My Comments on the South of Italy

Reggio Calabria
Reggio Calabria

An article that appeared this week on the New York Times Op-Ed page caught my attention. Respected writer Beppe Severgnini titled his piece, Why No One Goes to Naples. In the piece, Severgnini is not only talking about Naples, but also the rest of southern Italy, or the Mezzogiorno. Reading his article made me feel a little sad because I realize that much of what he writes is true. The saving grace is that his perspective is somewhat hopeful.

I found  places in Puglia and Sicily to be appealing partly because they were not crowded and non-touristy. I enjoyed traveling to places where I had to speak Italian and where I was not overrun by tour groups. Cities in Puglia like Lecce and Ostuni and smaller towns like Cisternino and Martina Franca were charming. I am positive that travelers to Italy would also discover their   appeal. I am not so surprised by the statistic that only 13 percent of travelers to southern Italy.

Mobile fruit and vegetable  stand in Lecce
Mobile fruit and vegetable stand in Lecce

Sicily is a special place for me because my grandparents came from the Messina region. But this island too, is very diverse and I discovered magic in its people, in Siracusa, Cefalù, Savoca, and other cities and villages.

Cisternino centro storico
Cisternino centro storico

As Severgnini states, the Italian government is losing an opportunity to spread the word and be able to increase tourism to these regions as well as the beautiful countryside in Basilicata and Calabria. He minces no words when he explains about the misappropriated funding for tourism and the corrupt practices involving infrastructure. I saw first-hand last fall how much of the autostrada in the south was under construction, and also had numerous detours. What should take six hours to drive takes ten.

Naples port
Naples port

As far as Napoli is concerned I must admit I had my own fears and concerns, about safety and crime. I never wanted to spend time there after I saw the trash all over the streets and read the horror stories by travel agents. And some of it is true. The perception of Naples will likely always be connected to crime due to the heavy presence of the Camorra, the Mafioso of Napoli. However much of the trash  problem is created by the Mafiosi, who control the industry. Corruption and bribery is well-documented and is an inherent problem.

Ferry boats in Naples
Ferry boats in Naples

I have, however, had the good fortune to meet Tina, from Discover Napoli Destinations. Her enthusiasm for her city is contagious and she has sung the praises of Napoli and posted  countless stunning photos of this southern Italian city.

Port of Naples
Port of Naples

I realize that I have missed out on experiencing another gem of the south, and on my next trip to Italy I am going to see the good side of Naples, with Tina’s help.

Italy is an amazing place, and as you know, I have a continuous love affair with Italy which only gets stronger every time I visit. Let’s join Severgnini in his hopes that the new young prime minister, Matteo Renzi, can implement changes that will make for a brighter future in  southern Italy.

40 Responses

  1. Carol B

    Having lived in Napoli, I can assure you and your readers that there are many fabulous treasures to discover in this often maligned city and surrounding area. Yes, it can be a chaotic place but the vistas are magnificent, the people friendly and the food is some of the best in all of Italy.

    I also traveled in Basilicata and Puglia which both have stunning natural beauty and much history to discover.

    Mi manca Italia,
    Carol B

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks so much Carol – I am really excited about it..I have been to Puglia and also agree that it is amazing. I would love to visit Matera in Basilicata, hopefully next spring!

  2. Dani Pesconi-Arthur (@DaniArthurBR)

    “Naples is a Paradise: everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now … Every time I wish to write words, visual images come up of the fruitful countryside, the open sea, the islands veiled in a haze, the smoking mountain, etc., and I lack the mental organ which could describe them.” (Goethe, Italian Journey)

    Margie, I lack the mental organ to describe Napoli. I left a piece of my heart there. My great-grandparents were from Potenza, in Basilicata, and I haven’t visited it yet. It’s supposed to be beautiful! As for Napoli itself, beware… you’ll fall in love. I think that all the “bad stories” surrounding it are what gives this place a sense of being magical. I lived in the Quartieri Spagnoli (Vico Giardinetto, above Hosteria Toledo, a great restaurant) and I never felt threatened, although my students at the time used to tell me “You’re(a) crrrrazy, teacher!”.
    I don’t know whether you’ve come across these books, but I strongly recommend them:
    1) In the Shadow of Vesuvius – A Cultural History of Naples, by Jordan Lancaster
    2) Thus Spake Bellavista, by Luciano De Crescenzo (this is just hilarious!)
    3) Gomorrah, by Roberto Saviano (all about the Camorra)

    Excellent post! I’ll defend Napoli till I die!!! 🙂

  3. Francesca

    I had a wonderful time in Naples the last time I was there, ( and Palermo in Sicilia).. It is a remarkable town with so much to see, do and eat. The nearby area of Marechiaro, with views to Capri, and the famous nearby restaurant, La Finestrella… hmm, wish I could fly back now.

    • margieinitaly

      Great tips Francesca. I appreciate the comments and look forward to exploring Naples and the surrounding area on my next trip to Italy. Thanks so much!

  4. lee laurino

    I have been to Naples a number of times while living in Sorrento but always with some trepidation.

    then I also met Tina and spent a day seeing the hidden Naples….. there shall be many posts about DND and Tina this spring on my blog hometotialy.

    if you have never been to Naples you must experience this historic city with DND

    • margieinitaly

      Lee, I appreciate your comments and can’t wait to discover the character and culture of Naples with Discover Napoli Destinations

  5. Bonnie Melielo

    Beppe’s article was excellent. I have lots of hope pinned on the new Prime Minister!! I spent a day in Naples in May 2010. I was with my husband and sister-in-law and we went primarily to do research at the Stato Archivio and Stato Civile. Perhaps because we are originally from the NYC area and my grandmother was born in Naples that we weren’t intimidated. The basilica is unbelievably gorgeous, fabulous pizza of course. We never travel with gobs of jewelery hanging from us, fanny packs, etc. Are always aware of our surroundings. Have also spent a week in Calabria, where my family is from. Did research in Cosenza, went up in the mountains to Acri, on the coast in Soverato. Gorgeous places, super friendly people. My husband noted that in the North of Italy people will respond to your greeting (most of the time) in the South they greet you first!!!!

    • margieinitaly

      Bonnie, Thanks for sharing your experience in Naples and other southern Italian towns. I like the comment from your husband too! Grazie

  6. susanvanallen

    Great post and read. I agree with this post, there is not many people visiting these hidden gems down South. I was blessed to be able to visit the south prior to the popular tourist regions in the North. Visiting the southern regions I felt a lot of warmth from the Sicilians and Calabreses more than I did up North. They were interested in learning about me and where I was from and didn’t mind if I spoke broken Italian. It is a shame the regions aren’t visited however, I appreciate the southern regions more because I was able to live like a local and not a tourist.– Whitney Hickey

  7. Joan Schmelzle

    I truly love Naples. As I said in a review I wrote of my 2012 Italy trip, “Frankly Naples is an ugly city, but you can go through a door and find great beauty of many kinds.” I cited the Archological museum, churches, galleries, etc. There is so much there to enjoy. If I have the time I would not miss this city when in Italy. It is so full of life. Yes there is crime, but common sense must rule for the traveler. I have come home from Naples with many good stories over the years.
    Of course, I also love Sicily and would like to know other southern parst of my favorite county to visit, but at my age I probably have more chance of seeing Naples again

  8. Lora @savoringitaly

    wonderful post, Margie! You know my thoughts on the south of Italy and especially, Sicily…I’m happy you shared your thoughts on Severgnini’s article.

  9. Debra Kolkka

    Naples is wonderful, you must go! I loved my visit there and wrote a few posts on it. The historical centre is magical and there is no rubbish problem there. I felt safe wherever I went and I was alone.
    Puglia has some wonderful places as you say, but the roads are some of the worst I have driven on in Italy and you do have to drive through some truly horrible concrete towns to get to the lovely places. We loved the food in Puglia, and the rugged landscape.

    • jennyandstephenmilan

      I hadn’t read this article, so many thanks Margie. I’ve heard many wonderful stories about the south, particularly Puglia and Sicily, so am looking forward to a month long holiday there next year. I’ve always avoided Naples as I found it frightening when I travelled there years ago on my way to Pompeii.. I’m yet to be convinced that it’s worth a visit.

      • margieinitaly

        Grazie Jenny and Stephen – I will keep you posted about Napoli after I visit there, which will be during my next trip to Italy.

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks Bonnie – I will be posting from my blog after I visit Napoli, but there could be a book coming from that area…Vediamo.

  10. Lyn

    I really did enjoy my time in Puglia. Part of the charm for me was the fact that it is not spoilt by having too many tourists. It is not as easy to get to as is the west coast of Italy. I would like to visit calabria one day.

    • margieinitaly

      I do agree that a car is almost a necessity to visit some of these southern areas in Italy. But they are totally worth the time! I would like to see Matera in Basilicata one day.

  11. Allison Scola

    I concur. This article made me sad because I know so much of it is true; however, I’m hoping we can change this perception! Avanti!

  12. italyonmymind

    I found the article a few days ago and although I essentially knew about its contents, it continues to sadden me to think about how wonderful – but economically disadvantaged – the South is. It breaks my heart. When I was there in 2010 there was so much rubbish around, especially in Campagna. Matteo Renzi has got an enormous task ahead. Thanks for writing this post Margie

    • margieinitaly

      I am glad that you enjoyed it and equally glad the the New York Times published this piece by Beppe Severgnino. Let’s hope something improves with Italy’s new prime minister.

  13. ishitasood

    Coincidentally I read this article on South Italy yesterday myself. I havent been in the South but it does look like the Central and North get more advantage. Margie, I never knew your grandparents were from this region Messina. Wonderful!

I'm always interested in your thoughts, so please leave a comment.