Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples

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June, 2016

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We wanted to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples but without the chore of making the arrangements ourselves so my husband and I signed up for a week-long package with Riviera Travel entitled “Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples” and it worked very well. We also liked the fact that the package gave us a choice of airports and our chosen one (Luton) had a civilised departure time of 15.15.

Riviera Travel provided a list of nine hotels in Sorrento, so that we could choose where we would be based, and we opted for the Grand Hotel Aminta, above the town and away from the traffic.

The package included a drive along the renowned Amalfi coast and the outings, with the exception of Capri, Herculaneum and a theatre trip, were included in the price.

We were sent an intinerary in advance and the timing of the excursions was very well planned with long or busy days interspersed with free days or half-day outings which would serve as recovery time after our exertions. However, on arrival we were told that this was only an example and that our programme was different. For us this was a pity because the two longest days were scheduled one after the other and, in addition, what would be the toughest day for me (the Museum and Pompeii) was set for the day before we flew home which meant we would have no time to recover.

Our travelling companions were a mixed group; some ‘silver’ travellers in couples but with one or two solo participants, along with some younger people who were a welcome addition to the hip-replacement and hearing-aid brigade. Everyone seemed to get along together very well.

Our tour manager was Jenny and she was very competent and was adept at implementing our busy programme and steering us safely through each excursion. She also provided an insight into Italian life as she has lived there for many years and has raised her family there.

Temperatures of 34 degrees and non-stop sunshine, while idyllic for a laze on the beach, made parts of the ‘holiday’ quite tough going and this was aggravated by everywhere being very crowded. I found the trip to Capri particularly difficult for this reason, however, the highlight of this excursion for us was a visit to the home of Dr.Axel Munthe, a 19th/20th century, Swedish physician who had built his own house on the cliffs at Anacapri. Apart from the fact that he had incorporated ancient artefacts into his home, this visit was a delight because the house was cool, the gardens were beautiful and there were not many people about.

We also enjoyed a walk along Via Tragara, a small street in Capri town with lovely views and gardens and no traffic except for the little electric carts which are used to carry goods around the town.

After this strenuous day we opted not to take the next day’s drive along the Amalfi coast. We had had enough of coach journeys and followed by walking through hot, crowded, hilly streets and we gave ourselves a day off. Our decision was partly governed by the fact that I am partially-sighted and find walking over uneven ground quite tricky and I have a tendency to bump into people! Hardier folk than us took everything in their stride,literally, even those with walking sticks.

The visit to Herculaneum was fascinating as it is better preserved than Pompeii, having been carbonised in a huge blast of heat when Vesuvius erupted, and it was well worth the visit. Most of the items found in Herculaneum are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples but there were one or two relics still in place, notably a very beautiful mosaic of Neptune and Amphitrite.

Apart from the ancient history of the region, there is plenty to enjoy. Everywhere you will see barrow-loads of lemons which are used to make soap and to produce the liqueur Limoncello. Some of the lemons are as big as rugby balls and these can be eaten just as they are, somewhat similar to a grapefruit.

Sorrento is also renowned for wonderful marquetry. The cathedral has some fine examples and furniture shops have the most detailed designs in all colours and sizes. And there is a good selection of fine, reasonably-priced leather goods, too.

There are no sandy beaches along this part of the Italian coast (the local people swim in bathing areas at the bottom of the cliffs) so this is not the place for relaxing and sunbathing but if it’s history that you want, there’s enough in the Bay of Naples region to keep you busy for at least a week and Riviera Travel offer a very good package to experience it all, but I recommend that you try to go in April. It’s cooler and less crowded, or so they told me!

Angie Curtis

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