It’s been a while and I’ve not published anything about the holiday we took in early September to Napoli, Sorrento and surrounding areas.
Since Naz is based in Milan and I am in London, we travel all the time just to see each other and didn’t want to do anything too tiring, so we decided to take the train from Milan down to Napoli, stay there a few days, and then go to stay in the hills above Sorrento, renting a car in Napoli and driving down.
Trains in Italy are comfortable, seemingly reliable and not too expensive, so that was a pretty good decision. Road infrastructure, on the other hand, gets a bit unreliable in coastal areas, and you should leave time for traffic jams. Considering this was the first time I’d driven in Italy, or on the left hand side, I was generally relieved that I managed to drive around the hills of coastal Italy without damaging the car, ourselves, or anybody else. Having said that, I was a bit confused by the gear stick, which required you to lift up a trigger to go into reverse, and Avis did not really explain this to me very well, meaning that I thought 3rd gear was 1st gear for the first hour of our journey.
Anyway, Napoli. It’s Southern Italy, so the Northerners look down on it as chaotic and dirty, and while they have a point, that’s also part of the charm of the place. We stayed in the area near the archaeology museum, which is worth a visit, even if it’s not particularly well organised and had a strange Star Wars themed exhibition about heroes on display.
Naz didn’t come with me to see all the archaeological stuff, so I got to enjoy it by myself. All that walking was making me hungry though, so after I got back to the Airbnb, we went to Starita, which seems to be a pretty famous Neapolitan pizza place, judging by the queues there when we went. It also has a branch in Milan, but I’d guess the original one is the best. The regular margherita or bufala version is pretty great if you fancy it simple, but we also had a truffle pizza which was incredible, if somewhat heavy.
The next day I dragged Naz to see one of those Airbnb ‘experiences’, which was a guided tour around the Roman archaeological site of Posillipo which is a bit to the West of Napoli, and less common for tourists to visit. We were taken around by a nice Italian family with a precocious teenage son who was using his English language skills to give guided tours of the area.
The Greek name Pausilypon means ‘respite from worry’, and rich Romans built their villas in the area overlooking the coast. The main Roman archaeological site is the villa of Vedius Pollio, a Roman equestrian who gained power and status through his friendship with Emperor Augustus. In later life, he gained notoriety for his cruelty to slaves, and kept a pool of lampreys at his villa which he would have them fed to. Click on this lamprey Wikipedia link if you want to see how nasty a lamprey’s mouth looks.
You approach the villa through the Seiano tunnel, a 770m long tunnel excavated by the Romans to connect nearby villas to the coastal ports.
From here you come out at the villa complex, though the main features still extant seem to be the outdooor and indoor theatres, rather than any large villa buildings. Close to these buildings, the cliffs also overlook a derelict summer house on a small island, which was once owned by the Getty family, and was said by our guides to be a ‘cursed’ villa which nobody wants to own because of its history.
Lastly our guides took us up to the Parco Virgiliano, which overlooks the bay to the West, and then we were dropped back down at the coast and went to a restaurant called Ristorante Ciro a Mergellina, where we had some nice pasta.
Another very impressive historical site we visited was the Castel Sant’Elmo, the impressive castle which overlooks Napoli, and where you can get some amazing views. There weren’t many tourists around when we went, so you can wander about and sometimes feel like you’re the only person there. The fortress was enlarged in the 14th and 16th centuries, though there was a fortified residence there earlier. It’s now a museum with exhibition spaces, administrative offices and a concert hall, but the €5 entrance fee is worth it for the views alone.
We then went for a drink on the balcony of the nearby restaurant Renzo e Lucia as the sun set, to enjoy the city panorama, and then walked back West into the Vomero district where we had a very nice and incredibly simple meal at Osteria Donna Teresa, which had the kind of ambiance of a village restaurant with produce freshly-delivered from the fields.
The next post exploring Pompeii carries on from this post.