There are flowers all around us. Seeds and plants are scattered here and there. Herbs and fresh fruits rest in wicker and reed baskets. Sitting amongst all this glory is Stefania Salvetti, who is telling us about Paradisiello, where she lives. Meaning “Little Paradise” in Italian, Paradisiello is where Stefania has a home with 2,000 square meters of greenery, citrus trees and even chickens. The big surprise? What sounds like a glorious village outside of Naples is actually a quarter within the city, very close to the historic center.
Il Paradisiello is a small, romantic, peaceful place just a few meters from the noisy city. A site where time seems to stand still, the air somehow more rarefied. This green zone was formed in 1600 as part of the building of the nearby Baroque Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci, and is located in a quiet area close to the noisy Via Foria, just above the 15-hectare Botanical Garden of Naples. A staircase climbs up the hill and reaches the Paradisiello gardens, from which there’s a beautiful view of the city.
Each day, Stefania wakes up at dawn in this urban paradise, cares for her hens and collects flowers and fruit from her property. Once out of her home, she walks down a long set of some 150 stairs, and after a short walk she has arrived at work. It’s 9 a.m., time to open The Florist Bar, where she tries to give Neapolitans a sense of their city’s green potential.
When we walk in several hours later, we pass by a potted vegetable garden full of seasonal delights. On the counter are oranges, mandarins and lemons, only just picked from the trees in Paradisiello. Stefania immediately offers us a fabulous glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. The 49-year-old tells us how she bought her house in Paradisiello 18 years ago, and that she has since been raising her chickens, dogs and two daughters (now 18 and 15) there.
As she talks, we catch a glimpse of a lemon cake on the counter. We continue our conversation, but I can’t help but interrupt to ask for a slice. It’s fantastic. Outside, a vintage brown Fiat 126 has become a display for flowers and other plants. “Actually,” Stefania confesses with no sign of remorse, “I put it here to prevent other cars from parking right in front of the bar.”
As she speaks about various proposed municipal redevelopment projects meant to make the city greener, it’s clear that Stefania has a deep interest in promoting Naples’s wild side. Fittingly, her bar, which opened in 2020, is right across the street from city’s lush botanical garden.
“I set up this bar precisely to explore the relationship between the Neapolitan culture and the ancient knowledge of the land, and therefore of the wonderful products it manages to give. And unfortunately these fruits of the earth are little known even to the Neapolitans themselves,” Stefania says.
Living in Paradisiello for last 18 years – separated from city life by that long flight of stairs – has allowed Stefania to better understand her own relationship with nature. “I have a large garden with centuries-old plants, lemons, apricots, peaches, but above all oranges and mandarins that flower several times a year and therefore allow me to always have fresh products; and then I have in my garden an ancient Neapolitan medlar bush, with which I make a delicious Nespolino liqueur,” she tells us enthusiastically.
The bounty of her urban garden is perhaps best expressed through her inventive cocktails, which change depending on what’s growing in Paradisiello. “Each season, I prepare different cocktails because all are harmonized with seasonal fruits and seasonal flowers,” Stefania says. These days, there are three cocktails on offer: the first is a floral number made with hibiscus flowers, sage, candied lemons, annurca apple (a variety native to southern Italy) and aromatic herbs; the second mixes the juice of Paradisiello lemons with a gin that’s been infused with juniper and passion fruit and lemon grass; the third is a reinterpretation of the Moscow Mule, with pomegranate harvested from her land in Paradisiello. “In Neapolitan, I would rename this cocktail the Donkey of Naples,” Stefania says. “These are cocktails invented by me. I’m becoming a real bartender who uses what the land gives you every day,” she adds.
“I set up this bar precisely [to explore] the relationship between the Neapolitan culture and the ancient knowledge of the land, and therefore of the wonderful products it manages to give.”
Stefania’s path to opening The Florist Bar (and becoming a mixologist) certainly was not a straight one. She graduated with a degree in architecture 25 years ago and then practiced her trade in Northern Europe, including in Scotland, London and Stockholm. At the age of 30, she decided to make a change and joined the medical humanitarian assistance organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. In Nairobi in 2005, she met a fellow Neapolitan volunteer. Fifteen days later they got married, and by pure chance the Italian ambassador to Kenya, also Neapolitan, married them.
Together the couple volunteered all over the world, wherever humanitarian aid was needed. Eighteen years ago, expecting her first child, Stefania returned to Naples and bought the house in Paradisiello, settling down in the city while her husband continued his volunteer work around the world.
Over the years, she tried supplementing her income in different ways, including using part of the Paradisiello house as a bed and breakfast. But it was her commitment to promoting urban gardening – the result of living in her green corner of Naples – that led this architect turned city farmer to open The Florist Bar.
Despite having “bar” in its name, Stefania’s place is an all-day affair. In the morning she serves an all-natural breakfast, with juice made from those annurca apples, orange juice with fresh ginger, pomegranate juice, and cold cappuccinos with cardamom seeds. In the evening, along with her craft cocktails and cakes are small rustic dishes, such as bruschetta with tomatoes and other vegetables, omelettes, eggplant meatballs and floral Pita with fennel, tomatoes and violets and an assortment of sauces, yogurt and hummus – all using ingredients from the garden. Once a week, there is live music, and on Sundays when the sun is shining, there is an outdoor brunch made from all seasonal products in the bar’s own garden in the back. Downstairs in the cavernous vaulted cellar, meanwhile, Stefania often hosts screenings of videos that focus on environmental issues.
Stefania is a force to be reckoned with; a good person to know in Naples. You can find her at The Florist Bar every day, tending to her corner of the Paradisiello.
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Published on April 21, 2022