A local’s guide to Naples: pizza, palazzos and dancing under the stars

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Food

Our pizza, pastries, pasta and ice-cream are wonderful, but not that healthy. To prove that good food can be good for you, fitness fan Marco Pera and friends set up restaurant Sano Sano in central Naples. They source organic vegetables and grains, fish and meat from within 20km, cook at low temperatures where possible (there’s no deep frying), and use top-quality, single-estate olive oil. Unusually for Italy, its two floors and terrace are open from breakfast until midnight. I love its linguine with cherry tomatoes and almond pesto, but the skin-on roast potatoes are glorious too, as is seafood salad with blueberries and redcurrants.

Neapolitan pizza has been Unesco-listed since 2017, but famous outlets such as Da Michele have become tourist traps. Among the oldest pizzerias is Lombardi, where fifth-generation Carlo Alberto makes pizzas with 48-hour fermented dough: crust well-risen and slightly blistered; flavours of mozzarella, tomato, basil and oil working in harmony.

Inspiration

Madre contemporary art gallery.
Madre contemporary art gallery. Photograph: Adam Eastland/Alamy

Naples has hundreds of museums, but I like the small Museo Filangieri, by the cathedral, displaying that noble family’s collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and more. The golden mosaic ceiling in the lobby and majolica tiled floor of the main gallery are worth the €6.50 entrance alone, and Naples scenes by French, German, Dutch and Belgian painters show how inspiring the city has been to centuries of foreigners. I like the tavern interior by Adriaen Brouwer, with a man against a wall doing just what you’d expect him to be doing after a long evening’s drinking. The best bit for British and US visitors is the letters (in English) from Benjamin Franklin to Gaetano Filangieri, whose 1780 book The Science of Legislation was a major inspiration for the US constitution.

The Madre contemporary art gallery’s permanent collection includes an amazing site-specific fresco over two storeys, and its temporary shows are excellent, too: one by Australian-born abstract painter Lawrence Carroll runs to 5 September.

Neighbourhood

Lab25 Naples

I grew up in Vomero, reached by funicular from the old town. It’s the Hampstead of Naples, and the views of the bay and Vesuvius are wonderful. There’s a good pizzeria up there, too, the Gorizia. My father, sculptor Luigi Mazzella, died of Covid in 2021, and I am opening his studio to visitors this summer. It’s in the former winery of the grand Villa Haas, and houses lots of works by him and some by his teacher, sculptor Ennio Tomai. Walk back into the centre down the Pedamentina di San Martino, a long stone staircase from Sant’Elmo castle, built so the Bourbon rulers’ cavalry could gallop down quickly to quell rebellions. For locally made souvenirs, swing by Lab25 (inset illustration) on Via Raimondo di Sangro, a trove of hand-crafted ceramics and leatherware by Eugenio and Laura Pariante.

Green space

The last remaining parkland of Vomero’s several aristocratic palaces, the gardens at Villa Floridiana are an oasis of oaks, pines, palms and cypresses, popular with school groups and parents pushing buggies. The villa belonged to Bourbon king Ferdinand I, who installed his mistress here, and the gardens are unusual in that they’re in the less-manicured “English” style, with winding paths and verdant nature spilling all over.

Nightlife

Head for the baretti (little bars) on the edge of Chiaia district. At 8pm, as soon as the shops close, bars in narrow streets around Piazza Rodinò spread their tables and chairs over the pavements. Vinarium and L’Ebbrezza di Noè are good for aperitivos. For later nights, seaside clubs Partenopea and Arenile di Bagnoli offer live music, DJs and dancefloors under the stars.

Where to stay

Next door to the Madre gallery, on the fourth floor of a former monastery built in 1278, Dimora Donnaregina (doubles from €97 B&B) is a high-ceilinged space crammed with paintings, sculptures and an impressive art library. Rooms have balconies overlooking the street or a peaceful courtyard, and breakfasts include pastries, fruit and omelettes. Decumani Roof (from €90 a night) has three self-catering apartments on the top floor of an 18th-century palazzo in the old town, all with terraces and fantastic rooftop views.

Mariano Mazzella is a Neapolitan-born architect specialising in restoration