Nadia Shira Cohen
By INGRID K. WILLIAMS
Published: January 9, 2013
THE southern Italian city of Naples, capital of the Campania region, has a reputation sullied by corruption and crime, both petty and organized. But change is afoot. A new mayor has ushered in initiatives to clean up the city, beginning with the unclogging of streets by disposing of uncollected trash and redirecting chaotic traffic flows. A thriving contemporary art scene — in museums, galleries, and even metro stations — is propelling the city’s cultural revival. Make no mistake: problems persist, but those who remain aware of the vices in this spirited, ancient city will be rewarded by its virtues.
Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times
Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times
1. SEASIDE STROLL
In April, cars were banned from the waterfront streets Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope, officially transforming these traffic-choked arteries into a pleasant pedestrian lungomare, or seaside promenade. Stroll along it to take in the marvelous views of Mount Vesuvius, the island of Capri in the distance, and the splendid sunset-painted sky. Then cut through the Villa Comunale park and ring the buzzer to gain entrance to the inner courtyard where the art gallery Studio Trisorio (Riviera di Chiaia, 215; 39-081-414-306; studiotrisorio.com) is hidden. The gallery, which unveiled a new exhibition space in late 2011, hosts a revolving slate of provocative shows including, currently, a Rebecca Horn exhibition.
2. CREATIVE PAIRINGS
Some of the most innovative food in town is being served at Squisitezze (Via Costantinopoli, 100; 39-081-401-578;lastanzadelgusto.com), a cheese bar and convivial osteria. The creative menu — drawn from the chef Mario Avallone’s upstairs restaurant, the more formal La Stanza del Gusto — is scrawled in pastels across chalkboards on the walls, lending the space a lighthearted vibe that carries onto the plates. Don’t miss the delicious arancino di mare, a fried fist-size sphere with a brick-red crust that cracks open to reveal a creamy core of rice and seafood. There’s also a fine list of quality craft beers, including many from the Campania-based microbrewery Karma, that will prepare you for the birramisù, a reimagining of the classic espresso-fueled dessert. Dinner for two, about 50 euros, about $66 at $1.32 to the euro.
3. CHIAIA CRAWL
The Chiaia neighborhood is studded with art galleries and boutiques, but it’s also the city’s prime night-life zone. Stop at Barril (Via Giuseppe Fiorelli, 11), a wine bar that opened in July with an all-white color scheme and candles atop wood-crate tables. If it gets too packed on the bar’s covered patio, head down the street to Enoteca Belledonne (Vico Belledonne a Chiaia, 18; 39-081-403-162; enotecabelledonne .com), where locals simply slip outside to the narrow alleyways to do their wine-sipping when the crowd swells. End the night in a relaxed atmosphere at Trip (Via Giuseppe Martucci, 64; 39-081-1956-8994;tripnapoli.com), a locale that defies labels. The multiroom venue hosts diverse events — children’s play groups in the morning, theme parties at night — and has plenty of overstuffed couches on which to linger with a cocktail after dark.
4. NEAPOLITAN DESIGNS
Serious sartorialists flock to Naples for Italy’s top tailors, but bespoke suits require time, and multiple fittings. For an instant update, choose a handmade printed silk tie from the venerated Neapolitan clothier E. Marinella (Riviera di Chiaia, 287A; 39-081-245-1182;marinellanapoli.it). For local style of a different variety, browse the colorful, contemporary housewares at the shop of Raro (Via Martucci, 52; 39-081-761-8461; raro-design.com), a hometown interior design firm.
5. RED SAUCE, WHITE GELATO
Get your red sauce fix with the natives at the no-frills La Cantina di Via Sapienza (Via Sapienza, 40-41; 39-081-459-078; cantinadiviasapienza.it): the polpette al sugo — a trio of plump meatballs — swim in the stuff (5 euros). Make it a complete meal by starting with the Aum Aum pasta, prepared simply with tomatoes and eggplant (4 euros). For dessert, take a funicular to the hilltop neighborhood of Vomero, where the artisanal gelateria Bianco Bio (Via Enrico Alvino, 13; 39-081-558-3885; biancobio.com) has been scooping all-organic gelato since opening in 2011. Pair an unconventional flavor, like pine nuts and sesame, with the heavenly almond.
6. ACRONYM ART
The city’s rich artistic holdings diversified with the opening of the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or Madre (Via Settembrini, 79; 39-081-1931-3016;museomadre.it; 7 euros), a sprawling palazzo that houses works from big names of the contemporary art world, including Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons. Through April 1, the museum is also hosting an exhibition celebrating Sol LeWitt. Across town, the ever-rotating exhibitions hosted in the galleries at the Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, or PAN (Via dei Mille, 60; 39-081-795-8604; palazzoartinapoli.net), keep the city’s offerings even more current. This pink 17th-century palazzo has recently displayed an interactive sound project from local art students and works plucked from an international photography festival.
7. BACKSTAGE PASS
The Teatro di San Carlo is among the oldest and most beautiful opera houses in Europe. For a peek behind the scenes, visit Memus, the Museum and Historical Archives of the Teatro di San Carlo (Palazzo Reale; 39-06-3996-7050; memus.org; 6 euros), filled with operatic history, antique costumes and a space to screen performances in 3-D. Entry is via Palazzo Reale on the expansive Piazza del Plebiscito. After this audiovisual appetizer, swing around the corner for the main course: an opera, ballet or concert in the regal theater itself (Via San Carlo, 98/F; 39-081-797-2111; teatrosancarlo.it).
8. PIE GUY
You can’t visit Naples, the birthplace of pizza, without eating at least one pie. Despite being damaged by a fire last April, Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32; 39-081-446-643; sorbillo.it), one of the city’s top pizzerias, is again as busy as ever; expect a mosh pit swarming the entrance. Resist the temptation to defect to the other, less crowded pizzeria called Sorbillo on the same street, because it’s worth waiting for this traditional pizza margherita (3.30 euros): tomato, mozzarella and basil on a soft, chewy crust that inevitably will sag over the edge of your plate onto the table.
9. SUNDAY SWEETS
Knock back a caffè nocciolato (2.50 euros) at Il Vero Bar del Professore (Piazza Trieste e Trento, 46; 39-081-403-041; ilverobardelprofessore.com), a cafe renowned for this rich hazelnut cream coffee. Then hop over to the nearby Galleria Umberto I to visit La Sfogliatella Mary (Galleria Umberto I; 39-081-402-218), a kiosk specializing in sfogliatelle, local pastries with a sweet ricotta and candied-citrus filling. Order a warm sfogliatella riccia (1.70 euros) and savor the crisp shell-shaped delicacy while admiring the architecture of the grand fin-de-siècle galleria.
10. HALLOWED HOUSES
Leverage the breakfast sugar rush to fuel a survey of the city’s showpiece artworks. A short walk up Via Toledo is the elegant Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano (Via Toledo, 185; 39-081-791-7233; gallerieditalia.com; 4 euros), where the second-floor gallery displays Caravaggio’s recently restored painting “The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula,” and, through March, a pair of works by Andy Warhol depicting Mount Vesuvius. Continue to the centro antico to see another masterpiece of Caravaggio: “The Seven Works of Mercy” on the altar in Pio Monte della Misericordia (Via dei Tribunali, 253; 39-081-446-944;piomontedellamisericordia.it; 6 euros); for the best vantage point, take the elevator upstairs to the picture gallery. Round out the tour at the nearby Museo Cappella Sansevero (Via Francesco De Sanctis, 19/21; 39-081-551-8470; museosansevero.it; 7 euros), where the marble sculpture of a veiled Christ is spellbindingly realistic.
11. TUNNEL TOUR
A network of tunnels and catacombs lurks beneath the city, but the most exciting thing underground these days is the subway, where contemporary artworks have been installed in 13 metro stations as part of the continuing “Art Stations” initiative. For a quick tour of some of the newest additions, start at the Università station, which opened in 2011 with slick candy-colored passageways that feel like a video game come to life. Then take the metro to the Toledo station, whose September inauguration unveiled a corridor with wall panels that give the impression of a moving sea as you pass, a spectacular conical ceiling aperture that funnels natural light down from the sky, and other gorgeous mosaics.
IF YOU GO
The Hotel Palazzo Decumani (Via del Grande Archivio, 8; 39-081-420-1379;palazzodecumani.com) occupies a recently renovated 20th-century town house in the historic center, within walking distance of many sights. The hotel’s 28 simple, stylish rooms, set around a grand spiral staircase, start at 100 euros.
The slick 83-room Romeo Hotel (Via Cristoforo Colombo, 45; 39-081-017-5001;romeohotel.it) has loads of amenities including Hermès chairs and Philippe Starck sofas, a rooftop pool, a 10,000-square-foot spa, a sushi bar and a restaurant that earned a new Michelin star in 2013. Doubles from 220 euros.