I heart Naples

We all know I'm a fan of this magnificent city so I'm going to shout out even louder....YOU MUST VISIT THIS PLACE! It can't be kept a secret forever. Treasures abound here. Take a look

Sam (in the hat) and an unforgettable sunset over the Bay of Naples - look just above Vesuvius - you can see the full moon

A warm September afternoon on Via Nazario Sauro - Naples' picturesque bayfront.
Locals grab a beer from these little food vans and enjoy the sunset

Chalet Ciro is a little roadside cafe in Mergellina famous for its cakes and pastries
The Neapolitans love their sweets - and its easy to see why

Best lunch all trip - Da Giona in Bacoli. It's actually ON the beach. You walk out a door just to the right of Sam and you're standing in sand. Behind Sam in the distance is the island of Ischia. Da Giona is popular with locals but their English is pretty non-existent so bring your phrase book/app.

The Spanish Quarter's little narrow streets

Pompeii's amphitheatre from the outside

And from the inside - just after a torrential tropical downpour

One of the many beautiful frescoes from Poppaea's Villa at Oplontis - look closely - see the theatre mask and the peacock?

Naples reminds me of your mad aunty at a wedding. Everyone avoids her but boy does she have some stories to tell. This city should be at the top of everyone’s list but judging by many, many comments on Trip Advisor and elsewhere, it is often at their top of the list to avoid. What a waste that is. This time around I saw more and although I am the Trip Advisor Destination Expert for Naples, I have hardly scratched the surface. Here is a run-down of my seven days.
We checked into ORSINI B&B, run by live-in hosts Manuela and Gabriele in the Santa Lucia district. I love staying in this location as it is by the water, very quiet and yet convenient to all the major sights. The B&B was exquisite (see my review) and only cost 90 euros per night.


My son and I went for a walk from Santa Lucia to Mergellina – about 4km return – along the sea front and had a gelato at the famous Chalet Ciro. Neapolitan ‘chalets’ are like little beach huts that sell coffee, cake, gelato, a drink etc. Mergellina reminds me of Cannes – gorgeous people sipping aperitifs in the afternoon sun surrounded by palm trees and million dollar yachts. It’s a beautiful spot.

Mergellina's marina

Gracious architecture and palm trees - no it's not Cannes, it's Naples!

We had dinner at Nenella up in the Spanish Quarter which was like being an extra in a movie – all the Neapolitan street life was buzzing – I saw a motor bike pull up and on hopped a 10 year old girl, behind her sister and dad, and they blasted up the narrow street all laughing – and all without helmets. I loved it.
I decided that it would be quicker to take the metro to Napoli Centrale to connect with the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii, rather than take the bus which could be stuck in traffic. Well, I hadn’t factored in Naples’ complex metro system due to the construction of the new Line 1. We hopped on at the brand new Toledo stop, had to get off at the next stop, Dante, had to change again at the next stop, Museo and then take a massive moving walkway to Cavour station and then another train to Garibaldi. Four trains and over an hour for a 3km journey. The Neapolitans are really frustrated with this as well as I laughed about it later with a local. However....the new Naples Metro Line 1 had some surprises in store for us - look at this:

A mosaic tiled atrium with a skylight at street level - Toledo metro station, Naples

The mosaic tiled escalators at Toledo metro

Mosaic artwork near the ticket office at Toledo station

Those who say Naples' metro stations are ugly, graffiti filled rat holes should take a look at the new metro Line 1 - particularly Toledo station which is on Via Toledo. I've never seen anything like it and the beautiful artwork and mosaics totally compensated for the tricky journey.
Anyway, Pompeii. The heavens decided to open and pour buckets of water on us so I had to buy emergency raincoats from one of those sellers that pop up when there is rain. 5 euros for what was essentially two plastic bags with buttons. Serve me right. The forecast did say rain. Entry to Pompeii still costs 11 euros and guides are still 10 euros. The Circumvesuviana is still cheap. We got a day ticket for 7.80 euros as we planned to go to Oplontis as well so that suited us.
TIPS FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS – The Circumvesuviana may appear a little like a 1970s NYC Subway ‘A’ train – covered in graffiti, assorted freaks and weirdos and the odd thief. Just be mindful of your belongings. The trains are old, ugly and covered in graffiti but they get you from A to B. If beggars approach you on the train just wave them away, they are harmless. When I was on it that day, it came complete with roving musicians/buskers. Someone at Pompeii told me a four piece band got on their train, complete with double bass. She said ‘I just had to give them money for sheer effort’. Lol!

Napoli Garibaldi station platform - this is where you board for Pompeii, Herculaneum and Sorrento if coming from Rome. To get here, simply follow the blue directional signs that say 'Circumvesuviana'.

The inside of the Circumvesuviana train - basic and adequate

The exterior of the train - not pretty but it does the job

Just follow the signs - you can't get lost!
At Pompeii, the House of the Vetti is still closed and looks like it will be so for some time. The whole interior is covered in rusty scaffold and there is no sign of work going on. Also closed is the House of Octavius Quarto and the House of Julia Felix. The Forum Baths were open as was the Temple of Venus – I’ve never seen this Temple open before. The amphitheatre was a swimming pool due to the rain and we had to edge our way around the outside to avoid going under water. The sun came out later and turned the whole of Pompeii into a steam bath. It was seriously uncomfortable.

The café inside Pompeii - surprisingly good food and not expensive

I did use the on-site café twice for a coffee fuel stop and lunch. Their salads were great and their prices really decent considering they have a captive audience. I would suggest eating here – nothing at all wrong with it. Bathrooms in the café had a few stalls out of order but that may have been just the day I was there as it was PACKED to the gills with cruise groups.

Don't buy water - fill water bottles at the numerous fountains scattered about the site

All that's visible of House of the Vetti is this famous fresco of Priapus (the god of fertility) at the entrance. Inside the blocked door is rusty scaffolding and no visible signs of work

The Villa of Mysteries is under renovation but the room with the life size frescoes was open (closed last time I was there). That is an absolute MUST SEE in Pompeii. I can’t see it remaining on site forever – they will probably be removed and moved to the NAM eventually. No one was in the Villa when we were there but it was late in the day by this stage.

Possibly Pompeii's most famous frescoes - the Villa of Mysteries

TIPS FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS – If you have luggage, there is storage at the Circumvesuviana train station down the stairs to the underpass to Platform 1 – it’s right where the toilets are. While you’re there, use the toilets as the lineup for them at the Pompeii ticket office is out the door, around the block and probably back to Naples. Also, download and print your own map – every time I’ve been to Pompeii (and that’s frequently) the ticket office have no maps. Not that the maps are very helpful if you’re planning a route as there are so many closures, but they help you orient yourself and locate places you want to see.

Pompeii on a wet day - don't bother with umbrellas. Only a sturdy raincoat will cope with Campanian downpours - they have to be seen to be believed!

OPLONTIS – Despite my fatigue, my son and I pushed on to Oplontis to see The Villa of Poppaea.  This is a single residence owned (apparently) by Emperor Nero’s second wife as her holiday home. To get there you go one stop on from Pompeii Scavi back towards Naples and get off at Torres Annuziata. Exit the station, turn left, turn right and walk two blocks down the hill. You can’t miss the site, despite it being surrounded by surburbia and ugly apartments. It costs 5.50 euros to visit and you’ll probably have it to yourself as it is very much off the tourist radar. Its wall frescoes are in much better shape than Pompeii’s and it gives you an idea of just how grand and palatial this place was. It even has its own enormous marble swimming pool. It is really worth your time and you won’t bump into large groups here as no one knows about it.
NOTE FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS – The Torres Annuziata station and surrounds are not attractive. Don’t be worried, it is still a safe place and a quick walk to the site and back.
After a LONG day we still persevered with the four train changes back to Toledo but were much more efficient this time as we knew what platforms and stairs to take so it only took half an hour as opposed to our morning 1.10 time.
Many people on TA ask for ‘off the beaten path’ ideas for their travels. Well, this whole area to the north-west of Naples fits the bill perfectly. No one goes here and I have no idea why. It has beaches, ancient ruins, a volcano with boiling mud pools, a castle and an atmosphere that reminds me a lot of California in the 1960s (I wasn’t there – I’m not that old, lol! But think blue sky, palm trees, relaxed vibe and lots of coloured buildings).
As it’s tricky to get around on public transport, I used a car and driver service. First stop was the Solfatara, or ‘Burning Fields’. It is essentially the crater of a Volcano but looks like the set from the first Star Wars movie. It’s a white desolate landscape with steam rising from the ground and mud boiling merrily away in fenced off areas. No one was there. Put your hand on the ground – it’s warm! It also doesn’t smell bad considering the gas is sulphurous. Don’t go expecting Yellowstone or New Zealand – it’s a very small thermal field but really interesting nonetheless.
The out-of-this-world Solfatara crater
Second stop was Piscina Mirabilis which was a huge underground water storage tank built by Augustus to apparently service his naval fleet, so it’s 2000 plus years old. It’s a killer of a place to find – in a suburban street surrounded by very pretty homes – plus you need to call ahead and an elderly lady will toddle up the street, jingling a huge set of keys. She then unbolts a gate and lets you into this underground cavern. Helloooo Indiana Jones film set! It had shafts of light falling across these enormous columns, mossy foliage hanging creepily down, slippery paths and an other worldly atmosphere that belied the suburban landscape outside.

Above and below - the cavernous Piscina Mirabilis

My son instantly started playing hide and seek so we ran around like a couple of kids, ducking behind the columns also enjoying the echo of our voices in the vast chamber. Goodness knows what the lady upstairs thought. We stayed inside for about 15 minutes as she was waiting to lock it up. I gave her 5 euros for her trouble but the site is technically free.  It is one of those experiences you tell people about later and they say ‘’what? A 2000 year old cistern under houses and an old lady with a key lets you in?’…… Yep….I know….no I wasn’t drinking it actually IS like that. You MUST go there.
We had lunch at a place called Da Giona – see my review – found in my Lonely Planet guide book http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g1078128-d2035868-Reviews-Ristorante_Da_Giona-Bacoli_Province_of_Naples_Campania.html
Loved it. I thought I was seeing things when I saw a surfer out riding the waves. I told people here at home and again they questioned my drinking habits – but it’s true. A surfer. See what I mean, this place is California for Italians.
 View from the table at Da Giona - there is Ischia and Procia in the background and....yellow sand! Am In back in Australia? Sure felt like it in this chilled, relaxed beachy place with NO English speaking tourists. Yay!

If you click on this image it will enlarge - look closely and you'll see the surfer.
The rest of this day was a mad run-around the Temple of Serapis – an ancient macellum (marketplace) which has been submerged and lifted due to the seismology of the area and the effects of ‘bradeyism’ – which means the location is so unstable the ground moves up and down. I have National Geographic photos of this macellum half-submerged by water in 1983 but we saw it completely dry. Amazing. We also went to Lake Aveno, and then to the Flavian Amphitheatre.
Temple of Serapis - sea water was once halfway up those columns
FLAVIAN AMPHITHEATRE – Okay I’m going to again be controversial and say give the Colosseum Underground Tour in Rome the flick and come here instead. There was myself, my son and two other visitors from England in this enormous place. That’s it. The underground passages were open and we had it all to ourselves. I could not believe it. Why no one was there just astounds me. We explored the depths of this place – it was truly eerie. Broken columns, inky blackness into tunnels, just the sound of our breathing and the odd drop of water plinking onto marble. It’s out of this world.  It cost about 5 euros and there were a couple of guides at the gate having a snooze so we didn’t trouble them. You HAVE to go there.
Don't go to the Colosseum in Rome - go here instead - you'll have it all to yourself

On the way back to Naples we stopped at the iconic view in Posillipo for the iconic photo of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius. Us and a billion other tourists. We were back to reality.

View of Vesuvius and Bay of Naples from Posillipo


 Hope you enjoyed Part One – this is the remaining four days in Naples and Procida. And we STILL didn’t cover everything in ‘the plan’.


It was a toss-up between this one and the Certosa but I chose Capidomonte so we could squeeze in a trip to the Catacombs of San Gennaro (but due to us both coming down with mystery viruses, the catacombs got shelved). It is the former hunting lodge of Charles VII of Bourbon. Some hunting lodge – it’s more like a palace and is packed to its elegant rafters with so many treasures we probably passed many without realising. There is a whole room of stucco porcelain on the walls and ceilings. It looks like somewhere Snow White or Cinderella would sleep. I kept going back to it because I simply could not believe my eyes. Of course I was also there to see Caravaggio’s ‘Flagellation’ which hangs by itself at the end of a long, long corridor. We had it to ourselves. No tour groups – no one at all (not even an angry security guard!). I would love to come back here and take a longer look – and the grounds are like the Borghese Gardens – green, pretty and full of pathways, kids playing soccer and mums & dads pushing prams.

The incredible stucco porcelain room in Capidomonte Museum - the photo simply doesn't do it justice

The Capidomonte Museum and immaculate grounds


I could quite happily rent an apartment here and never leave. This place is enchanting, rough, brisk, glorious, vibrant and brimming with Neapolitan life. I’ve been here before but wanted to take a walking tour with a local so I booked the tour company Mondo Guide and Vincenzo took us around. He lives in the historic centre and weaving around the tiny lanes and alleys with him was just amazing.
Naples' Historic Centre

We first went to the Galleria Umberto where he told us this really sweet story about the central floor mosaic which is all signs of the zodiac. He said if you stand on your sign, spin once and make a wish, according to the superstitious Neapolitans, your wish will be granted. I love that. So of course we spun on our signs and made our wishes.  We then went to GESU NUOVO which, again is an oh my gosh over the top Baroque affair. It’s nothing to look at from the outside but wow – walk in and your jaw hits the floor. There is small chapel inside dedicated to Saint Guiseppe Moscati who was a doctor who looked after the poor. There are silver offerings to him covering the walls and photos of family members he’s healed. It was astonishing to see. We then went to the CLOISTERS OF SANTA CHIARA which costs 4.50 euros to enter – please don’t miss this place. The colourful tiles and water features are just gorgeous.
The beautiful tiled cloisters of Santa Chiara
This was followed by PIO MONTE DELLA MISERICORDIA to see Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy. It costs 5.00 euros for admission, which kind of irked me a bit and I hope Rome’s churches don’t follow suit, but I was longing to see this work and wasn’t disappointed. Oh is it something else…. There were us and two other people there so we just stood and admired in peace.
 We then moved on to CAPELLA SANSEVERO to see the truly astonishing Veiled Christ sculpture. Admission was 7.00 euros. I can’t begin to explain this work of art. You must google it. It has to be seen to be believed. You can see the veins on his hands, his toes are so real as are his bony kneecaps. You almost expect him to wake up and lift the veil. It is utterly exquisite and must be seen if you’re in Naples. All this sightseeing took over three hours and we said goodbye to Vincenzo outside DA MICHELE PIZZERIA just after 12.00. We only had to wait ten minutes before being seated inside and stuffing our faces with what is truly the best pizza on earth.
Only a few people waiting when we arrived

Many more waiting when we left.

Marinara (in front) and Margherita - the only varieties served by Da Michele but you'll never get better pizza. The Marinara is tomato sauce, oregano and olive oil and is named so because of the fishermen who would take it out on their fishing boats (not because it has seafood on it - don't be misled by the name!)

They could just ride along on their reputation and jack up their prices but we paid 14 euros for two massive pizzas, a beer and a coke. If you don’t already know, they only serve two varieties – Margherita and Marinara and you will have to share a table with someone else but hey, that chewy crust, that cheese, that fresh tomato sauce. You won’t care. So now I’ve had the best pizza on earth – bucket list item duly ticked.

Marina Corricella on Procida

Okay here’s the deal – let’s tell NO ONE ABOUT PROCIDA. Shhhhhhh. Keep it quiet and it will remain the unspoiled paradise that it truly is. But let’s begin at the beginning. Getting there. WHAT a nightmare that was. Naples’ port is akin to Dante’s seventh circle of hell. Whoever masterminded the extreme lack of signage and any clue about where to go (unless you’re going to Capri or Sorrento in which case you’re fine and dandy) obviously has an evil sense of humour. Sam and I trudged half way to Sorrento before finding the ferry and getting on our way. NOTE FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS – ferries to Procida don’t leave from Molo Beverello port – they leave from the adjoining porta Massa – and good luck finding it. There is zero signage. We were dodging forklifts, tour buses, giant semi-trailers and finally found the ferry, ticket office and got on with seconds to spare. Boy did that beer I had on the ferry go down well.
Anyway we went from the utter madness of the port and felt like we’d been dropped into a movie set – pretty pastel buildings, a charming little historic centre, blue sky, blue water, kids playing soccer, old men mending fishing nets, charming young waiters laying tables with cigarettes dangling from their lower lip, dogs snoozing on stairs, cats sleeping under tables and no sound except the water lapping against boat hulls and the odd Mediterranean seagull screeching. Paradise. I did not want to leave. This was just an immersion visit to see what it was like and it’s exactly like the photos. We stayed at LA CASA SUL MARE in a room with a terrace and a view that would make you cry. It was only 90 euros a night including breakfast. We had heard about a restaurant called La Conchiglia which is on a beach nearby and the hotel mentioned it had a little boat shuttle – they kindly called ahead – the shuttle was down the stairs at Marina Corricella – so we flew down, jumped on board and had another wonderful seaside lunch, followed by a swim in the sea. It was one of those days that went from bummer to blissful in only a few hours. I just did not want it to ever end.
Marina Corricella - Procida. Up above the marina is the abandoned prison.

I can’t rave enough about Procida. Night time we went to Il Postino for dinner and there were us and two other tourists – that was it. Admittedly it was end of season and I’m sure the place is cranking in July but the tranquillity was so lovely. I had my red wine and just revelled in the peace while Sam made friends with all the local cats.

 We returned to Naples and had another wonderful couple of days.

Back to Naples on the ferry and a surprise for Sam – I booked us into the EXCELSIOR HOTEL for the night. This is one of those five star places where celebrities from years gone by have stayed. The foyer is all chandeliers, plush carpets, marble, uniformed door staff, grand pianos and look who that is coming down the giant staircase – it’s Sophia Loren (no, not really…). This place is heavy duty glamour. I booked through Venere.com and got a good deal – 215 euros for a seafront room which was almost as big as my house and which was recently renovated. It even had a little balcony so we could pop outside and marvel at the Bay of Naples in front, Vesuvius to the left and Castel dell Ovo to the right.
Castel dell'Ovo from the balcony of my room at the Excelsior
It's Naples oldest castle and was built in the 12th Century.

It was worth every single last euro I paid. It was a great way to say goodbye to Naples and the breakfast buffet even had champagne so I had a glass and toasted all my blessings thus far in this utterly beautiful city.

Sam on the terrace of Castel dell Ovo

WHAT ELSE DID WE DO? We rented one of those crazy looking quad bikes with a canopy roof on Naples’ Lungomare Via Partenope – and promptly crashed it. I videoed the whole thing, us merrily riding along, Sam in the driver’s seat, Sam loses his hoody, forgets he is the driver, takes his hands off the wheel and sends us straight into the gutter at speed. No one was hurt. Just me really embarrassed as it happened right in front of the Immacolatella Fountain at the height of passeggiata and in full view of Naples’ beautiful people who just stared at us ‘Inglese’ touristas as we were in hysterics laughing. Anyway no damage to the bike – just egos.

Rent one of these - seven euro for an hour - just make sure you don't take your hands off the wheel and crash - like we did!
We also had fun checking through the vintage bookstores in Porta Alba. This is the ‘gate’ to the historic centre and is like Diagon Alley (where Harry Potter buys his wizard supplies for those who don’t know). It’s so other-worldly that the staff slightly resemble gothic horror characters and I believe if you poked around enough you’d probably find an original Dante Alighieri in there somewhere. I LOVED this place. It’s just off Piazza Dante if you’re looking for it.

I had a cappuccino at the world famous Café Gambrinus – whose alumni include Oscar Wilde and Bill Clinton – and paid 4.50 euros for my capp but what I really paid for was the plush lounges, potted palms, uniformed staff and an air of 1930s glamour. It reminded me of the Great Gatsby so I just sipped, relaxed, enjoyed and tallied up all the things I didn’t see in Naples – including the Royal Palace which is just opposite the café. D’oh!!!!

View of the streets of Naples from our B&B - yes, it looks like Paris doesn't it!

The wonderful Piazza Plebiscito in Naples
A tiny beach in Naples  on the bay front - looking towards Mergellina on a warm autumn morning

Kids enjoying some street theatre in Piazza Plebescito - a clown with a huge bubble wand and the kids were running around popping the bubbles - it was really lovely

Kathy and Sam - at another of Naples' undiscovered beauty spots - Bacoli

NOTE FOR FUTURE TRAVELLERS - Don't be afraid of Naples. I walked my feet off at all hours of the day and night. Sam and I walked through the historic centre, across Piazza Dante and down Via Toledo at 11.00 at night. The only scary thing we saw was some removalists trying to get furniture into/out of an apartment on the sixth floor using a forklift, wonky type ladder. I expected to see the sofa crash to the street at any minute - it was one of those sights you shake your head later and say 'did I really see that?' We also didn't see any of those legendary piles of rubbish anywhere. Yes, there is graffiti but graffiti is an Italian word anyway, so we didn't let a few tags intrude on our beauty of the city. In fact I think graffiti on an ancient structure is an interesting juxtaposition but that's just me. Naples is a jewel box waiting to be opened. Go on, you won't be sorry.


  1. You certainly have whetted my appetite, Kathy. I'll have fun doing some research, for sure.

    1. Thanks for the comment ytba36! I got a lot of my ideas from Lonely Planet's guide book 'Naples and the Amalfi Coast'. I hope you enjoy your planning - let me know if I can help you further.
      May 2016

  2. Thank you, thank you so much. I am from Naples, and I know far too well how harsh this city can be on tourists, and how many of them decide, after the first look, that it simply isn't worth spending more time to scratch under its surface. At the moment I am sweating with anxiety at the thought of my British in-laws visiting, hoping they won't find it a disaster. But I know how much we have...if only we could keep it cleaner, and make the most out of the amount of culture and history we have to show. So thank you for taking the time to discover it and for letting everyone else know, too! It's heart-warming to see someone love my city so much. At times, it frsutrates me and I can hate it a lot, but it has true beauty. I hope you'll come again. It seems tourists have been steadily increasing every year here and it always makes me happy to see them go about. I always try and help them when I can, and so do most Neapolitans, I believe. Just..thanks :)

    1. Hi Laura, thanks so much for your lovely message. I've been to Naples five times and I look forward to returning again next year. My last visit was with my mum who is 75 and she loved it. I hope your in-laws see the true beauty that lies just beneath the surface and am sure that with yourself as a guide, they will see that beauty.

  3. Thanks for that, will read with great interest. Which hotel do you stay in

    1. Hi Sue, I've stayed in many places in Naples - the Hotel Excelsior, Hotel Miramare, Best Western Hotel Paradisio, Hotel Rex, Orsini B&B and the Hotel Il Convento. I like to try a new place every time I go to Naples. One of my favourites was the Miramare, closely followed by Orsini B&B. Both are on the Lungomare (waterfront) which is a charming neighbourhood.

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  5. Thanks for this, been thru Naples many times on way to Capri but last year was the first time ever staying. Three days, four nights and I am returning again in April 2017 for the same. Beautiful city, so much to see and do. Food is out of this world and people really friendly. We stay at the Hotel Toledo in the Spanish Quarter. Very basic but the staff are incredible. Check it out. Thanks again.

  6. Thanks for your comment. I have the Hotel Toledo bookmarked for a future visit as I've heard it's just as you described. Glad you loved your time in Bella Napoli


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