The Italian novelist Curzio Malaparte described Naples as "the most mysterious city in Europe." It is perplexing that a metropolis blessed with some of Italy's most spellbinding art, architecture and cuisine should slip under the radar of all but the most committed Italophile travelers. The recent refuse crisis has done nothing to improve Naples' reputation. Now however, the streets are clean again. With a new incinerator set to open and the recent wave of Camorra arrests suggesting that the government is finally tackling the roots of the problem, the city should stay shipshape. Our suggestions for the perfect Neapolitan weekend:
Your first view of Naples' glittering bay should be from a room at Hotel San Francesco al Monte, www.hotelsanfrancesco.it, a stylishly renovated 16th century ex-convent, with outdoor pool, in the hilltop Vomero quarter. Toast the start of your weekend at Pescheria Mattiucci, www.pescheriamattiucci.com, a tiny fish restaurant. The aperitivo hour, which rolls on until 10 p.m., sees hip Neapolitans wash down line-caught, sushi-style snacks with ice-cold white wine. Then step back in time at the majolica-tiled Osteria della Matonella, tel: (39-081) 416 541, where pasta alla Genoves (with veal and onions) and rum baba testify to 35 years of mama-licious Neapolitan cooking.
Coffee is almost as much of a religion as football in Naples. Kick-start the day with a soul-shaking espresso in Scaturchio, www.scaturchio.it, a legendary café in Spaccanapoli. With its derelict palaces and colorful washing lines, this quarter is the city's beating heart. Make your first stop the Museo Cappella Sansevero, www.museosansevero.it, home to The Veiled Christ by 18th century sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino a work famed for its spookily realistic drapes. Then fast-forward into the 21st century with a tour of Chiaia, Naples' superchic art and fashion district. A wave of contemporary art galleries, such as conceptual space Galleria Fonti, www.galleriafonti.it, have turned this quarter into a magnet for collectors from all over the world. Come nightfall, take a stroll along the palm-lined waterfront before winding up at La Barrique, tel: (39-081) 622 721, a new-wave enoteca with moody lighting and rustic furniture that set it apart from ubiquitous neon-lit pizzeria and nautical-themed fish restaurants.
Time to check off the cultural big hitters. To taste the city's glorious Baroque past, feast your eyes on the chiaroscuro drama of the paintings adorning the Carthusian monastery of La Certosa di San Martino, tel: (39-081) 229 4502. Don't miss the stunning presepe (Nativity crib) that is one of the finest examples of this local artisanal craft. Unwind over Sunday lunch at La Scialuppa, www.lascialuppa. it, with views of the fishing vessels bobbing in the harbor. This should fuel your journey around the vast National Archaeological Museum, marcheo.napolibeniculturali.it, and its window on the world buried by the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Pompeii's frescoes have just been unveiled after a decade of restoration, and can be seen alongside artifacts from sculptures to erotic mosaics. Afterward, walk south to Piazza Bellini, where Earl Grey tea and English cakes on the terrace of the literary café Intra Moenia, www.intramoenia.it, are the perfect way to ease back into the modern world.
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