AMALFI, SORRENTO, CAPRI SMALL GROUP TOURS
Holidays in Campania
Campania is, with Tuscany, Italy’s tourism mecca, at least in terms of visitor numbers. Campania has everything in abundance: a sun-kissed climate, Classical architecture, bijou islands and Italy’s most dramatic coastline. The legendary names trip off the tongue: Amalfi, Capri, Naples, Pompeii, Positano, Ravello, Sorrento. The crescent-shaped Bay of Naples contains unspoilt Capri and volcanic Ischia, two of Italy’s loveliest islands. On the Amalfi Coast, buildings are cantilevered above rock-studded cliffs and overlook the country’s most romantic coastal drive. The Cilento national park is a patchwork of wheat fields and olive groves, though wolves and wild cats survive in remote corners.If that weren’t enough, Naples is not just the birthplace of pizza but home to a population with more personality than the rest of Italy put together. All three regions present a picturesque interlacing of alleys and stairways which overlooks the sea with all its extraordinary colors reflecting the enchanting landscapes of Amalfi, Sorrento & Capri, the towns whose name blesses the entire coast.
Campania’s natural wonders are as wild as Italy gets, from a smouldering volcano to belching, sulphurous springs and eerie lakes that ancient myths refer to as the gateway to Hades. The Classical sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum hark back to the days of the Grand Tour, when Greek and Roman civilisations were all the rage. Pompeii is an intense experience beyond the heat and crowds. Here, the vivid frescoes in Villa dei Misteri tell the story of the cult of Dionysus. Herculaneum encompasses the Thermae (Roman Baths) where you can espy the pools’ original mosaics and even Roman lockers.
The rugged coastline of the Amalfi Coast is reason enough to come to Campania, as are the gorgeous hotels and villas dotted along the coast and on the islands. As for beaches, the Neapolitan Riviera boasts superb scenery around the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi (though very few sandy beaches), with other beaches around Paestum, and on the islands of Capri and Ischia. Capri is decidedly chic but has even more cliff-side walks than celebrity sightings. Ischia is more low-key in terms of glamour but delights spa-babes with its superb thermal spa gardens where you can spend the day dipping in and out of thermal pools in between swimming in the sea. Ischia also has many dark sandy beaches. The islands have ferry and hydrofoil services from Naples and Sorrento running frequently during the long Summer season, less so in Winter.
Amalfi, once a seafaring republic, retains its grand cathedral as a testament to its medieval status. Positano, Campania’s answer to Portofino, is a picturesque fishing village dotted with exquisite restaurants and boutiques, best reached by boat for maximum impact. Sorrento has sold its soul to tourism in the nicest possible way. This is a ‘soft sell’: ice cream-coloured facades, cliff-top hotels with sweeping views, seductive boutiques, Mediterranean cuisine – and lashings of Limoncello, the local liqueur, made from the zingiest lemons. Ravello, also a ‘must’, is a delightful village perched high into the cliffs which celebrates one of the country’s pre-eminent summer festivals of chamber music.
Naples remains a glorious assault on your senses, as explosive as Vesuvius. As Italy’s most superstitious city, Naples mixes the sacred and the profane and is riddled with weird sites that reveal its superstitious soul. ‘Underground Naples’ is a chance to explore hidden shrines and catacombs that interconnect with modern Naples. Spaccanapoli, the old city’s central axis, propels you into a magical but sense-numbing immersion into the Neapolitan maelstrom. If all this is too overpowering, browse the calm-inducing collection of Old Masters at the Capodimonte gallery.
Sample pizza in the city where the world’s favourite fast food was invented. In Naples, you can eat well incredibly cheaply. For fine dining, drive to Sant’Agata, near Sorrento, for dinner at Don Alfonso 1890 with Italy’s least pretentious celebrity chef. Forget ‘see Naples and die’: see Naples and eat.