A FEAST OF DELIGHTS; Italy's Cinderella City It May Be, but Naples Is a Place to Have a Ball, Says VICTORIA ALLEN

Daily Mail (London), July 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

A FEAST OF DELIGHTS; Italy's Cinderella City It May Be, but Naples Is a Place to Have a Ball, Says VICTORIA ALLEN


Byline: VICTORIA ALLEN

SEE Naples and die, the saying goes. And as my taxi hurtled through the city at breakneck speed, the excited driver shouting animatedly into his mobile phone, I feared that is exactly what I would do.

Somehow he managed simultaneously to speak, gesture, smoke and steer while completely oblivious to the wincing passenger fast developing whiplash in his back seat.

Cars glanced past, within inches of hitting us, their drivers blaring their horns.

It was an alarming introduction to a frenetic city - noisy, yes, dirty, yes, dangerous, maybe - but an awful lot of fun.

Even before stepping into my taxi I had been prepared to find Naples overwhelming. Everyone I spoke to had a warning about this Cinderella city, seen as the poor relation of big sisters Rome and Milan.

I was told to expect the worst - crime and unemployment, beggars, chaos, and rubbish piling up in the street. Luckily, it was election time and the politicians had to keep the streets clean.

I saw few signs of crime and meeting a beggar was one of the best memories of my trip. He sat at the side of a street, with a golden retriever by his side and as I looked more closely at the old dog sleeping in the sun I saw, nestled in his fur, a family of ducklings. Perched on his back was a white duck.

Yes, Naples does lack the flawless beauty of other Italian destinations. The streets are grubby and busy, narrow lanes throng with people on scooters, in crowds or enjoying an espresso.

The architecture, which is simply astounding, is also pretty dilapidated, with scars of the Second World War when Naples was Italy's most bombed city.

You could look at the washing hung out to dry across every alleyway and building, and conclude this is a place which is not trying its best.

But for me, it was the best thing about pretension-free Naples. A few days there feels like living in the city, rather than being simply a tourist. With so many visitors lured away by nearby Capri, the Amalfi coast and Pompeii, those who do stay are shown the best of old-fashioned Neapolitan hospitality.

That means food - and a staggering amount of it. A Neapolitan wedding, I was told, lasts at least eight hours simply to get through up to a dozen courses of the meal. Everywhere I went I was plied with pizza, pastries, and espresso. Every afternoon I needed a lengthy siesta to recover and I put on 4lb during my short trip. The most sumptuous feast I enjoyed was at a hotel not far from the Naples ring road, but which seemed a world away.

The Hotel Agave - surrounded by green fields and silence - serves only local food. Fresh vegetables, newly caught seafood and sparkling white wine made with grapes from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, on the city's edge. …

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