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City guide to Naples

As part of an Italian city guide series, Decanter heads to Naples to bring you the best of the wine scene in Campania's regional capital.

Campania’s regional capital Naples has an air of excitement about it, a palpable energy – anarchic at times – that makes it unique among Italian cities. Living right next to a potentially active volcano (Vesuvius) can do that. Eclectic architecturally, this strategic port on the Bay of Naples has been shaped by its many histories, from ancient Greek and Roman times through myriad periods of occupation, to its role as one of Europe’s major cultural centres from the 16th-18th centuries. It was a capital of the Bourbon Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until Italy was unified in 1860.

Greek vines landed in Italy near Naples in the 8th century BC, and from there spread throughout the peninsula. Wine was an integral part of Roman culture and at Pompeii traces can still be seen in vineyards replanted using the Roman grid. The Campania region is home to many of southern Italy’s most important grape varieties, from whites Fiano and Greco di Tufo to the robust red Aglianico, used in Taurasi. Minor varieties that grew on volcanic soils survived phylloxera and are now being rediscovered, including Falanghina and Piedirosso. Vines are grown throughout the region, with wines produced in every terrain, from the Amalfi Coast to the high hills of Irpinia and the Cilento.

Where to stay

Naples is best explored on foot: just leave your Rolex at home. To make things easier, stay at one of the B&Bs in the House in Naples group, in the city centre, which offer environments more homey than the grand seafront hotels.

Where to eat

Naples was forged by the noble classes but its popular food culture owes more to its less well-off. Pizza began life as a humble circle of baked dough smeared with a little tomato sauce and folded into quarters just like a handkerchief, ‘a fazzoletto’, for easy eating in the street.

There are dozens of great pizzerias in Naples. Gino Sorbillo Lungomare, on Via Partenope, offers sourdough pizza along the seafront. At 50 Kalò (50kalò.it), Ciro Salvo is a modernist featuring top quality ingredients in his artisanal pizzas. For a more refined dinner, Aria has one Michelin star and a chef, Paolo Barrale, who spent more than a decade cooking at Feudi di San Gregorio winery in Irpinia. On offer are two tasting menus.

For an authentic osteria with heirloom recipes, drive east from Naples to Sant’Anastasia, one of the towns at the foot of Vesuvius. ’E Curti is named ‘the short ones’ in dialect for the late brothers Luigino and Antonio Ceriello, who were little people in the circus before they retired to run the family osteria. Traditional dishes feature the ingredients of the volcano, including pointy, intense del piennolo tomatoes. My favourite is spaghetti ’o sicchje ra munnezza, which translates as ‘garbage pail pasta’, combining toasted hazelnuts with walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, olives and piennolo tomatoes in a sauce unlike any other.

Where to drink

The best way to taste wine in Naples is at an enoteca, meaning both wine shop and wine bar. Chic but relaxed Enoteca Ebbrezza di Noè (@lebbrezza_di_noe) is in the affluent Chiaia neighbourhood, which covers a long stretch of the seafront. The wine list features many Campanians, accompanied by some delicious food. Lovers of natural wines will be happiest at Vineria Bandita (@vineriabandita), the first enoteca dedicated to these wines in the south of Italy. Naples is also an aperitivo town: cocktails are a serious proposition and nowhere more so than at the jewel-box L’Antiquario (@lantiquario_napoli), one of the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2022.

Places to visit

Northwest of Naples, the volcanic Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields) are producing mineral, exciting wines from white Falanghina and red Piedirosso grapes. La Sibilla, has high vineyards overlooking the gulfs of Pozzuoli and Naples. Cantine Astroni’s are on the Astroni crater, with wines made in clay amphorae and barrels.

The Farnese Hercules statue

Insider tip

Don’t miss the city’s world-class Museo Archeologico Nazionale as it houses the treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum in mosaic floors and painted frescoes, removed from the excavations for safekeeping. Among the stunning depictions of sea creatures and forest hunts are many showing vines and grape bunches: the ancient Romans loved their wine. Both excavation sites are day trips from Naples.

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