Southwestern Italy’s Campania region is renowned for its dramatic landscapes, stunning coastline and wonderful cuisine. Lapped by the Tyrrhenian Sea, this region enjoys a wealth of culture, art, and architecture along with a wonderful sunny climate. Its capital, Naples, is a beguiling, crumbling and vibrant destination. Here are some of the region’s highlights.
Looming over the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius is mainland Europe’s only active volcano. One of a chain that form the Campanian volcanic arc, it has erupted frequently and violently down the centuries, most recently in 1944. Over half a million people live on and around the volcano’s slopes; for this reason Vesuvius receives constant monitoring. You can take an easy hike around the huge crater which currently stands at 4,203 feet (the height changes with each eruption). The views from the crater rim are amazing; on a clear day you’ll see right across the Gulf of Naples, from Sorrento to Salerno, with the islands of Procida and Ischia twinkling in the sea.
Gorgeous Ischia is the largest and most populated island in the Gulf of Naples. A laid back antidote to its ostentatious neighbour Capri, here you’ll find pastel painted harbour towns, idyllic sandy beaches such as Spiaggia del Maronti, and an abundance of thermal spas and naturally heated sea pools, courtesy of over 100 volcanic springs. Visit La Mortella’s glorious botanical gardens in Forio. Hike the island’s secluded, verdant interior dotted with vineyards and pine woodlands and ascend Monte Epomeo, Ischia’s highest peak at 2,600 feet. Dine in the old town of Ischia Porto, and cross the causeway to explore its distinctive medieval fortress, Castello Aragonese, perched handsomely above the sea on a rocky outcrop.
Pompeii and Herculaneum
The Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were obliterated by the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. These two very unique archaeological sites are both fascinating to explore. Both settlements remained undiscovered beneath volcanic debris for 1500 years, until excavations began at Pompeii in 1748.
A prosperous fishing village of 4,000 inhabitants at the time of the eruption, the grid-like streets of Herculaneum make a smaller, more compact site than the sprawling ruins of Pompeii. The village was buried under a much deeper layer of volcanic ash than Pompeii (approximately 5 times deeper) and as a result excavations did not begin until the 19th century. This deeper layer of ash left the Herculaneum site incredibly well preserved. Many of the buildings’ frescoes and mosaic tiles have retained their original vibrant colours. Excavators discovered delicate items such as clothing, jewellery, and furniture. Astonishingly, they also found the carbonised remains of 1,800 paper scrolls, containing poetry and philosophical works.
Campania’s cuisine focuses on simple, locally sourced ingredients which combine into tantalising dishes. Along the coast you’ll find some of Italy’s best seafood. Spaghetti alle vongole is a local mainstay: pasta served with clams in a garlic and parsley sauce, often including a touch of tomato. Polpetti affogati, is a delicious octopus stew with garlic, tomato and chilli. Grilled fritto misto showcases fresh fried sea food (usually calamari, prawn and anchovies) topped with a squeeze of Amalfi lemon juice. Lemons are a key regional ingredient: the Amalfi coastline is lined with fragrant lemon groves, and the regional liqueur, Limoncello, hails from Sorrento.
Naples is home to the celebrated Margherita pizza – its thin and crispy wood fired base topped with mozzarella di bufala, sweet vine tomatoes, fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil. (The same ingredients go into the famous Insalata Caprese.) Meat lovers should try an Ischian specialty: rabbit stew cooked with tomatoes, capers, rosemary and white wine. Wine buffs should sample a glass of Lacryma Cristi (meaning tears of Christ) a regional wine made from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
The Amalfi Coast
One of Europe’s most dramatic and stunning road trips, the drive along Amalfi’s legendary coastline between Sorrento and Salerno is a breath taking experience. The route bends and weaves for 34 miles past sheer cliff faces, glorious beaches and rocky coves, passing a string of 12 enchanting seaside villages and towns which cling to the craggy hillside. Explore the winding alleys, elegant churches, tranquil gardens and sun-kissed beaches of Ravello, Amalfi and Praiano. Positano is perhaps the most iconic of them all: a warren of narrow streets, vividly painted houses, elegant boutiques, and restaurant terraces with sublime views over the emerald Tyrrhenian Sea.
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