In September 2016 we enjoyed the very first tour of Naples inspired by Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels. I have been in love with Naples forever, but wasn't quite sure how I could lead a tour in a city with so many layers of history. Elena Ferrante's novels opened the door to the many world's that exist within Naples, from Rione Luzzatti to the Vomero hill.
Naples is not like any other Italian city. It's one of the oldest continuously habituated cities in Europe yet not so focused on its past like Florence. It's enormous and crowded and filled with ruins, but not anything at all like Rome. It is the capital of a lost kingdom, the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily ruled by the House of Bourbon. It was once Europe's most elegant capital, rivaled only by Paris, but was looted by the House of Savoy after the unification of Italy. With its treasury relocated to Piemonte, Naples unspooled for nearly 100 years.
Oppressive taxation pressed all the splendor out of Naples and sent its citizens and millions of Southern Italians abroad to the United States, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. Outbreaks of cholera and World War II had heavy tolls on Naples, the aftermath of which is set Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels.
I designed our tour to understand the many layers and conditions of Naples.
Day 1 was an introduction to Naples where we visited Castel Nuovo, the Palazzo Reale, had pizza at Antica Pizzeria Brandi where pizza margherita was invented, a walk to Piazza dei Martiri and then cocktails and book discussion along the Lungomare near Castel dell'Ovo.
Day 2 we explored the historic center of Naples, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre with an art historian. We saw the Church of Gesu Nuovo, the majolica cloister of Santa Chiara, walked along Spaccanapoli and viewed the spine tingling "Veiled Christ." After lunch we visited the Naples National Archaeological Museum where we saw the mosaics from Pompeii and the infamous "Secret Cabinet" of Roman erotica.
Day 3 we were led by Francesca Sinascalchi who took us to the Rione Luzzatti where the childhood of Elena and Lila is set. We then drove to San Giovanni a Teduccio, a tough suburb where the Soccavo mortadella factory was set. From there, we went back through Naples to travel to Posillipo where Michele Solara bought an elegant villa, the Via Taddeo Tasso where Professor Galiani hosted her infamous party, the Vomero where Elena lived in a house paid for by Nino's relatives and the "Sea Garden" where Elena took the stationers girls to the beach during the summers.
On Day 4 we took a hydrofoil to Ischia for a magical day led by an Ischia native. We spent the entire day traveling by private van through the incredible sites of the volcanic island, learning about its rich history, lunch in Forio and the much discussed Maronti beach.
Day 5 focused on the legacy of Naples with a visit to Museo di Capodimonte, a former Bourbon palace and the largest museum in Italy.
Click here to read my piece in Conde Nast Traveler "Why Naples's Museo di Capodimonte is Italy's Most Underrated Museum."
Our tour ended after a fabulous lunch, with new insights gained and best of all, new friendships formed. My husband and I were then free to explore Naples on our own for a couple of days before heading out to the Cilento to lead a food and wine tour.
It was just then that the news broke, that Elena Ferrante had been unmasked. The New York Review of Books published an expose in which writer Claudio Gatti traced a money trail leading to the woman he claims is the real Elena Ferrante. I was livid. I tweeted about and was surprised to find a few days later that it had been included in Jennifer Maloney's Wall Street Journal article about the fallout.