A Culinary Tour of Naples and Campania
THEY SAY that Italians add work and life to food and wine – an enviable lifestyle priority that seems to be absent in our own culture.
So I was gratified to be able to experience it first-hand on a gastronomic tour of Naples & Campania earlier this month, where over three days I sampled a true taste of luxury, but one that is also imbued with simplicity and a complete lack of pretentiousness.
My first morning was spent meeting local food and wine suppliers at the Italian Food XP event at Mostra D’Oltremare exhibition centre in Naples, following a press conference in which Italian ministers stressed the importance of regional food and wine in generating tourism to this part of country.
There followed a tour of the historical city centre and its architectural treasures, from the magnificent Church of Santa Chiara to the ‘Veiled Christ’ preserved in the San Gregorio Armeno, one of the most important Baroque complexes in Naples. While the city might aesthetically be a bit rough around the edges, it makes these contrasting pockets of visual beauty stand out even more.
That evening my party was treated to a traditional multi-course meal – comprising two pasta plates, a fish dish (octopus) and a delicious rum baba dessert washed down with a local grappa – at D’Angelo Santa Caterina, high up on one of the hills overlooking the city centre, offering stunning nighttime views out to the Mediterranean Sea.
The following night a similar meal was enjoyed at a traditional Neapolitan seafront restaurant near the Ovo Castle fortress, named La Bersagliera, which celebrates its 100th birthday in a couple of years’ time.
The unarguable culinary highlight though was a restaurant a bit off-piste from the Naples area, in a town called Sant’Angelo all’Esca, about an hour’s drive away and up into the Campania mountains. ‘La Collina’ perches high on a hill overlooking a valley, with sweeping views across neighbouring town Taurasi and 50 hectares of vineyards – it’s no wonder the venue is a highly sought-after wedding location.
The food was exceptional though, from its comprehensive antipasti to a melt-in-mouth steak cooked to medium-rare perfection and served in strips, not to mention their award-winning Tenuta Cavalier Pepe wines which complemented each course flawlessly, one of which won best Taurasi wine two years running at the International Wine Challenge.
Unsurprisingly I had a fairly fuzzy head for our group’s visit on the final afternoon to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Herculaneum (Ercolano): the ancient Roman town destroyed by the same volcanic eruption that devastated the more famous Pompeii in 79AD.
Fittingly, our final lunch was on the lower inclines of Vesuvius, at renowned wine producer Cantina Del Vesuvio, where we enjoyed pasta served with tomatoes grown on the volcanic slopes, and Lacryma Christi (‘Tears of Christ’) – a local speciality wine made from grapes grown on the same fertile slopes.
All in all, the whole trip to Campania was one of the more satisfying Epicurean odysseys I’ve ever been fortunate enough to embark on, and one that really emphasised the true character and importance of both food and vino in this part of the world.
There is so much more to see and do here though, and the itinerary didn’t even have the chance to stop at any of Naples’ famous purveyors of classic Neapolitan pizzas, so that alone is something that guarantees my return at the next opportunity.
For bon vivants around the continent, there really isn’t many other places like it on the planet.
Kris stayed at the 4* Hotel Palazzo Esedra: www.palazzoesedra.it
For more information on the region’s food & wine go to www.italianfoodxp.it