Visitors to the every surprising and – for many – chaotic Naples have a huge array of things to see and do. Interesting sights include its magnificent churches, like those of San Francesco da Paola and Gesù Nuovo, castles like the Castel dell’Ovo and such amazing archaeological jewels as those on display in the National Archaeological Museum, including exhibits from the ancient sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum. You could also just stroll through the streets of its Centro Storico, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. And, of course, all such sightseeing requires timely stopovers to indulge in their excellent pizzas, which is why we have come to the place where this popular dish first saw the light.
As if all the things we can enjoy on the city’s ground level were not enough, in its bowels lurks a whole world of tunnels, galleries, catacombs, cisterns and countless spaces where the earliest traces unearthed belong to the founders of Naples – the Greeks. The latest of them endure into our own times, as the Camorra is said to have used the network for their drug running and their undercover meetings. Nowadays, particularly in recent years, this hidden face of the city, known as the Naples Underground or Napoli Sotterranea, has been attracting ever greater attention and has now become yet another tourist attraction. And, understandably so, as many a story lies buried in that subsoil.
As mentioned in passing, it was the Greeks who first started building that “invisible” underground city for the purpose of defence and as a place of worship. The Romans continued where the Greeks left off, although they took things a step further – they created a network of underground channels and aqueducts for water conveyance. Much of that original system of water channelling continued to be used in the city until the early-20th century. Also from those ancient times are the remains of a Greco-Roman theatre which visitors can see on a tour of subterranean Naples. Legend has it that Nero himself sung in the theatre during an earthquake set off by the nearby volcano, Vesuvius.
Persecuted for their faith, the early Christians used those catacombs to gather for prayer and to bury their dead. Indeed, one of the most striking features of the Naples Underground is precisely the Catacombs of San Gennaro, tunnelled out of a large chunk of the Capodimonte hillside. They are the largest catacombs in southern Italy. With passageways arranged on two unstratified levels, they feature some fresco remains from the late-2nd-century AD. Interestingly, San Gennaro is the city’s patron saint, while the catacombs were the burial site of Neapolitan bishops and a place of pilgrimage up until the 11th century. There are two other catacombs in the city –San Severo, of which only a small cubicle remains, and San Gaudioso, reached via the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità.
Apart from acting as hideouts, means of conveyance and access routes to the city, these passageways were also turned to belligerent purposes, as on more than one occasion they were used to mount surprise attacks on the city. That was true of operations conducted by Belisarius in the year 536, and Alfonso of Aragon in 1442, or at least that is how the story goes. Closer to our times, the underground was used as an air-raid shelter during World War II. Objects surviving from that horrific period can still be seen there.
Entrance to the Naples underground is via the Piazza San Gaetano, 68 and guided tours are available in Italian or English. Scheduled times are given on their website.
Embark on an adventure of discovery in the Naples Underground and unearth the stories hidden there. Check out your flight here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
The Best Pizzerias in Naples
The earliest available document bearing mention of the word “pizza” dates from the year 997 and was unearthed in the town of Gaeta. Originally derived from the breads made by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, it was the Spanish settlers of Naples who added its typical tomato base in the 16th century. However, it was in 1889 that the master pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito, created the pizza Magherita in honour of the thus-named Queen of Italy and the formula stuck. There is no corner of the world where pizza is not eaten, but the Naples variety – the vera pizza, baked in a wood-fired oven– is still the best. If you visit the Partenopea city, these are the pizzerias we recommend you head for when feeling peckish.
Legend has it that Raffaele Esposito, the chef at the Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi, created the pizza margheritain 1889. Made as a tribute to the Queen of Italy, it was topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil to produce the colours of the Italian flag and soon became the pizza par excellence of Naples. The restaurant in question is now called Brandi and it still serves one of the tastiest pizzas in town, in addition to the star dishes of Neapolitan cuisine in which fish and seafood figure prominently.
Opened in 1938, this venue is where Attilio Bachetti (grandson) continues to make one of the best pizzas in Naples. In an out-of-the-way spot in one of the most traditional quarters, Da Attilio serve up some of the most innovative creations in town, notably the pizza carnevale, a scrumptious base covered with tomato, mozzarella and sausages, and the edges filled in with ricotta cheese.
In 1959, Gennaro Cristiano closed down his fried fish street stall and opened his own restaurant, thus starting one of the most celebrated pizza-making lineages in Naples. One of the must-try eats on the menu at Da Gennaro is their endless half-a-metre-long pizza, and, even more so, their farfalla, a butterfly-shaped pizza with a filled centre and a guest’s choice two-flavour addition on the wings. Via Plinio 21
Master pizza makers since 1870, their history and the quality of their offerings is inversely proportional to the length of their menu. Da Michele serve only two kinds of pizza – the traditional classic, margherita,and the marinara, based on tomato, garlic, oregano and oil. While the choice is extremely narrow, the quality is excellent. If theirs is not the best pizza in Naples, it certainly comes close to it.
In July 1994, Naples hosted the G7 Summit, during which the US President at the time, Bill Clinton, felt like a pizza. He duly fulfilled his desire by visiting Di Matteo, and his was a good choice. It is so popular among Neapolitans that rarely is there a day without guests having to queue up. When your turn comes, be sure to order their magnificent fried pizza, or else a margherita,which really explodes on the palate.
Il Pizzaiolo Del Presidente
The Via dei Tribunali, in the heart of Naples’ historic centre, must be the street with the highest density of essential pizzerias in the world. In the consequent list of restaurants, Il Pizzaiolo Del Presidente should be set in capitals and highlighted in fluorescent marker. In the colours and aromas of their pizzas you will discover the finest essences of the traditional Neapolitan pizza.
Don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity – at La Notizia the margherita is a pleasure on the taste buds. Perched on the hill overlooking Spaccanapoli, the ride to the pizzeria by funicular railway is a veritable happening. A sublimated experience once you have sat down and started biting into their exquisite creation baked in a wood-fired oven, their tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil combined in perfect harmony.
Tradition has it that pellone is the joy experienced when your pizza has a diameter that overspills the circumference of the plate it is served on. This venue is a winning bet for both epicures and insatiable diners. Heirs to the family tradition, the De Luca brothers – Mimmo, Franco and Antimo – have drawn praise and even reverence from leading connoisseurs for their pizza margherita,the marinara and the house speciality, fried calzone with ricotta and an escarole filling.
For many, the charismatic celebrity, Gino Sorbillo, grandson of the pizzaiolo, Luigi Sorbillo, the first in the line of the family pizza-makers, is the current king of Neapolitan pizzas, Baked in a wood-fire oven and massive in size, it would be a sin to pass up their marinara. It you’re still hungry after that, for dessert let yourself be tempted by their semifreddo, which is simply superb.
Cinema lovers may well be familiar with this eatery, as it served as the backdrop to The Gold of Naples, a classic by Vittorio De Sica in which the main stars are the stunning pair, Silvana Mangano and Sophia Loren. Opened in 1901 as a wine cellar by Antonio Starita, his grandson, also named Antonio Starita, has gradually consolidated it as one of the most lauded pizzerias in the city of Vesuvius.
7 Sweet Stops In Naples
Naples “non è solo pizza”, although the margarita is of course the local leading light. And rightly so. But, for now, we’re going to highlight other specialities in the capital of the Campania region which are not to be scoffed at. Here, then, are the must-visit spots for lovers of confectionery, ice-cream and chocolate.
A highly popular confectioner's among Neapolitans and, when the locals are die-hard patrons of a place, this is a safe bet. It opened in 1894 and offers a huge variety of top-quality hard and soft chocolates of all kinds which are bound to liven up your stroll through the streets of old Naples. They also have biscuits and ice-creams – you should try the dark chocolate variety, of course. However, the creation that won us over is their Vesuvio, a dark chocolate mountain shaped like Vesuvius, the ideal souvenir for taking back to your chocolate-addict family.
Chalet Ciro – The Most Popular Ice-cream Parlour
Quite a long haul from the tourist centre of Naples, but a rewarding treat after a protracted walk along the scenic coast. This popular stopover, located at the end of the Riviera di Chiaia, is the place for savouring a delicious, creamy Italian ice-cream served in a cone, a tub or a huge brioche, a local speciality. It may be a calorie bomb, but a pleasure bomb, too. The bun is dripping with the creamy ice-cream flavours. This is a popular meeting place for Neapolitans, both by day and by night, where over 30 ice-cream flavour sare waiting to be indulged in. They also serve coffee and pastries.
“Caldo Freddo” at the Bar Mastracchio
Perhaps the most surprising treat of all, as this unpretentious bar is actually famous for its coffee. But Caldo Freddo is no ordinary coffee; it’s an espresso topped with a vanilla ice-cream mix and a wisp of hot, melted chocolate. However, be sure not to stir it, but down it in one go, as the idea is to let the hot and cold mingle in the mouth, as will the liquid and creaminess and the flavours of coffee, chocolate and vanilla. You will be bowled over, capable only of craving for another fix. Why deprive yourself of this treat? It’s the only place in town where a Caldo Freddo costs only 1 euro. Mamma mia!
(Vico Tofa, 4)
Gran Bar Riviera – A Pastry Shop On a Grand Scale
The epitome of a vintage pastry shop, its display cabinets are stuffed with countless pastries and buns, capable of giving you a surge in blood sugar by just looking at them. The premises appear not to have changed one jot in the last sixty years. One of their best-known Neapolitan specialities is torta pastiera, made of puff pastry, ricotta cream and roasted wheat, aromatised with orange blossom water, among other ingredients. Sold mainly in Holy Week and packed in a pretty tin which would go well in any retro kitchen.
The “Babàs” at Scaturchio
You simply cannot pass up this sweet institution in Naples. The pastry shop has won international acclaim for its mini babàs (a kind of brioche based on egg and butter which is baked and then dipped in rum syrup). This favourite of Pope Benedict XVI can be savoured on the spot with a ristretto, or at a table in the pretty square. You should also try their riccia, a pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese. Quite a treat!
Pintauro Will Steal Your Heart With Their Capresinas
They’re not noted for their friendliness but, so what? As minute as it is old – the pastry shop has been open since 1785 – it is famed for its sfogliatelle (a pastry stuffed with ricotta, candied fruit, custard and semolina), zeppole di San Giuseppe (a custard-filled tartlet) and capresinas (heart-shaped chocolate-and-almond pastries). And, yes – they will steal your heart!
(Via Toledo, 275)
Stracciatella Ice-cream at Emilia Cremeria in Pompeii
In case you thought you’d be safe beyond Naples, think again! When visiting the capital of Campania, you’re likely to go sightseeing in the amazing ruins of Pompeii, which was buried under the lava erupting from Mt Vesuvius. After such a long and exhausting outing, you could do with a great reward. In Pompeii’s main square, be sure to try the ice-creams at the Emilia Cremeria. With that creamy name, imagine what their ice-creams must be like, particularly the stracciatella – the epitome of creaminess and yet very light. For the out-and-out sweet-toothed, order it in the traditional style, with the ice-cream nestling in a brioche bun or warm croissant. To die for!
Book your Vueling to Naples, where all these flavours await you!
Text and photos by Laia Zieger of Gastronomistas.com
Europe's Top Food Festivals
It's fine to visit monuments and museums, but we think that the best way to discover a country is through its food. Enjoy festivals like the Pizza Village in Naples. Come with us to discover some of the best food festivals in Europe, and choose your next destination based not on what you can see, but on what you can taste!more info