Baroque grandeur and too much pizza in Naples
Naples is in my blood. Along with Sicily, it’s one of the areas my family emigrated from in the late 19th century. Neapolitan cuisine defined the meaty ragù my great-grandmother cooked every Sunday, the city’s famed presepe (Nativity scene) came out each holiday season, and, for better or worse, colorful dialectal profanities and hand gestures peppered our conversations. And yet, until now, I’ve never stepped foot south of Rome.
So, before I tackle the resplendent beauty of the Amalfi Coast, I have to pay my respects to Southern Italy’s largest city. I awake at the bayfront Romeo Hotel, where I have a perfect view of the hilltop Castel Sant’Elmo fortress and countless balconies strung with drying laundry. While I could spend the day down in the hotel’s subterranean spa, the place is filled with details that practically beg me to explore the city. “Go check out some antiquities!” my room’s lava stone vase implores. “See what all that Pompeii fuss is about,” demands the Andy Warhol print of Mount Vesuvius at reception.
Walking shoes on, I head for the 162-year-old Gran Caffè Gambrinus, an Art Nouveau jewel box where I order a pistachio cream–topped espresso and one of the city’s signature sfogliatelle, a crisp, seashell-shaped pastry filled with orange-scented ricotta. The café is a great place to participate in the tradition of il caffè sospeso (“suspended coffee”), which became popular amid the economic hardships of World War II. The idea is to “pay it forward,” not with a kind word or a good deed, but by literally paying for the next customer’s cup of coffee.