I recently had the opportunity to spend five days exploring The Bay of Naples in Italy, travelling in a group of 24. Our trip was incredibly jam-packed and eventful and I was able to tick lots off my travel bucket list; now I’m desperate to go back and explore Italy more. As a Geography and Classics student, Italy was the perfect destination to be enthralled by the beauty of the natural world, as well as to be immersed into the fascinating history of the country.
We set off from Bradford on Avon bright and early at 1AM, where a 2 hour coach journey took us to London Gatwick. The airport was so quiet, with it being around 3:30AM when we arrived, which made check in and going through security really quick and hassle-free. It was a little surreal being in an almost empty airport! Our plane was equally really quiet; it wasn’t even half full, so lots of people moved seats so they could have some more space and catch up on some sleep. I personally didn’t sleep, and whilst I was sat on an aisle seat I enjoyed catching glimpses of views from the window – flying over the Alps was completely stunning. We landed in Naples at around 10AM, and were greeted by beautiful blue skies and around 20 degree heat (a big contrast to the UK!). An hour transfer followed to our hostel in Sant’Agnello, a comune in Sorrento. We dropped off our bags and then took the train to Vico Equense. The train system is fascinating, and much less developed than what we’re used to in the UK – I felt like I’d stepped back in time! When we arrived in Vico Equense, we had our first taste of true Italian pizza at the Pizza a Metro. As the name suggests, this involved metre-long pizzas! Between the 24 of us, I think we managed to get through 4 metre-long pizzas – a fabulous first meal in this beautiful country. Afterwards, we had some free time to explore the commune, which was like a small village. It was here that I began to be struck by the incredible Italian architecture, which is so unlike anything we have in the UK. I especially loved how Italians use colour in their buildings – vibrant pinks and reds – and this looked particularly stunning against the blue skies and the sea. It was in Vico Esquense where I had my first Italian Gelato, which was amazing, and so cheap – I tried chocolate coffee and Nutella – two scoops in a tub for €1.80. It was definitely the best ice cream I’ve ever had, as well as being really well priced, and I regret not looking at the name of the shop!
Once we returned to Sant’Agnello, we had dinner (tomato penne pasta, classic) and had an early night – we were all asleep by 9PM, which was 8PM in the UK! You don’t realise how exhausting travelling is until you’ve not properly rested for over 36 hours. We awoke bright and early on Saturday morning at 6:45 – this only gave us 15 minutes to get ready, which wasn’t ideal. We had a continental breakfast, and I genuinely think my favourite food during the whole trip was the croissants – which is quite ironic, since they’re French! After our breakfast, we boarded the coach and set off to Mount Vesuvius, which was about a 45 minute drive. Climbing Mount Vesuvius is something which I’m sure is on most people’s bucket list, and learning about its history on our coach journey there was fascinating. Unfortunately, the mountain was practically submerged in cloud and fog, so we couldn’t actually see into the crater or admire the views of Naples. However, it was really entertaining to be with everyone trying catch a glimpse of the city when the fog occasionally cleared. I managed to get a couple of pictures, including the one above! There was also a fantastic atmosphere at Vesuvius, and you really felt like you were somewhere truly special. We were grateful to even have the opportunity to visit, as there was a risk that Vesuvius would actually be shut to the public due to rainfall. I’m sure that during Summer it is incredibly busy, but as we were visiting at 9:30AM in late October, it was pretty quiet – I’d definitely recommend visiting earlier in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds. After our windy exploration of Vesuvius, we stopped off for lunch (margarita pizza part 2!) in Ristorente Kona, a restaurant in a perfect location for tourists visiting the mountain. We then set off to Pompeii.
I’ve always wanted to visit Pompeii, so this was one of my favourite aspects of the trip. It’s somewhere that I think everyone should try and visit in their lives. I was amazed by the sheer scale of it – whilst other places are better preserved (like Herculaneum), Pompeii is iconic for its size – it really is like a town. We started off as a big group, where we visited an ancient brothel (complete with stone beds and paintings above the doorway) and the forum, where some other British tourists mistook my teacher for a tour guide and tried to tag along. We were then given two hours to explore everything else – whilst we packed it into an afternoon, you could easily spend the whole day wandering the streets of Pompeii. I especially loved the beautiful mosaics and gardens, where you could see the artistic skill the Romans loved to show off. The Villa of the Mysteries is also a must-visit. It’s slightly away from the main area of Pompeii and in incredible condition, as it wasn’t strongly affected by the eruption. It really helped establish a strong understanding of how the Roman people lived.
We spent Saturday evening relaxing on our hostel’s rooftop terrace and playing Part One of our group quiz. Then, we awoke Sunday morning ready to continue our exploration of Italy. Unfortunately, after two rain-free days, today was the day in which we were required to unpack our waterproof coats as we headed off to the Isle of Capri. Before catching our boat, we had some free time exploring the area around Sorrento’s ferry terminal. The intriguing mix of old and new architecture fascinated me, especially when looking at the glamorous 5 star hotels with stunning sea views, cut into the cliffs. I also made the mistake of paying €4 for a can of Fanta in a cafe… all for the bonus of a nice view! The boat ride over to Capri was an experience – the sea was anything but still, and I was incredibly grateful that I don’t suffer from sea sickness. Everyone was pretty relieved when we were back on dry ground! I can imagine the boat ride being a wonderful experience on a dry and sunny day, but sadly we weren’t that lucky! Out of everywhere we visited, Capri is the place I’m most interested in returning to, because of how stunning I can imagine it being in good weather. Even in the mist and rain it was beautiful, although we felt a little sub-par walking past dozens of luxury shops in our soaking clothes. Another thing that surprised me about Capri was how many dogs were running around freely – it was quite surreal just seeing dozens of dogs on our walks without their owners! Whilst on our exploration of Capri, half of our group managed to get lost – twice – so make sure you’ve planned your route before you set off! On our walk we were able to see the incredible natural scenery of Capri, such as the Natural Arch (left). This is a must visit if you come to Capri – there’s a bit of a trek to reach it, but the views are worth it. Of course, being Geography students, we had to discuss the formation of this Arch, but it is quite a staggering landform! Apparently, there is a beautiful walk which takes you around and down the Arch, but it was deemed too unsafe for us in the rain and wind. We then took the funicular back down the slopes of Capri to the waterside. I loved being on the funicular – it reminded me of when I visited Switzerland as a young child. We then went for lunch – margarita pizza part 3 – and then had some free time to explore. After wandering for a bit, we simply sat on some rocks and watched the world go by, which was so peaceful. With how busy our stay was, having these little moments to sit and rest were much appreciated. It was then time to board the boat back to Sorrento – it was only 3PM but the conditions were so bad that all other boats were being cancelled! Luckily, our ride back was much smoother.
Back in Sorrento, we were given two hours to explore further. This was our first time to
actually explore central Sorrento, and we found it was the best place to buy souvenirs – I’ve never seen so much limoncello in my life…! We spent the two hours in small groups wandering through the little streets of Sorrento. Although many of the souvenir shops were rather kitsch, they were quite endearing. I came across a beautiful jewellery shop, where I bought a pair of earrings, and also a cool wooden gift store, where I bought an olive wood ladle. I think exploring these market-like streets is a must if you’re visiting Sorrento; I can imagine how busy they would be in the Summer, but this would just add to the exciting atmosphere! You could easily spend hours just exploring them, the streets seemed almost endless. Away from the little side streets, we also wandered down Sorrento’s main high streets – it was quite fun looking in high street fashion shops which we had never heard of before. As the clocks had gone back the night before, the sun started to set as we walked around at around 5PM, and it was beautiful being able to wander through Sorrento as it got darker. This was the only time we were able to explore somewhere not in complete daylight, so it was pretty magical. Afterwards, we went back to the hostel for dinner, which was pasta and clams – I’ve never had clams before, so avoided them, but apparently they tasted nice! It was then part two of our quiz, where I sadly came last due to severely poor knowledge of famous faces…
We awoke bright and early Monday morning for possibly the busiest day of the trip. The forecast for the day was BAD – heavy rain all day – but we were in good spirits nonetheless. We started our day off by a 1.5h journey to the Flavian Amphitheatre in Pozzuoli, which is the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. It’s incredibly well preserved, especially the underground areas, and it was incredible to imagine all the activities which would have occurred there. The history of it was fascinating, but the impromptu tour given to us by a very enthusiastic member of staff (I assume…) was absolutely brilliant, and completely made my visit. He showed us through the lesser-known areas in the underground area of the amphitheatre, which tend not to be shown to the public, but also enjoyed making us sprint around the outside areas in the pouring rain. It was quite the experience! After immersing ourself in the history of the amphitheatre, we then stopped off for lunch. We didn’t have pizza, but I instead had to endure the worst “panini” of my life – if you’re going to have a panini, try not to buy one that’s been pre-wrapped in plastic, and instead have one that’s been freshly prepared. It wasn’t pleasant. We then headed off to the National Archeological Museum in Naples. We were only given 50 minutes, but I could have easily spent hours here. As a massive fan of Classics and as a future Anthropology student, I found it fascinating. The statues are incredible, as are the mosaics, and after visiting Pompeii the whole experience was made more meaningful. There is also an incredible scaled-down model of Pompeii, which is staggering. It was quite cool being able to see the routes we wandered down. My favourite part however may have been this ceiling, shown to the right, which was completely beautiful – everyone in my group ended up in this room, staring at it in awe. It was so grand and beautiful.
Whilst waiting for our coach outside the museum, we had the joys of watching the Italian road system. There are seemingly no rules, and whilst you feel quite safe inside a vehicle, it is a little alarming to watch! Our next destination was Herculaneum, another ancient ruined town. Whilst on our way there, our teacher told us the story of Mount Somma/Vesuvius and the AD79 eruption – he enjoyed substituting names with people in my group. When we arrived, a tour guide took us on an hour long tour so that we could have a wider understanding of Herculaneum. It was really interesting, and the place itself was fascinating. Whilst it is much, much smaller than Pompeii, its remains are in much better condition, and some of the mosaics and marbles on show are remarkable. I’ve included a photo of a particularly beautiful mosaic/picture in one of the houses, which is a must find if you visit Herculaneum. After our tour, we were allowed to explore some more – however, this was disrupted by the heaviest storm I’ve ever encountered. Watching dramatic flashes lightning whilst stood in ancient ruins was incredible – but also rather scary! As the rain became heavier and heavier – it was literally sideways rain – we had to sprint as a group to the main visitor centre. As a tiny 5’3 girl, I felt like I was going to be swept away, and I’ve never been more glad to reach a building in my life! We stood dripping for about 5 minutes inside, trying to calm down, before we had to sprint again to our coach in groups of three. As we drove away, we passed numerous fire engines and trees that had fallen down, which was quite surreal. This storm also caused huge floods in Venice, and even my friend who was staying in Greece at the time experienced heavy rain too. It should have taken us an hour to get back to our hostel, but as the motorway had been shut it took us three hours…! Yep, three hours of sitting on a coach in soggy clothes, gradually getting more hungry. We got back to the hostel at 8, and thankfully our dinner was held back for us. I was exhausted, and very happy to get to bed!
Our final morning in Italy started with my room spending half an hour up on the roof terrace, making the most of the beautiful views. The weather was gorgeous, so we thought we’d make the most of it! Afterwards, we then walked through Sant’Agnello to a local cafe, Bar la Terrazza, where we stopped for drinks. The views from this restaurant are beautiful, and we all sat outside with our drinks. I had an iced coffee with ice cream – very pricey (7 euros!), but it was completely worth it – one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted! It was completely lovely to sit and appreciate the views with a delicious drink.
We picked up our luggage from the hostel and set off to Naples. I had been warned about pickpockets in Naples, and unsurprisingly our teacher warned us to keep all valuables close to us in a front pocket. We stopped off for lunch – margarita pizza number 4 – and it was my favourite pizza of the whole trip, but again I didn’t manage to get the name of the restaurant, and I can’t find it online since Naples is so big! Afterwards, we went on a tour of the Naples Underground. It was easily one of my favourite aspects of the trip. The tour was around an hour long and led us through lots of tunnels and spaces used within the War, but with a past as the Naples aqueduct. The history of it was fascinating and our tour guide was brilliant – it was an amazing way to see Naples in a completely different light. I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. With that, our trip to Italy was drawing to a close, and we had our short drive to the airport.
The Bay of Naples makes an excellent destination for a short break – I think 4 nights, 5 days was a perfect length, especially in a largish group. Staying in a hostel was an experience, and not something I’m used to, but of course the main attraction was Italy itself! I think Italy makes a perfect destination for people of all ages, from families to couples to groups… there’s something that Italy can bring to everyone. The history is incredible, as is the scenery, and I really loved exploring this fabulous country. Late October was a brilliant time to visit – the temperature remained around 19 degrees for the entire time, and whilst we were caught by a storm I think this was just unlucky! Everywhere we went was relatively quiet – the centre of Sorrento being the exception, but this was still more than manageable.
If this fabulous country appeals to you, why not contact us and we can start planning the perfect holiday!