Southern Italy: For The Love Of Pizza
Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Positano
Naples – 2 nights
Sorrento – 2 nights
Capri – 2 nights
Positano – 2 nights
9 days Itinerary
Naples: 2 nights
( From Rome, 1 hour 20 min by train or 2 hours 20 min by car )
Naples is a large city, yet a warm, friendly place full of life. It lies on the Gulf of Naples and in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. This ancient city has many monuments of art and architecture and of course, the world’s best pizzas.
Naples, founded by the Greeks, is a Pizza lovers’ haven. The Pizza Neapolitan as the world calls it, locally known as Pizza Napoletana is a gastronomic experience like no other. The modern pizza, as we know it, actually originated in Naples in the 18th century with the addition of tomatoes to the baked flatbread. And so, Naples is formally known as the birthplace of pizza.
The authentic pizzas in Naples are limited to two types :
Margherita – (unofficial version) It is named after the Queen of Italy, who visited Naples in 1889 and at that time, the pizzaiolo of Pizzeria Brandi created a tricolour pizza incorporating the flag colours of Italy – Red (Tomato), White (Mozzarella) and Green (Basil).
Marinara: Made with Tomato, Olive oil, Garlic and Oregano.
According to Unesco’s guidelines, Neapolitan pizzas should be made from fresh ingredients .The dough should be soft, elastic and easy to fold and must be from a particular wheat flour. The dough must be made the day before, allowing the yeast to rise for at least 10 to 15 hours. It must also be stretched by hand and the use of a rolling pin is not allowed.
Tomatoes should be of the San Marzano variety and the cheese should be buffalo Mozzarella.The pizzas must be baked in wood fired ovens with temperature reaching 485 degrees centigrade for 60 to 90 seconds. The pizzaiolo must be well trained, it requires at least 2-3 years of apprenticeship to become one.
And to end the day, there is the Neapolitan coffee and Sfogliatella, a signature local pastry.
Another must do experience is a pizza making class offered by many cooking schools and some walking tour agencies and restaurants. It is an exciting experience to make a pizza under the supervision of a pizzaiolo and also be able to eat it.
Every year in September, there is the pizza festival in Naples which is one of the biggest festivals in Italy, with around 50 of the best pizzerias taking part and around 500,000 people attending over a 10 day period. It is a great experience for pizza lovers with a variety of pizzas available and also concerts, seminars and workshops to attend.
Sights of Naples:
The cultural scene involves strolling along the waterfront , enjoying the views across the bay leading to the Castle Ovo.
It is the oldest castle in Naples with a museum.
Other interesting monuments are the Catacombs of San Gennaro with a large underground basilica;
The National Archeological Museum with one of the world’s finest collections of antiquities;
The Royal Palace and National Gallery;
The San Carlo Opera House;
The Cathedral and finally, walking the Centro Storico, the lively historic center of this beautiful city.
A side trip to Mt Vesuvius is possible if there is extra time. ( 30 min by car or train)
Sorrento : 2 nights
( From Naples, 1 hour 15 min by train or 1 hour by car )
These 2 days will bring a kind of culinary experience which is rare in any other part of the world. Sorrento is a small city overlooking the bay of Naples.
The peninsula has views of the bay of Naples, Ischia and Capri.It is the land of Lemon and Orange groves and exciting Gelatos and Sorbets.
Buffalo Mozzarella and San Marzano Tomatoes:
To finish the complete experience of a Neapolitan Pizza, a short journey by road is required to reach Castel San Giorgio and Paestum from Sorrento. Both lie in the province of Salerno, the region of Campania, to the south of Sorrento. The San Marzano tomatoes and the Buffalo Mozzarella are found in this region.
San Marzano tomatoes are thin, pointy, sweet plum tomatoes, having a firm flesh.They have fewer seeds, less water content, and a lower amount of sugar and acid. This distinguishes them from other plum style tomatoes and creates a sauce which is thicker and with a concentrated flavour that complements the unique dough preparation style of the Neapolitan pizza.
They are grown primarily in this Campania region of Italy, in the volcanic soil of the Agro Nocerino Sarnese region at the base of Mt Vesuvius.
The town of Castel San Giorgio, 1 hour by road from Sorrento, is home to the tomato giant Calispa, one of the few companies who also own San Marzano fields. A visit to their plant reveals how this fifty year old company has mastered the production of canned tomatoes. This plant can process up to 700,000 tonnes of tomatoes, right from arrival of the fresh tomatoes, to the packaging of the various products.
They export 50 % of their production all over the world. Their products include whole peeled, chopped tomatoes or tomato puree, and premiums like Datterini, Marzanini and of course the excellent San Marzano range of organic tomatoes. This is a very informative visit to learn about one of the key ingredients of the Neapolitan pizza.
The next stop at Paestum is another 1 hour drive from Castel San Giorgio. Here one can visit the dairies manufacturing the Buffalo Mozzarella made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. It is called Mozzarella di Bufala Campana on account of being made in the Campania region. Some of the famous dairies are Tenuta Vannulo, Caseificio Barlotti and Caseificio Rivabianca.
Tenuta Vannulo, an organic farmstead, is one of the few 100% organic mozzarella farms in the world. They are popular amongst the world’s prestigious restaurants and foodies for their products. The Vannulo family believes that happy buffaloes make better and tastier milk.
Hence, their black water buffaloes live a luxurious life, lounging on mattresses, munching on organic hay, taking soft showers from fine mist and soothed by classical and jazz music.
They also enjoy massages and get milked by machines when they feel ready. The visit includes a tour around the buffalo farm, the process of making and pulling mozzarella into shape, a visit to their museum which showcases their history, and a leather goods shop.
There is a restaurant too with a tasting available for many types of cheese products including yoghurts and icecreams.
Nearby from Tenuto Vannulo are the historical ruins of the Greek empire from 600 BC built of limestone in the archaeological park of Paestum. One can walk inside the well preserved structures, as well as visit a museum housing some of the most wonderful artefacts. There is an amphitheatre too nearby. The whole area is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Sorrento Specialities :
After having pizza to one’s heart’s content , the second day in Sorrento can be devoted to experiencing the superlative Limoncello and the Gelatos & Sorbets and Olive Oil from this region.
Walking through the city centre, one of the famous gelateria is the Bougainvillea Bar and Gelateria, with a wide range of gelatos, sorbets and cakes. There is also an opportunity of taking a one hour gelato class from a Master who demonstrates how to make gelato at home followed by a tasting of the 2 flavours.
Limonoro is a beautiful boutique shop selling Limoncello and all things lemon. It is a family business and their products are made from the best Sorrento lemons which they grow by themselves. Samples to taste are given in plenty and their Limoncello, Lemon cream, Melon cream and cookies are worth tasting and buying.
Frantoio Gargiulo is in nearby (10 minutes by road) Sant’Agnello . They are more than a century old Extra Virgin Olive oil producer respecting the traditional methods of production. They offer a guided tour through their ancient olive trees on the estate, and explain all the stages required to produce the oil. It is followed by a tasting session of around 15 different types of extra virgin olive oils. Overall, this is a wonderful experience.
If there is time left, one can walk around the Sorrento Old Town,Via San Cesareo which is lined with shops, bars and restaurants, Piazza Tasso, Marina Grande and the Corso Italia for shopping.
Capri: 2 nights
( 25 min by ferry from Sorrento )
Capri is reached by frequent ferries from the Marina Piccola port of Sorrento. It is a beautiful small island, only 6 kms long, with craggy limestone cliffs plunging into a deep blue Tyrrhenian sea. There are only 2 small towns, one on either side, Capri and Anacapri separated by a 15 minutes journey between them. Capri is world famous for the Blue grotto, amazing cuisine, world class shopping and water in colours to be seen to be believed.
The main sights are:
Blue Grotto: These are caves in the rock formations creating an extraordinary optical effect of glowing electric blue water due to the sunlight bouncing on the cave walls.
The Faraglioni: It is a massive formation of 3 separate Limestone stacks seen from many vantage points. One can also swim next to them at the Da Luigi Beach Club or sail through them on a boat tour.
Boat tours: One can tour around the island with boat tours or hire a boat and swim in rocky coves and emerald green grottoes.
La Piazzetta: This is the most famous piazza of Capri town with fabulous cafes where people sit drinking cappuccinos all day long.
Monte Solaro: There is a chairlift to the summit of this 589 m mountain with views as far as Naples and Vesuvius.
Arco Naturale: This is a natural arch , spanning 12m and 18 m above the ground with beautiful walking paths around.
In the culinary scene, Capri is famous for the Caprese Salad and the Torta Caprese.
The Insalata Caprese ( literally, salad from Capri) is believed to have originated here. It is made from fresh, firm, less seeded meaty tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. All the restaurants serve this salad. Amongst the more known are Lo Zodiaco, Ristorante Terrazza Brunella, Panorama and Giorgio al Cucciolo.
After the pizza and the desserts, the last leg of the vacation is in world famous Positano, where one can completely enjoy the good life and be surrounded by some superb views of the sea.
Positano: 2 nights
( 25 min ferry ride from Capri or 45 min via Sorrento by ferry and road )
It is one of the most spectacular resort towns of Italy having colourful houses cascading down the vertical face of the hillside to the sea. Steps connect the various levels rather than roads. And they lead down to the beaches and the beautiful waters of the Amalfi coast. This attracts the jet setting crowd and all kinds of celebrities from across the globe to Positano.
One whole day can be spent just looking into the gift shops, boutiques, hiking the various paths or relaxing on the beach. The Path of the Gods has incredible views of the breathtaking coastline.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta has a magnificent dome of coloured tiles.There are innumerable restaurants serving different fare. There is shopping along Via Cristoforo Colombo and seaside dining along the Spiaggia Grande Beach.
Amongst the cafes, La Zagara is very well known. It has a beautiful terrace with views over the sea. Da Vincenzo , Casa e Bottega are other popular places.
On the second day in Positano, a tour to Amalfi and Ravello is recommended to complete this culinary journey.
Amalfi town ( 35 min by road from Positano) is another jewel on this coastline and is best known for its lemons. In Italy, the best lemons are found in Sorrento, Amalfi and Sicily. Amalfi lemons (Sfusato Amalfitano) are little elongated and have a sweet flavour and a powerful citrus aroma. They are quite big in size and the skins are rich in flavourful oils.
One well known tour is The Lemon Tour apart from many other Limoncello tours offered by local tour operators. It includes a visit to the farm, which is made with wooden pergolas along terraced slopes. One gets to know how the lemons are cultivated, up to the production of all the delicacies made from them. In the factory, they show how the lemons are peeled, and the process of the addition of sugar and alcohol to make the famous Limoncello. And at the end, one can taste the liquor, lemon cream, lemonade, lemon cake, jam, honey and more.
The final destination of this journey is Ravello. (15 min by road from Amalfi) It is a hidden treasure of this region, on top of the mountains from Amalfi and is known for its vistas and villas as well as the summer music festival.
Ravello is surrounded by vineyards with regional varieties of grapes. A popular one is Casa Vinicola Ettore Sammarco. They produce both white and red wines and are very passionate about their wine making. The owners themselves give a nice tour and one can get the feel of their hard work put in to produce the great wines.
Back to Amalfi, and that’s the end of an unforgettable Culinary journey in the south of Italy.
Amalfi to Naples or Rome is easy via road or train connection for a further onward journey.