Felix (blessed country) by the Romans
because of its mild climate, fertile soil, and plentiful water.
Citrus fruits, tobacco, wheat and vegetables are grown, and the
region is known for excellent wines, notably the white Greco
The Amalfi Coast, running along a peninsula just
south of Naples, is one of the most popular area
in Italy for holidaymakers, especially those in search of sun and
sand. But the added bonus for many is the extraordinary beauty of
the region, sheer craggy cliffs rise over the shimmering blue-green
Mediterranean waters, and everywhere there are views of hills and
sea. History and culture are also present in abundance and it is
easy to understand the attraction of the area for visitors.
The third-largest Italian city, Naples is famous
as the place where the pizza was invented. Situated
on the Bay of Naples and overshadowed by Mount
Vesuvius, the city occupies one of the most beautiful natural
settings of any city in Europe. Frequently criticised for urban
decay and delinquency, it is a city where splendid churches and
palaces stand aside squalid tenement blocks, and where street markets
sell high-quality food produce, plus counterfeit designer goods.
Important monuments include the 17th-century Palazzo Reale,
built by the Bourbons, the massive stone Castel
Nuovo, overlooking the sea, and the San Carlo Opera
House. The impressive Museo Archeologico Nazionale
houses an excellent collection of Greco-Roman artefacts,
including mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The Museo di Capodimonte displays porcelain and
majolica pieces, plus paintings by Dutch, Italian and Spanish masters.
Above Naples is the bare cone of Mount Vesuvius,
an active volcano, and beside it the broad sweep of the Bay
of Naples and the Tyrrhennian Sea. A toll-road
leads most of the way up to the summit of Vesuvius (it is the local
Lover’s Lane, people also gather mushrooms here when the conditions
are right, the final few hundred yards involve an easy hike up a
well-maintained bare pumice track. The viewing platform is right
on the rim of the caldera and provides an excellent view of both
the steam-filled abyss and the whole of the Bay of Naples
and Pompeii below.
Nearby, the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum,
engulfed in the great eruption of AD 79, are a unique record of
how ordinary first-century Romans lived their daily lives. Moulds
of people and animals found well-preserved, buried under the burning
ash, can be seen at Pompeii, and the decoration
in some of the excavated villas is amazingly intact, including numerous
wall paintings of gods and humans in scenes ranging from the heroic
to the erotic.
Sorrento, now a rather commercial resort, has attracted artists
for many centuries. Gorky, Nietzsche
and Wagner spent time here and Ibsen
wrote The Ghosts while in Sorrento. The
Museo Correale is an attractive 18th-century villa with
a collection of decorative arts and paintings belonging to the Correale
family. Outside, a walk through the gardens and vineyards brings
one to a promontory overlooking the bay, offering a spectacular
Capri is one of Italy’s most lovely and most visited islands
and can be reached by ferry or hydrofoil from Amalfi,
Naples, Positano and Sorrento.
Upon arrival at the Marina Grande, it is possible
to take a boat trip to the island’s main tourist attraction,
the Blue Grotto. A strenuous 45-minute uphill trek
brings one to the ruins of Villa Tiberio which
was built as the Roman Emperor Tiberius’s
luxurious retirement home. The Garden of Augustus,
south of the town of Capri, is pretty but often
very crowded. From here, a winding road brings one down to the sea,
where it is possible to swim off the rocks.
The Amalfi Coast, running from Sorrento
to Salerno, is one of Europe’s most beautiful
coastlines. Departing from Sorrento, the first port of call is Positano,
a small exclusive resort of great beauty. Heaped high above the
coast, its brightly painted houses and bougainvillaea have inspired
a thousand picture postcards and draw crowds of tourists every summer.
There is an excellent beach and clean seawater for bathing.
Amalfi is perhaps the most well known of the region’s
resort towns. However, the town still has an authentic air about
it, despite its popularity with tourists. The Romanesque
Cathedral with its 13th-century bell tower, located in
the main square, looks entirely untouched by the contemporary hustle
and bustle around it. The Cloister of Paradise,
just to the right of the cathedral, also makes good viewing. There
are some excellent restaurants and the local wine, Sammarco,
bottled in Amalfi, is superb and inexpensive. Perched high above
Amalfi, ‘closer to the sky than the seashore’, as André
Gide wrote, is the former independent republic of Ravello.
From here, the most spectacular views of the Amalfi Coast
can be had, above all from the Villa Cimbrone where
marble statues line a belvedere that is perched on the very edge
of the cliff, 335m (1100ft) up.
The city of Caserta is located to the north of
Naples and was the country seat
of the Kings of Naples. The Baroque Royal Palace
owes much to Versailles, and the surrounding gardens are magificent.
South along the coast, past Salerno, the imposing
Greek temples at Paestum are among the country’s
best preserved ancient relics.
an island on the west side of the Bay of Naples,
is easily accessible from Sorrento and Naples.
Although larger than Capri, it is not quite so
popular with tourists, but well visited by the locals who appreciate
it more for its calm and scenic beauty.