Live ‘la dolce vita’ in Italy’s Campania region. Experience the frenetic pace of Naples, walk in the footsteps of Romans in Pompeii and soak up the sun on the stunning Amalfi Coast. This is Italy in all its facades.
Did you know that a true Neapolitan pizza must be made in accordance with a stringent set of rules, laid out by a recognised governing body and detailed in an 11-page document?
Naples takes its pizza seriously and whilst there is so much more to this city than its signature dish, it’s a pretty good place to start. Pizzeria Port’Alba has been dishing up true Neapolitan pizza for over 180 years and is considered by many to be Naples’ very first pizzeria, whilst movie buffs should head to Pizzeria da Michele in the Forcella district. Made famous by Julia Roberts in the movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, this place has been serving a slice of heaven since 1870.
Aside from its reputation as the rightful home of pizza, Naples is a destination that inspires many other preconceptions. Whilst the largest city in southern Italy has admittedly experienced a tumultuous past, few places offer a more authentic insight into the true Italian lifestyle. Like the paintwork of the frescoed churches that sit at the end of its medieval alleyways, Naples is timeworn yet captivating.
Centro Stico is found in the heart of the city and the bustling district of Spaccanapoli is its backbone. Some of Naples’ most inconspicuous streets lead to the grandest piazzas and perhaps the most spectacular of them all is the Piazza de Plebiscito. The view here is impressive from all angles, from the pale pink Palazzo Reale to the east, to the neoclassical Chiesa di San Francesco di Paola to the west.
Nearby is the 13th century Duomo di San Gennaro, a cathedral dedicated to Naples’ patron saint and which is famous for the two vials of his blood that are kept in the crypt altar. The blood famously liquefies several times each year and though there have been several scientific explanations offered, the ‘miracle’ continues to be celebrated as such to this day.
The Teatro di San Carlo is another star attraction and you needn’t be a fan of the opera to appreciate the grandeur of the oldest opera house in Europe. When built for King Charles III in 1737, the Teatro di San Carlo made Naples the music capital of Europe.
Those who are keen to leave the chaos of the city behind will find near solitude at the sprawling Capodimonte Park. This vast green space is the largest park in Naples, overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, and home to the Capodimonte Royal Palace and the Museo Nazionale Capodimonte; one of Italy’s most important art museums.
Italy’s most popular tourist attraction comes straight from the history books and nowhere in the world can you get a greater insight into life in an ancient Roman city.
Mount Vesuvius has erupted over 50 times throughout the thousands of years that it has stood near the Bay of Naples, however it was a powerful eruption in the year of 79 AD which cemented its place in history. Following the enormous eruption, an avalanche of redhot ash cascaded down its sides, burying everything in its path including the once thriving port city of Pompeii. Today, following centuries of tireless excavation, the ancient Roman city stands almost as it did before the disaster hit.
Excavations began in 1748 and continue to this day, with generations of archaeologists having worked to unearth and preserve an entire city. Entire streets, temples, villas and even brothels have been uncovered, with highlights including the Grand Theatre, the House of the Farm, the Amphitheatre and the Garden of the Fugitives. Standing amongst them, with the menacing mass of the still active Mount Vesuvius in the background is an unmissable experience.
Whilst weeks of warning rumbles allowed many of Pompeii’s residents to flee,those who remained became entombed within the molten ash. These vivid reminders of those who lost their life in the disaster are now some of the biggest attractions in the town, plaster having been poured into the cavities left by their decomposing bodies to preserve their shape, clothing and even their facial expressions. The result is haunting and fascinating in equal measure.
Many of the artefacts unearthed in Pompeii’s buildings are housed at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. This 17th century palazzo is home to one of the world’s best collections o Graeco-Roman artefacts, including those from the towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae, both of which were also destroyed by the same volcanic eruption that devastated Pompeii. Pompeii itself is open to visitors every day, with entry costing €11 including a free guidebook. The best way to explore the city is to do so independently, wandering amongst the ruins. The site is so large that it is still perfectly possible to stumble upon deserted side streets, even on the busiest of days. Reaching Pompeii is a breeze; simply take the Circumvesuviana Naples-Sorrento train line from Naples Central Station to Pompeii Scavi-Villa dei Misteri.
The Amalfi Coast defies both gravity and belief. Sleepy painted villages cling precariously to steep hillsides, harbour towns are decorated with the white and blue boats of locals, dark sands fill tiny beach coves and the food is almost as good as the views. Don’t get us wrong, the food here is delicious, but the views of the Amalfi Coast cannot be beaten by even the freshest fish in the sea and the juiciest lemons in Sorrento.
The Amalfi Drive is one of the most iconic routes in the world but nothing beats the feeling of approaching this colourful coast from the sea. When you tire of Roman ruins and gilded masterpieces, the Amalfi Coast – embellished by olive groves instead of gold and with the kind of natural beauty some of its high-maintenance visitors can only hope to replicate – is a breath of fresh air.
It’ll take a mere 20 minutes to walk from one side of the pretty town of Amalfi to the other, but the sights you’ll see along the way will stay with you forever. Set in the valley of the Lattari Mountains, its paste Moorish villas spill out into the Bay of Salerno and its hills are crammed with the yellow and green of lemon groves. Amalfi is the epitome of picturesque and a scene as sweet as the limoncello for which it is famed.
Once home to the greatest naval fleet in the Mediterranean, the town has since traded love for war, becoming one of Italy’s most romantic destinations. Scratch beyond the surface, delving deeper between the cascading colours on the hills, and you’ll unearth a labyrinth of streets that are every bit as impressive up close.
The panoramic commune of Positano is often described as the Amalfi Coast’s most photogenic town; a bold claim given the beauty of the entire region. An inspirational hideaway for artists as recently as the 1950s, the town has become a hotspot for the rich, famous and fabulous. Roads and pathways have been replaced with steps for the most part, with even the houses themselves seemingly stacked like steps on the hillside. Shades of terracotta, pale yellow, cream and rose are interjected with the green of the mountains and the pink of valerian blooms; this town is as good looking as the clientele it attracts.
Unlike much of the Amalfi Coast, where the cliffs generally plunge straight into the sea, Positano has several beaches. Channelling Sophia Loren has never been easier than when reclining on the sands of Spiaggia Grande beach, the blue and gold mosaic scales of the baroque Church of Santa Maria Assunta behind you and the emerald sea of the Tyrrhenian ahead. “Positano bites deep”, author John Steinbeck once wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
If Positano is the jewel of the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is its hidden treasure. Follow its peaceful streets to the gardens of the Villa Cimbrone and the bust-lined Terrace of Infinity. The view from here catches your breath and captivates your soul, stopping you dead in your tracks as it did DH Lawrence years before; the author made the villa his home whilst writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1927. The nearby Villa Rufolo is equally inspiring; legend has it that after trying for two years to complete the second act of Parsifal, German composer Richard Wagner, was finally able to do so after being moved by the views from its gardens.