Naples is a rough jewel meant to be explored. With its gritty neighborhoods and some of the best food in the world, Naples is a real Italian city.
We exited the stratosphere, breezing through fluffy clouds into low altitude, as the landing wheels sprung from our small Lufthansa jet. Just then, through the airplane window, our eyes glanced upon the massive Mount Vesuvius – majestic in its steaming grandeur and the source of power and fertility in Naples.
This article was originally published in 2014 and reflects our initial impressions of the city. We have since returned to Naples multiple times including a one-month visit in 2017, a one-week visit in 2020 and a one-day visit in 2023.
Our Arrival in Naples
We strolled off the plane into the tiny Naples airport, passing by a touristic mozzarella di bufala stand to be greeted by our hotel driver, Pierre. After a short walk through the minuscule (by most airport standards) parking lot, we hopped in Pierre’s car and headed toward our hotel in the center of the city.
On approach, as we drew closer to the ancient buildings, we were caught in a maze of scooters, pedestrians and fellow motorists. The car slowed, and, in what seemed like an interminable trip, we crossed each thoroughfare with increasing slowness like a canoe stuck in a river of tar.
Just then, Pierre asked us if we had been to Italy previously.
“Sure. We were last in Italy a few years ago,” we said. “And where did you visit?” he asked as he patiently drove through the rush hour anarchy. “We visited Rome, Bologna and Florence when we were last here.” we explained. “Oh. Those cities are Italy,” he stated with a cynical French accent.
“Naples is Africa.”
And so it goes for poor, hapless Naples. What was once the second largest city in Europe has been reduced to an afterthought to many travelers, and that’s a shame.
Yes, there’s not a wall untouched by graffiti. Sure, there’s more litter on the ground than there was in Philadelphia in the 1970’s. True, crossing the street, even at a crosswalk, can be a life-risking endeavor.
The long hot summers and pure volcanic slopes of Vesuvio produce some of the best fruits and vegetables the world has to offer from fragrant aromatic basil to the long, plump San Marzano Tomatoes that have become the world’s tomato sauce standard.
Add to that some the world’s best pizza plus amazing pasta and seafood. It’s no wonder that we quickly fell in love with this great, ageless volcanic metropolis that belongs on a one-week Italy itinerary for food travelers who want to visit the best Italian food cities.
During our time in Naples, we saw a resurgence of civic pride. We first noticed this as we strode off Via Foria toward the center of the old city.
We stopped when we noticed some pasta littering the cracks of a small cobblestone street just off the main drag. Of course, we had to take a photo.
To our surprise, our camera snap was greeted by the disapproving glance of a local shop owner. This was not the image he wanted us to share with our American cohorts.
Real Italian City
In a sense, Naples is a real Italian city – the image we in America most closely associate with the boot.
Shop owners sell their wares in the streets as they have for centuries. Women still sweep the ground in front of house stoops. Master craftsmen continue to apply their skills despite the throngs of cruise ship tourists who enter the city every day. And people walk their cats and dogs all over the city.
And while many of those tourists quickly and cautiously breeze through the city on their way to the ruins of Pompeii or to the nearby seaside vistas of Sorrento, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, we were more than happy to stay in Naples. In return, Naples welcomed us like an old yet somewhat sophisticated Italian grandmother.
And so began our ongoing love affair with Naples.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: November 9, 2014