Where better to pass the summer months than from a hand-painted luxury villa overlooking the Gulf of Naples? Start the day under a shady cypress tree in the garden, with a breakfast of olives, cheese, fruit and nuts, washed down with watery wine. Then cross your exquisite mosaic floor and glide down to the pristine beach. Later, refresh yourself in the company of other VIPS at the luxurious marble baths, and maybe take in a performance at the theatre together in the evening. Affluent Romans did just that until Herculaneum was completely submerged under a 16m-thick sea of mud in AD79, deposited there by Vesuvius. Enthusiasts and archaeologists have been excavating the site since 1709, but they still have a long way to go because the people of Ercolano live on top of it. Smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum can be completed in a morning, with plenty of time for the kids to be back on the beach by the afternoon.
We have been coming to Sorrento for many years and it a wonderful place for a holiday with lots to see and do. Only 20 minutes by train from Sorrento is Pompei, which is really worth a visit, and also Herculaneum a lesser known town a little further than Pompei. Capri is only about 30 minutes on the ferry from the Port in Sorrento and much cheaper buying the boat ticket directly at the Port.
Capri is expensive but worth going to see for the day, with the blue grotto and beautiful views. We did the chair lift a few years ago which is good fun. This year we rented a house about 20 minutes from Sorrento in Massa Lubrense and it was a great experience. The house had a little garden and we sat outside in the evening, which we loved. The owner Lucia went out of her way to make us feel welcome and even took us to visit Puglia which is about three hours from Sorrento. The Amalfi drive is about 30 minutes from the house we rented and we went there three times, once going to Positano and the other times to Amalfi. We managed to go to Ravello getting a local bus from Amalfi and spent the afternoon there.
Sorrento is a great place to go for a late summer or autumn break. The evenings are cooler, but the days are still sunny and warm, and the colours of the autumn foliage blaze along the Amalfi coast. The crowds have gone, and the temperature is much more agreeable for visiting the sights such as Pompeii and Herculaneum. Foodies are in for a treat too, as this is the time of year for freshly picked local mushrooms, chestnuts and walnuts. For a splurge try L'Antica Trattoria - fabulous food, a beautiful terrace and a cosy traditional interior for the cooler evenings. For a restaurant with a local neighbourhood feel, try Il Leone Rosso - spot on for an authentic Pizza Marinara.
Sorrento is great for visits to Pompei and Herculaneum on the train. Allow a day for each. Get an audio guide and ask at the tourist info office next to the ticket office for the FREE guide book and map. The stall holders will try to sell you a flashy guide on the way in.
Entrance to Pompei is 5 mins from the train at Pompei Scava. Herculaneum is a 15min walk from Ercolano station. Ignore talk of muggers from tour reps. Visitor guides are expensive for 2 hrs and not as good as audio guides.
For Vesuvius, get the train to Ercolano and catch the mini bus outside the station. More pleasant than the journey on the tour coach. Allow 1 hour for walk up and half for return. Loads of people on maintained cinder track. Take windproof and water.
To be transported back in time, visit the Villa Oplontis, once home to Nero’s second wife before he kicked her to death in A.D. 65. Take the train to the next stop past Pompeii – Torre Annunziata, a seedy suburb of the Neapolitan conurbation once famous for its black velvet sand beaches, now infamous for its contribution to the crime columns of the local papers. A hand – written scrawl in the ticket office of the station advises directions to villa, including, “…and if you survive the crossing of the main road, continue along …”
It is a strange site to visit, all sound is blanked out in spite of its proximity to the road. Only birdsong is heard in the gardens of this well – preserved ruin. Here are decorations on the walls far superior to Pompeii, with clever illusionist motifs of rows of columns in perspective and tiny detailed paintings of birds feeding. Little imagination is needed to re – create life in this villa, the buildings of which alone cover an area of over a hectare.
Because it is such an undervisited site, it is a delight to ramble through this extensive villa and listen to the whispers of breezes through the leaves of the lemon trees where the ancient atmosphere of relaxation and contemplation linger on in spite of its violent owner.
At the Torre Annunziata rail stop outside Naples.
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