Make your way to Italy this summer (or are you already there?) and you’ll see swarms of Americans. They’re sipping Aperol spritzes on the Amalfi Coast, sweating in the Colosseum, road tripping through the Tuscan countryside. But they are noticeably absent in the country’s third-largest city, Naples. And they’re missing out.
It is, in case you didn’t know, the birthplace of the pizza, reason enough to make the trip. The crust is thin, soft and chewy yet never soggy.
A simple sauce of San Marzano tomatoes is applied to the dough, topped with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil. One should never set you back more than 7 Euros.
After significant research, we can definitively say that the best we had was at Antica Pizzeria di Matteo and L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, of Eat, Pray, Love fame (pro tip: avoid the long line and order from the bar across the street; they have an arrangement).
And while there is plenty more food to be eaten in the city — piles of fried seafood, gelato, tripe for the brave — the allure of Naples extends far beyond the edible.
The city has a rare palpable energy and passion; it feels like real Italy. Apartments are small, and much of life is conducted on the streets. It’s crowded, loud, smelly and colorful. When we visited, it was elaborately decorated with blue and white streamers, evidence of Naples’ winning its first Serie A soccer title in more than three decades.
Speaking of soccer, the city is famously obsessed with Diego Maradona– and in many Catholic street shrines you’ll find photos of the Argentine soccer star next to religious figures. Maradona began playing for Naples in 1984, when the city was still downtrodden and dangerous — a stigma that despite significant changes, it has trouble shedding. Maradona himself grew up in poverty, and according to a local guide, was the first person to ever show locals that they could “become something.” He’s still called the God of Naples, and in addition to the shrines you will find his face quite literally everywhere — street art, socks, shirts, magnets.
And there’s more. Naples sits on the Mediterranean, which is best viewed from the lively Caracciolo promenade — note the volcano Mount Vesuvius in the background. It’s 15 miles from Pompeii and two hours from Rome via high-speed train. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with medieval churches, and home to the catacombs of San Gennaro, ancient Roman walls and four castles. Museum lovers can spend a day at the National Archaeological Museum.
It’s also a perfect place to simply roam the streets, and soak in the surroundings. Journalist Lilian Whiting said it best: “Rome is stately and impressive, Florence is all beauty and enchantment, Genoa is picturesque, Venice is a dream city but Naples is simply — fascinating.”
So dear reader, next time you head to Italy, consider Naples for a night or two, even if it’s just on your way to Positano.