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A Weekend In Naples: Catacombs & Castles

Welcome to the 3rd and final part! If you’ve stuck with me this long, thanks because I know this is overdue.

I previously have written about my experience of travelling during COVID-19 and about my first impressions and experience of Naples in part 1. I also wrote about my day up Mount Vesuvius and around Pompeii and the Archaeological Ruins in part 2.

On my third and final day, I was taking in Naples and I definetely think I succeeded at that. Around steep Naples in this one day I managed to walk 12.3 miles and boy, my thighs knew it.

Monday 7th September

After sleeping like a log from the previous day’s adventure, I woke up on Monday morning absolutely dying for food. Shock. At 10am I had a tour of the San Gennaro Catacombs booked, which was a 45 minute walk away from where I was staying. I decided I would stop somewhere for breakfast on the way there because the walk, was all uphill. the. whole. way.

So on this horrendous walk that was 25 degrees already at 8 in the morning, I took a slight detour and wandered around Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, a square famous for the Church of Jesus ‘Nuovo’ and a monument called Guglia dell’Immacolata. I found a little cafe serving traditional Italian pastries and coffee. I sat outside looking onto the square with my latte and sfogliatine al cioccolato.

Afterward I wandered into the hectic alley that is just behind the square filled with coffee bars, shops full of fresh colour pasta, traditional neapolitan pizza and Cornicello trinkets. The Cornicello, also known as the Italian Horn, is part of a well-know Italian superstition. Cornicello’s are worn on keyrings, necklaces, bracelets… You will see them everywhere in Naples, as they believe it protects them from the evil eye, and that the horn represents animal horns that once belonged to the Moon Goddess of Europe.

Catacombe di San Gennaro

Once I finally reached the Catacombe di San Gennaro, it was nearly 10am and I was ready for my tour. Honestly, the tour guide I had made the tour even better. He was informative, funny and just all round a nice guy. You can opt-in for the tour in Italian or English when you book online. The Catacombs are in two levels – San Gennaro Superiore and San Gennaro Inferiore, and home to 3 types of graves – cubiculum, forme and basilica minore.

The lower level is the oldest and goes back to a time of pre-Christianity in Italy, estimated around the late 2nd Century as Christianity was a ‘minority’ religion until the 4th and 5th century across Italy. There are no symbols or signs of religion on this level, instead, important people had things like a peacock painted above their grave instead of an Angel or Jesus as we would commonly see now. The higher level built during the time of San Gennaro, a Bishop and Martyr who was prosecuted and beheaded for Christianity in 305AD and who is now a Patron Saint of Naples. He was buried at the higher level until excavation. To this day, there is an annual public holiday in Naples on September 19 to honour San Gennaro.

Vomero and Anerella

Following the fascination of the Catacombs, I decided that I wanted to visit Castel Sant’Elmo, famous for its panoramic views of Naples. I walked there. I do not recommend it. It was an hour’s walk in the boiling heat and I should have given in and got the bus, but y’no, coronavirus, avoiding public transport where possible. So instead I walked up deadly hills and got the Funicolare from Corso V. Emanuele up to the Vomero and Anerella District.

On my walk to the Funicolare, I walked through an area of Naples that was evidently very poor. I joke about not getting the bus but I think it’s good I didn’t at the same time. Behind these gorgeous cities is often poverty that tourism hides us from, and Naples isn’t short of it. Vomero and Anerella were like getting off in a completely different city. It was the most stunning shopping district full of bars, cafes, high-end shops and restaurants that I have ever seen. Streets lined with round trees giving it a touch of Manhatten. After Castel Sant’Elmo I spend a good couple of hours here. (shopping? shock.)

Castel Sant’Elmo

So finding Castel Sant’Elmo was harder than it should have been, not because it’s hard to find, but Google maps decided to have a meltdown on me and send me completely the wrong way resulting in me having to walk up half a mile of steps in 30-degree heat (cheers hun). But when I got there. It was so bloody worth it. The Fortress was first built around 1275 and the additions built around 1537. At the top, there are offices that people still occupy and use to work in even today. That would have once consisted of a community of people that ran bakeries, butchers, and selling local produce.

There are a number of levels for you to walk up with views getting somehow even more stunning than the last. You can overlook the whole of Naples and see the airport, train station and port from the top. You get ocean views, can see Vesuvius and the mountains that divide you from the Amalfi Coast too.

Now Some Time To Explore

By the time I finished walking around Castel Sant’Elmo, it was past 2pm and was in serious need of food. I had been so good with money on my trip I went into Vomero district, went to a gorgeous restaurant, sat outside and ate pasta, drank beer and spoke to some lovely women from Rome. Interestingly, they said they thought that British people were very rude and entitled but apparently I was very nice (they did not beat around the bush, I thought us Brits were dry). Afterward, I went shopping and soon found the wind accidently blew me into Sephora and made me lose (spend) my money. oops.

I then went to Parco villa Floridiana. This is a stunning park with plenty of benches, places to sit, surrounded by trees and it’s just so quiet compared to the rest of Naples which is always so loud. Afterward, I found some steps that lead down to Naples beach. 1 miles of steps that weren’t wide enough for making 2 steps at a time but too wide for 1 step at a time. Painful.

Naples Beach and Promenade

This was one of the most surprising places for me. Heading back into the hustle and bustle, I was preparing for a different side of Naples as to what I got. Once you head onto the road Via Francesco Caracciolo that is closed off to cars and are walking along the seafront, it is absolutely stunning and the atmosphere was amazing.

There were a couple of food and drink huts playing music, people on their bikes, rollerblading… Imagine California coast vibes. People swimming, fishing and everyone straight up having the time of their life. Walking along here was just so great, and at the end are a string of Restaurants and Cafés. Next time I go to Naples, I will definitely be spending more time in this area. I stopped off at Rol Gelateria and they were so excited to see me. Naples had been quiet on the tourist front all day, but this area evidently was geared up for tourism and there weren’t many people around. The woman was saying that due to Coronavirus, even in this central hotspot, there weren’t many people visiting. She gave me an extra scoop of ice cream she was that excited to serve someone. I sat outside with my icecream and a drink and many of the restaurants were really quiet too. We all know people were back travelling, it just goes to show what branding Italy as the epicentre of the pandemic can do to damage a countries reputation.

I then continued my walk and found a little ‘hut’ that was serving snacks and drinks and settled here for sunset. Drinking my Peroni as the sun went down, taking it all in. Unable to walk another step without a drink because I was so f’n knackered.

Final Impressions

I started this mini-blog-series with a post on First Impressions, how I found it overwhelming but was calling it Naples character. I finished my weekend in Naples and was so in love with it that I looked at the options to extend my stay. Unfortunately, I couldn’t due to other commitments.

Is Naples rough and ready? Yes. Are there areas that are unsafe? Yes. But I fell in love with its rough and ready charm and you just have to be smart and not go into those areas they tell you to avoid (predominantly the Spanish district). Get your money out from inside an official bank, keep nothing in your pockets. Really, the same rules should apply anywhere you travel to.

I am already planning my trip to the Amalfi Coast and I will definetely be stopping over in Naples.

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