Sandwiched between a sleeping volcano and the steaming Campi Flegrei, Naples is a rumbling mass of contradictions.
Extremes are something Naples does impressively well. Grimy streets hit palm-fringed boulevards, crumbling façades hide baroque ballrooms and cultish shrines flank cutting-edge clubs. One minute you’re in dusty Tangiers, the next you’re thinking of Paris.
Stepping onto Piazza Garibaldi from Stazione Centrale, your impression will probably be of the former. Wild traffic, shabby street stalls and smooth-talking African salesmen make for an intense introduction. To the south and southwest, the Mercato quarter is a high-octane spectacle of rough-and-ready markets, multiculturalism and poverty.
A few blocks west of Piazza Garibaldi begins the centro storico (historic centre). Dense, dark and intoxicating, its ancient Greek streets teem with tourists, scooters, shrines and secret hidden treasures.
At its western edge, shop-heavy Via Toledo stretches from Piazza Trieste e Trento in the south to Parco di Capodimonte in the north; its chic southern end is a favourite haunt for sfogliatella-munching shopaholics. Immediately to the west lie the mean, washing-strung streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli.
South of Via Toledo, regal Santa Lucia boasts the mighty Piazza del Plebiscito, Palazzo Reale and world opera great Teatro San Carlo. Close at hand, Castel Nuovo (Maschio Angioino) looms over Piazza del Municipio like a giant toy castle.
Looking down on it all is middle-class Vomero, a leafy concoction of gorgeous Liberty villas, soulless apartment blocks and the hulking Castel Sant’Elmo.
West of Piazza del Plebiscito, upmarket Chiaia is Naples’ heart of cool, its sleek shops and bars stretching west towards the bobbing-boat port of Mergellina. From here, posh Posillipo climbs the promontory separating the Bay of Naples from the Bay of Pozzuoli. Beyond it lies the Campi Flegrei, a volcanic sprawl of classical ruins, sulphurous steam and sexy summertime beach clubs.
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