Wednesday 21 November 2018

Forget Rome and Milan - here's an authentic, affordable Italian city break

Naples is the birthplace of pizza and a gritty, authentic southern city where you can do as the locals do... and enjoy it.

View of Mount Vesuvius over Naples, Italy
View of Mount Vesuvius over Naples, Italy
Naples - the home of pizza
Piazza Plebiscito in Naples
Louise in Naples
Louise making pizza in Naples
Pizza in Napoli
Street scene in Naples
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Visitors to Italy often overlook the city of Naples, preferring well-trodden tourist hotspots such as Rome and Milan.

But the southern soul of the country offers way more of an authentic experience, at a much lower price, than it's knee-boot counterparts.

Set the mood

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Louise in Naples

One of the oldest inhabited urban areas in the world, it's not surprising that Naples boasts enough historically significant sites to mark it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is also home to one of Italy's best archaeological museums: the National Archaeological Museum, located in a 17th-century building.

Whilst the infrastructure may not be on par with Italy's larger municipalities, braving it out on an easily-rented Vespa over the cobblestoned streets is the way to travel. 

And when you've had enough of the wind through your hair, beeps in your ears and great food in your tummy (did I mention Naples is the birthplace of the original wood-fired Neopolitan pizza?), the city is a fantastic springboard for other locations.

Take a drive along the stunning Amalfi Coast, a ferry to the island of Capri, (or Procida or Ischia), go shopping in Sorrento with a stop at the volcanic site of Pompeii.

Making it all that bit easier to embed yourself into real  Italian life is the fact that Ryanair have been running direct flights from Dublin since last year.

Guilty Pleasure

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Pizza in Napoli

So naturally you're going to have a Lot of pizza that will make you wonder what that foodstuff actually was that was delivered in a box to your door last Friday night.

Around 100, of almost 1,000 pizzerias, carry certification by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), the group that makes sure every ingredient and process in the pizza-making fit with Neapolitan tradition.

Wouldn't you like to bring that knowledge home with you?

Showbiz Napoli on Via Volpicella (facebook.com/ShowbizNapoli) run classes where you can build and fire up your own concoction (below). The amount of garlic and mozzarella you want to swamp that delicious thin base is entirely up to you.

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Louise making pizza in Naples

If you're looking for something a little more upmarket, try a lunch or dinner at Nel Chiostro restaurant at the Palazzo Caracciolo (palazzocaracciolo.com/en/dining/), where gilthead bream and savarin with strawberry can be enjoyed over a glass or two of wine. The cocktails to follow aren't bad here either, but bring an extra layer so you can enjoy the outdoor seated area.

Cheap Kick

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Street scene in Naples

As mentioned, Naples as a tourist location is never going to completely break the bank but if you are on a shoestring, there is lots to see and do, and more often than not the weather to boot.

I went in June which is always going to be pretty roasting, but apart from peak temps tipping into the 40s, Naples starts to warm up by late April, with average highs of mid thirties.

Take a walking tour of the Posilippo area, which is quite an affluent residential area, but it gives access to the most breathtaking views of the coast, which can be seen - for free - in the archaeological park.

In general, just stroll around the Old Town (the perimeters of which are debated) and browse the thrift and antique stores, grab some food and sit down by the docks and watch the boats.

The beauty of Naples is that you do as the locals do, and enjoy it.

Hotel Intel

For spectacular views of the water while having a ridiculously large breakfast, try out the Royal Continental Hotel facing the Castel dell'Ovo (royalgroup.it/royalcontinental/it); double rooms from around €400 for two nights).

Or if staying right in the historical centre is your thing, the Culture Hotel (culture-hotel-centro-storico.hotel-naples.com/en/) charges from €348 for a double room for two nights.

Top tip

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If you want to travel in Naples in style - and wearing a helmet - but you don't feel brave enough battling Italian traffic at rush hour alone, you do have options. A number of different operators provide the driver and Vespa service, price dependent on tour length and type, so you can just sit back and hold on.

Also try to make time for a truly fascinating tour of the Galleria Borbonica, the ancient underground tunnel and passages that were built initially during the time of the Bourbon dynasty. During the Second World War, it was used as a shelter for the residents of Naples.

Glitches

Previous reports of high crime and poverty in the city may have tarnished its marketing for the wider world, but its ranking as a destination has been severely underrated.

Hold on to your wallet/handbag and be mindful of your surroundings as you would in any other European city, and you shouldn't have a problem.

Get me there

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Piazza Plebiscito in Naples

Louise travelled as a guest of Ryanair, which flies from Dublin to Naples (ryanair.com).

Read more:

The Italian Bucket List: 25 things to do in Italy before you die!

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