A Practical Guide to [More than] the Amalfi Coast
Most of the visitors to our little region of Italy, technically referred to as the Region of Campania, blow through Naples on their way to the Amalfi Coast. The Region of Campania actually consists of five provinces Naples, Salerno, Avellino, Caserta and Benevento. The Amalfi Coast is in the Province of Salerno. The Gulf of Sorrento and Capri are in the Province of Naples. It is important to remember that culturally, historically, geographically and even linguistically and culinarily the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Sorrento are two distinct regions. Many like to think of Sorrento as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Fair enough, it is certainly a convenient and less expensive place to stay and use as a home base when exploring the towns of the Amalfi Coast.
At the same time, the Amalfi Coast is actually a UNESCO world heritage designation that protects a collection of towns from Positano to the Southern most town of Vietri sul Mare. In later posts we will explore each town individually, but to help all of you prepare for your upcoming warm weather trip (or dreaming), we take a moment to examine the unique geographic regions between Naples and the Amalfi Coast- certainly the most popular with tourists and also some of the most bio diverse and linguistically diverse in the world. This region is home the countless microclimates and soil types thanks to two active volcanoes (Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei and a prominent mountain range that forms the Amalfi Coast (the Monti Lattari). The dramatic topography is not only what makes the area so suffocatingly beautiful. It also means that cuisines, languages and peoples evolved to a large part in geographic isolation. Welcome to Coastal Campania! Below you will find a guide to its main geographic regions and highlights.
About 2,700 years ago, the first Greek mariners arrived on the island of Megaride- home to the ancient Castel dell’Ovo in the Santa Lucia neighborhood of Naples. Naples and her stunning bay have been home to one of the oldest continuously inhabited historic centers ever since. Raucous and sensual. Delicious and deafening, Naples is a town that appeals to all senses. From the bowels of the Centro Storico to the hills of Vomero, this town enjoys nearly three thousand years of history and its shows. Her people embrace life with gusto and eat each meal as if it were the last. To experience an Italian town at its most carnal, one must visit Naples. For all its energy, Naples is not only the geographic gateway to the South but also the keeper of its soul. As the old saying goes, go to Naples and then you can die. Because only then will you have seen it, done it and eaten it all!
Not to Miss: Veiled Christ at Sansevero Chapel, Pizza Margherita, and National Archeological Museum
2) Phlegraean Fields
The Phlegrean Fields, also known as the Burning Fields are referred to as such for the active underground volcanic caldera that sits beneath the earth’s surface. About 12,000 years ago a Phlegrean eruption formed the Bay of Naples and radically and permanently altered the European continental shelf. Native Samnite people lived here before the first Greek mariners arrived about 1000 BC. This dynamic and volcanic region is home to excellent wines and countless Greek ruins.
Not to Miss: The Cumaean Sybil, Piscina Mirabilis Aqueducts, Flavian Amphitheater
3) Phlegraean Islands
After the last massive Phlegraean eruption (12,000 years ago) the island of Ischia and Procida detached from the mainland. Ischia, formerly known as Pithecusae, meaning monkey land, has been mysteriously inhabited ever since. The fertile soil here attracted ancient Greek mariners fleeing the Trojan Wars. The ruling Aragons of Naples moved their medieval court here. And Richard Burton and Liz Taylor passionately filmed and fought here- actually at the Aragonese Castle, which served as valuable cinematographic scenery in Anthony and Cleopatra. The smaller Phlegraean Island of Procida has remained relatively untouched by the waves of tourists who tender to favor Capri and the Amalfi Coast. It is a jewel of an island and its Corricella Marina is pastel perfection.
Not to Miss: Aragonese Castel, Corricella Marina, Poseidon Thermal Baths
Capri, while part of the Province of Naples, is not a Phlegraean island like Ischia and Provide. Sitting square in front of Naples, the storied island of Capri is the heart of ancient siren country. It was here that sirens failed to ensnare Ulysses with their sweet voices and in the three thousand intervening years, Capri has become a place of untold majestic beauty, creative exploration and celestial inspiration. Roman Emperors, German business tycoons, Russian revolutionaries, artists, dancers and authors have all lived and loved on Capri. The island’s stunning bougainvillea architecture and jagged coastline make Capri the quintessential jewel of the Mediterranean.
Not to Miss: August Gardens, Chairlift to Mount Solara, Faraglioni Rock Formations (Boat Trip around the Island)
5) Vesuvian Country
In 79 A.D. the storied volcano Vesuvius exploded with such force that it covered the important towns of Pompeii and Ercolano with near instant ash and subsequent tsunamis. What has followed is a remarkable preservation of Roman towns and life at the time of Caesar. Lesser-known archeological sites including Oplontis and the Stabia of Castellammare offer a more relaxed and intimate portrait of how real Romans lived before Christ. Vesuvius looms in the background, just as it has for millennia.
Not to Miss: Pompeii Archeological Site, Herculaneum Archeological Site, and Mount Vesuvius Summit
6) Gulf of Sorrento
Sorrento is the original global tourist destination. Augustus Caesar and his trusted right-hand man Marcus Agrippa vacationed here. Before them local Oscan tribes valued the Gulf of Sorrento for its rich mountain air, natural streams and wide coves. Artists and musicians have flocked here since before Christ to enjoy sand, sun and reportedly, the best milk in all of the Roman Empire. A few millennia later and Sorrento remains the gateway to one of the most spectacular coastal regions in the world. The Gulf juts into the Bay of Naples before curving south to form the Amalfi Coast.
Not to Miss: Coastal Drive from Sorrento to Positano, Regina Giovanna Baths, Marina Puolo
7) The Amalfi Coast
About 700 years before Christ, Greek mariners left the island of Rhodes in search of new territory. On their way, they discovered a remarkable coastline of dramatic mountains jutting into a crystalline sea. Later the Romans would call the area the Monti Lattari. A few centuries later, the powerful Duchy of Amalfi would give it the name Amalfi Coast. Today the coastal road SS 163 Amalfitana, connects the town of Positano to Amalfi and the final Amalfi Coast town of Vietri sul Mare. With twists and turns straight out of a Dr. Seuss illustration, this road provides unspoiled views of the Amalfi Coast as it stretches towards Mediterranean infinity.
Everything about the Amalfi Coast seems to defy gravity. Pastel cottages are encrusted into dramatic mountains, suspended over the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean. Originally, the region was home to cave dwelling shepherds and the occasional Oscan bandit. With the rise of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople, the town of Amalfi became a powerful maritime republic. After WWII, artists and GIs discovered the town of Positano reveling like a gem over the azure Tyrrhenian. Coming to the Amalfi Coast means experiencing untold waves of sensory overload. With beauty this viscerally expansive, it is hard to know where to look. The aromas of jasmine and orange blossom make the Amalfi Coast that much more sensual.
Not to Miss: Stroll Positano, Saint Andrea Cathedral in Amalfi, Vietri sul Mare Ceramic Shopping