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Posts tagged ‘Napoli’

From Napoli to Capri, Part 6: Giardini La Mortella

Let’s face it, the mellifluous tones of TV gardener, Monty Don, could prove to be quite persuasive. His TV series Monty Don’s Italian Gardens (and indeed the French alternative) are true staples of our household. On dark wintery days, when all the hope of summer seems far away, we run these DVDs in the background to remind us of happier climates and the seasonal spectacles to come. Over the years, we have been to many of the gardens visited by Monty Don, but one which always evaded us was La Mortella on the island of Ischia, the sumptuous scenes of which are some of the most enchanting of Monty’s Italian exploits. So when Monty told us to go there, what could we do?

Ischia booked, we knew this was going to be priority no.1. So much so that on the day when celebrated our 10th year anniversary, Dominik and I made a beeline for the place. Conceived in 1956 by the late Lady Susana Walton, Argentinian wife of famed British composer, Sir William Walton, the sub-tropical and Mediterranean gardens were a true project of passion, being seeded from almost nothing in the arid volcanic hillside of a rocky promontory overlooking the bay of Forio, and developed into a lush garden of Eden displaying some of the most exquisite varieties of plants from across the globe.


Working with determination and a heavy dose of her Latin spirit, Susana planted enthusiastically and with daring originality, importing plants from all over the world to create a garden quite unlike any other. As the plants took to the perfectly sunny climate of Ischia, so an almost unbroken canopy of verdant leaves spread over the skyline, creating underneath a micro-climate in which tropical varieties could thrive and add vivacious colour.

I speak often of finding paradise, but I must admit that as I strolled through the gardens of La Mortella, I felt we had come closer than ever to finding it. The softness created by sweeping leaves and palms and flowers hanging, nudging and caressing the space at every twist and turn is deeply satisfying. The dappled sunlight passing through vast tropical trees creates a kind of disco-ball like effect, and as if to further refresh and entice the visitors, a series of idyllic fountains and rivets of water are generously scattered throughout the garden, conceived with the help of Russell Page, the famous landscape architect.


The garden takes advantage of the suggested natural landscape, moving and twisting up steep volcanic cliffs to unveil further openings of gardens, each having slightly different themes and offering sumptuous views. I must admit to being less of a fan of the false crocodiles and other such paraphernalia which became more prevalent as the gardens moved skywards, but the overall effect was truly ravishing. We could have stayed there forever.

Today the gardens are run by the William Walton Foundation, and every summer the foundation organises a series of classical music recitals in the gardens in honour of the great composer. We were lucky enough to enjoy a highly emotive and utterly beautiful guitar recital by Neapolitan classical guitarist – Francesco Scelzo – making for the perfect ending to the perfect anniversary spent in yet another Ischian slice of paradise.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: Naples

Many berate Naples for being a filthy city; strewn with graffiti, laden down by crime, full of waifs and strays wandering the menacing dark streets until visitors are so scared they depart swiftly on a ferry for Capri…Are such concerns an illusion? For me, the madness of Napoli is what makes the city so enduring alluring. Yes, it’s somewhat tragic that the local authorities turn a blind eye to the relentless street art and vandalism coating some of Italy’s most beautiful baroque palazzi. But look beyond it, and you will find a city as architecturally rich as Rome or Palermo, with countless sources of visual spectacle.

So when it came to flicking over the pages of my sketchbook from Pompeii to this great city, I was once again spoiled for choice. I settled upon a location that we discovered when we were in search of Naples’ undisputed masterpiece – Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of MercyThe painting’s location, in the Pio Monte della Misericordia is right opposite one of Naples’ smallest but most beautfiul squares, the Piazza Sisto Riario Sforza, in the centre of which stands a structure of breathtaking baroque beauty… the Obelisco di San Gennaro. And here it was that I settled down to sketch.

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Obelisco di San Gennaro (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

It was an ambitious composition to choose to be sure. During the hours of sketching which proceeded, I secretly cursed all of those elaborate baroque embellishments which made the scene such a challenge to draw. I also didn’t realise at the time that the stunning domed structure which can be seen in the distance is the cupola of Naples’ Duomo. So a significant scene to sketch indeed. And at the end of my many baroque-induced struggles, I must say that I am pretty pleased with the result.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit 

From Napoli to Capri, Part 4: Catacombs, Chiara, Caravaggio

More than any other district of the city, the Spaccanapoli embodies the spirit of a city emboldened by its own insuperable energy, history and cultural superiority. In Napoli, city of dangerous extremes, crimes of passion, astonishing food and stunning geography, the Spaccanapoli feels like the ancient core of a time-battered city, like the old family grandmother ticking along besides the central hearth. It is an area whose quaint narrow streets are intermittently broken by staggering baroque palazzi; which has so many squares and churches and historical buildings that it feels like an open air museum; but whose array of shops and cafes, all overflowing with locals, demonstrates that this is no still life for the tourists: this is the living, breathing heart of a city which never stops.

But for all the life that courses through its streets, Naples is a city that is morbidly fascinated with death. Whether this obsession acts more like a memento mori – a reminder to seize the day and live to the full (which Neapolitans almost certainly do) is unclear. Whatever the reason, I have never before experienced a place quite so haunted by the ghosts of its past, and by the creepy presence of the dead.

 The Catacombs of San Gaudioso


This was no more so than in the Catacombs of San Gaudioso, a dark cavernous place accessible only through a secret trap door in the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanita. There, in the depths of this once historical burial place, the tombs of the dead were marked not only by painted images of their former selves, but by their real skulls embedded into the wall. Meanwhile, downstairs, the alcoves still remain where bodies would be propped to be drained of their liquid selves, before being buried as a decidedly reduced form.

San Gaudioso was spooky to be sure, but offered a fascinating insight into Naples’ extensive underworld. Back in the sunlight, an oozingly cheesy pumpkin and pancetta pizza in the Piazza del Gesù reinvigorated any spirits which might have been temporarily subdued in the world of the dead, and gave us nourishment and energy in sufficient doses to appreciate the magnificence of two staggering places of worship in the heart of the Spaccanapoli – the Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo, with its diamond-like facade and its staggering golden interior, and the mesmerising Cloisters of Santa Chiara.

The Chiesa del Gesu Nuovo


In Santa Chiara, in particular, we were stunned into submission by the mastery and magnificence which a garden filled with hand-painted majolica tiles embodied. Each depicting pastoral scenes, fruits and floral patterns, the overall effect was dazzling, and was to be a fitting precursor to the many beautiful majolica tiles we were to find decorating the floors of so many homes and hotels in Capri.

The Cloisters of Santa Chiara


But it was back into the gloom for the end of the day… albeit a gloom punctuated by the staggering light created by the undisputed master of light and shadow: Caravaggio. I have long wanted to see his masterpiece, The Seven Works of Mercy, in person. After all, I have traipsed across Europe admiring so much of the oeuvre of this incredible bad-boy< artist. But as is always the case with a Caravaggio painting, properly lit and embedded within the surroundings he intended, seeing this work in the Pio Monte della Misericordia was quite an experience, and once which was a fitting conclusion for this exhilarating day in the Spaccanapoli.

Caravaggio in the flesh


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 3: It Continued in Naples

See Naples and die, or so they say… well I suppose we all have to die at some point, but the sight of Naples will not be the thing that finishes me off. For with its fantastic tangle of mad urban bustle, its multi-layered, jam-packed and over-constructed landscapes, its fiery hot-blooded temperament, and its mix of the baroque extravaganza with graffiti-strewn slum, Naples is to my mind a city to see, to experience and to savour.


After the historical still-life that we experienced in Pompeii, we thirsted for something more akin to modern day madness. And where better to find it than in Naples, the city that never sleeps, never tires, but bustles with all the energy of its rather unstable tectonic foundations. So on this second day of our Naples adventure, we took to the streets of the Spaccanapoli, the Vomero, the Via Toledo and the Decumano Maggiore, each regions of a city exuding more character than I did sweat in the searing heat of day.


From vast churches and convents to spooky catacombs and cocktail bars, we covered an awful lot as we continued our tour of Naples. But let us savour those characterful streets for now. This post concentrates on the fabric of the city, on those splendid baroque spectacles, on the multi-layered cityscapes constructed of palazzo upon pauper’s house, on the cramped shops selling sfogliatelli, and the cafes whose steaming hot terraces proved to be the perfect place for an extra strong negroni. See Naples… and live!


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: Pompeii

How could I not take my travel sketchbook out with me on this trip? With antiquity abound, stunning scenery and the ancient city of Naples splayed out before me, I could have sketched non-stop. Sadly, time never allows for such a frequency of activity. But it did allow for this sketch of a pile of ruins in Pompeii.

Pompeii is the kind of place which lends itself to monochrome sketching at every turn. With so many ruins, textures, half-battered statues, discarded pots and mosaics (to name but a few features), all set against a backdrop of mountains and that ubiquitous Vesuvius, I was spoilt for choice in my decision of where to open my sketchbook. In the end I opted for this place – a pile of rubble towards the exit of the archaeological site, which appeared to lack the significance attributed to some areas, but which had one very striking highlight at its heart – a magnificent bronze nude, rising from the rubble and set against a staggering mountainous panorama.

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Pompeii Ruins (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The statue itself is a modern addition to Pompeii, but by no means an unwelcome one, embodying the spirit of the place but providing a startling green/ bronze contrast to the monochrome colour of rubble and ruins. Of course the colours cannot be appreciated from this sketch in black pen, but the variance of topography it provides is what, for me, makes the landscape, and the composition of this sketch, interesting.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit 

Honeymoon and Hotels: Mareluna Napoli

Four years ago, I started what was to become a collection of gouache images of hotels. From my first image painted during our honeymoon, of our pretty pink little bedroom in the ravishing Colombe d’Or Hotel in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, with the iconic Calder mobile visible through the window and my painting tools spread on the wooden desk, a story of images was born – images which have since gone on the capture countless bedrooms and views from the many incredible hotels which have played host to us on our holidays.

As we arrived in Naples and looked onto the most ravishing views of the sea and the Castel dell’Ovo, I knew that the next chapter in my narrative of honeymoon and hotels was just around the corner, and I painted this work: Mareluna Napol, named after the hotel of the same name.

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Mareluna Napoli (©2019 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This small painting is no traditional capture of the Neapolitan landscape, but in its haphazardness drunkenness, vivacity and freshness of colour, and that centralised seaside view, it is a very much a homage to Naples. All that is missing is a pizza! But true to form, this is very much an image of our hotel room in the Mareluna Suite de Charme, whose wooden floor and ceiling contrasted dramatically with the fresh white walls and retro curved plastic ceiling light, while its wrought iron balcony so perfectly framed that resplendent view in all its Mediterranean majesty.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

From Napoli to Capri, Part 1: It Started in Naples

Just like the opening scenes of our favourite Sophia Loren/ Clark Gable film, It Started in Naples (1960), our magnificent trip from Napoli to Capri also began in Naples, on the Bay of Naples in fact. And in parallel with the first scene of that film, our first view of Naples was over the iconic Castel dell’Ovo with the silhouette of the mighty Vesuvius looming up behind it, and the silky blue waters of the Mediterranean sea flowing in around it.

This was to be the beginning of a mighty adventure in what must be one of the most beautiful areas of the world; a stretch of mountainous, fertile, stunning scenery full of contrast: from the bustling, sometimes menacing but beautiful Campanian capital of Naples, to the tranquil paradise of Ischia, and the fashionista’s paradise of Capri.


Yet it all started in Naples, and that opening scene was framed, liked the most dramatic of theatrical montages, by the drapery of curtains and a proscenium arch, namely the window (and balcony) of our very own room with a view. That room was to be enjoyed at the Mareluna Suite de Charme, a charming little boutique hotel stationed on the first floor of an old Neapolitan palazzo, and from there, we could indulge in the daily blockbuster of the Bay of Naples awakening, the sea glistening, and the outline of Capri emerging out of the mist of the horizon, while in the closer foreground, locals would take a morning dip in the warm waters, and chat/ yell along the seaside promenade.

That same scene was to occupy a prominent place in our admiration of Naples, and this first, photographic post from our holiday is something of a prologue to the story that will follow. It is a collection of our first impressions – the view by sunset, and in the morning; the nearby Castel dell’Ovo and the Port of Santa Lucia, and the tenement blocks clinging precariously to steep hillsides nearby. And of course that looming, dramatic shadow of Vesuvius, an omnipresent backdrop to a city which thrives on its fertile soils, but is always living on the edge of disaster, knowing that a volcanic end is, like the sword of Damocles, a constant and real risk.


Perhaps the presence of Vesuvius is why Naples feels both dangerous but alive, full of hot fiery tempers but a tangible vivacity for life. It’s a feeling which energises Naples, and makes it one of the most interesting cities to visit in Italy. Come back soon to the Daily Norm, to find out what happened when we made Naples our base for a few days.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Natale Italiano | Naples – Day 1: Coastline Castles and the Spaccanapoli

After the dazzling ancient spectacles and baroque masterpieces of Rome, and the elegant watery wonderland of Venice, we weren’t exactly enamoured by Napoli when we arrived one late afternoon after Christmas. Described by some as the last bastion of civilisation before Italy turns savage to the South, it felt to us a little like civilisation had gone away for the holidays. Our purported 4 star hotel, La Ciliegina had to be accessed up some dark and dingy lift shaft in a side street block of flats; everywhere we ventured in this crowded rowdy city was doused with layer upon layer of graffiti (even their most sacred palaces and churches) and a most unwelcome rain shower meant that the darkest most intimidating of Naples’ unfriendly looking cobbled streets took on an even more sinister guise, not helped by the shuttered (graffitied) shops and the eery lack of visitors. And all the time our ears were ringing with the forewarnings which had been consistently delivered at every mention of a visit to the city: beware pickpockets, muggers, criminal gangs. Gosh, we had even left our wallets locked away in the hotel safe for fear of attack!

But come the following morning when the sunshine washed its warming radiance across the city, suddenly Naples was a different place. Walking up to the hotel rooftop and seeing the dazzling spectacle of mount Vesuvius, its slopes partially shrouded in mist like some ancient Japanese silk painting, and its grand peaks rising up into the blue sky at the end of the wide sweeping bay of Naples, was like a postcard dream straight out of the summer. Filled with a new sense of excited anticipation, we headed out into Naples to reacquaint ourselves with the city afresh.

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It’s so true what people say: the sun changes everything, and the Naples we found that morning was no longer a dingy den of backstreets but an elegant city of faded grandeur, with its stunning shopping arcade straight out of the Belle Époque (the Galleria Umberto I) and its vast semi circular Piazza Plebiscito nestled between the Basilica di San Francesco and  the old palace dating back to Bourbon rule.

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But with the weather so good, we were not about to hang around in the city centre. Rather, after so many months separation, there was only one thing we wanted to embrace that sunny morning – the sea. And so heading down the pine tree lined Via Cesario Condole, our nostrils filling progressively with the light salty perfume of the sea, we soon encountered an even more spectacular view of Vesuvius – with the sparkling sun-drenched waters of the Mediterranean sea lapping up against its feet.

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And so began possibly our favourite day of the whole Italy holiday, as we got to know the seafront of Naples with its small marinas, two castles and lines of elegant hotels all under the warmth of a very welcome winter sun.

After a quick stroll around the Castel Nuovo, we headed down to the much prettier Castel dell’Ovo, which juts out to sea at one end of the bay of Naples, and encircles in its embrace a little marina. That delightful situation became the sight of an hour or so of enthusiastic photography (see tomorrow’s post) and a divine coffee by the waterside. We also trekked around the vast castle walls from where views of Vesuvius to the south and Naples’ urban sprawl to the North were better than ever. And in the latter vantage, we set our eyes upon a rather welcoming looking seaside cafe and headed straight there for a well earned lunch.

The Castel Nuovo

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and the Castel dell’Ovo and its marina

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What does one eat in Naples? Well pizza of course, and I ate my first with this spectacular seaside view before me. I have to say, Neapolitan pizzas were a little stodgier than I was expecting, but then I am used to the crispier bases which I gather may be a bastardisation of the north. There was no denying taste or flavour though – covered with a rich pesto, my pizza tasted as good as it looked, helped down by a very chilled and very summery glass of white wine.


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The Daily Norm’s Photo of the Week: The Napoli Puddle of Mystery

Following on from the all sparkling, all dancing spectacle of yesterday’s Italian festive lights post, today’s post, and indeed this week’s Daily Norm photograph of the week, focuses specifically on one photo from Italy which, like yesterday, features Christmas lights, but is characterised by an altogether different mood. With its gloomy dark lighting, this photograph is an altogether more mysterious image, one which feels edgy, and almost intimidating, as though we have emerged from the darkness which surrounds the frame of the photo. In the sinister blue glow, the glistening cobbles of a Naples street can be seen, fresh after a recent rainfall. The crack down the cobbles, which has collected more water owing to the incline of the road runs almost like a wound through the centre of the photo; while the puddle in the centre, reflecting the street decorations hung above, looks like some kind of mysterious magical cauldron, filled with a potion created with a sorcerer’s touch.


The fact of the matter is that no matter how fantastical my description, or indeed the finish of this photo may be, it was taken in the notoriously dark, gloomy and at times dangerous streets of Naples’ old town one December evening after the rain. Because of the rainfall, the usually crowded streets were near deserted, and the shop keepers had shut up shop for the night. That made the area, with its dark unforgiving alleyways no friend of the guileless tourist, and for me this photo carries with it the dark edginess of the mood prevailing at that time. Needless to say, shortly after it was taken my partner and I ran off to the safety of our hotel, my camera safely stowed away as we did so!

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.