Goethe’s famous advice, “See Naples and die,” can be taken one of two ways. With its history of organized crime, unkind volcanoes and chaos, Naples has indeed been treacherous. But Goethe didn’t mean to equate visiting Naples and dying; he meant the city’s beauty could not be bested. The unspoken follow-up was: “See Naples and die happy.” If only he could see it now.
Chipped into the Mediterranean shore, Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast and to the islands of Capri and Ischia. But it’s not just a throughway—it’s a hub. For true Italophiles, the city has always been every bit as important as Rome, Florence and Venice. Naples has been undergoing a renaissance over the last few years, with several luxury hotels and a crop of new sophisticated restaurants, shops and museums opening their doors. “There is such a contagious energy here now,” says Gianni Lotti, a sommelier who recently opened the chic Cru Do Rè restaurant in the tony Chiaia district. “Naples is very much alive.”
As a trading hub, Naples is adept at incorporating foreigners. The same goes for its cuisine, in which a careful palate can discern French, Spanish and Asian influences in the seafood-heavy canon. Nevertheless, for years Neapolitan cuisine meant staples like spaghetti with clams on the menu and a television blaring the latest S.S.C. Napoli match in the main dining room. When Radici opened, in 2005, locals were skeptical about the minimalist decor and unusual cuisine (dinner, from $55; 268 Riviera di Chiaia; 39-081/248-1100; ristoranteradici.it). But the chef, Carlo Spina, refused to succumb to their hesitancy, and his stubbornness paved the way for other newcomers. Now dishes like ricotta ravioli infused with lemon and drizzled with clam sauce and shrimp-stuffed zucchini flowers topped with paprika keep the place booked days in advance.
One of the most exciting new additions is the year-and-a-half-old Cru Do Rè (dinner, from $70; 11–12 Piazza Vittoria; 39-081/764-5295; crudore.it), the sister restaurant to Gianni Lotti’s A Taverna Dò Rè (dinner, from $45; 2 Fondo di Separazione; 39-081/552-2424; atavernadore.it). Each night is a performance. From the intimate dining room one can watch chef Angelo Carannante hustle in the open kitchen. The menu is presented in gilded picture frames, and the food is no less theatrical. Cru Do Rè combines elements of Eastern cuisine—crudo is essentially sashimi—with fresh Mediterranean products. A lunch menu includes both crudo and cotto (cooked) dishes like swordfish carpaccio with capers and risotto with blue lobster, cannellini beans and lemon zest, while for dinner, the chef’s choice depends entirely on the luck of the local fishermen. Fresh shrimp in Champagne tempura over a bed of puréed chickpeas might be on offer one night; the next, bottarga and broccoli risotto with local lupini clams.
Even with these newcomers, the most fashionable place in town is still ten-year-old Terrazza Calabritto (dinner, from $45; 1A/B Piazza Vittoria; 39-081/240-5188; terrazzacalabritto.it). A meal here is best begun with a Champagne-based aperitivo made with seasonal fresh fruit at the intimate ground-floor bar, where the only way in is to have a coveted dinner reservation upstairs. (These are most easily made through connections: a concierge at one of the better hotels or a friend of regular customers.) The terrace tables upstairs overlook the sea; the eclectic menu changes frequently but always incorporates local ingredients, often with exotic spices. Red tuna, for instance, is laced with saffron and fresh tomatoes from Sorrento. Risotto is studded with shrimp, radicchio and coriander. The owners recently opened the similarly scenic Ristorante Terrazza Tiberio (dinner, from $85; 11–15 Via Croce; 39-081/978-7111; capritiberiopalace.it) on nearby Capri, just a ferry ride away.
Arts & Culture
While Naples may no longer be the cultural center it was during the 1500s, art is once again ascendant. The six-year-old Museo Madre (79 Via Settembrini; museomadre.it) is easily one of the best contemporary art museums in the country. Behind the Via Duomo, the Museo Madre spans three floors of a 19th-century palazzo and features permanent exhibitions from major contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Francesco Clemente. A recent exhibition showcasing modern art about Naples, called “ ‘O Vero! Naples in the Viewfinder,” included work like Luciano Romano’s surreal portraits of Neapoli-tans, as well as gritty black-and-white photographs from the 1980s, the nadir of Naples’s criminal years. And through June, “Repetition is Truth” displays British artist Rachel Howard’s brilliant series based on the Stations of the Cross.
Farther afield, on Naples’s outskirts, the grand Capodimonte Museum (Porta Grande Via Capodimonte) is brimming with the personal collections of Italy’s most influential family, the Farneses. Built on the grounds of the royal Bourbon palace in 1738, the museum was once filled with visiting nobility. Today the museum’s estate rooms feature paintings from masters like Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.
Closer to the waterfront, the newly renovated Teatro di San Carlo (98 Via San Carlo; teatrosancarlo.it) is Europe’s longest-running opera house and a unesco World Heritage site, commissioned by King Charles of Bourbon in 1737. The opulent theater not only survived a massive fire in 1816 and World War II bombardments, but it also never closed. The show, even in Naples, must go on. In May, the Teatro di San Carlo company presents Giuseppe Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes, with a stunning new set by Ezio Frigerio and costumes by Franca Squarciapino. But even more important than the arias is the lively discussion of the performance at the 19th-century Caffè Gambrinus (1–2 Via Chiaia; 39-081/417-582; caffegambrinus.com) that invariably follows the show. Champagne and arguments flow freely.
Past and the present merge in Naples, especially at retail. Along the Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli are antiques shops specializing in Baroque and Rococo furniture. Antichita’ Costantinopoli (100 Via S. Maria di Costantinopoli; 39-081/447-004) is one of the best, with antique monogrammed silver, picture frames, book and other rare treasures from Neapolitan homes. For vintage collections, Esprit Nouveau (20 Via Calabritto; 39-081/215-3793; esprit-nouveau.it) is a showcase for Alberta Saladino, who specializes in out-of-production furniture and fabrics. Talarico (4B Vico due Porte a Toledo; mariotalarico.it) is also worth visiting for its handcrafted umbrellas, produced since 1860 and made with materials like chestnut and cherrywood.
For quintessentially Neapolitan handmade hats, visit Eddy Monetti (45 Via dei Mille for men; 8 Piazza Santa Caterina for women; eddymonetti.it), which opened in the 1920s selling fedoras to local gentlemen but is now a favorite of the international jet set, including characters as disparate as Arnold Schwarzenegger and King Juan Carlos of Spain. Marinella (287 Riviera di Chiaia; marinellanapoli.it), meanwhile, has been making intricate seven-fold ties and dress shirts for presidents and kings at its shop on the waterfront since 1914. Ulturale (115 Via Carlo Poerio; ulturalecravatte.it) cuts just five ties out of each bolt of its rich vintage cloth.
Long renowned as one of the best tailors in the world, Mariano Rubinacci (26 Via Filangieri; marianorubinacci.net) is best known for the perfect drape of his bespoke suits. Now his son Luca has launched the brand’s first ready-to-wear men’s line, which features colorful cashmere sports coats, five-pocket jeans, striped shirts and funky suspenders, all sold at exclusive boutiques in London, Singapore and Italy. Luigi Borelli (luigiborrelli.com) still handstitches the lapels on his bespoke suits, a corner many tailors cut years ago. Locals buy their shirts straight from the Borelli tailors, who also make hotel calls by appointment.
Stylish women on their way to Capri or Ischia stop at Livio De Simone (15 Via Domenico Morelli; liviodesimone.com) for its hand-painted flowing summer dresses, while menswear master Anna Matuozzo (26 Viale Gramsci; annamatuozzo.it) now offers her famous custom-fit dress shirts with delicate handstitching for women, too.
The three-year-old, ultramodern Romeo Hotel (rooms, from $300; 45 Via Cristoforo Colombo; 39-081/017-5001; romeohotel.it) is the latest luxury hotel in the city. Towering over the port, the location could charitably be called industrial-chic, but once inside its sleek glass-and-slate lobby, the change is abrupt. Commissioned paintings by Sergio Fermariello, Lello Esposito and Francesco Clemente line the lobby walls while in one corner sits a glass-encased cigar bar. High above the street, a rooftop relaxation pool, a brand-new spa and a fitness center are perfect oases from the bustle of the city. Dining options at Hotel Romeo abound, from the elegant Comandante restaurant (dinner, from $115) to the highly acclaimed Japanese spot, Zero Sushi Bar (dinner, from $65). A new Skybar and restaurant, with sweeping views of the city, opened in April.
For the most glamorous Neapolitan grande dame, choose a hotel that lines the stately, seafront Via Partenope, overlooking the sea, the quaint marina and the giant volcano towering over the city to the south. The Grand Hotel Vesuvio (rooms, from $325; 45 Via Partenope; 39-081/764-0044; vesuvio.it) is the best of the lot. Its staff is legendary for remembering the smallest details, from what fruit to put in the welcome basket to which limoncello guests prefer. Of its 160 bedrooms and 21 suites, those on the second floor, replete with 19th-century tapestries, are the most luxurious.
Offering sea and volcano views is the 141-year-old Grand Hotel Parker’s (rooms, from $425; 135 Corso Vittorio Emanuele; 39-081/761-2474; grandhotelparkers.it), which has very large rooms with Charles X, Louis XIV and Empire antiques, as well as rich handmade fabrics. There is also an excellent Neapolitan restaurant, George’s (dinner, from $100), and the hotel’s owners have a well-known vineyard, Villa Matilde, in the Campania region, to which they will happily arrange day trips for guests.
For the best views, however, one must leave Naples. High above the city in the Vomero district is the former monastery San Francesco al Monte (rooms, from $200; 328 Corso Vittorio Emanuele; 39-081/423-9111; sanfrancesco almonte.it). With the exception of a swimming pool carved into the rocky cliff, the lush, terraced grounds haven’t changed since monks occupied the place in the 16th century. The property’s 45 rooms vary greatly, but number 45 is the best in the house. Originally used as a contemplation room for the monastery, it’s the most private and plush. From the sweeping balcony, one can look upon the sea, the city and Mt. Vesuvius. It’s not a bad place to reflect on the new Naples unfolding below.
Essential Viewing: Ieri, Oggi, Domani
New York has Audrey Hepburn. Paris has Jeanne Moreau. Naples has Sophia Loren. First discovered in a Neapolitan beauty pageant (she didn’t win), Loren lent the beleaguered city a sultry cinematic face in films such as Vittorio De Sica’s L’oro di Napoli (1954), It Started in Naples (1960) and Ieri, Oggi, Domani (1963
), in which she plays, among other roles, Adelina of Naples, a black-market cigarette girl with a heart of gold.
Shirt to Buy
Anna Matuozzo and her team of seamstresses use only the highest-quality fabrics for their dress shirts, available either prêt-à-porter or on a bespoke basis. From $495; annamatuozzo.it.