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Italy offers every type of holiday imaginable – with fabulous food, and amazing architecture thrown in. Whether you want to relax by the sea or a lake or spend your holiday driving, walking, cycling, sight seeing or tucking into the local cuisine, Italy's got it all.
Our 6 day tour started in Naples where we planned to visit the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum combined with the glamorous Amalfi Coast. We wanted a real mixture of culture, coast and customs and it certainly didnt disapoint. We chose the end of March to avoid excessive heat and tourists and our two and a half hour flight from London to Naples arrived just before lunch. On arrival we hopped into our pre-booked taxi to the coastal town of Amalfi with a two hours pit stop at Pompeii.
Located in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the ruins of Pompeii are one of Europe's most compelling archaeological discoveries. Sprawling and haunting, the site is a stark reminder of the malign forces that lie deep inside Vesuvius, the only active volcano in mainland Europe, and has produced some of the continent's largest volcanic eruptions.
On August 24, 79AD Mount Vesuvius literally blew its top, spewing tons of molten ash, pumice and sulphuric gas miles into the atmosphere. A "firestorm" of poisonous vapours and molten debris engulfed the surrounding area suffocating the inhabitants of the neighbouring Roman resort cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The cities remained buried and undiscovered for almost 1700 years until excavation began in 1748. These excavations continue today and provide insight into life during the Roman Empire.
Walking through the expanse of ancient streets complemented with contemporary iron sculptures, it's easy to imagine what Roman life must have been like before it was destroyed by volcanic ash. Highlights include the plaster death casts, the Roman Forum, the amphitheater (Pompeii's own Colosseum), ancient fast food restaurants, the cemetery, the bakery, the main street and even the brothel.
After an exhausting 2 hours and a delicious Neapolitan Pizza, washed down with an ice cold beer we found our taxi patiently waiting to take us to the small coastal town of Amalfi. Our journey zig zagged up and down Monte Tri Calle and around hair pin bends until we finally arrived at Hotel Santa Caterina just outside Amalfi.
Once a glorious maritime republic, Amalfi is a town in a dramatic natural setting below steep cliffs fringed with lemon terraces on Italy’s southwest coast. The Arab-Norman Sant'Andrea cathedral at the heart of town, with its striped Byzantine facade, survives from this era and stands majestically at the top of a great flight of steep steps. The ideal place to people watch is the main Piazza, overlooked by the Cathedral. Enjoy a double espresso with an ice cold Limoncello on the side and watch the world go by.
Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics
The Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics is an annual event like no other. Every June, the four former powers that controlled the seas around Italy go back to battle in an attempt to once again lay claim to maritime greatness, not by invasions or trade wars but by historic-modelled rowing galleons manned by 8 strong and proud citizens. Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice take turns hosting the regatta, which pays homage to the former republics' histories and dominance. Initiated in 1954, the regatta is an opulent affair that is much more than a mere boat rally.
The gala begins with the pomp and splendour of a parade with hundreds of participants in period costumes perfectly detailed from the Middle Ages. The streets are festooned with flags while heralding trumpets and rhythmic drums lead an elegant shore-side procession that includes horses and sedan-chairs, while ladies and lords re-enact themes that represent historic events and figures of each Republic's past. There are cultural initiatives, historic displays, and general merriment during the events.
The regatta takes place on the sea in slender rowing boats called "gozzi". Each is painted distinctively for its republic and has a different figurehead.: The winged horse of Amalfi in blue; the winged lion of Vanice in green; a white dragon for Genoa; and a red eagle for Pisa. The rowers pump their oars along the 1.2 mile course to take home the coveted trophy and bragging rights, to be enjoyed until the following year's competition. The Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics is a colourful and exciting event that reminisces of the past power and grand glory of medieval seafaring cities with the pretty ports as a beautiful backdrop. 2016 saw Amalfi hosting the regatta and this year (2017) the Regatta will be in Pisa on June the 18th.
Places to visit along the Amalfi Coast
Ravello is nestled in the mountains, a cool 1,100 feet (335 m) above sea level overlooking the Bay of Salerno. Here, visit the Villa Rufolo, which provided inspiration for Richard Wagner's operas and stroll around the shady gardens and quiet lanes, soaking up the peaceful atmosphere before a scenic drive back to base camp.
One of the prettiest towns along the Amalfi Coast is Positano. From Amalfi the 18.5km journey takes about an hour by bus and its not for the faint hearted! Sita bus tickets can be bought from the tobacconists in the town centre and the timetable is quite easy to follow with plenty of people to ask if you're unsure.
The SS163 is probably one of the most famous 36k kilometers/22 miles in the world. Known as the ‘road of 1,000 bends’ it was commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Naples and completed in 1852. Covering the towns from Sorrento to Salerno, the route is a UNESCO World Heritage sight. This notorious road hugs soaring cliffs and weaves tortuously in and out of deep gorges, passing olive groves, lemon terraces and tumbling whitewashed villages, all against a background of a shimmering azure sea. If you're travelling under your own steam, there are lots of places to pull off to the side for a break and to take a picture. Look out for local farmers who bring truckloads of lemons, peppers and tomatoes to sell.
Cetara ia a quintessential Mediterranean fishing village: a handful of houses clustered around a majolica domed Church, a small port and a beach lined with bobbing fishing boats. It was in the distant 879 that Saracen pirates first landed in the area and chose Cetara as their base from where to attack the other towns along the Amalfi Coast. Today, the only sign of Cetara's turbulent past is the town's ancient watch tower. Visitors come to Cetrara to eat what is widely considered to be the best fish on the Amalfi Coast: including the town's legendary Colatura di Alici, an anchovy syrup similar to the Ancient Roman "Garum", and fresh tuna caught using the traditional nets. Cetara's tuna is famous throughout the world and vast quantities are exported to Japan, where it is used in sushi dishes.
Herrculaneum (Italian: Ercolano)
Upstaged by its larger rival, Pompeii, Herculaneum harbours a wealth of archaeological finds, from ancient advertisements and stylish mosaics to carbonised furniture and terror-struck skeletons waiting to flee by boat. Indeed, this superbly conserved Roman fishing town of 4000 inhabitants is easier to navigate than Pompeii, and can be explored with a map. We combined a visit here on our return journey and it was much more manageable in the two hours we had before flying home.
If you would like to see more photos of our short stay aound the Amalfi Coast, please go to our Pinterest board.
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