Naples is not for first time visitors to Italy. Even I have been wanting to visit Bella Napoli, home of the only real pizza (in my opinion) for a very long time, but, we all know the stories about Naples... pickpockets, trash, mafia... so I wanted to wait to visit to go with someone who knows their way around. Lucky for me, a few Americans living in Pozzuoli came up to Umbria to do a Food & Wine Tour with me and we quickly became friends... and consequently, I got a tour guide for Naples!
We opted to stay in Pozzuoli, a lively little port town just west of Naples. This is a great place to base yourself if you want to ease yourself into the Napoletano experience. Like most towns along the Campanian coast, it is built into steep cliffs. We stayed in a residence at the top of the town, which gives the option of escaping the late night revelry of the port, plus the climb helps you to walk off all of the fried food and pizza that you will inevitably be eating!
You do not need a car once in Pozzuoli. In fact, I discourage it. I haven't seen so many banged up and beaten cars since the last time I drove through North Philly. If you arrive with a car, make sure your hotel has a parking lot (preferably gated... things happen... wheels get stolen...) and just get around (easily) on foot.
Pozzuoli is bursting at the seams with bars, restaurants and pizzerie. In the morning you can enjoy a fantastic brioche or sfogliatella (more on that later) with the best caffè and cappuccino in Italy and an amazing freshly squeezed orange juice - it was mandarino season, so they threw a few of those in as well!
For lunch try one of the seafood restaurants down by the port. Most serve an antipasto misto of cold and hot seafood dishes, accompanied by little balls of fried dough, called zeppollini. You will become extremely acquainted with zeppollini by the end of your stay. Then, if you have room, everyone serves the standard seafood pasta dishes and main courses. Wash it all down with a local Falanghina, the white wine of the area.
If you can stand to eat more food, check out a traditional Pizzeria for the best pizza you will ever have in your life. This is the area where it all started, so you might as well take advantage! We had a Cornucopia (fried dough filled with fried things) before our pizza (which was after an Aperitivo (accompanied by fried things)) to really make sure that we weren't going to go hungry.... don't worry, a limoncello afterwards helps with the digestion (I guess.... ;-) ). We had an especially good time at La Dea Bendata - apart from the amazing pizza, when the owner/head Pizzaiolo, Ciro Coccio found out that we were from Umbria (he makes a special "Taste of Umbria" pizza with products imported from our region), he immediately bumped up our reservation and a table appeared out of nowhere for us - true Neopolitan hospitality!
One caveat about the restaurants in this area: there is always a TV and it is always on. Usually it is muted so that you can hear music but not miss any of the Italian game shows or sporting events that might be happening during your meal. We happened upon one restaurant where the TV was actually off (shocker), but alas, at a certain hour, the music went off and the TV went on, with the volume relatively high because it was time for the news. And by news, I mean all things related to Napoli calcio (the Naples soccer team) with a sprinkling of Formula 1 and motorcyle racing thrown in for good measure. Welcome to Naples.
Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to explore the sites (we were too busy getting from one meal to the next), but there is really a lot to see and do, especially if you are fond of Greek and Roman ruins - Pozzuoli is even home to the 3rd largest Roman amphitheater in Italy.
The port area is great for food shopping. We found a fruttivendolo who was also selling homemade passata (tomato sauce) and preserved peppers. The bakery had wonderful bread as well as local Taralli - which is basically a type of savory biscuit composed of lard, flour, black pepper and almonds. In theory, you could eat tons of these things, but you will feel the lard aspect hit you like a ton of bricks! Nearby the local caseficio (cheese shop) has fresh mozzarella di bufala daily as well as scamorze and provolone. Every morning you can also find the local fishermen with their catch of the day down by the water if you feel like trying a local recipe at home.
Next stop, taking the train to Naples... (to be continued...)
Where to stay: Villa Avellino Hotel Residence