With more than 10 million books sold in 40 countries, the appeal of Elena Ferrante’s enigmatic Neopolitan saga is universal and has readers across the world making the pilgrimage to Naples, Italy. The mysterious author, who works under a pseudonym, has garnered cult-like status and the settings of her books depicting working-class Italian life are as vibrant and rich as the complex female relationships portrayed.
A gritty, mid-20th–century Naples is the brewing ground for her most famous suite, The Neapolitan Novels quartet and My Brilliant Friend, its praised HBO adaptation. We find out where you should go in Naples to recreate the atmosphere of the books and how their success has impacted tourism in the seaside city.
Book lovers know literature can inspire travel. And while Ferrante fever has been booming in Naples the last decade, Danielle Oteri, an art historian specializing in Naples and author of “Ferrante Fever: A Tour of Naples Inspired by Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels” believes that there was a synchronicity between the resurgence of the popularity of Naples and the books independent of each other.
“The popularity of the Neapolitan novels coincided with a long campaign within Naples to be a more tourist-friendly destination,” she says. This included a new airport, an improved taxi system, and a program connecting the train station to the port with ferries from Naples to the islands.
Both main characters, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, were born and raised in the poor, working-class corner of Rione Luzzatti, east of Naples UNESCO center. The area remains quite isolated, so we recommend joining the “Looking for Lila” tour. Here, live book readings blend seamlessly with parish walks and exploration of local life. The tour will also take you to Borgo Sant’Antoni, an off-the-beaten-track market where you can support family businesses and delight in local delicacies. There’s also the possibility of enjoying a three-course boozy book club lunch in the area with local Ferrante expert and author Maurizio Pagano.
Elena and Lila’s love of literature is a theme throughout the novels, and there are plenty of stops in Naples tied to books and reading. Check out the bookstore Via Mezzacannone where Elena works part time then head to Via Port’Alba to find your next literary treasure in one of their stalls.
Don’t forget to pop into Feltrinelli, the bookshop where Elena did her presentation in “The Story of the Lost Child.” For a great photo backdrop, the Biblioteca Andreoli near the train station pays homage to the show with impressive murals featuring blown-up cutouts by Eduardo Castaldo, the photographer from the show.
Do as the characters do and stroll down Rettifilo to cruise the shops and stop for gelato as you explore the area where Stefano rents a flat for his mistress. Other must-see sites include the Chiaia, Mergellina, and Vomero neighborhoods where the Solara shoe salon is set and where the characters move to in later books.
“These are the more tony neighborhoods of Naples with beautiful architecture, beach clubs, shops, restaurants, and breathtaking sea views,” Oteri says. Need a little snack after all that walking? Make for Via Vesuvio and Il Pasticciello Bakery for pagnuttiell, the classic ham and cheese street snack that the characters in the books are never seemingly without.
Oteri believes that Lila is a personification of Naples, drawing parallels between her characteristics and those of the city.
“Just like Naples, Lila is gorgeous, a little mystical, but simultaneously vulgar and chaotic,” she says. “The Romans would come to the Bay of Naples to get prophecies from the Cumean Sybill and Lila has this supernatural quality to see for others what they can’t see for themselves. She can be nurturing and kind like the fertile soil of Mount Vesuvius and then erupt violently. She hates the Mafia and rails against it her entire life because it is the thing that ruins the city, but then she can never leave Naples, not even for a vacation.
“In the last book she becomes obsessed with the history of Naples. These long paragraphs may have been boring to those who don’t love the city as I do, but they reveal the deep attachment that Elena Ferrante has for Naples and how the city and the characters are inextricable,” Oteri says.
Naples, being one of the longest continually inhabited cities in the world, still has a foot firmly in the past. “One comment I frequently hear is that Naples—and much of South Italy—feels like the Italy they first discovered when traveling 20 or 30 years ago, before the Internet completely changed the travel industry,” Oteri says. “Naples is not dressed up for tourism like other cities in Italy, and I think that is refreshing because both the beauty and the chaos are authentic and true.”
For a true Italian Ferrante experience, your journey won’t be complete without a trip to the volcanic island of Ischia. Although Lila rarely leaves Naples, she and Elena spend a formative summer together there in “The Story of a New Name,” the second book in the Neaopolitan novels. The island in the Tyrrhenian Sea is known for its quaint bays and thermal springs and is easily reachable from Naples via an hour-long ferry.
Relax on the sandy dunes of half-moon shaped Maronti beach then make your way up to the Forio area on the western side of the island, where Lila and Stefano had their holiday home. From here you can visit the surrounding small villages, then hike from Fontana up to Mount Epomeo for epic views over nearby vineyards and rolling waves.
To take in the full versatility of Ischia, stay for a long weekend. For a rustic and authentic stay, check in at the farmhouse Agriturismo Pera Di Basso in the village of Casamicciola.
With sea views from a rocky cape, a generous garden pool and just a 20-minute walk to the beach, Pera Di Basso offers an unbeatable sojourn. For food, enjoy homemade dishes using local ingredients and vegetables from their garden. The interior is classically Italian with a timeless quality making it easy to imagine Elena and Lila vacationing here for some calm away from the hustle and bustle of Naples.
For accommodation in Ferrante’s Naples, opt for Leone Camere D’autore in the Chiaia district.
The hotel is just a short walk from Naples beach and sports tastefully decorated rooms with balconies, some with a whirlpool and steam sauna.
For a deluxe option, Interno Barocco is a prime guest house located in the city’s historic center.
All rooms offer balconies with a view of the Palazzo Gravina and velvet furniture and modern flourishes making for a sophisticated stay. Enjoy their tasty Italian breakfast and coffee each morning before you head out on your own Neopolitan adventure.