A culinary guide to Sanità, the atmospheric Naples neighbourhood on the up

Explore the revitalised district of Sanità to find authentic pizza restaurants, unique pastry, washing line-strung streets and a cathedral-sized ossuary carved into the rock.

Thursday, September 3, 2020,
By Julia Buckley
Photographs By Francesco Lastrucci
Pizza chef outside Concettina ai Tre Santi pizzeria with a tray of dough.

Pizza chef outside Concettina ai Tre Santi pizzeria with a tray of dough.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

It should be a quiet Tuesday lunchtime in the Sanità, but Via Vergini is full of life. Little girls in fancy dress — a Chiquita banana girl, Elsa from Frozen — strut about with their parents. An elderly man races over the cobbles in a cart pulled by a skewbald pony. Passersby inspect the shop displays: garish pleather bags, vegetables stacked impossibly high, fresh fish from the Bay of Naples. It’s so noisy here, outside Pasticceria Poppella, I can barely hear Ciro Scognamillo speak. “I got a tattoo,” he says, rolling up his sleeve to reveal an icicle-hung snowball on his forearm, with ‘fiocco di neve’ (‘snowflake’) inked above it. “I tattooed it because this changed my life,” he adds.

Ten years ago, Ciro was a struggling third-generation baker in the Sanità — which was, he admits, not a great area. “It was a bit abandoned by everyone,” he says. “No one came here.” Struggling to make a living alongside his father, he decided to invent a pastry that would bring all of Naples to their door. Ciro tried over and over again — “I was desperate” — but nothing happened. Until one day in 2014, he came up with the fiocco di neve: a profiterole filled with chilled sheep’s ricotta and fresh cream. 

Seafront near Chiaia, with Posillipo in the background.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

“From one day to the next, people were here,” he says proudly. In 2017, buoyed by the success of his snowflakes, he opened a fancy pasticceria on Via della Sanità. My fiocco di neve is chilled, the sweet-but-not-too-sweet filling melting on my tongue as I bask in the Naples sun, attended to by a smart, black-gloved waiter. Ciro’s success has paid dividends for the neighbourhood — his 37 staff are “ragazzi del quartiere”: local lads, employed so that they “don’t grow up wrong”. All thanks to his snowflake. 

These days, the Sanità is buzzing. Up the street, a man with a clipboard is policing entry to Concettina ai Tre Santi, a 68-year-old Naples institution. After a 40-minute wait, I’m ushered through heavy, scarlet curtains to the brand new semi-secret kitchen area, where we sit at high tables around a wood-fired oven, watching tattooed arms stretching dough, hurling on toppings, and slinging pizzas into the oven. Pizza is quick in Naples — the menu even lists how many seconds each takes to cook. My San Marzano (a margherita reliant on its namesake tomato for its sauce) takes a couple of minutes to arrive, the waiter ripping leaves off a basil plant and flinging them on my pizza as soon he sets the plate down. 

The deeper I go into the Sanità, the more Neapolitan it gets; I pass flaked-paint palazzos with laundry strung from every balcony, and elaborate shrines to saints — Padre Pio, Saint Vincenzo Ferreri, the Madonna. Totò, the early-20th-century actor, aka ‘the prince of laughter’, was born here, his former home marked by a mural of the great man, complete with his trademark top hat and sardonic expression, although I can barely make it out, thanks to the washing lines. 

Further into the district, the streets get quieter (it’s siesta time). I walk past a furniture stall — its owner lolling on one of the couches — and butcher’s shop windows filled with tripe and cornicellos, Naples’ ubiquitous, horn-shaped lucky charms. A 20-minute walk takes me to the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, a cathedral-sized space hollowed out from an outcrop of soft tufa rock. This vast paupers’ grave is where the bodies of thousands of Neapolitans were placed over the centuries, their skeletons artfully stacked and topped by layers of skulls.

Naples is a fiercely religious city, which explains why every surface here is covered with lovingly placed tokens: train tickets, pencils, a sachet of a face cream. Candles flicker in the gloaming as pop music blares from a nearby house and dogs howl in the distance. It’s pure Naples — and pure Sanità.

Explore more photography of Sanità 

How to do it
Citalia has three nights at Naples’ Hotel Paradiso from £449 a night, B&B, including flights from Gatwick and private transfers, with add-ons available to the nearby Amalfi Coast.

Read more travel guides for Italy

Published in the Sept/Oct 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Follow us on social media

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram 

Read More