Welcome back to the second part of our guide to Naples. You’ve already read about days one and two here. We pick up were we left off with a day out to Pompeii and Vesuvius. Oh wait, at least that’s what should have happened on day three. We got out the maps and took a trip around the city and did a ton of other stuff instead. Our Pompeii blog will follow this one.
Day Three – Catacombs, Castles and Coffee
As you you already know we were supposed to go visit Pompeii and Vesuvius today. Our hotel receptionist made us aware that there was a one day train strike. Instead we changed our plans and hit up Naples centre. First on the list of things to do, breakfast. Before we go anywhere we always do a bit of research and look for the best places to eat and drink.
Caffè Gambrinus is a historic coffeehouse in the centre of Naples on the corner of Piazza del Plebiscito. It has been around since 1860. Famous for its pastries, coffee and cocktails it is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. We always try to avoid the touristy places. Sometimes there are exceptions.
I had a cappuccino, this is acceptable before 10am, and a Sfogliatella. Something else I’ve been dying to try for a long time. Stuffed with a sweet ricotta cream, candid orange peel and dusted with icing sugar. These things are a work of art and so incredibly tasty. It wasn’t to be the last one i ate. You have to try one if you visit you’d be crazy not to. Our coffees here cost €5 each and both our pastries cost €5.50 totalling €21. Or so we thought.
We got the bill and payed the waiter €30 expecting the €9 back. He only gave us change for €25 and disappeared off back into the cafe. We have no idea if there was a hidden ‘coperto‘ table charge or if he just fancied keeping a €5 tip for himself. It wouldn’t put us off going again but we would definitely be more aware of this happening.
On the list of places to visit today was the Catacombs of San Gennaro. An incredible ancient underground Christian burial and worship site. Carved out of porous stone the oldest part dates back to the 3rd and 4th century. You can only enter the tombs by guided tour which cost €9 each and the ticket is valid for 12 months. This also includes entry into the catacombs of San Gaudioso. You wont find any bones or remains here as they were all moved to the Fontanelle cemetery (Cimitero delle Fontanelle). You learn all about this during your visit. The story about what happened next to the bones is a creepy one, i wont spoil it for you. Tours run every hour or so, a good reason to check out the gift shop and cafe while you wait, time for more coffee, €1 for a Caffè (espresso).
After the catacombs we took a taxi back into the centre and headed straight to the Basilica di Santa Chiara. A monastery in the heart of the city. When we arrived the church was closed for worship but we could still visit the famous Cloister of the Clarisses.
A place so peaceful you soon forget you’re in a city as loud and as busy as Naples. Covered in hundreds of brightly hand painted Majolica tiles and frescoes this place is stunning. It also houses a museum, small excavation site and a cafe, another excuse to grab more coffee and refreshments.
Exploring The Spanish Quarter
The next stage of our journey around the centre of Naples took us into the backstreets. In particular the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter). I’m sure if you’ve done your research you’ll no doubt be aware of this part of town. You’ll be told not to visit because of the heavy crime rate and because of high poverty isn’t the nicest place to look at. Forget all that, forget it all. This is Naples. Pure and simple. Don’t be scared to explore.
The streets here are loud, busy, colourful and very narrow. Shops and cafes, the smell of fresh coffee and food. Its a great place to explore. The crime rate is high, but you’re told of things like this when you visit most major cities. Be careful, take all the usual precautions when visiting but do visit. We never once felt on edge here and even got lost for a few minutes. All part of the experience.
We walked miles around the city so both enjoyed a very cold well deserved Peroni and even stopped off for a pizza fritta. A small fried pizza, which we ate in Piazza del Plebiscito. The ones from Sorbillo are 10/10.
The Egg Castle
We had one more place to visit before we headed back to our hotel. Castel dell’Ovo, the Egg Castle !
The castle’s name comes from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil, who had a reputation in the Middle Ages as a great sorcerer and predictor of the future. In the legend, Virgil put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would have been destroyed and a series of disastrous events for Naples would have followed.
The castle is free to enter and situated on the waterfront. The views over the Gulf of Naples and out towards Vesuvio are stunning. A perfect way to end a very tiring day and a great way to lead into our third and final blog.
We get to go to Pompeii and Vesuvius. No train strike involved. Information on how we got there, costs and lots of photos. Right, did somebody mention dinner ? Pasta, a bottle of wine and dessert ? Absolutely ! See you next time.