Every car drives a little faster the closer you get to the turn off for Naples, each with a little less patience and a lot more horn. Scents, sounds and colours all become richer, louder and brighter the further south you travel towards the heart of the country.
Glancing at faces in cars, everyone is seriously loving this, a sparkle of good humour with lots of sign language. Somehow you’ll find yourself transported with the tide of cars off the exit ramp, across a ten deep roundabout and with a little luck, into a side street.
Take the opportunity to stop, thank The Madonna that you’re in one piece and feel super proud that you didn't take the train.
Forget the phone, you’ll need on the ground directions and Neapolitans will work with you as you test the language. Hospitality is famous here, enthusiastic and immediate. You’ll likely be invited for coffee, a home cooked meal or at the very least, offered highlights of the many virtues of this, the most beautiful city you never expected.
Start at bustling centro storico (historic centre). A stone's throw from here is the Spaccanapoli; the street that splits Naples in half. Head past the black market stalls, through Piazza del Gesù with its impressive spire of Guglia dell'Immacolata and into the 14th-century church of Santa Chiara with private gardened cloisters, a Baroque oasis offering a break from the hectic streetscape.
An emerging hub of the designer-maker movement, Napoli celebrates local and international talent, exploring contemporary ideas with historic craftsmanship like that of Capo Di Monte, famous for fine porcelain ware, teaming on a project with design icon Patricia Urquiola later this year. Amongst the historic sights, drop into contemporary Edit Napoli, Lia Rummi, the Naples subway art stations and Alfonso Artiaco gallery in Palazzo de Sangro. Take an afternoon along the Posillipo coastline to Villa Fattorusso for swimming at Lido le Rocce Verdi, and allow a full day for a trip along the coast to Pompei.
Waterfront at The Royal Continental Hotel designed by Gio Ponti in 1965, stunning views, furniture and rooftop pool.
With so many flavours on offer, don’t leave Naples without experiencing a little of it all. From a market stall, select the Piennolo tomato from Vesuvius. According to legend the vivid red of this tiny tomato is due to the volcanic soil, its roots dipping into the lava. With a flavour like no other, it deserves full attention without condiments. Try creamy Mozzarella Bufala di Campania, again, on its own.
Follow the crowds to pizza, and after an evening meal, pick up a round of the local card game Scopa, over a digestivo.
Favourite simple aperitivo, Officina Ba-Bar bistrot in a former pharmacy. Morning coffee with a view at Bar Moccia in Palazzo Donn’Anna. Pastries at Gay Odin or Scaturchio and gelato from Remy Gelo.
This city is equally superstitious as it is religious and both worlds collide in the Miracle of San Gennaro. Patron Saint of the city, each year on his feast day 19th September, the city prays on a drop of his blood encased in a glass vial. It has been spontaneously liquifying three times a year since 1389. Housed in the cathedral, the vial is carried high above the crowds through the streets. The idea is that if the blood liquefies during prayer, then good fortune will be bestowed on Bella Napoli for the year ahead. No-one knows how this actually liquifies, and it has been scrutinised by both the authorities and the vatican to be definitively pronounced a miracle. There have been just two years recorded that this miracle did not occur. The first time, famine struck and the second, Vesuvius erupted.
The day is all encompassing and an infinite source of creative ideas, from the intricate lacework on the hemlines of velvet cassocks and the baroque iconography to the heartbreakingly passionate crowd. It's clear that all from Fellini to Dolce & Gabbana have been inspired by these processions of devotion.
Dive into the narrow laneways of Spaccanapoli for religious ex-voto. Crafted from tin, wood, silver or gold, these minimal silhouettes are traditionally offered up in prayer, select one or two to take home. Tailors and artisans run deep in Napoli, don’t miss the historic glove makers, Omega Guanti on Via Stella. Wander the Chiaia area for exquisite tailoring and a classic soft shouldered jacket ‘maniche a camicia’ at Rubinacci. And seek out clothing made for Giuliva Heritage womenswear.
Napoli is vital. The streets, the food and the people are remarkably beautiful. Spend a while longer than you’d planned, before heading to the harbour and taking the ferry over to the islands of Ischia, Procida and further south to the Amalfi Coast.