In search of the quintessential Neapolitan experience
Loud, labyrinthine and bursting with life, Naples is a true melting pot of experiences. A sprawling metropolis with Ancient Greek and Roman roots – where the grand, the glamourous and the gritty sit side by side. Walk amidst historic ruins. Indulge in some of the world's best pizza, pasta and arancini. Start your Neapolitan adventure from Romeo Hotel, a luxury spa retreat with dramatic views of Vesuvius rising up behind the Bay of Naples. Or stay at Grand Hotels Parker's, a beautiful 19th-century gem where bronze and marble sculptures contrast with an ambience more homely than palatial.
JOURNEY INTO THE PAST
A trip to Italy's third-largest city is the chance to see some of the world's most astounding ancient Graeco-Roman history. To whet your appetite, start with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale's collection of statues, frescoes and mosaics from Pompeii and the smaller town of Herculaneum (Ercolano). But there's nothing quite like wandering down the ancient streets of Pompeii itself. This once-thriving city – destroyed and buried under Vesuvius' volcanic lava – is still amazingly intact and all the more haunting for it. Step into temples, grand houses and the town's amphitheatre. Peek into shops, cafés and a brothel. In the summer months, aim to go in the early morning ¬– or late afternoon, when the heat of the day leaves the town bathed in golden light.
And once you're back in Naples, there are still layers and layers of beguiling history to explore. Those with a taste for the macabre can pay a visit to the charnel house at Fontanelle Cemetery, or the skulls at the Catacombe di San Gennaro. Don't miss the neo-Gothic facade of Naples' cathedral (Duomo) and the 4th-century mosaics inside. And for art on a masterful scale, take a look at Caravaggio's handiwork in the Pio Monte della Misericordia. Then make your way back onto the bustling streets for a life-affirming espresso.
As the birthplace of pizza – and a city built on rich volcanic soil – Naples is, unsurprisingly, a foodie's paradiso. Breakfast on a strong caffé and sweet decadent pastries, like the ricotta-filled sfoglliatella. Grab a spot at the famed Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo for a mouth-watering lunch of marinara pizza – or dive into a pizza fritta and an ice-cold beer. Places like Piazza Bellini are perfect for sipping a spritz at aperetivo hour, as is the Chiaia district, if you like your drinks with a side of glamour. And when you head out for dinner, be sure to sample the local spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), or paccheri fritti (pasta stuffed with aubergine and a rich tomato sauce).
SEE NAPLES – AND SHOP
Long known as the place to stock up on shoes and exquisitely-tailored suits, Italy is still high on the list for a spot of retail therapy. And Naples is no exception. Exploring the intricate streets in the centro historico (historic centre) is a pleasure in itself, but this part of the city in particular is brimming with artisan workshops making ceramics and delicate pastori (nativity scenes). As well as lively places like the Mercato di Porta Nolana, there are also dozens of tiny chocolate shops, and family-run boutiques selling everything from leather gloves to locally-made Limoncello.
SITTING ON THE TOP OF THE BAY
If its history, food and shopping weren't enough, Naples can add a fourth string to its charismatic bow: its position in the Bay of Naples. This makes the city the perfect jumping-off point for the islands of Ischia, Procida and Capri, each a short hydrofoil trip away from Molo Beverello (near Hotel Romeo). Choose Ischia for its variety of spas fed by hot thermal springs. Procida for a colourful taste of local island life. And Capri for towering cliffs and glitzy yachts. The pretty town of Sorrento, along the coast, is also ideal for ocean views with a gelato.