In the early years of the century travel writer and photographer Herbert Ypma’s Hip Hotels series was a breath of fresh air in the world of travel guides. The Dutch former pro windsurfer returns this month with the first in a new series of guidebooks. New Map Italy is a stylish guide book that reveals the country’s hidden gems.

In an exclusive extract from the book Ypma guides us around Naples:

Naples is the flower of paradise,

the last adventure of my life.

Alexandre Dumas

Dumas was right: Naples is an adventure – a historic, cultural and hedonistic

adventure. Neapolis, the Greek name given to this outpost of Magna Graecia, was an important port in ancient times. It was such a formidable example of Hellenistic culture that Naples maintained the Greek language even during subsequent Roman rule, when Roman emperors would holiday here in villas by the sea. Splendid frescoes and magnificent mosaic floors discovered in nearby Pompeii attest to the extraordinary heights of artisan skill and sophistication. Despite a ‘game of thrones’, which has seen the Greeks, the Romans, the Moors, the Normans, the Byzantines, the French, the Spanish and the Vatican rule at different times, the city has always retained its reputation for beauty and pleasure.

Naples has the distinction of being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, the site of at least 27 centuries of unbroken history. Even Rome hasn’t managed that! No wonder its entire inner city is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yet despite all its history and its beautiful setting on the Bay of Naples, the city is nowhere near as popular as Rome, Florence or Venice when it comes to tourism – thank God! This is one of the few places in Italy where you can wander around without being swamped by tourists. I like the fact that Naples has a reputation for being scary. It has patina, for sure – especially in the oldest part of the city, with its narrow streets and eroded façades – but that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. In reality, Naples is no different from any other city, and provided you use your common sense, you are unlikely to run into trouble.

Of course, Naples has plenty to see in terms of museums, ruins and noteworthy sites, but let’s assume you’ve already done ‘all that’ in Rome and Florence, and Venice too. Instead, why not take advantage of the weather and the beautiful seaside location and do very little except have lunch, go for a swim, and perhaps get some shirts made by the city’s legendary tailors. Spend a few relaxed, agenda-free days wandering around a city that is far more exotic than any in the north.



A Grand Night and an Even Grander View

The Excelsior is a stately stone pile with the very best location in Naples, on the corner of the seaside corniche with an uninterrupted view of the Bay of Naples. It’s a grand establishment with high ceilings, a sweeping marble staircase and a lobby straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

This is old Italy at its “slightly worn around the edges”, aristocratic best. A small army of ultrasmart waiters, permanently dressed in black tie (white jackets in the morning, black after dark), caters to your every whim. In the warmer months (April to November) breakfast is served on the roof, which offers a stunning vista of the azure blue Mediterranean, Vesuvius and the islands of Ischia and Capri in the distance. The hotel faces onto Via Partenope, a recently pedestrianised street that skirts the sea and is a popular place for an evening passeggiata.

The Excelsior’s buzzing location and ‘old world’ style make it the place to stay in Naples. And the good news is that a night here costs less than a room in a third-rate hotel in Venice.



The Most Important Archaeological Museum in the World

The terrible disaster that befell Pompeii and Herculaneum nearly 2,000 years ago, when Mount Vesuvius exploded into a giant ball of fire and ash, has today provided us with an extraordinarily accurate glimpse of our ancient past. The lava and volcanic dust that quickly buried these towns also helped to preserve them. Without the evidence of daily life unearthed at these sites, we would have little idea of the Romans’ elaborate sense of colour or their predilection for extravagant decorative detail in everything from floors and walls to household objects.

Yet this is not what you will see if you visit Pompeii. That’s because most of it, certainly the best of it – including the frescoed walls, floor mosaics, busts, statues, and even tableware – reside in a series of monumental halls that constitute the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in the old centre of Naples. No wonder, then, that it is considered by many to be the most important archaeological museum in the world.

Nowhere else can match it in terms of the quantity, quality and diversity of its ancient artefacts. In the halls that house statue after statue, a parade of Roman “celebrities” is on display: influential senators, pudgy-faced aristocrats, hawk-nosed writers and effeminate poets, powerfully muscular heroes such as Hercules, fashionable ladies and various Roman Caesars.

And for anyone with even a passing interest in decoration or design, there are vast spaces dedicated to extraordinary housewares – glasses, cups, plates, bowls and trays so well preserved they almost appear contemporary. There are massive, ballroom-sized spaces dedicated to mosaics, and another floor of equally large rooms filled with Pompeian walls painted with richly elaborate vistas that are testament to the startling Roman preference for deep crimson reds, chalky muted blacks, vivid warm yellows and strong greens.

I said that Naples is the kind of city you should wander around without agenda and it’s true: the city is best viewed with spontaneity, with one exception – the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. It will take you on an adventure into life in ancient Rome; children (even teenagers) will find themselves drawn into it. The best frescoes and mosaics from Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the most beautiful Roman statues, are here to be admired without queues or crowds.



A Table with a View

In ancient times, aristocratic citizens of Rome maintained sprawling summer villas on the picturesque Bay of Naples. These privileged Roman “escapees” loved Neapolis because it was so chic ... and so Greek. Despite being part of the Roman Empire, Neapolis retained its Greek identity, and Greek was still the language being spoken because Romans preferred it that way.

The Romans liked the old language because it was considered more worldly than Latin. Neapolis was Rome’s Riviera – a cosmopolitan retreat built pieds dans l’eau on the turquoise blue Mediterranean, and Rome’s beau monde visited at every opportunity.

But as with most European cities situated on the sea, subsequent civilizations saw the centre move further and further away from the shore. Being by the sea was only desirable if you were a fisherman or dockworker. Only today – some 16 centuries after the fall of Rome – is the Bay of Naples starting to make a comeback. The street running along the water’s edge – the famous Via Partenope – has been closed to traffic for a number of years and is now a popular destination for an evening passeggiata. Locals with their families stroll along the boulevard (way past most people’s bedtime) to take in the cooler sea air. It was only a matter of time before contemporary style and taste followed this relatively new passion for the seaside geographic. In a way, Terrazzo Calabritto is proof that the Bay of Naples is experiencing a genuine Renaissance.

All new, in a chic “neo-fifties” kind of way, with grey velvet chairs and lamps that evoke Saturn, Terrazza Calabritto on Piazza Vittoria – from which Via Partenope starts – has a splendid view of the Bay of Naples, a menu that includes spaghetti with crab and sea bass baked in a crust of sea salt, and a reputation that has made it the talk of the town. (Well, you can’t eat every meal at Mattozzi!) Terrazza Calabritto is handsome, stylish and sophisticated, and it offers something that until relatively recently was impossible to get in Naples: lunch with a view of the sea, just as it was in Roman times.



B&B in an Authentic Inner-city Palazzo

It wasn’t easy to find. The heart of historic Naples is labyrinthine and dense, and Google Maps wasn’t much help; but asking lots of locals was. Eventually, my children and I arrived at a set of immense doors, covered in graffiti, which, strangely, proved quite an attractive and successful foil for the inner-city palazzo’s imposing entrance. It made it more interesting and inviting, especially given the dark, foreboding space that followed. The porte cochère – the vaulted stretch immediately following the entrance – was rather dim and uninspiring, as was the internal courtyard. Originally built as a space for a horse and carriage to turn around, it felt and looked like it had not been used properly for at least a hundred years. Tucked subtly into one corner (almost hidden) was a slender stone staircase sporting a single classical statue in the bend of its landing. It was the kind of staircase that could easily feature in a Visconti film. Upon arrival on the first floor, there were only two choices: a door on the left and a very heavy, reinforced steel door on the right. The steel one had a tiny sign that read Casa di Anna, so I rang it and the steel barrier crept open to reveal a young lady in an unexpectedly modern, light-filled space.

It was the type of contrast that makes travelling in Italy so worthwhile. Here was a completely unexpected series of clean, contemporary spaces hidden in the hulk of a long-forgotten inner-city palazzo. The only real connection to the past that remained was the scale: the impressive ceiling height and the old-fashioned huge size of the rooms. The rooms were bright, simple and spacious, with ultra-modern en-suite bathrooms, and there was a communal kitchen perfectly suited to the breakfast part of the “bed and breakfast” equation. The young lady standing in the entrance proved to be the daughter of the owner, and she must have thought me very odd because I kept asking her if her Scottish and French friends were also around.

I had read about Casa D’Anna (notice the slightly different spelling?) in a French fashion magazine a few months earlier. It described a small bed and breakfast in a baroque palazzo – not far from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale – as a joint venture between an Italian, a Scot and a Frenchman, and went on to praise it as much for its affordability as for its sense of style. Who would have thought there would be two places with virtually the same name in Naples? Both in an old palazzo. Both stylishly converted into affordable bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Amazingly, I had managed to find the one that hadn’t been written about.

New Map Italy: Unforgettable Experiences for the Discerning Traveller by Herbert Ypma is published by Thames & Hudson, £29.95.

All images are © 2019 Herbert Ypma

Hotel Excelsior

Via Partenope, 48 Lungomare Caracciolo

80121 Naples

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Piazza Museo, 19

80135 Naples

Terrazza Calabritto

Piazza Vittoria, 1

80121 Naples

Casa di Anna

Via Sant’Anna dei Lombardi, 36

80100 Naples