Naples, Italy

 

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Naples is a city in Southern Italy, sitting in the eye line of the imposing still-active volcano, Mount Vesuvius.
I spent 4 days in Naples, and if I’m being totally honest, I would not return for this length of time again. For a stopover on the way to the Amalfi Coast, its perfect and two days here would be enough to do it justice.
There are a few reasons why I would not return in any hurry. Firstly, I found the city to be very dirty. The Italian economy is under a lot of strain and this is certainly evident in Naples. The streets and pavements were very unclean, not helped either by many also being in disrepair. As well as this, there is a great deal of pollution in Naples. There appears to be far too many cars for the city to cope with, resulting in a lot of traffic jams and fumes, which, after a day in the city, leaves you with a headache. I found there was just a lack of green space to escape from it all.
Finally, there is A LOT of construction. Everywhere. The city of Naples is currently installing a new metro system but when digging down, they keep stumbling onto new archaeological finds. This means walkways are often hard to navigate as they are covered in boarding.
However, it does have charm, particularly on the waterfront, and I would recommend stopping by if you’re in the area, even if its just for a night. I have rounded up the highlights of my trip for you so you can pick and choose the best bits.

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There are of course the classic ‘must-visits’ in any city. The palace in the Piazza del Plebiscito is one of these. Inside, you will find beautiful ceilings and paintings, and even a theatre. The theatre is quite a statement as the Teatro di San Carlo is just a few metres from the palace, and yet the royals felt they needed one of their very own.

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The monastery is definitely worth a visit if you have a bit more time on your hands. To get there I would recommend taking the funicular from Toledo. Well, you can if it’s working, unlike when I was there when it was under repair. No surprise there… If it is still broken, you can catch the metro from Toledo to Piazza Montesanto where you can then pick up a funicular to the top.
The monastery has a stunning chapel as well as the most incredible nativity scene on show. They also have the old royal boats on display, another quite astonishing exhibit.

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If you haven’t got time to visit the archaeological sites of Pompeii or Herculaneum then a visit to the Museo Nazionale is a must. Here you will find the excavated pieces from the sites which will take you back in time to to that fateful day when the cities were buried under the ash from the Mount Vesuvius eruption. The ash preserved everything as they were, including perishable items such as bread. A history trip worth pursuing.

If you have a day to venture outside the city but don’t have access to a car, then I can recommend the Tramvia. There are numerous Tramvia stops across the city and you can buy your tickets at any newspaper stands advertising the trip. Having done Pompeii on a previous visit to the Amalfi Coast, we opted for a trip to Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. This cost just €20 a person for a bus from Naples to Herculaneum and then from there to Vesuvius and then back to Naples. At each pickup they were bang on time. We opted for this trip as we were not tied to a tour, it was simply just the transport to the sites.

Herculaneum was a fascinating site. It’s much smaller than Pompeii, but this made it much less daunting and meant that you could wander the whole site in a couple of hours unlike Pompeii, which, if you’re short on time, are left just picking a few bits out to visit. Herculaneum is better preserved than Pompeii, with many roofs still standing. There are also many stunning frescoes on the walls in the houses reflecting the wealth of the inhabitants.

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After Herculaneum we made our way to Mount Vesuvius. The drive up the mountain was beautiful and you could see out over the whole bay of Naples. The bus drops you at the closest car park to the top of the volcano, where from there you commence up the final part by foot. I recommend wearing a good pair off trainers for this last part. The walk takes about half an hour, up a rocky path. However, it is totally worth it for the view you get from the top and to peer into the volcano which has smoke coming out from it due the build up of sulphurous gases inside. It is an amazing experience and was my highlight of the trip.

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Of course no blog post would be complete without a recommendation of food! For a cool snack when you’re out and about exploring the city, I can recommend Venchi who do delicious ice creams and sorbet, or Gay Odin. This is a family run chocolate business, and have a couple of small shops in the city. They serve up the most fantastic chocolate ice-cream and I would highly recommend them.

For food, the best place to head at night is the Via Partenope. This is along the waterfront and is where you will find a whole host of restaurants. If you’re looking for a gluten free meal as I do, ‘Fresco’ does a scrumptious gluten free pizza, so good I couldn’t tell the difference. It certainly wasn’t the usual cardboard affair I’m used to.

For lunch I would recommend Gran Gusto on Via Nuovo Marina. This is perfect if you’re near the University or have come in from the port as it just a short walk away from both. Gran Gusto is a food shop similar to WholeFoods, however it has a restaurant upstairs serving up some fabulous foods, and the locals seem to opt for the pizzas. Make sure to give it a visit if you’re in the area.

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Gran Gusto

The best restaurant we found was on the Borgo Marinari. This is a tiny island connected by a cobbled path from the Via Partenope that has an old castle on. Here you can find a smattering of restaurants around a square that feels like a movie set it is so quaint. The restaurant we ate at twice in a row as it was so good, was the Hotel Transatlantico. You can have dinner outside overlooking the marina and they serve up fresh fish. Here I had my favourite meal which was clam spaghetti (gluten free), and I’m still dreaming about it….

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Borgo Marinari

 

All in all, although Naples has its flaws, it is still worth a visit and I hope this post has given you a small insight into the worthy parts to visit.

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Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is a truly breathtaking place to visit, a destination from which you will never want to return. With spectacular coastal scenery and gorgeous food it is of no surprise that this is a popular tourist destination.

Coastline
Coastline

The town of Amalfi itself, famed for its lemons and limoncello, is a fantastic place to visit due to its medieval architecture, quaint shops and of course the Amalfi Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century. The steps leading up to its entrance overlook the ‘Piazza Duomo’, the heart of Amalfi, and a great place to buy a gelato and enjoy the buzz of this town.

Buffalo mozzarella from Ristorante Torre del Saracino
Buffalo mozzarella from Ristorante Torre del Saracino

Another place to visit is the town of Ravello, situated just above the Amalfi coast. If I had to recommend one attraction here, it would be the Villa Rufolo with its stunning gardens overlooking the coast below. If you plan to visit here in summer months, my tip would be to try and get tickets to one of the many concerts that take place in the gardens, a perfect way to while away a balmy evening.

Positano
Positano

The town of Positano is again, a beautiful place to visit. Although it does attract tourists, it certainly has a more traditional Italian feel than the bigger towns like Amalfi. It is the perfect place for a stroll and to browse through the shops, winding their way down to the water front. A delightful place to stop for lunch is in the gardens of the Hotel Palazzo Murat. This hotel was previously a monastery and although in the centre of Positano, upon entering the gardens, the noise of the surrounding streets disappears. This is a perfect place on a hot day with the trees providing a shady, cool place to sit. If you are looking for somewhere lavish to stay, book a room at the nearby ‘Il san Pietro di Positano’. This Relais & Chateaux hotel is not only beautiful, but can also boast of some of the best food in the area.

Waters surrounding Capri
Waters surrounding Capri

If luxury is what you are after, the place to head is the island of Capri where lavish boutiques are in abundance. This is a fantastic place for a day trip and the waters off this island are the colour of turquoise, a place to take a dip amongst the super yachts surrounding Capri. If you are looking to treat yourself, a trip to the newly opened restaurant ‘Mamá’ is certainly in order. This is the second restaurant of the two star Michelin chef, Genarro Esposito, and is a restaurant that you will dream about long after you have left, due to its delectably fresh food that captures Italy in a mouthful.

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, or Lago di Como as it is known in Italian, is located in the Lombardy region of Italy. It is just over an hour from Milan, and is therefore a popular destination for tourists and Italians alike. Lake Como The main town of Como is the biggest on the lake. When looking for a bit more buzz than the quieter villages around the lake can offer, this is the place to come. Here you will find museums, plenty of shops, parks etc. A great thing to do when in Como, is to take the funicular railway to the top of the surrounding mountain upon which sits the village of Brunate. From here you get a spectacular view of the lake and on a clear day, you can even see as far as the alps. Further up the lake are a popular group of villages; Lenno, Tremezzo, Bellagio, Mennagio, and Varenna. Lenno does not have much to offer in terms of shopping, so a good day to visit would be on Tuesday when the local market sets up here. However the reason why Lenno is popular is because of the ‘Villa Balbianello’.

Villa Balbianello
Villa Balbianello

This is a spectacular villa and gardens situated on the cliff of Lenno, reached by a brisk 20 minute walk from Lenno, or by a 3 minute water taxi ride. I would highly recommend this as a place to visit, and if you conquer the 20 minute walk, there is a scrumptious  gelato shop waiting for you upon your return in Lenno! Tremezzo again is a quiet village, with its point of interest being ‘Villa Carlotta’. Inside the villa is a museum, but the gardens are the true highlight. Situated on a slope, the views are breathtaking from the top, with beautifully landscaped gardens to match. Although the gardens are wonderful throughout the year, I visited in October when most plants had already flowered, so if visiting Lake Como in the summer, a trip here is a must. Also in Tremezzo is the iconic ‘Grand Hotel Tremezzo’.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo
Grand Hotel Tremezzo

This hotel oozes style with its sumptuous interior which combine both classic and modern designs perfectly.
The spa here is also of utmost quality, with drop glass windows overlooking the lake from its state of the art hydrotherapy pool.

Menaggio
Menaggio

Menaggio is a larger village than Lenno and Tremezzo with both more shops and more hotels. Half a day here is enough, but a tip would be too leave time for lunch at Hotel Corona Ristorante. This restaurant is positioned in the main piazza under the ‘Hotel Garni Corona’. The restaurant overlooks the lake and serves traditional Italian cuisine. Of all the food I ate in the week I was here, this was some of the best due to its simplicity. Varenna is another village to visit to while away half a day, so my advice would be to spend the morning and lunch in Mennagio, and then make the short ferry trip over to Varenna for the afternoon. Varenna is probably one of the prettiest villages on the lake, and has a charming little walkway around the edge of the lake which connects the two halves of the village together. There are plenty of restaurants, cafés and ice cream shops along the waters edge to stop and enjoy the sunshine and watch the ferries coming in and out.
Varenna

In my opinion, what sets Varenna out from the other villages is its independent artisan shops. Whether this be pottery or watercolour, you are sure to come away with a souvenir from here. Finally, the village of Bellagio, otherwise know as ‘The pearl of Lake Como’. This is a popular tourist destination, so don’t expect the same calmness as the other villages on the lake.

Sunset from Bellagio
Sunset from Bellagio

Famed for its silk production, there is an abundance of shops selling silk scarves and any other item that can possibly be made out of silk! There is plenty to do here from a visit to the ‘Villa Melzi’ gardens to wandering through the romantic cobbled alleyways. A day is certainly needed to experience Bellagio to its full extent, particularly if you intend to include a good bout of shopping. If you are really looking to treat yourself, a visit to the michelin starred restaurant ‘Mistral’ at the ‘Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni’ should most certainly be on the list. The food here is exceptional, and starts from the moment they bring you the bread basket (which is a meal in itself!), the flavours are outstanding.