Food, wine and art focused tours of Southern Italy
Looking over the historic center
The view from the NH Ambassador Hotel offers a view of the historic center of Naples, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The green roofed church is Santa Chiara with the large majolica cloister behind it. The view extends up to the Capodimonte hills.
Neapolitan pizza is paper thin at the center, puffy and light at the edges and must be eaten with a knife and fork. While there's practically a pizzeria on every corner of Naples, it's not unusual to find locals waiting for hours on line to eat a pizzeria's like Sorbillo on the Via Tribunali, 50 Kalò in the Mergellina neighborhood or Pizzeria La Notizia near the soccer stadium.
Antica Pizzeria Brandi is credited with being the inventor of "la pizza Margherita". Located near the Royal Palace of Naples, when Queen Margherita of Piedmont came to visit Naples after the unification of Italy, the pizzaiolo made a pizza with the color of the new Italian flag, red (tomato sauce), white (mozzarella) and green (basil.)
Called "the Castle of the Egg" it was originally built in the 12th century and has been adapted several times. The facade that appears today is mostly from the Aragonese period.
Local legend says that the Roman poet Virgil buried an egg inside the castle and if it should ever be found the castle and Naples will be destroyed. The castle is the star of the evening passeggiata along the Lungomare at sunset, one of the most beautiful sites in Naples. There's very little of historic importance left inside the castles but a walk along the ramparts offers exquisite views of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.
The evening passeggiata along the Lungomare in Naples is a must-see experience for everyone who visits Naples. Young and old are out for an evening stroll and as the sun sets along the Bay of Naples, the sky takes on a pink hue. Street vendors are often out selling trinkets and jewelry. There are several caffes and restaurants open on Via Partenope and a few spots to get a gelato or snack right along the water.
With Capri in the distance, this is the view that the Greek poet Homer had in mind as he imagined Odysseus sailing through these waters, his ears plugged and his body tied to the ship's mast so that he could resist the alluring song of the sirens.
It's hard to miss the tremendous castle on the Bay of Naples, not far from where the cruise ships docks and hydrofoils travel back and forth to Capri and Ischia. Built in the 13th century by the Angevin (French) rulers of Naples, it appears like a Northern European castle complete with towers and a moat. In 1442 it was seized by Alfonso V of Aragon (Spain) who became Alfonso I of Naples. The white marble arch between the towers was commissioned by Alfonso as a display of his Humanist interests and is the greatest piece of Renaissance architecture and sculpture in Southern Italy.
Currently there is a large construction project going on around the castle to extend the subway from Napoli Centrale (train station) to the ports. However, digging has an archaeologist's paradise which has slowed the process.
One of the most important churches in Naples, it was originally a palace built for the Sanseverino family in the 15th century. It was sold to the Jesuit brothers in the 1580s and converted into an elaborate Baroque style church.
The facade has long been thought to contain a code as each of the pyramid shaped stones contains a symbol. While most art historians today believe the symbols are in fact stonemasons marks identifying who cut the stone (and who should be paid for it) a compelling theory that the symbols related to a piece of holy music.
Inside Gesù Nuovo
The interior of Gesù Nuovo is one of the greatest Baroque churches in Italy. In keeping with the ideals of Baroque art and architecture, there is no place for the eyes to rest. Precious inlaid stone meets swirling inlay patterns and frame gold sculptures and a dark and dramatic paintings by famous artists including Luca Giordano.
Piazza Gesù Nuovo
The piazza Gesù Nuovo is the perfect place to begin your stroll down Spaccanapoli. Notice the flowers in the hands of the bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary on top of the obelisk in the piazza. Every December 8th, local fireman place fresh flowers in her hand to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Like Parthenope, the siren founder of Naples who died of heartbreak and washed up on the coast, the sfogliatella also arrived from the sea. One origin story, rote but beloved, describes a 16th century nun on the Amalfi coast experimenting with some cooked flour and milk during the dark early hours inside the convent’s kitchen. She formed the pastry to imitate the shape of a monk’s hood hanging along his back, thus inventing the smooth frolla version.
The recipe was made distinctly Neapolitan when a man named Pasquale Pintauro created a flaky shell that reminded of elaborate French pastries still fashionable in Naples, even after Marie Antoinette’s big sister had been deposed as queen. In the window of Pintauro’s pastry shop on the fashionable Via Toledo, the sfogliatelle were upended to resemble seashells, the new Rococo architectural motif in the city ruled by a Spanish Bourbon king.
Almost 200 years later, Pintauro’s pastry shop on the Via Toledo is still in place. Locals gather there for sfogliatelle on Sunday afternoons though legions loyal to “La Sfogliatella Mary” crowd around it in the Galleria Umberto.
The majolica cloister of Santa Chiara
While many of Naples's churches are Gothic, most were re-designed in the 1600s and now appear Baroque. Because a bomb fell on Santa Chiara during World War II, the church was rebuilt from rubble and its vaulted ceilings revealed. The enormous cloister was built for the nuns in the mid-18th century. Elaborate scenes of rural life including hunting and dancing the tammuriata are shown even though the nuns lived in solitude, following the rule of the Order of the Poor Clares. In the 1920s, the friars in the neighboring monastery swapped spaces with the nuns and made it accessible to the general public.
Jorit Agoch Mural of San Gennaro
Jorit Agoch is a world famous Neapolitan muralist who painted his interpretation of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Napes, on Via Duomo, just a few blocks away from the shrine where a vile of Gennaro's blood is kept in the city's most sacred reliquary.
Chapel of San Gennaro
Inside the Duomo or Cathedral of Naples it the chapel devoted to San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. Gennaro was a bishop who was martyred in the 3rd century and was buried outside the city walls in what later became the Sanità district. Later he was transferred to the Duomo where a vile of his blood his kept and miraculously liquefies three times a year. The most important liquefaction happens on September 19th when Neapolitans celebrate his feast day. If his blood fails to liquefy, disaster, such as an eruption of Vesuvius is imminent.
This semi-abandoned castle was built for Anna Carafa by her husband, the viceroy of Napes from Spain who abandoned her there. Legend is she died of heartbreak and the castle was never finished. It is built on the site of Villa Sirena that belonged to a medieval queen who used it as a place to enjoy her lovers and then drop them into the sea. The beach below is called Bagno Elena and is described in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels as "Sea Garden".
Trattoria da Carmela on the Via Tribunali could easily be a tourist trap but instead it serves beautifully made Neapolitan classics. Scarpariello means "shoemakers sauce", the idea being that a shoemaker only has a little time to put together a simple tomato sauce for his lunch. I like to think of Scarpariello as an ode to Lila and the Cerullo family of shoemakers.
Inside his historic custom tailoring shop, Salvatore Argenio along with his wife Annamaria Pisappia are historians of the Bourbon rule of Naples prior to unification in the 1860s. As protagonists of the Neo-Borbone movement which seeks to reclaim the rich history of Naples as the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, they have designed scarves, cufflinks and other custom fashion items with the House of Borbone coat of arms.