Exploring Extraordinary Ancient Sites and Living It Up, Italian Style
by Deirdre Frost
Day One: Climbing Mount Vesuvius
Along the switchback roads that ascend to Mount Vesuvius, I contemplate taking on the challenge to climb one of the most famous volcanoes in the European mainland that has produced some of the largest and most destructive eruptions on the continent. Since ancient times, this geological wonder has induced adventure seekers to go to the top of Mount Vesuvius and view the smoke that still rises up from the crater. The volcano’s violent explosions occurred with is first eruption in 79 A.D., followed by other episodes with its last eruption taking place in 1944.
I have come to Southern Italy to conquer the mountain, rising above the Bay of Naples and the Campania region. Just 6 miles from the city of Naples, this 4000 ft. (1,281 m) tall volcano is the most dramatic of the region’s volcanoes. Named after Zeus, this famous volcano is also associated with Hercules, son of Ves, while in the Greek Oscan language, the word, Vesuvius, means ‘smoke’.
Apart from the rising smoke from the crater, its sheer size makes it a worthy opponent to conquer that conjures up images of Odysseus defeating his adversary, the Cyclops, in Homer’s Odyssey. If all goes well, my plan is to summit this mighty beast within a few hours and enjoy the rest of the day at the Roman ruins of Pompeii.
Taking a private car arranged by Paola Falci, Director of Trinus Company Tour Operator in Naples, I arrive at Vesuvius National Park in comfort. It seems a good idea to arrange excursions with this local travel operator rather than to use tour buses.
In the region, Mount Vesuvius is the most accessible with shuttle service to the park entrance. From this vantage point, visitors can meander along the winding path and enjoy the scenic vistas of the sprawling city of Naples below. Taking the time to view the beauty of the indigenous wildflowers on the rocky cliffs makes the passage more enjoyable while ascending 900 meters to the crater.
This occasion seems like a pilgrimage where I join other visitors to scale Mount Vesuvius – the Promised Land. No doubt for many, this is a rite of passage that evokes a sense of euphoria in hiking on the edge of brittle, rocky cliffs. Regardless, the sunny, cool conditions enhances the experience of summiting Mount Vesuvius.
Just before reaching the crater, I meet with Imma Sbrescie, a geologist, at the brim of the crater. Mount Vesuvius, she says, is in the ‘green zone’ on the basis that the volcano’s risk of erupting is low. She explains that the volcano has received this designation since there has not been any significant seismic event since the last eruption in 1944. The use of improved tilt sensors and seismic network updates have facilitated Mount Vesuvius’s monitoring that keeps the public informed of any potential hazards.
Exploring Roman Ruins at Pompeii
Apart from climbing Mount Vesuvius, my visit to Pompeii proved to be an astounding, famous site of Roman antiquity. Just outside this historic complex, Paola at Trinus Company introduced me to my tour guide, Antonio Esposito, who begins the tour on the Via dell’Abbondanza, the main thoroughfare of this extraordinary archaeological site of first-century Pompeii. He leads the way through the maze of uneven cobblestones where he conjures up images of horse-drawn chariots traveling from the sea to this legendary city. We discover stone houses richly decorated with interior mosaics and frescoes depicting Roman life that was violently destroyed in medias res, when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. spewed pumice, ash, and gas that asphyxiated thousands of people and ultimately destroyed the city.
This ghostly city still displays the remnants of the amphitheater where gladiators engaged in lethal combat, as well as a brothel decorated with frescoes, and bath buildings with a steam room where Roman frequented. In the main plaza, a statue of a Roman centaur stands guard overlooking the extensive ruins and Mount Vesuvius.
Undoubtedly, the legacy of the eruption lives on in the hearts of Romans, and has earned a distinguished place in history as the most powerful volcano of all time in the region. This catastrophic event that destroyed Pompeii is eternally linked to its demise that changed ancient Roman life and the course of history. The splendors of this ancient archaeological site continue to reveal new areas of exploration, while these ancient treasures provide extraordinary insight into the distant past.
Day Two: Seaside Town of Sorrento
Long treated by travelers as a delightful beach town, Sorrento is the ideal spot to relax and enjoy La Dolce Vita, Italian style. On a sunny morning, I take the one-hour Campania Express train ride from Naples to Sorrento to get a glimpse of the local scene by strolling in the historic center, full of palaces, churches, and gardens. Throughout the town, local craftsmen are found making leather goods and other craft items. From the bustling side streets, there are narrow alleys that lead to the fishing harbor and beachfront where visitors often join locals for a dip in the azure Mediterranean Sea.
Trees full of lemons that are used for producing lemon-flavored liqueurs in Sorrento.Heading back to the town center is the Limoncello Botanical Garden, one of the more popular gathering places for celebrating weddings and other special occasions. In the luscious garden,
I see trees full of lemons that are used for producing lemon-flavored liqueurs. In addition to tastings, the retail shop sells a variety of lemon-inspired gifts that are also available for purchase throughout town.
After shopping, I am ready to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Pepe Bianco Restaurant situated in the town center. The bright white backdrop creates an elegant ambiance to savor local seafood dishes that are deliciously prepared. The sleek salon offers an intimate setting in the heart of Sorrento. Catering to a discriminating clientele, the restaurant offers some of the very best of the exceptional local cuisine.
Day Three: Naples
Neapolitans claim that Naples provides a true taste of Italy whether it’s rambling through winding cobblestone streets, tasting authentic pizza with mozzarella cheese or experiencing other specialties with real Italian flavor. The city has exciting nightlife and caters to a diverse and active lifestyle.
In La Pignasecca Market in Naples, all kinds of food including fresh fish, cheeses and different homemade pizzas. including the local favorites, Margherita Pizza and Parigina, a double-decker pizza layer with ham.
Dinner in Naples is exciting to share with families and friends at Ristorante e Pizzeria da Attilio, along with full service restaurants, such as the San Carlo that is situated near the city opera house. Fine dining options are also available and a great choice is dining al fresco at the Borgo Antico Restaurant in the Santa Lucia District. Both locals and visitors enjoy the local cuisine at this restaurant since it offers a variety of authentic Neapolitan dishes and regional specialties in an elegant setting.
This district borders on the Bay of Naples and includes a number of sites including castles and forts on the waterfront.
An ideal place to stay near the waterfront is Casa Vittoria, which provides modern accommodations within a short walk to the historic, seaside castle, Castel dell’Ovo, on the Gulf of Naples.
For further information:
Vesuvius National Park; tel: +39 0818653911; https://www.parconazionaledelvesuvio.it/en/contacts-vesuvius-national-park/
Ristorante e Pizzeria da Attilio; tel: 0815520479; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://pizzeriaattilio.jimdo.com
San Carlo Pizzeria and Trattoria; tel: 081 404551; email@example.com
Borgo Antico Restaurant; tel: +39 081 764 9752; http://www.borgoanticosantalucia.it