ALTHOUGH we had visited Naples twice before, both were brief and superficial, so we felt we owed Campania’s great city a proper visit.
Our first time was in 2005 when we had spent a few days staying in Pompeii; we had taken a day trip into Naples, enjoyed a bus tour, found the Archaeological Museum closed, and then scooted back to our hotel.
We were back in 2011 as part of a Press delegation, visiting some of the highlights of the Province of Naples. Although we stayed for two nights at the luxurious Hotel Santa Lucia, with spectacular views of the Bay, our only real view of the city was from the windows of a minibus; the image was of streets choked with traffic and strewn with rubbish.
For our 2016 visit, we stayed for eight days in a wonderful Airbnb apartment in Via Duomo, in the heart of the city, and discovered a far happier, healthier and slightly more prosperous Naples than we had seen previously.
All the madness was still in evidence – insane driving, graffiti, noise, street beggars – but the city was far cleaner than in previous years, regeneration was in evidence in many places and there seemed a greater sense of purpose. Stylish, up-market shops abounded; Naples seemed finally to have arrived in the same century as the rest of us.
It is a city crammed with glorious buildings, many of which are in some distress, although fewer than we remembered from previous visits. Wonderful open spaces, like Piazza dei Plebiscito, delivered welcome fresh air and relief from the exhaust fumes pumping from the cars and scooters that so dominate.
Once we had got to grips with the layout of the city centre, we found it pleasantly walkable, but we resorted to the very inexpensive taxis on several occasions, used the excellent, if limited, Metro system once, and had a couple of trips on the Circumvesuviana trains.
Our excursions took us, via Metro, to the Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero district, where we enjoyed majestic views over the city and the Bay, with mighty Vesuvius in the background; by train to the excavations at Herculaneum (Ercolana); by tourist bus to the district of Posillipo; by taxi to the world-class Naples Archaeological Museum; and by train again to Sorrento.
From a visitor standpoint, Campania’s most beguiling sights probably don’t include the city of Naples. Tourists and holidaymakers head to Pompeii and Herculaneum, to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast and Capri.
But until you’ve devoted a little time to southern Italy’s largest city, absorbed a little of its long and unique history and its quirky character, you’ll never really understand what this wonderful country is all about.