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Frommer's EasyGuide to Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

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When American tourists complete their first trip to Rome, Florence & Venice, their attention then invariably turns further south in Italy, to the dynamic city of Naples (along with nearby Pompeii), the colorful seaside city of Sorrento, and the enchanting Amalfi Coast alongside Capri. The number of tourists making a trip to these legendary locations is awesome. Our authors are long-recognized and well-acclaimed travel journalists, who have each devoted considerable time to formulating their personal recommendations for these major Italian destinations. Two hundred eighty-eight pages bear their travel advice.

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1 THE BEST OF NAPLES & THE AMALFI COAST

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The Best of naples & the Amalfi Coast

Travelers have been coming to Campania to enjoy the good life ever since Emperor Tiberius discovered the pleasures of Capri and his fellow Romans built lavish villas around the Bay of Baiae, outside present-day Naples. Modern-day travelers still descend in search of a little slice of heaven, and, of course, they find it in spades: at posh resorts along the Amalfi Coast, in glamorous hideouts on Capri, at the sybaritic spas of Ischia.

The Amalfi Coast and Capri are fabled seaside playgrounds, and if sun and sea are the draws, you’ll probably be delighted to discover the islands of Ischia and Procida and the relatively undiscovered Cilento coast, too.

Beautiful coastlines and glamorous lifestyles aside, the region hits you full throttle with all sorts of other pleasures and diversions. Naples, for starters, is maybe Italy’s most intense urban concoction. The city is a fascinating and perplexing place where you’ll encounter treasures of the ancient world, medieval churches, and a labyrinth of laundry-hung lanes and sunny piazzas. The ruins of the classical world surround the city—most famously at Pompeii and Herculaneum, just southeast around the bay; at Paestum, farther south; and to the east, in Capua and Benevento. For a weird encounter with the ancients, just hop on a train for the trip west to Pozzuoli. This Greco-Roman seaside city is at the edge of a strange landscape that’s littered with ruins and potholed with volcanic vents still hiss and steam.

 

2 NAPLES & THE AMALFI COAST IN CONTEXT

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Naples & the Amalfi Coast in Context

You may well be coming to this region in search of beautiful coastlines and idyllic islands. Who’s to blame you? Of course, you’ll find plenty of scenery-filled retreats, and much, much more.

Given the presence of Pompeii and Herculaneum, it’s no surprise that these lands are also rich in the traces of ancient civilizations, and those magnificently preserved Roman cities are just the beginning. Paestum, the even older Greek city, is just to the south, while ruins at Capua, Benevento, and elsewhere throughout the region attest to thousands of years of civilization in the lands the Romans called the Campania felix, or fertile countryside.

A Look at the Past

Campania’s long and complex history is drama-soaked, and as you travel around the region you’ll encounter emperors, tyrants, gladiators, pirates, and enlightened kings and queens. No need to turn your trip into a history lesson, but encountering these characters, and the monuments they left behind and the cultures they influenced, is one of the real pleasures of being here and sheds a lot of light on the present day. This chapter will help you understand why.

 

3 SUGGESTED ITINERARIES

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Suggested Itineraries

So, you have a week, maybe even two, to explore one small slice of Italy. That’s great, but beware. Like other parts of Italy, Naples and its surroundings—the Amalfi Coast, the islands floating offshore, the mountains and coasts to the south, the inland towns—can be deceptive. Though you’re tackling just one region, there is so much to see and do, so many experiences to have and character-filled hotels to hide out in, and so much food to sample that you’ll feel pressed no matter how much time you have. That’s not a problem, just a testament to the allure of this sun-kissed part of the world.

Consider how much there is to see and do, but don’t feel overwhelmed, just enthused, by the prospects. Naples, Italy’s third-largest city, is a pleasure to explore. Aside from enjoying the riveting street theater that passes for everyday life, you’ll also discover museums and churches packed with riches. To the west are the weird volcanic landscapes and evocative ancient ruins of the Campi Flegrei, the Phlegraean Fields. To the east along the bay are two of the world’s most famous and best-preserved ancient cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the volcano that doomed them, Vesuvius. Just beyond them is the beautiful Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, two of the world’s most beguiling seaside getaways. A triumvirate of enchanting islands, Capri, Ischia, and Procida, float alluringly in the Bay of Naples. To the south of the Amalfi Coast is Paestum, where some of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world stand proudly amid fields of wildflowers. Inland from Naples is yet another treasure, often bypassed—the Reggia of Caserta, a white elephant of a palace that’s larger and maybe even a little grander than Versailles. As if that’s not enough, nearby are the Roman ruins of Capua and Benevento. And there’s a lot more in between.

 

4 NAPLES

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Naples

In Naples, Mt. Vesuvius looms to the east, the fumaroles of the Campi Flegrei hiss and steam to the west, and the isle of Capri floats phantomlike across the gleaming waters of the bay. But for all the splendor and drama of this natural setting, one of Italy’s most intense urban concoctions is the real show. Naples shoots out so many sensations that it takes a while for visitors to know what’s hit them.

Everything seems a bit more intense in Italy’s third-largest city, the capital of the south. Dark brooding lanes open to palm-fringed piazzas. Laundry-strewn tenements stand cheek by jowl with grand palaces. Medieval churches and castles rise above the grid of streets laid out by ancient Greeks. No denying it, parts of the city are squalid, yet its museums are packed with riches. Dozens of churches are not only architectural masterpieces and showcases of a long artistic tradition, but they’re also rich in the endlessly fascinating stories of artists and patrons that unfold behind almost every doorway in this city.

 

5 AROUND NAPLES

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Around Naples

When you’ve come to grips with Naples, and realized that for all its grime and noise the city is a pretty grand and fascinating place, you might be ready to venture into its similarly atmospheric surroundings. It’s easy to do so, on trains that whisk you west and east along the bay. To the west are the weird volcanic landscapes and evocative ancient ruins of the Campi Flegrei, the Phlegraean Fields. To the east are two of the world’s most famous and well-preserved ancient cities, Herculaneum and Pompeii, and the volcano that doomed them, Vesuvius. You can visit any of these fabled places easily on a day trip and be back in Naples in time for a passeggiata and dinner.

The Campi Flegrei (Phlegraean Fields)

On this seaside peninsula just west of Naples, volcanic vents steam and hiss (the name Phlegraean Fields is from the Greek, “Burning Fields”), and ruined villas testify to ancient hedonism. Whatever drama natural phenomena and mere mortals fail to provide, mythic characters and oracles seem to spring to life and pick up the slack. Our alphabet was invented here, when the Latin language officially adopted the characters used for written communication in Cuma. Nero murdered his mother, the ambitious and villainous Agrippina, outside Baiae, the Palm Beach of the ancient world, where Caesar relaxed and Hadrian breathed his last. Moonlike landscapes are interspersed with lush hillsides carpeted with olive groves and orange and lemon orchards, adding an eerie beauty to the mix.

 

6 SORRENTO & THE AMALFI COAST

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Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast

The beautiful Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast have been tempting travelers ever since Ulysses sailed by. He was forced to fill the ears of his sailors with wax and to tie himself to the mast of his ship to withstand the alluring call of the Sirens. Today, the pull of the sea and imposing rock-bound coast remain as compelling as they were in Homer’s day. Even though it’s besieged by tourists, graceful old Sorrento is a lovely place, perched high atop a cliff gazing across the sea toward the isle of Capri. The spectacular but nerve-racking Amalfi Drive (SS 163) heads vertiginously east, clinging to cliffs and rounding one bend after another until it comes to Positano, a tile-domed village hugging a near-vertical rock, and then to Amalfi, a little seaside town that was once the center of a powerful maritime republic.

As transporting as the green hillsides and azure seas are, as much as the scent of lemon and frangipani entices, the charms of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are no secret. You’ll do yourself a favor if you schedule the pleasure of a visit for the early spring or fall, before or after the summer crowds, and even then accept the fact that you will not have this slice of paradise to yourself.

 

7 THE ISLANDS: CAPRI, ISCHIA & PROCIDA

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The islands: Capri, Ischia & Procida

Just about the only thing these three islands floating in the Bay of Naples have in common is their proximity to one another. While travelers might rightfully lump the three together as idyllic Mediterranean getaways lapped by warm turquoise waters, each has a character so much its own that it can be hard to believe how easy it is to float from one to the other. It’s hard to try to sum up these fabled islands in a few words, but Capri has long been a glamorous getaway, still as popular with tabloid celebrities and day-trader zillionaires as it was with Roman emperors and 1950s movie stars. Ischia is all about laid-back relaxation, on long beaches, in hot springs, and in the pools of dozens of quirkily charming thermal bathing establishments. Procida is just plain pretty, so picturesque that it’s hard to remember the real world is just a short hop away.

It’s easy to reach any one of the islands on a day trip, but here’s some advice you’d be wise to listen to: Don’t. You will want to spend some time on any of them. Do so and each will soon become your own. On Capri, the sound of birdsong in the morning and the cliff-side views of the Faraglioni, the three rock formations rising out of the sea, are pleasures that far outweigh the island’s sophistication and really can make you think you’re in heaven. On Ischia, sitting back in one of the island’s hundreds of thermal pools, many of them surrounded by umbrella pines and luxuriant foliage, might easily make you into a sybarite. On Procida, leave time to lounge on one of the spectacular lava beaches and wander through the labyrinth of lanes that spread across the tiny island.

 

8 SALERNO WITH PAESTUM, PADULA & THE CILENTO

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Salerno with Paestum, Padula & the Cilento

While it might seem as if it would be hard to top the Amalfi, by many accounts the most beautiful stretch of coastline in Europe, the lands to the south make a valiant effort. The ruins at Paestum, the sandy and, in places, empty beaches of the Cilento, and the wild, mountainous interiors are certainly spectacular in their own right. These sights of the southern stretches of Campania are less polished and sophisticated than the towns along the Amalfi Coast and, for better or worse, they lack the urban buzz of Naples. But travelers who venture into them will enjoy the pleasure of discovering a stretch of Italy that’s well off the beaten tourist track.

Salerno is the jumping-off point into the region. While the busy port city might come in handy for an overnight between train or bus connections, after a quick look around, jump you should. Nearby are the spectacular ruins at Paestum, and beyond them the Cilento, where most of the mountainous terrain and cove-etched seacoast is protected as a national park. The coast here is the lure—especially for Italian families in August—but venture inland on twisting roads to explore one of Italy’s wildest, most remote regions with mountaintop villages and a remarkable monastery, the Certosa di San Lorenzo, tucked into the hillside.

 

9 FARTHER AFIELD: CASERTA, CAPUA & BENEVENTO

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farther afield: Caserta, Capua & Benevento

The shores of the Bay of Naples and the islands have always basked in the limelight. They’re the parts of the region that the Romans called campania felix, or “fertile land.” The rugged inland landscapes are a different place altogether: dry, sun-backed, traditionally poor, and a lot less traveled than the coast. Venture east, though, even on a day trip from Naples, and you’ll see there’s a lot to discover.

Romans put the inland region on the map when they settled Capua, a city that was once second only to Rome, with a huge amphitheater to show for its prominence. Romans also settled Benevento, an important crossroads at the junction of two of their most important roads, the Via Appia and the Via Traiana (Appian Way and Trajan Way). Bourbon King Carlo III made the move off the coast in the mid-18th century and built the largest palace in Europe, the Reggia, at Caserta. These places might be off a bit off the radar, but they’re not too far off the beaten track and easy to reach by train from Naples.

 

10 PLANNING YOUR TRIP

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Planning Your Trip

This chapter provides planning tools and information on how to get around and make the most of local resources while you’re in the region.

One of the two most important things to consider is when to go. See “When to Go” in chapter 2 for specific advice, but the main consideration is that many businesses, including hotels and restaurants, close between November and March. The other factor to keep in mind when planning is that the laid-back dolce vita reigns here, so you don’t want to put too much on your plate, unless it’s the local food.

Getting There

By Plane

Campania is served by Naples’s Capodichino Airport (www.gesac.it;  081-7896111 or 848-888777 toll-free in Italy); its international airport code is NAP. It’s fairly easy to reach the rest of the region from the airport.

The only intercontinental nonstop flights to Naples are those offered by Meridiana in the summer from New York ( www.meridiana.it ;   718-751-4499 in the U.S., 0789-52682 in Italy). With other carriers, you’ll most likely be touching down in Italy at Rome’s Fiumicino-Leonardo da Vinci Airport (international airport code FCO ) or Milan Malpensa (MXP). You can fly on to Naples from those airports or use the country’s high-speed train network (see “By Train,” below). Naples is only 50 minutes by air from Rome and about 90 minutes from Milan; the train trip is a little more than an hour from Rome and a little more than 4 hours from Milan. Flights into Milan are often so much less expensive than those to Rome that the extra travel time may well be worth it.

 

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