My First Airbnb Experience in Naples

In recent years, staying at people’s homes while traveling has become somewhat mainstream. Back in the 1960’s in India, my grandmother started the local chapter for Servas, a travel exchange program designed for people to further global peace. While growing up in Chandigarh, I was able to interact with guests from all over the world who came to stay with us while traveling through India. No money was exchanged with these strangers; they would bring gifts and we would offer them our home, food and local tours. It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to see the world through their eyes.
Through my adulthood, I have hosted and stayed through Servas and Couch Surfing. During a recent visit to Naples, Italy, I decided to give Airbnb a try.
Airbnb works a bit differently as homeowners do list their places officially on the website (with pictures, prices, services, etc), and bookings and payments are accepted through the site. You can browse through the listings, see the actual location on a map, photos of your room and read guest comments.
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I picked B&B LA TERRAZZA (‘O CAFÉ) in Naples for 3 nights at $90/ night. Though a 3-star hotel would cost just a few bucks more, I decided it would be a better experience to stay at an authentic Napoli home with locals than at a hotel since I was traveling by myself.

The place was actually better than described. The B&B was off a busy street in an apartment building. The owners, Valentina and Dario communicated with me prior to my arrival (through text and Airbnb chat) giving me directions and buzzing me in to the building once I got there. There was plenty of security with keys and cameras. The 4 bedroom/ 4 bath apartment was located on the 5th floor of an old building that had been renovated. Though it was off a busy commercial street, the apartment was fairly quiet. There was a small elevator and you needed a key to start it. A unique feature I had not seen before.

The apartment itself was very spacious. Rooms were located along a long hallway. There was a reception desk where Dario checked his bookings, and a common kitchen where Valentina cooked meals. The couple usually hung out in the vast patio which backed up to one of the historic churches of Naples. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in the last earthquake and hasn’t been renovated since. Nevertheless, it was beautiful to look at the ruins.

Airbnb in NaplesMy room was huge with high ceilings and a spacious private bathroom. There was an air conditioner (needed in 90F Italian summer), a king size bed, a couch, desk and chairs. The WiFi was fast enough to stream movies. I felt like I was staying at one of the Italian aristocrat homes built in this area during the 16th century, only everything was renovated and modernized.

airnbn napoliThe place was centrally located, only 10 minutes walking distances from the train station, port and historic city center. During my visit, I never had to take any transportation as I could just walk everywhere.

Valentina and Dario, in their heavy Italian accent, planned by itinerary once I got there. Valentina spoke excellent English. She mapped the places I wanted to see and recommended a few restaurants (including her parent’s pizza place down the street, which was excellent). I frequently sought their advice as I had been warned that Naples is not the safest places for a woman to be traveling alone. Valentina, being a native Napoletana, told me which streets to stay off at what times of the day, better roads to take for scenic views, and how to navigate the busy train stations.

Airbnb in NaplesThe couple use to own a restaurant too, but since Valentina discovered she had celiac disease, she really didn’t want to be making pizza and pasta all day. I don’t blame her! Only in February this year, they opened La Terrazzo Bed and Breakfast after selling their restaurant. Now, they have 5 rooms on 2 floors of the building. They live in one and rent out the other rooms. I highly recommend La Terrazza for anyone who wants to have a comfortable yet authentic Napoli experience.

Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is in more than 34,000 cities across 191 countries. The 2 million+ listings include single rooms, villas, wedding venues, yurts, tree houses, beach homes, and even windmills and castles! If you haven’t yet checked out Airbnb yet, click here to join and receive $25 in travel credit.

PS – This is NOT a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. 

When in Naples – EAT!

In my opinion, there is nothing to do in Naples except eat! Surely, its a historic city with lots of UNESCO world heritage sites and beautiful views, but the sole reason to come here is for the food. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and many other dishes. It is the former capital of Italy and is largely responsible for all things we know of as “Italian cuisine” in most of the world.

On a Tuesday morning, my guide, Alberto from Context Travel and I set out on a food tour of the historic area. We start at Duomo di Napoli (Naples Cathedral) and see the remnants of Saint Januarius inside this spectacular 14th century construction. We walk down the famous Via dei Tribunali, making small detours to see narrow alleys with towering residences on both sides. During the 4-hour long eating spree, we take intermissions between courses to step into a church or a monastery, look at local crafts, and discuss more of – you know what – Italian food!

Here are some highlights of my Food Tour in Naples with Context Travel…

Sfogliatelle is a traditional Neapolitan pastry with thick flaky layers of dough filled with lightly whipped ricotta and a little powdered sugar dusted on top. There is also a brioche version of this. It’s best eaten when warm out of the oven, and locals enjoy it for breakfast or afternoon snack.

Sfogliatelle naplesBaba au Rhum is a fluffy sponge cake made with eggs, milk and butter, and soaked in rum. It is recognizable by its shape, a 2-inch cylinder. You can also find cream filled Baba at pastry shops across Naples. It is said that this pastry originated from France, but has Polish roots as well.

baba naples

Italians are passionate about their coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino at 10am, Alberto looked at me in horror. “If you want to drink coffee during the day, it has to be an espresso” he explained. Though coffee is not grown in Italy, they brew it the Italian way, with lots of ground coffee and little water, for a very short time (40 seconds). As a result, the coffee is dense but has less caffeine. You can add sugar, but there’s no room for milk in that tiny Italian espresso cup.

naples pizza fritta

Next we eat the local street food, Pizza Fritta. This light and fluffy deep fried pizza dough almost reminds me of sopapilla from New Mexico. It is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. Just the perfect snack before lunch!

There is also a stuffed version of the Pizza Fritta which basically looks like a Calzone. Ricotta cheese, salami and tomato sauce are the only ingredients that are put inside, sealed and deep fried in hot oil. It never got popular outside Naples but out here it is a favorite street snack.

naples pizza frittaArancini are my favorite Italian appetizers. These fried risotto balls are stuffed with ragù (meat and tomato sauce), mozzarella, and peas, though there are other variations with mushrooms, eggplants, or pistachios as well.  It can be pretty much made with whatever leftover ingredients you may have. Note ragu with pasta is a special Sunday meal. The ladies of the house will start to cook ragu 24 hours in advance, simmering the tomatoes on very low heat till the sauce is thick and flavorful.

Being in southern Italy, cheese, olives, and cured meats are staples. Alberto took me to a speciality grocery store where locals shop for these products. Here I learned that if you can squeeze out milk from Buffalo Mozzarella with the tip of a fork, it means that its fresh. He recommends that Buffalo Mozzarella should be eaten within 24 hours, and should never be used for cooking pizza. We also taste Goat Ricotta, which is used to make pastries, and Smoked and Aged Provolone perfect for snacking with wine.

buffalo mozzarella naplesFritto Misto are also popular street foods in Naples. You can often see display windows full of fried snacks including fried zucchini, eggplant, calamari, shrimp, potato croquettes, or whatever is in season. You would order it by Copa (paper cones) and snack on it with a glass of beer or aperitif.

Next, we head to O Cerriglio – Trattoria Cucina Napoletana to try our hands on making pizza. The chef gives me a brief demo and makes it look so easy, but it isn’t! I have made pizza before, but the extremely thin dough of Neapolitan Pizza Margarita needs some skills to stretch, lift, and twist without burning or forming holes. We stretch the dough with only our fingers (no roller), spread 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, few slices of fior di latte mozzarella (cow’s milk mozzarella), sprinkle grated parmesan cheese and top with fresh basil leaves. It takes only a minute to make the pizza and another 45 seconds to bake it in this very hot brick oven reaching temperatures of 700-800F. This is why the pizza has a crunchy crust and a soft center.

pizza cooking class naples

Alberto was a wonderful guide and showed me a lot of hidden gems in the historic area that I didn’t even knew excited, even though I had been through those streets few times before. He is available for walking food tours in group sizes 1-6 booked through Context Travel.

Read more about the history of pizza.

If you have another Neapolitan speciality dish to share, leave a comment below.