Looking to spend a long weekend in the Naples area? This itinerary for 3 days in Sorrento, Pompeii and Naples will take you to the best sights in the region, from the charms of sleepy Sorrento, to the awe inspiring ruins of Pompeii, and lastly, the character-filled streets of Naples and the stunning artwork hidden behind the city’s museum doors.
Day 1: Naples to Sorrento
At the airport, there are no lines, only chaos, at the tiny immigration desks at Naples airport. Once you get through the melee, hop on the Curreri bus that goes directly to Sorrento from Capodichino – the ride on the motorway is smooth and fast, but as soon as the bus hits the coastal roads, traffic drops down to a crawl. The bus stops in Meta, then Vico Equense, then Sant’ Agnello. Wait until the driver calls for Sorrento before disembarking and if arriving late in the night, organise a pick up from your accommodation – when we arrived, hoping to catch a taxi out to our bed and breakfast, Villa Oriana, there are no cabs in sight!
Sorrento offers a number of attractions such as old, atmospheric churches and a grand Duomo, or cathedral. Spend some time in the heart of Old Sorrento, an area of colourful shops hidden in twisted alleyways. Here you’ll also find historical buildings like the Basilica of Sant Antonio and the church and convent of San Francesco. For people watching and an alfresco lunch, one of the many cafes in Piazza Tasso will be a good bet, and after, walk off the pasta and gelato with a saunter by Marina Grande, taking in the views. The landscape here is reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast and Positano, as well as the Ligurian coast and the towns of Cinque Terre.
Day 2: Pompeii
On the second day, head off to see Pompeii, which is easily accessible on the Circumvesuviana train line; about 40 minutes from Sorrento. The train passes autostradi (highways), a Vespa graveyard where tired old scooters go to die and be mashed up into little cubes of steel, old flats close by the train line, a Shetland pony sitting in a sunny backyard, clotheslines strung out from balconies. Pompeii is quiet in low season and it is a pleasant walk around the ancient city; I’d imagine that in summer it would be horrendously hot and crawling with tourists.
Pompeii is a perfectly preserved example of a Roman seaside resort city. There are a few private residences of wealthy Romans, public baths, paved and rutted roads, a brothel, Forum, a granary, temples, a courthouse, amphitheatres, villas outside the city walls. You can hire a guide, but the best way to explore is to pick up the excellent audioguides on offer and simply wander. The original mosaics have been shipped off to the museum in Naples, so all that is left are reproductions, but the frescos are still fresh and vivid on the walls.
Day 3: Naples
From Sorrento, Naples is an easy two hour journey by hydrofoil. It is a lovely trip, out on the deck of the ferry where you can watch the isle of Capri pass by and the outline of the Amalfi Coast fade away.
The Museo Archeologico de Napoli holds the magnificent Farnese collection and the Pompeiian mosaics. The Farnese sculptures are, gigantic, gorgeous, extraordinary. They are the work of an ancient Grecian, and were old during the time of the Romans. They were discovered in the Baths of Carcalla in Rome. The two most famous are Hercules, and the Bull of Farnese. The last is the Farnese Venus, which is a sculpture of extraordinary grace. The exhibit is beautifully done, with high soaring ceilings and lots of muted natural light.
Ercole Farnese, Museo Archeologico Napoli
Here there are also displays of Pompeiian mosaics – restored to what they would have originally looked like at the time Vesuvius struck. It really helped to populate the homes that we saw in situ, with what they would have actually looked like; colourful mosaiced pillars, light flooding the atrium, beautiful scenes of mythology and gods painted on the walls. The insides of the wealthy citizens’ homes must have been very luxurious in their day.
The museum’s other claim to fame is the Secret Room, so called because when Pompeii was first discovered, in Victorian times, archaeologists were shocked at the explicit statues, frescos and artifacts that were found. In Pompeii, phallic symbols were considered good luck charms, and found its way into all sorts of day-to-day items: door knockers, water jugs, candle holders, windchimes. The ancients even put up little terracotta penises on the corners of their roofs.
Naples itself is a city of rough edges and shifting shadows. There is a kind of dark beauty about the streets; the alleys hang close and narrowly, laundry lines strung out like spiderwebs criss crossing, shadow and light falling in lines into the space between. There is rubbish everywhere – empty cigarette packets, swirling plastic bags; all borne on the wind. There is the city’s Duomo, a white marbled, soaring cathedral hemmed in by selfish buildings. There are scooters everywhere, even where scooters should not be, zipping past.