The stars of HBO’s hit TV series “My Brilliant Friend” aren’t just the characters, they’re real-life locations you can visit in Italy.
Set largely in and around Naples, HBO’s critically acclaimed TV series My Brilliant Friend highlights the gritty, unpolished beauty of the Italian city. Based on the beloved Elena Ferrante novel of the same name, the story reflects on the perils faced by two childhood friends growing up in post-war Naples. Over the course of eight episodes, the drama unfolds against an alluring backdrop of sprawling piazzas, bustling city streets, and a craggy island surrounded by turquoise water.
While much of the series was shot on sets in the southern Italian city of Caserta, many exterior shots were filmed on location in Naples. The show’s sixth episode even takes viewers to Ischia, a handsome volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea reachable in 90 minutes by ferry from Naples.
As the international spotlight casts a glow on Italy’s southwestern coast, the area is becoming easier to reach, too. In May 2019, United will launch nonstop service from Newark to Naples, becoming the only carrier to have a direct route to Naples from the United States. If you want to channel Ferrante’s world on your next visit to Italy, these are the spots to see:
In the novel, the neighborhood where main characters Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo grow up is left unnamed, although it’s thought to be based on the working-class Rione Luzzatti zone. Located to the east of the city center, Rione Luzzatti’s streets consist of Fascist-era housing blocks and unadorned architecture that, to some, can feel uninviting. But the area’s vendor-filled streets offer visitors an authentic look at life for average Neapolitans, beyond the well-heeled areas of Chiaia and Volmero.
Behind this well-preserved medieval gate is a bustling outdoor market that encapsulates the fast-moving nature of daily life in Rione Luzzatti. Walking through cramped alleyways, visitors will overhear vendors bargaining in thick Neapolitan dialect and might glimpse local women hanging laundry, gossiping, and even arguing from their balconies—just as they do in Ferrante’s tale.
Il Pasticciello Bakery
On the centrally located Via Vesuvio, this old-school Italian bakery is famous for pagnutielle, a typical Neapolitan street snack made from eggs, ham, and cheese. The main characters in My Brilliant Friend often order similar pastries (both in the book and onscreen). Sample the traditional treat yourself for about €1 at Il Pasticciello.
Sacra Famiglia Church
Originally built in central Naples during the 15th century, the Church of the Sacred Family was transported brick by brick to Rione Luzzatti after it was decided in the 1920s that the neighborhood needed a place of worship. According to Danielle Oteri, local tour guide and author of Ferrante Fever: A Naples Travel Guide Inspired by Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, the Sacra Famiglia’s majolica-style dome is characteristic of the traditional tile-topped churches found along Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
Just southwest of Rione Luzzatti in the Mercato district, the unassuming Pizzeria Carmnella serves a pie dedicated to Elena Ferrante. Topped with ricotta, ragú, Fior di Latte mozzarella, and fresh basil, the €8 pizza includes the classic ingredients many Neapolitans eat at a traditional Sunday lunch.
Ischia Porto and Ischia Ponte
Often referred to as the lesser-known Capri, Ischia is a popular vacation spot for Neapolitans and other Europeans who come for hot springs, wineries, fortresses, and pristine beaches. The island’s main town is split into two parts: Ischia Porto (where passengers arrive by ferry from Naples) and the slightly larger village of Ischia Ponte. Highlights include Castello Aragonese, Cartaromana Beach, and the Tower of Michelangelo (a 15th-century fortress house where Michelangelo reportedly lived).
This half-moon-shaped stretch of sand is the idyllic setting for two pivotal scenes from the series—it’s where Elena realizes her ability to swim and is also the site of her first kiss. Maronti Beach is accessible via a steep, winding road that can be traveled by car or on foot. Visitors can also take a water taxi from the village of Saint’Angelo for about €3 each way. From Maronti Beach, the Cavascura thermal hot springs are just a short walk.
L’Albergo della Regina Isabella
Opened in the 1950s by Italian movie producer and magazine publisher Angelo Rizzoli, L’Albergo della Regina Isabella was Ischia’s first luxury property to entice celebrity clientele, among them Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When the resort reopens for the 2019 season this April, guests will be able to book a “Following in the Footsteps of Elena Ferrante” package that includes a guided tour of the island visiting locations described in the novels and a Ferrante-inspired creative writing workshop led by a literature professor.
The verdant, volcanic Mount Epomeo towers 2,589 feet above Ischia. Much of its hikeable hillsides are covered with trees and vineyards, and scrambling to the top takes about an hour if you start in the village of Fontana. Just a 20-minute drive west toward the coast, the bay of Citara is one of Ischia’s most popular wellness destinations. The Poseidon Thermal Gardens overlook the bay and offer 22 different pools thought have healing volcanic properties. (Editor’s note: The Poseidon Thermal Gardens are currently closed for maintenance and will reopen on April 15, 2019.)
HBO recently confirmed that My Brilliant Friend will return for another season based on the second book from the four-part series. Both Mount Epomeo and the bay of Citara appear in the book (titled The Story of a New Name) and will likely be featured when My Brilliant Friend’s new season debuts. Stay tuned for more southern Italy on your TV screen soon.
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