia (00 39 081 446 944;piomontedellamisericordia.it). For something a little less bloodthirsty, head for the watery mosaic covering Toledo metro station (Via Armando Diaz), while a retrospective of Neapolitan avant-garde photographer Mimmo Jodice runs until the end of October at Madre (00 39 081 193 130 16; madrenapoli.it/en).