Campania Photographs, Museums, Amalfi Coast, Transportation
in the 18th and 19th centuries, no self-respecting Northern European aristocrat would dream of leaving Italy without spending a month or so in Naples. But then, after the Unification in 1870, the city fell into ill repute and, all during the 20th century, it was considered dangerous and depressing. Once home to the third-largest population on the continent, this city on a bay still has some less-than-picturesque neighborhoods, and we are the first to admit it can be an acquired taste. Naples is for adventurers. If you are the sort of traveler who is curious about people, the way they live, the food they eat and the customs they have created; if you are the sort of person who seeks out unusual, exotic places rather than those that feel most like home, then Naples is made for you. Its streets are hectic and noisy, its buildings are crumbling and often decorated with graffiti -- and its people are some of the warmest, funniest, most original characters you'll ever meet. It boasts a dramatic and oh-so-picturesque location between an expansive Mediterranean bay and a smoke-plumed volcano, it has more royal palaces than Paris, more world-class museums than Florence, almost as many churches as Rome, and more closet-sized shops than anywhere east of Istanbul. Even if you were to do nothing but hop off a train and take a walk in the Spanish Quarter, you would come away with indelible memories: narrow alleys overhung with line after line of drying laundry; sidewalks brimming with stalls selling fruits, vegetables, fish, pastries, religious trinkets, the world's most original and humorous souvenirs; workshops where ancient men patiently carve exquisite wooden figurines for nativity scenes -- angels draped with delicate tulle tunics, shepherds wearing raggedy workclothes, grand dames in silk ballgowns laden with miniature pearls and rhinestones -- and at every corner, an ornate church or a flower-bedecked family altar to remind you that the saints are very, very important in this city that was founded by the Greeks long before Jesus was born. Yes, if you like history and the people who create it, Naples is the place for you.
When you have finished your own Grand Tour of the city, set out along the coast to discover Europe's scariest road, which will take you to Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello and Vietri (the ceramic lover's mecca). Or you can take the easy way out and travel there by ferry or hydrofoil, from the same docks that take you to Capri, the spa island of Ischia, and Procida, where the locals go for their holidays. Just east of Naples, surrounded by the huge ranches that produce unparalleled mozzarella, is the Royal Palace of Caserta. If you like old-time regal domiciles, most of the experts think this 1200-room treasure trove equals or betters Versailles.
Few foreigners make it south of Salerno, but those who do can treat themselves to a classic Italian beach vacation: along the cape called Palinuro the water is cleaner and the beaches far nicer than anything on the Amalfi Coast. You can even take in some world-class culture by visiting Paestum to see the oldest, best-preserved and most beautiful Doric temple in existence today. And if it's really the authentic Italy you're after, just head inland to the provinces of Avellino and Benevento, abandoned a century ago by so many who would go on to become Americans. Park your car in any village at all and you will receive a warm welcome. No matter what kind of blood runs in your veins, you are likely to be invited in for a sip of homemade wine and a look at the family album, including shots of faraway relatives in Buffalo or Melbourne.