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Exploring Solo in Naples and the Amalfi Coast

November 10, 2010

Recently, I cruised on the lovely Azamara Quest from Rome to Venice. It was a notable experience for me for two reasons. First, the itinerary included an overnight stop in Sorrento, Italy. One of the key ways that Azamara differs from other cruise lines is their destination focus. With an overnight port call, passengers have the time to really immerse themselves in the local culture. Second, this was my first truly solo travel experience.  I’ve traveled quite a bit as a single parent with my three children, which by some measures can be considered solo travel, but this was my first trip without knowing a soul within a couple thousand miles. In this first of three installments about my trip, I’d like to tell you about my solo travels through the beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy.

 
 

 

 

 

the Azamara Quest in the Bay of Naples off of Sorrento

The first port of call on the cruise was Sorrento, located about 30 miles south of Naples. Sorrento’s setting is quite spectacular as this small city is perched at the end of a peninsula on a 500-foot high cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. The area’s mild weather and sea breezes has drawn visitors dating back to the time of the Caesars. Today, during the summer season, there are as many visitors as residents and Sorrento welcomes them with plenty of shopping opportunities. Stylish clothing, souvenirs and traditional Sorrento artisan’s fine wood marquetry are abundant. English is widely spoken but shops tend to close from 1:00pm – 4:30pm. The old quarter is well-preserved and nice to wander. Sorrento is a very walking-friendly town and taxis can be quite expensive, but public transportation is an easy and inexpensive way to get farther.

 
 

 

 

 

the Stunning Amalfi Coast

This was a wonderful place for an overnight port stop because Sorrento is a great base from which to explore nearby Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Isla Capri, or the stunning Almafi Coast. Azamara prides itself on spending almost two full days in the area and it is indeed a real bonus. The overnight allows you to experience much more than the typical eight-hour port call of other lines, but to see all the local sights, you would need a minimum of three days by land.

Organized shore excursions to these popular places are always offered on cruises; however, as mentioned, local transportation here is easy and less expensive.  If you want a genuine interaction with the local culture, or if you are visiting by land, don’t hesitate to visit these sights on your own. One caveat: if you are not on a ship sponsored excursion, the ship can depart without you if you are late, so plan your time and transportation accordingly.

 
 

 

 

 

Positano on the Amalfi Coast

On the first day in Sorrento, I chose to take a city bus along the breath-taking Amalfi Coast to the picturesque fishing village of Positano, onward along the awe-inspiring coast to the town of Amalfi, then change busses for an inland climb to the village of Ravello (only 7.50 euros round trip!). The towns are a bit touristy and expensive, selling clothing and ceramics, but as they say, getting there is half the fun. The view of hotels and villas clinging to the cliffs, the hairpin switchbacks and the dramatic crash of the sea against the rocks 500 feet below makes this truly one of the world’s great drives. And I might add the ride also instilled great admiration for the engineers and bus drivers who made it possible!

 
 
 

 

 

 

Entrance to the Blue Grotto on Capri, creative commons license

Another easy day trip from Sorrento is a visit to the island of Capri, vacation hideaway of the rich and famous since the days of Roman emperor Augustus. It can be reached by a short hydrofoil ride from Sorrento or Naples. The island is virtually overrun with tourists in July and August and you are unlikely to actually rub elbows with any celebrities during that time. It is a lovely place with white washed homes, flower-filled courtyards and fragrant lemon trees, but very expensive. Beyond “seeing and being seen,” the famous Blue Grotto is the main attraction on the island.

 
 
 

 

 

 

Ruins of Pompeii, photo by John Hauser

For those interested in Roman life 2,000 years ago, the sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are fascinating archeological excavations that visitors can stroll through. Both were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash and Herculaneum in mud. Pompeii was a large town spread over a huge area. Today visitors can see remains of public buildings, streets, temples, shops and public baths just as they have been excavated over the last century. Herculaneum was a much smaller summer resort for the wealthiest Romans and shows their unique private lifestyle.  All of the actual artifacts have been removed from both sites and reside in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. Both can be reached by local train service and are a bit closer to Naples than Sorrento.

Since I had previously visited the actual archeological sites, I decided to spend my second port day in the city of Naples and specifically the National Archeological Museum to see the actual artifacts removed from the sites. This is one of the foremost archeological museums in the world because of the vast collection of mosaics, statues, frescos and bronzes from Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is a “secret room” that you must get permission to enter because it displays erotic “bedroom art” from Herculaneum boudoirs. The museum also houses the Farnese Collection, an entire hall full of massive statues – quite impressive. It was definitely worth the visit, although I was disappointed that the mosaic room was under restoration and I couldn’t see them.

 
 
 

 

 

 

the Veiled Christ, photo from http://www.philipcoppens.com/sansevero.html

In Naples, I also visited the Cappella Sansevero, a small chapel turned museum, full of absolutely amazing marble statues. The predominant piece in the center of the room is the Veiled Christ (by Giuseppe Sammartino, 1753). It shows Christ lying on a realistically soft pillow, covered by an impossibly thin shroud, all carved from marble. Other masterful marble works were displayed and I thought the 7 euro entrance fee was well worth it. I walked through the city, but a word to the wise: do practice caution with your money and valuables in Naples. You don’t have to be paranoid, but be very aware of your surroundings to avoid theft.

So my solo trip began very successfully. Have you been to this remarkable part of Italy? Have a solo travel experience to share? I’d love to hear about it so please comment below. In subsequent posts, I’ll share my impressions of Montenegro and Croatia (hint: I loved them!), so come on back to read the rest of the story.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Lou Boal permalink
    November 11, 2010 12:14 am

    Have been to the places mentioned on a tour bus & the idea of the local bus sounds exciting and the price was right. Great idea. I’d like to do that in the future.

  2. November 11, 2010 3:53 am

    Thanks for you fun article on visiting this beautiful part of Italy! I just recently saw an Azamara cruise ship in Amalfi, and I remember wondering how it was different from the Oceania Cruises that often come through Sorrento and Amalfi. Thanks for sharing about your travels in Campania!

    • November 11, 2010 9:53 am

      Mary Lou – Organized tours definitely have their benefits too, but for this trip, independent sightseeing fit the bill for me.
      Laura – Ahh, you are so lucky to live in such a beautiful area! I met some lovely people up in Ravello who just added to the charm.
      Cheers – Beverly

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