Discovering the Blue Vase of Pompeii

Discovered at Pompeii on December 29, 1837, in the presence of King Ferdinand II, the Blue Vase is regarded by many to be the Naples National Archaeological Museum‘s most prized possession.

The Blue Vase is said to have been found in the House of the Mosaic Columns during a Royal inspection. Some have suggested it was planted to impress the noble visitors. Apparently, it was not uncommon for excavators to inhume their finds and wait for an opportune time to unearth the treasure in order to keep their patrons excited and the funds coming in.

Extremely fragile, Imperial Roman cameo glass vases are terrifically rare; only a handful survive. Perhaps the most famous specimen is the so-called Portland Vase in the British Museum.

They were made by fusing different colored sheets of glass together in a furnace. After cooling, the top layer was etched away, creating designs that stand out from the contrasting background. As with the Blue Vase, the most common color combination was the use of an opaque white over a translucent cobalt blue.

Beneath each handle of the Blue Vase the iconography depicts a group of pudgy putti gaily harvesting grapes for winemaking and playing musical instruments. Separating the two scenes are highly elaborate grape vines bearing clusters of fruit and some birds. The vines appear to be springing like antlers from the head of Silenus, the trusty companion of Dionysus, the god of wine. Circling the vessel’s base are flora and fauna from the Mediterranean. Fittingly, the glass vessel is shaped like a wine amphora.

Undoubtably the work of master craftsmen, this priceless masterpiece was truly a wonder to behold.

National Archaeological Museum is away only a few minutes walk from our apartment!

Procida island

Far from the worldliness of Capri and Ischia, scented with lemons and windswept, Procida escapes the radar of mass tourism (August apart) and retains a rarefied, authentic, almost melancholic atmosphere. It is very small (4 km² of land), with a tangle of houses in pastel, pink, yellow, green and blue, its marinas with small boats and fishing nets piled on the piers. The local spirit is fully expressed on the streets and in the squares, with deeply tanned fishermen resting in the shade of sun umbrellas, kids chasing each other through the alleys, and restaurants that never disappoint clients.

But no, even the summer, however, would return invariably, the same as usual. It cannot be killed, it is an invulnerable dragon that is always reborn, with its wonderful childhood. And, it was a horrible jealousy that made me bitter, this: to think of the island again on fire from the summer, without me!
(Elsa Morante, L’isola di Arturo)

Nothing could be better than a slow-paced exploration of this island. Visit Marina Grande, where sailors sell the freshest fish directly from their boats. Stroll along the uphill alleys to Terra Murata, the highest point of the island, with a magnificent landscape on the gulf, the Church of San Michele Arcangelo and Palazzo d’Avalosformer prison abandoned in 1988 and now open to the public. Marina della Corricella is the small fishing village theater of Il Postino, last masterpiece by Massimo Troisi (in addition to interpreting Pablo Neruda’s postman, the actor directed himself and Michael Radford, receiving five 1996 Oscar nominations – including the best film award – and winning a statuette for the best dramatic soundtrack). Tourists enjoy searching for the film’s backdrops (especially visitors from Naples, who exalt Troisi, with good reason, as much as Maradona). The village slopes with its colorful houses from Piazza dei Martiri to the marina. Further south we find the beautiful Chiaia beach, a semicircular cove of fine sand. At the western end of the island there is the informal Marina di Chiaiolella with old fashioned restaurants, a harbor where pleasure boats moor and colorful water taxis that carry you to enchanting beaches. There is still an island to visit: Vivara, crescent green, uninhabited, connected to Procida by a pedestrian bridge. Miraculously immune to overbuilding, it has been recognized as a State Nature Reserve. 

Ischia island

Even Ischia, the largest of the Flegree islands, experienced the glorious 1950s. Director Luchino Visconti loved the island so much that he bought Villa La Colombaia, which is not open to visits. However, it was Angelo Rizzoli, publisher and film producer, who built the Regina Isabella Spa Hotel and attracted a bunch of celebrities to Ischia. We are referring to Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Maria Callas and William Holden. Today, if Capri is wrapped up in its aristocratic cloak, Ischia has slipped it off, while remaining elegant, evergreen, healthy and sought after. It is a mosaic of different environments: the cliffs overlooking the indigo sea, secluded beaches, picturesque towns and unspoiled nature with bougainvillea skeins and luscious Mediterranean vegetation. Castello Aragonese stands proudly on the opposite island of Ischia Ponte: 25 centuries old, its walls conceal churches, prisons and gardens. It is the venue of the Ischia Film Festival in June. Forio is the widest village on the island, with narrow streets enlivened by artisan shops and restaurants, and the unmissable La Mortella gardens, an enchanting botanical garden with a large variety of species, created by the passion of Susana Gil (aka Lady Walton, wife of the composer William Walton). And, then, you can’t miss Sant’Angelo, Ischia’s refined village. Located at the south end of the island, you will appreciate all its charm only after a long and tortuous descent. The pastel-colored houses, the small marina, the square with the refined boutiques and the restaurants recall Capri. However, climb up to the Madonnella, the highest point of Sant’Angelo, and from there descend to the Maronti beach, one of the most beautiful on the island, with a multitude of fumaroles, a volcanic phenomenon that gives rise to gas bubbles at 100°C and releases steam jets from the sand. Along with the Bay of Sorgeto (Panza, near Forio) with its natural spa pools, these two sites are the free spas of Ischia. Yes, spas are Ischia’s main tourist attraction. Some have made history and are still intensively visited for their natural environment, which is always lush and well kept, and for the healing and beneficial properties of the water. Poseidon Gardens in Forio have 20 spa pools; Lacco Ameno, in the bay of San Montano, has the Negombo Spa Park; and Barano d’Ischia features the Fonte delle Ninfe Nitrodi Park. And, finally, you will find walks with various levels of difficulty to explore the island and enjoy its magnificent views. The most beautiful climbs will take you to the top of Mt. Epomeo, at the highest peak of Ischia. The path makes it way along scenic vineyards with wonderful views of the Gulf of Naples and of the neighboring Campi Flegrei. On the way, stop at the Church of San Nicola at the hermitage, excavated in the tuff.

Capri island

Capri‘s velvet-like elegance and glamor are a thinly veiled invitation to hedonism. It is hard not to give in to the flattery of such a beautiful island. And, in any case, the most skeptical could be enchanted by the siren song. A microcosm in which sea, vegetation, art and culture are in perfect balance. The cliffs, the magnificent views along the paths, a fertile and lively soil with thick vegetation, the warm hues of citrus groves, the banks of brilliant bougainvillea and, then, the Roman villas, with traces of the passage of Octavian and of the sadistic Tiberius, who had twelve villas built and chose enchanting Villa Jovis as a residence. But things changed in Capri in the 1800s when the sparkling Blue Grotto was discovered. An ancient karstic crevice conceals a spectacular, almost surreal environment where the filtering light sheds a silver glow on everything. Word spread and the island became an attraction for artists, musicians, writers, aesthetes, such as John Singer Sargent, Debussy and Thomas Mann, for example. Later, in the fifties and sixties, while the whole of Italy was still licking its wounds from World War 2, the first sybarites visited Capri to enjoy a life of luxury, leisure and pleasure, the lifestyle called “la dolce vita”. The glittery international jet-set arrived with movie divas, magnates with their wives, and Hollywood stars. Vintage photo archives depict Jackie Onassis, Brigitte Bardot, Rita Hayworth with Prince Ali Khan, Ingrid Bergman, Maria Callas and Pablo Neruda. The local economy took giant leaps at the time, and hotels, restaurants and clubs were opened. Tailoring developed with maestro Emilio Pucci, and Capri fashion with mid-calf trousers, sandals and jewels became an international trend. The island’s charm has been renowned since.

One of Jackie’s most beautiful and published photos portrays her walking barefoot along the streets of Capri with a t-shirt and a pair of white pants. Her absolute simplicity is the quintessence of elegance.
(Franca Sozzani) 

But, let’s go in order. The main port of the island is Marina Grande, from which boats leave the island or head for the Blue Grotto. On the other hand, Capri is the most important and picturesque, with white tufa stone houses enhanced by flowered terraces, boats and mega yachts anchored to the marina, narrow alleys overflowing with boutiques, besides clubs and exclusive restaurants that have supplanted local activities. But, the fulcrum of happy life is the iconic piazzetta, a living room in the heart of the village, with the Church of Santo Stefano, the town hall and many elegant cafés with tables on the street for a pleasant aperitif, when the square becomes a catwalk. It’s like attending a fashion show, with people in evening dress and an impeccable demeanor. However, you an easily get away from the crowds by taking Via Vittorio Emanuele and then turning into Via Camerelle with its many designer shops. Finally you reach Via Tragara, a quiet walk that leads to the namesake belvedere. From here, going eastwards, there is a rather demanding route with climbs and flights of steps that leads to the modernist Villa Malaparte and the natural Arch. Or, from the little square, always following via Vittorio Emanuele, via Serena and then via Matteotti, you can reach the gardens of Augustus, near the charterhouse of San Giacomo, with flowers and terraces where you can admire the view of the Faraglioni, the three pinnacles of rock that rise majestically in the sea to guard the island. From here, you can climb the winding via Krupp up to Marina Piccola, a small peaceful corner with a beautiful bay sheltered from the wind. The western part of the island features the promontory of Anacapri, the popular but sober counterpart of sumptuous Capri, the ideal place to take a slow stroll along streets colored with geraniums. And, when you want to go back to being a VIP, you just have to descend the 881 steps of the Scala Fenicia that lead directly to Capri. 

In Capri, you meet a lot of people who might look famous though they are not.
(Diego De Silva)

Gulf of Naples Islands: what to see in Ischia, Capri, Procida

Caves, bays, inlets, breathtaking views, good food and a wonderful climate. From Naples or Sorrento, from Amalfi or Positano, those looking at the horizon can see a triangle of rocky shapes emerging from the sea in the distance. It is the first meeting with the gems of the Gulf of Naples: Capri, the mundane; Ischia, the island of well-being; and Procida, the conservative.

CapriIschia and Procida leave behind the histrionic Naples, with its hustle and its contradictions, basking in their overwhelming beauty. Scattered on a sea of a saturated blue, they have made an eternal pact with the sun and the mild climate, the lifeblood of the luxuriant nature that adorns them all year round. Yet, the three enchanting islands of the Gulf of Naples present features and characteristics that are anything but homogeneous. Capri with its pointed shapes is an ephemeral elite living room. Large, kaleidoscopic Ischia with luxuriant vegetation and rounded profiles treasures its sulfurous waters. Finally, small, simple, colorful and authentic Procida. Luscious meals, golden and black beaches, wellness treatments, walks and trekking, romantic sunsets: what else do you need?

Ah, Naples is nothing without its islands: Capri, of course, Ischia and even Procida.
(Tahar Ben Jelloun)


We like to describe Naples as chaos incarnate. It has a life of its own, that seems to head in every direction at once, but then comes together into a sort of untouchable harmony that energizes your soul. And because I would love to let you know more about the city, we collected together our favorite quotes about Napoli.

In the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, Naples has inspired writers and artists for centuries.

To recognize this unique city, here are the best quotes about Naples:

Rome is stately and impressive, Florence is all beauty and enchantment, Genoa is picturesque, Venice is a dream city, but Naples is simply — fascinating.
– Lilian Whiting

Naples is curiously chaotic and, if I’m honest, a bit dilapidated. It certainly has a ‘lived-in’ look. It’s alive, it’s vibrant, it’s a little bit dirty, it’s busy, and I loved it.
– Paul Hollywood

I won’t say another word about the beauties of the city and its situation, which have been described and praised often. As they say here, “Vedi Napoli e poi muori! See Naples and die!” One can’t blame the Neapolitan for never wanting to leave his city, nor its poets singing its praises in lofty hyperboles: it would be wonderful even if a few more Vesuviuses were to rise in the neighbourhood.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Here we are at last. The Italian proverb says “See Naples and die” but I say, see Naples and live; for there seems a great deal worth living for.
– Arthur John Strutt

Naples is the flower of paradise. The last adventure of my life.
– Alexandre Dumas

I have a concept of Naples that is not so much of a city per se but rather an ingredient of the human spirit that I detect in everyone, Neapolitan or not. The idea that ‘Neapolitanism’ and mass ignorance are somehow indissolubly linked is one that I am prepared to fight with all the strength I have. Quite simply, I refuse to believe that the living conditions of a population can only be improved at the cost of annihilating everything human in their way of life. Indeed, there are times when I think that Naples represents the last remaining hope for the human race.
– Luciano De Crescenzo

I exist only because inside of me and above all else I am only and above all a Neapolitan. Naples exists inside of me, and always will. Fortunately for me there is this treasure that I have inside of me and, when I need it, then I pull it out.
– Sophia Loren

…the city of Naples was like this: wonderful from a distance, but when seen close up, it was fragmentary, indefinable, and coarse…
– Franco Di Mare

Naples sitteth by the sea, keystone of an arch of azure, Crowned by consenting nations peerless queen of gayety: She laugheth at the wrath of Ocean, she mocketh the fury of Vesuvius, She spurneth disease, and misery, and famine, that crowd her sunny streets.
Martin Farquhar Tupper

He who doesn’t love Naples, has yet to learn how to love life.
– Anonymous

Naples is a paradise: in it every one lives in a sort of intoxicated self-forgetfulness. It is even so with me: I scarcely know myself; I seem to myself quite an altered man. Yesterday I said to myself, “Either you have always been mad, or you are so now.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Are there any other quotes about Naples that you love?

Discovering the best Naples attractions: 5 things to see and do once in a lifetime

Naples lives on its traditions, legends and popular beliefs. On its stories, which have been told for centuries and which every good Neapolitan truly believes. To feel like citizens of Naples, you cannot do without listening to these evocative stories, the stories that come from our past.

Naturally, Naples offers a lot of interesting places to see and visit, but it is also fun to get away from the usual routes and devote yourself to the most interesting things to do in Naples today. Put yourself in the shoes of the Neapolitans and live in first person the most intriguing Naples attractions and experiences connected to what has always accompanied the spirit of these people: tradition, charming popular beliefs and religious fervor (a religion that includes football, as Naples has had Maradona, the hand of God).

Cross Piazza del Plebiscito with your eyes closed

The purpose of this game is managing to go between the equestrian statues in the center of the square, sculpted by Antonio Canova and depicting Charles III of Bourbon and Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies (the statue of the latter monarch is attributed to Antonio Calì). Rules of the game: close your eyes or wear a blindfold. Procedure: starting from the gate of Palazzo Reale, walk straight for about 170 meters. Do not be surprised if, on opening your eyes, you realize not only that you have not managed to cross the space between the two statues, but that you are somewhere else entirely. According to legend, it is all Queen Margherita’s fault: she is said to have granted a pardon to the prisoners of the Kingdom who passed this test, however, a curse launched by the Queen herself prevented the competitors from being successful. As a matter of fact, the particular conformation of the square, with its surface of not perfectly linear cobblestones, hinders walking in a straight line, making this a very difficult thing to do in Naples with kids, especially during the night.

A scenic view of Piazza del Plebiscito

Leaving a “suspended” coffee

A symbol of Neapolitan generosity, the suspended coffee is a custom born in Naples after the war, when in a period of great crises, the solidarity of the Neapolitans became more intense. Upon entering a bar, people paid for two espressos, one for themselves and one for those who wanted one, but who could not pay for one. A tradition that is still perpetuated and that has given rise to a blueprint of supportive purchases even outside the Neapolitan borders and in other contexts: books, clothing, and food.

Coffee and sfogliatella in a café in Naples

What a beautiful thing is a day at the Gaiola

In front of the Posillipo hill, the Gaiola emerges: it is an islet that is part of the protected marine area Parco Sommerso della Gaiola, which can be reached on foot from the Marechiaro village. This Naples attraction is wrapped in an aura of mystery and sinister legends that have developed since Roman times: the Neapolitans suggest that it brings “jella” (bad luck), but they continue to go there assiduously. In fact, the island is enchanting and it is worthwhile forgetting about the rumors and diving into the crystal-clear water, admiring the seabed and the underwater treasures.

The Gaiola Island, part of the ‘Underwater Park of Gaiola’, a protected marine reserve

Adopt a capuzzella at the Fontanelle Cemetery

This is one of the most typical things to do in Naples: the Fontanelle Cemetery, within a tuff quarry in the Rione Sanità, was the common grave of the plague victims of 1656 and of those who died in the cholera epidemic of 1837. Don Gaetano Barbati placed here the skulls and bones of the victims, who became to the people “pezzentelle”, abandoned souls, stranded between the earth and the afterlife. It is a place of great passion and devotion, where the Neapolitans come to adopt a capuzzella (skull); they give it a name, light a candle, and venerate it in exchange for a favor or a lucky number to play in the lotto. And if the favor is not granted? You change capuzzella!

Skulls and bones at the Fontanelle Cemetery

Pilgrimage to Maradona’s votive shrine

Between 1984 and the early 1990s, at every soccer game played at home, the San Paolo stadium the stands would shake, and a roar welcomed the entry onto the field of Diego Armando Maradona. It is difficult to explain what the Argentine phenomenon meant for the city of Naples and its citizens. The golden boy has enchanted the Neapolitans to the point of being almost sanctified; many were the children born in those years who were baptized as Diego, and the whole city is plastered with posters, murals, and small altars dedicated to him. But the best known niche is that of Piazzetta Nilo, on the façade of the bar named after the square: it holds a precious lock of the champion’s hair, some images, and the advice to stop and have a coffee to be told the anecdote of Maradona’s hair by the bar owner.

The 13 best things to do in Naples

Naples is one of Europe’s largest and oldest cities. It’s a chaotic, surprising and intense place stuffed with character; modern life and history clash on every street. More so than any spot in Italy, your mantra whilst there will be eat, pray, pizza (and football), sleep, repeat. With sunny islands, ancient history, beaches and a volcano, there’s enough here to fill an entire summer break—especially as you’re likely to lose track of time while wandering through ramshackle alleyways stuffed with the world’s best pizza.

Best things to do in Naples

Visit Pompeii

What is it? You know about Pompeii already, of course, but it’s genuinely overwhelming
in real life. Its perfectly preserved streets manage to remain eerie despite rivalling the footfall of Oxford Circus on a Saturday.
Why go? Always good to have a reminder that humans are ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature. Few things say carpe diem like the plaster cast of a corpse who was looting a jewellery shop.

Explore Herculaneum

What is it? Pompeii may have got all the glory but nearby settlement Herculaneum also got completely engulfed by lava, and revealed even better-preserved scenes of everyday Roman life. A row of 12 boathouses, for instance, which were excavated in the 1990s, turned out to be the final hiding place of more than 300 people.
Why go? Though still popular with visitors, you get a bit of personal space at Herculaneum. All the better for getting to grips with the astonishingly old suburbia you’re exploring.

Pay respects to the pizza gods at Sorbillo

What is it? One of the few things that all Neapolitans can agree on is that they make the best pizza. You can get the signature chewy, crispy dough all over town but you have to start somewhere, and that should probably be La Pizzeria Sorbillo.
Why go? Gino Sorbillo’s dad was one of 21 siblings, all of whom were pizzaiolo. His dough is totally trad but – very unusually for Italy – he messes with convention on the toppings.

Drink like the locals in Piazza Bellini

What is it? Like a meeting post for the young and thirsty of Naples, this bar-lined square bubbles over with students, locals and tourists come aperitivo time (and beyond). There are also some ancient ruins left casually unprotected in its centre.
Why go? The walls at Intra Moenia are covered with rows and rows of vintage postcards and curios. Buy one to send home then claim a table outside to sit back and sip while the crowds gather.

Drink coffee in Mexico

What is it? Popular with everyone from local workmen to holidaying hipsters, Caffè Mexico in Piazza Dante is the best coffee bar in town. Stop in for an espresso, which in Naples generally comes sweetened unless you demand otherwise.
Why go? Its sunny yellow awning and bright orange espresso machine will perk you up as much as the caffeine does.

Go mad for the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea (MADRE)

What is it? A world-class museum of modern art that’s named after the gothic fourteenth-century church that sits within its walls. Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina’s beautiful main building holds site-specific works by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and many other superstars of the visual arts.
Why go? You might, at some point, want to gaze appreciatively at something that’s not older than Italy itself.

Feast on fish at Mimì alla Ferrovia

What is it? It’s not just pizza that Neapolitans nail. This seaside city is awash with fantastic seafood, and Mimì alla Ferrovia is a great place to eat a load of it. As well as traditional food done right this local favourite also boasts excellent house wine and staff who could moonlight as Naples tour guides.
Why go? One of the restaurant’s many famous customers was legendary tenor (and food enthusiast), Luciano Pavarotti.

Go deeper underground at the Fontanelle cemetery

What is it? Beneath the heat and bustle of Naples’ streets is an old quarry that became a burial site in the seventeenth century when a plague took out 250,000 of the city’s residents. Though the Fontanelle cemetery’s piles of bones are undeniably unnerving, the local tradition of caring for a lost soul’s skull lends the place a very spiritual feel.
Why go? Watch for the odd Italian nonna on her way to tend to her designated skeleton in the hope of releasing its soul to heaven in return for a wish.

Get a breath of sea air on the Lungomare

What is it? A 2.5km strip of pedestrianised road that runs along the seafront, providing the perfect stress-free route for a stroll. Stop for lemon granita at the beach kiosks, claim a rock to sunbathe on or stop for a sundowner.
Why go? The views of Mount Vesuvius, Capri and Naples itself are spectacular. Add in a colourful sunset and it could be a Studio Ghibli set.

Experience Catholic grandeur at Gesù Nuovo

What is it? Over in the west of the city a spacious piazza is home to the almost brutalist-looking facade of a church called Gesù Nuovo. Its ridiculously opulent interiors will have you wondering whether it wasn’t only Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen’s hair that was Jesus-esque.
Why go? Learn more about Dr Giuseppe Moscati, who dedicated his career in the early nineteenth-century to healing the poor. Thanks to a miracle or two he was made a saint in 1987.

Watch a match at the San Paolo Stadium

What is it? The only belief system to rival that of the church in this town is football, and its much-loved poster boy is Diego Armando Maradona. Go to San Paolo Stadium to watch SSC Napoli and you’ll likely be rewarded with a world-class match; they play in Italy’s top league, Serie A. 
Why go? When surrounded by 60,000 fans all chanting for a common goal you’re guaranteed goosebumps. Remember to make the pilgrimage to Bar Nilo afterwards to visit the reliquary containing a strand of Maradona’s hair.

Take the funicular to Castel Sant’Elmo

What is it? Though you’re not likely to need the metro during your visit, it’s worth seeking out the funicular lines that shunt residents up to the hilly suburbs. Their colourful carriages are used by 10 million passengers per year.
Why go? For the panoramic views from the top. Take the line from Montesanto to Morghen then walk to the medieval Castel Sant’Elmo. The tangle of Naples city centre’s buildings is framed by the sea on one side and Vesuvius on the other.

Take a boat to Procida

What is it? Of the Bay of Naples’ three islands, it’s Capri that is most ridiculously beautiful, but that also means it’s constantly smothered in tourists. Ischia offers thermal spas, but it is Procida’s charming colourful houses and cobbled streets that make it the off-the-radar offshore choice.
Why go?  Procida seems to want to keep its secret to itself, although it’s popular with napoletani looking for a summer escape from the steaming, chaotic city. .

21 december. Happy Birthday Napoli!

A few thousand years ago (475 BC), according to a neoclassical tradition, the city of Naples was founded in the winter solstice. Today, therefore, it is the birthday of Parthenope.

The legendary siren Parthenope, fallen victim of the cunning of Ulysses, left angry the fearsome rock of the sirens to reach the islet of Megaride, where today stands the Castel dell’Ovo.

A coastal dream

Drive the road of 1,000 bends, from Sorrento to Amalfi is one of the most magnificent coastal drives in the world.


Facing north over the Bay of Naples, Sorrento is situated towards the end of the mountainous Sorrentine peninsula, over the hills from the famous resorts of the Amalfi Coast. In mythology, this area is often identified as the land of the sirens, beautiful maidens of the sea whose song lured mariners to their doom. Sorrento is built on a historic site settled from prehistoric times onwards; there was a Greek town here, and then the Roman town of Sorrentum. A few relics of these times can be seen in the town museum. This was an obvious site to build a settlement; surrounded by low cliffs on one side and ravines on the other, it had a natural ring of defences, as well as access by sea and a fertile hinterland. Nowadays parts of the ravine are filled in – a bridge and town gate were demolished to make way for the modern town’s heart, Piazza Tasso. But even without these physical defences, Sorrento has managed to keep its historic town centre reasonably intact. Although many properties are now converted to tourist businesses, the mellow old buildings still help create the delightful authentic atmosphere which gives Sorrento a big advantage over modern beach resorts.

Sorrento and its sister towns, Sant’Agnello, Piano di Sorrento and Meta di Sorrento now spread all the way along the large plateau that was once primarily agricultural. The towns are all separated from the sea by low cliffs, and there are hardly any beaches – one of the most important things to realise for travellers planning a summer holiday. Sea access is mostly from wooden boardwalks built out over the water, although there are a few scraps of sandy beach along the coast, and enterprising visitors can find attractive coves and pebble beaches around the peninsula.


Positano is a stage set of a town, its cluster of cubed, multi-hued buildings tumbling down the mountainside and closing around the grey shingle beach around which life revolves in the summer months. Once one of Italy’s most exclusive resorts, it has been thoroughly discovered by mass-tourism, but if you stay overnight, or come out of season, it’s still possible to get an elusive whiff of la dolce vita.

Insider’s tip: The only level street is the beachside walk. Anywhere else you need to go means negotiating lots of steep steps, so comfortable shoes are a must. Also, to get the best of the astonishing views, start in Positano and drive the cornice from west to east.


Ravello, set like an eagle’s nest above the dizzying landscape of Italy’s Amalfi coast, is the most peaceful and charming resort on the Neapolitan Riviera. Early summer is the best time to explore its largely traffic-free lanes or to wander among the terraces and pergolas of its elegant gardens, from where there are vertigo-inducing glimpses of the Mediterranean miles below.

Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy and Tennessee Williams all holidayed here, and the place still has an air of restrained glamour (though neighbouring Amalfi has more in the way of beach and nightlife).


The busiest town on the Costiera, famous for paper-making and lemons, Amalfi was once a glorious Maritime Republic. Although unbearably crowded in high season it is a very pretty little resort wedged between the sea and the mountains and fringed by lemon terraces. At its heart is Piazza del Duomo, an open-air salon crowded with café tables and tourists and dominated by the striped façade of the Norman-Arab style cathedral a top a flight of steep steps. 

Since the 13th century, Amalfi has been known for its papermaking. It’s natural setting, wedged into a deep gorge rich with gushing streams that opens into the sea, provided the perfect conditions for the craft to flourish. In the late 18th century, there were 16 paper mills in the area; today there are just two. The small but fascinating Museo della Carta (housed in a 15th-century mill) documents the history of paper-making in Amalfi.