48 hours in Naples: A different side to bella Italia
IT'S LUNCHTIME AND you're basking in the warm glow of a European summer sun, luxuriating over a generous helping of spaghetti frutti di mare whilst attempting to avoid a satisfying splash of garlic infused oil escaping the corner of your lips. Dabbing a serviette, you glance around at your surroundings. Neighbouring tables at the restaurant's terrace are alive with culinary delights and animated conversation. Besides pockets of sound emanating from rival eateries, the proximate mountainside town perched above the glistening Mediterranean is silent for the mid-afternoon break. The lapping of the waves below induce a somnolent air, which when combined with the temperature and dessert, dictate an enforced 20-minutes of shut-eye. Congratulations, you're holidaying in the Amalfi Coast town of Sorrento where these meals are as ubiquitous as the Panama hat wearing American tourists the destination attracts. But we're not here to talk about the picture-postcard idyllic preserve most will imagine if tasked with conjuring up an image of Italy. We're far more adventurous though, aren't we? Today we're exploring a weekend in its sister city an hour's ferry ride away: the far edgier ancient town of Naples, or Napoli as the locals will proudly inform you.
FlyDubai's new direct route allows you to reach the Campania capital door to door from the UAE in just over five hours. The regular superior onboard service is a perfect send-off for your holiday, as is landing in the compact, yet modern airport practically right in the centre of town. Jump in a taxi (making sure to agree upon the on average 20-25 Euro fee beforehand), and take in the typically Neapolitan verbose chauffeur's chat as you weave through some of the most vibrant and beautiful streets you can hope to visit.
FZ1681 touched down half an hour ago and you're already trundling towards your lodgings. The Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo is located right by the city's main port (which makes nipping off to the Amalfi Coast very easy when you're done with city life) and is centrally placed, walking distance from all the places in Naples you need to see.
Five minutes from the hotel, lunch in Osteria Da Antonio where traditional seafood dishes are the order of the day. We can heartily recommend the fresh raw sardines in oil, burrata and spaghetti with clams.
It's time for an old city walking tour. Beginning at the restaurant, point yourself in the direction of Castel Nuovo. Carry on around the shoreline and you'll pass The Royal Palace of Naples before walking down Via Nazario Sauro where locals enjoy jumping into the natural bays from the promenade before ending up at the Fountain of The Giant in view of Ovo Castle.
Walk up to the top of Ovo Castle to get a sunset view of Mount Vesuvius across the water.
After all that walking and an aperitivo [anywhere on Via Toledo] it's time for dinner. As you're situated around the old town, we'd recommend sticking around there the first evening. In a city crammed with restaurants, pretty much any pick is going to be good, but Trattoria de Nennella is rustic, inexpensive and serves up deliciously simple fried little white fish and pasta.
It's breakfast and you're in a town that doesn't just love coffee, it lives and breathes it. Exquisite shops dot the landscape, the most famous of which, Gran Caffe Gambrinus (pictured, right), is worth a visit for a meal or even just a photo. Waiters in white coats and bow ties, fresh pastries and adoringly constructed espressos are yours for a reasonable price. If it's good enough for the Conan O'Brien show, it's good enough for us. Order a connolo and 'doppio' for around four Euros.
Hop across to the Basilica Reale Pontifica San Francesco da Paola, an imposing neoclassical cathedral opened in 1836 before making the half hour jaunt to the Galleria Umberto I where the astrological floor mosaics will have you snapping the ground like a mad person.
Lunchtime! Zero Zero Grano is one of the higher-end eateries, but is a must if only for the bread. Gluten-free, it is a wonder, although we more than made up for our lack of the old fruity glute-y with the spinach ravioli and fried mozzarella.
Close by, and if you can get over the food coma, take a tour of the underground ancient catacombs and tunnels, the Napoli Sotterranea.
Wander up the many hills of Naples towards Via Dei Tribunali where you will find many a hostelry to rest your weary feet before queuing up for another meal. Naples, if not the actual home of pizza, is its spiritual birthplace and Gino e Toto Sorbillo is the most celebrated pizzeria in town. Get there any later than 18.55 (it opens at 7pm) and you probably won't get in. The restaurant is instantly full the minute the doors open and the waiting list is loaded up just as fast.