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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.