Hotels in Naples, Italy
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Naples: A city-break with all the toppings
At first view, the chaotic urban sprawl that is modern-day Naples lacks the flamboyance of Venice, the refinement of Florence and the gravitas of ancient Rome. However, if you scratch under the surface, like scraping off the lava in nearby Pompeii, you'll unearth some glittering treasures, including incredible ancient artefacts, architecture and Renaissance art. You'll also discover a vibrant culture evolving from its ancient Greek past, when in 470 BC the 'new town', Néapolis was founded. On the Bay of Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, a break to the birthplace of pizza will give you many special memories to take-away.
Neapolitan to go
Naples can be reached in just two and a half hours from Rome on the A1 motorway, or in an hour and a quarter by train. The city also welcomes flights from around the world to its international airport nearby. If you book a hotel in the centre, you can get there easily in just 15 minutes' by car or taxi.
Whilst there are many hotels near Naples' Airport itself, you may find it easier and a lot more fun to stay in the town and use the bus service running from near the railway station.
The tasty base
If you're really looking for an authentic Neapolitan experience, you'll need to book into one of the many hotels in Naples' old town, Centro Storico. Whilst this fascinating district has deservedly acquired UNESCO World Heritage Site status, it is also in a busy city – the third most populated in Italy.
Slicing Centro Storico in two is a narrow avenue that everyone knows as Spaccanapoli. A wander along it from the Piazza del Gesù Nuovo brings you past colourful markets, bustling squares, vibrant pizzerias and several central hotels.
Naples gave pizzas to the world and you can't leave without devouring an authentic Neapolitan pizza. How do you know it is genuine? That it is cooked in a wood-fire oven with proper buffalo mozzarella drizzling on top? Well you could ask for a 'Pizza Vera Napoletana' or look out for the initials DOC - Denominazione d'Origine Controllata. Neapolitan cuisine is a lot more rich and varied than simply pizzas though. It is also well known for the quality of its pasta, sea-food and coffee.
Just off Spaccanapoli, by the impressive Baroque church and cloister of San Gregario Armenio is one of Naples' star attractions. People flock for miles here to see its traditional miniature nativity figures. It is very popular near Christmas when there is a real festive feel to the place and lots of animations. If you feel tempted to acquire a figure yourself from the many vendors, make sure you choose an authentic model and not one made in China!
The big flavours
Naples is literally packed with churches to visit with grand facades and adorned with art, such as the wonderful Basilica di Santa Chiara. A pilgrimage must be made to the thirteenth century cathedral – Duomo di San Gennaro if only to see its sublime frescoes and 17th century chapel, displaying a skull of the city's patron saint in a silver bust.
If you have to choose one to see though – make sure it is the Cappella Sansevero near the Chiesa Santa Maria. Although this pretty Baroque chapel is not the most important in Naples, it contains one of the city's most awe-inspiringly incredible statues, Cristo Velato. You may find it difficult to imagine that the ultra-realistic veil covering the body of Christ is not a made of fine fabric, but delicate marble.
If you want to experience some real passionate Italian culture, though you can of course visit the opera. You may think that this is more suited to Verona or Milan. However, it may surprise you to know that Naples' Teatro di San Carlo is the oldest continuously active public opera house in the world! Even if you haven't the time for a performance, it is well-worth taking a tour around this fascinating building dating back to 1737.
Knead to breathe?
If the busy centre of Naples is getting a bit too claustrophobic, one option you've got is to go underground for some relief. Naples has a massive maze of 80 kilometres of tunnels and caverns, including the basement of a Roman theatre. There is even a little-known and eerie underground bunker showing what life was like for the Neapolitans in World War II at the Galleria Borbonica, just off the huge Piazza del Plebiscito, and some fascinating catacombs by the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte.
The palace itself, to the north of Naples, has a superb collection of masterpieces from Tizano to Botticelli and Rafaello, including Carvaggio's immense “Flagellation of Christ”.
Also to the north of town is the National Archaeological museum – one of the most important in the world, packed full of relics from Pompeii and other local archaeological sites.
If you really want to take it easy though, you can take a romantic stroll from the Castel dell'Ovo, the city's oldest standing fortification, past the main royal palace and along the pedestrianised Via Carracciolo e Lungomare. Without the constant beeping of cars and scooters flying by, this promenade offers you the most captivating views over the Bay of Naples out to Capri. It is little wonder then that some of the most luxury hotels and fine restaurants in Naples are situated here.