Lemons, Pastries and Panoramas: Naples Discovered through the Five Senses

All your senses are truly bombarded here in Naples, both in positive and negative ways. The rise of industrial modernity in the 19th century saw theorists analysing the sudden power of moving images, advertising, flashy shop lighting, and global exhibitions to turn the city into a spectacle and overwhelm the senses. With so many of our experiences now virtual, fully-immersive Naples takes us back a century and allows us to rediscover all our senses. Here is a guide to sensing your way through the gateway to Southern Italy.


Touch

The moment you alight from the plane the wall of heat hits. There’s no denying Naples is a hot city, and the cloying warmth lasts well into the evening. This makes it all the more pleasurable to lean against the cool tiles inside a church or walk barefoot around your apartment. In the streets, however, walking becomes a more arduous task due to the large uneven cobbles worn to a precariously shiny finish. It’s quite a battle to drag a suitcase through the old town, concentrating on the jerking of the handle while attempting not to skid on the polished surface.

Admiring beautiful tiles last night while waiting for our #arancini in #napoli ūüėäūüėä

A post shared by Rebecca | Travel Writer Italy (@labruttafigura) on

Experience…

Monastery of Santa Chiara (more detailed post coming soon), a sanctuary of cool decorative tiles, bubbling fountains and shady lemon trees to combat the heat.

In the famous Piazza del Plebiscito there is reportedly a local ‘game’ where one must walk blindfolded from the entrance of the Palazzo Reale to the centre of the square passing between the two equestrian statues. Sounds simple but people say no one has succeeded yet…

Alternatively¬†this man¬†found his own very particular way to ‘touch’ Naples…


Smell

Predictably, the perfumes of Naples lie at either end of the spectrum. On the positive side there are the heavenly scents drifting from street food stalls and shops, of fried arancini (see description below in ‘Taste’)¬†and doughy pizza, or light, icing-sugar dusted pastries. On the negative end I need not go into detail about the ubiquitous piles of rubbish…

Experience…¬†

DSC_0033Via dei¬†Tribunali¬†for mouth-watering cooking smells of street food that really fires up your appetite. At the friggitorie you have a good chance of delicious food and heart disease as you choose between fried potato croquettes, arancini, fried pizza, chips, fried vegetables…

Again the Monastery of Santa Chiara for the intoxicating, aromatic scent of lemons, so iconic of Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

Finally become drunk on the delicious fragrances of flowers filling the Piazza Municipio for the Mercato dei fiori every morning at sunsrise.


Hear

Car not moving in front of you? Beep. Bike in your way? Beep. Red light? Beep. Pedestrian walking down a pedestrianised street in front of your motorbike? Beep beep beep! The noise of beeping horns is the soundtrack of Naples city centre which, combined with the intense heat and bewildering array of sights and smells, really aids the city’s power to enliven and disorient.

On the other hand, the filmic image of bella Italia, of waiters twirling pizzas and thrilling motorbike rides with Mediterranean men, is built partly on the classic lilting Neapolitan songs. Think¬†O sole mio,¬†or¬†Tu vuo fa’ l’americano,¬†or the soundtrack to any Sophia Loren film.

sophia

Finally, listen out for the wonderfully rhythmic Neapolitan accent. If you speak some Italian already the Neapolitan accent might sound like a comedian trying to imitate Italians, such is the exaggeration of syllables and complete incomprehensibility! In problematic situations listen out for Neapolitans calling on their patron saint San Gennaro and mamma mia, like in this hilarious video¬†of some terrified grown men on a rollercoaster…

Experience…¬†

Take to the streets (the well-lit ones) in the¬†Decumani area at about 10pm and you won’t have to go far before you experience some jazzed-up, modernised Neapolitan street music! There is a wonderful, friendly atmosphere as people are just beginning their evening, drinking and listening to the spontaneous outbursts of music. It’s more lively than many organised street parties in Britain…

Like any Italian, Neapolitans are at their finest during dinner time, spurred on by¬†vino della casa¬†and Nonna’s five courses. Locals recommend eating at¬†Da Nennella¬†for a lively evening, where you find riotous customers shouting and buffooning while waiters crack jokes. One local does warn that the banter can be subject to a little vulgarity, however if you don’t speak Italian (and even if you do for that matter) you won’t have a clue what is happening and can laugh along innocently. Here is a¬†video¬†of some typical antics. Due to its popularity, however, there are reports of long queues so arrive early to get your seat for the theatricalities.


Taste

My favourite way to eat in Naples was to create my own tapas-like melee of street food, sampled from different shops and stalls. I have a personal weakness for arancini, balls of rice and vegetables or pancetta fried to have a succulent crispy finish. They are best a little warm so ask the shop keeper to heat one up for you.

For a dolce visitors to Naples must try the sfogliatella. You can choose from light flaky pastry or a softer version, bursting inside with ricotta and orange zest, or candied fruit, or creme patissiere.

Un grande classico della tradizione partenopea: SFOGLIATELLA RICCIA!

A post shared by @pasticceria_anticanapoli on

Experience…

As mentioned above my favourite refectory was the Via dei Tribunali for fried treats, in particular Di Matteo, serving since 1936, where the indulgent fried pizza is a must.

For breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack, go to the Pasticceria Capparelli near San Gregorio Armeno for warm sfogliatella or another popular pastry, the babà. They also created this magnificent cake featuring tiles and a landscape painting of erupting Vesuvius and topped by Dolce and Gabbana in miniature.


See

In every city there is something to ‘see’, and so I’ve left this till last as the assault on the other four senses is perhaps what makes Naples so intoxicating. Furthermore, the other four are not usually things you can capture and take home: an elusive scent, a snatch of a song, the oppressive heat are things that merge and drift together in memories of Naples. I think you could walk blindfolded through this city and still hazard an accurate guess at where you are (though clearly not in the disorienting Piazza del Plebiscito).

However, the sights are dizzyingly diverse, from the majestic Piazza del Plebiscito, to the time-capsule printing shops, to the misty blue form of Vesuvius in the distance.

Experience…¬†

The Decumani area has fascinating artisans’ workshops, from ancient printing presses to record shops to handmade Christmas nativity scenes called presepe. In addition Piazza Dante Porta Alba has a market with stalls piled high with books, and the surrounding streets are the perfect place to lose yourself in Neapolitan life – from children booting footballs into ancient walls to grandmothers sitting enjoying their coffee.

Be careful of the Spanish Quarter at night, but wander round the streets during the day for some gritty urban life and lots of washing.

The Piazza del Plebiscito¬†has a dramatic colonnade reminiscent of St Peter’s in Rome, while the central church of San Francesco di Paola is a magnificent homage to the Pantheon, also in Rome.

For a view of ethereal Vesuvius rising out of the mist climb the Via Petrarca in the Posillio area.

Napoli5
Photo by vick1111 from Wikipedia

Italy, and the south particularly, is still a strongly Catholic country, so you must visit churches to understand great swathes of its history, culture and daily life. I was drawn to Chiesa del Ges√Ļ Nuovo by the unusual dramatic stone diamond-studded facade. Inside is typically formidable, dripping with gold that glitters in the gloom. Remember that these are sacred places so bring a couple of shawls to cover your shoulders and legs and watch from a respectful distance as all walks of life converge.


As they say here, “vedi Napoli e poi muori!”, which translates as “see Naples and die!”. Typically melodramatic but not completely inaccurate as you step of the plane in rainy Britain realise how it lacks the chaotic vivacity of Napoli!

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Wander Mum
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30 thoughts on “Lemons, Pastries and Panoramas: Naples Discovered through the Five Senses

  1. Fun blog post! I’m hoping to visit Naples at some point, and by sharing the five senses you’ve really helped me to learn more about the city. I can just picture dragging luggage across the tile and tasting the delicious, flaky pastries. And those panoramas! ūüôā One day I’d like to go, but preferably not during the summer heat‚Ķ

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    1. It was pretty intense heat, maybe around April/May would be a good time. I’d definitely recommend not taking a wheel along suitcase, my hand was so sore! But yes the food and the friendliness of the people makes it all worth it ūüôā

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  2. What a lovely way to sum up your trip, it’s always fun to think about how your senses tell you different things about a place! I went to Naples for less than one day on a cruise, but I agree that it really awakens all of your senses! I would love to go back and see it properly one day ūüôā

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  3. Love your five senses experience of Naples. The local game at Piazza del Plebiscito sounds a lot of fun and the Monastery of Santa Chiara a great place to visit. #CityTripping

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  4. What a wonderful post – it really brings Naples to life, even though I’ve never set foot there. It always seems such a Marmite city, people either love the sensations, the grittiness, the colourful nature or they find it dirty and overwhelming, so I’ve always wondered how I might react. But this is such a great guide and makes it seem so tempting but still very real. #citytripping

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    1. Thank you! Unfortunately some people do come away with less enjoyable experiences and often blame Naples for being dangerous or dirty, but as I hope I’ve shared here you just need to embrace a little of the ‘grittiness’ as you described it well!

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  5. A great take on the city of Naples. I enjoyed being taken through the smells and sounds of its streets. I am always astonished at the scale and ornateness of Italy’s churches and the history they hold within them. I love the ‘see Naples or die’ phrase. I have passed through a long time ago but clearly I need to go back #citytripping

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    1. Thank you. Naples’ churches were really magnificent, you feel completely insignificant inside! Yes, I think ‘See Naples and see’ is intended to mean Naples is such an extraordinary place that once you have seen it you can go to the grave happy!!

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  6. I love the way you’ve summarized your trip to Naples here! What a beautiful way to give us an inside look at just how you were feeling during your travels. Isn’t it so cool how traveling really appeals to all of our senses?! Smell and taste are two that always stick out in my mind for a long time after a trip. Thanks for sharing and linking up ūüėÄ

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  7. Gorgeous blog! I love Naples: I had my best pizza ever at Da Michele. I’ll be going there in September for a week on Procida and I cannot wait. I love the name of your blog – when I lived in Italy I was mainly doing brutta figuras, on a regular basis, because a mojito was still 5000 lire back then….

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    1. Grazie mille! Yes mojitos have been my downfall too…they must make them differently here. Naples has definitely been my favourite place so far for snacky street food – and pizza certainly near the top of the list! Have a great holiday ūüôā

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  8. You are right on spot when you talk about being bombarded by your senses here in Naples, smells are stronger, colours are brighter, weather and humidity are penetrating, sounds are louder, everything for the better and also can be for the worse.
    I feel like you were deep into the Centro storico, let me know next time you’re here and I could suggest you some very peaceful and beautiful places to make contrast with all the chaos you just wrote about:)

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