ITINERARY AS EXCERPTED FROM KAREN BROWN’S E-BOOK:
This itinerary provides you with a glimpse of some of the highlights of Italy and will tempt you to return to delve more deeply into the wonders that Italy has to offer. This itinerary is woven around towns that are conveniently linked by public transportation. Although this itinerary shows how to travel by train and boat, if you prefer to drive, you can easily trace the same route in your car.
Approximate train and boat times have been included as a reference to show you how the pieces of this itinerary tie together. Schedules are constantly changing, so these must be verified. Also, many boats and some trains are seasonal, so check schedules before making your plans.
Remember to travel lightly-when burdened by heavy suitcases, the charm of public transportation quickly diminishes!
Recommended Pacing: To follow this itinerary in its entirety you need a minimum of three weeks-and this is really rushing it. We recommend two nights in Milan to see its major sights and enjoy shopping in its multitude of gorgeous boutiques, three nights in Sirmione to give you time to take boat trips on Lake Garda, two nights in Verona to wander its quaint streets and superb Roman amphitheater, three nights in Venice to enjoy its rich beauty, three nights in Florence to visit its many museums, three nights in Rome (an absolute minimum for its many sights to see and shopping), three nights in Naples to give time to visit its fabulous museums plus side trips to Pompeii and the Amalfi Drive, and three nights in Capri to just relax and play on this romantic island. If your time is limited, this itinerary lends itself well to segmentation, so if you can’t include all of the suggested stops, choose just a portion of the itinerary and “finish up” on what you have missed on your next trip to Italy.
ORIGINATING CITY MILAN
This highlight tour begins in Milan, a most convenient city since it is the hub of airline flights and trains. While it is a sprawling industrial city at its heart is a truly charming old section.
While in Milan you must not miss visiting the Duomo, the third-largest cathedral in the world. There is no denying the beauty of the interior but best of all is the exterior, so take an elevator or the stairs to the roof where you can admire the view and examine at close hand the statues that adorn this lacework fantasy.
Facing the Duomo is one of the world’s most beautiful arcades, the forerunner of the modern shopping mall, but with far more style. Even if you are not a shopper, be sure to just browse and have a cup of tea in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. In this Victorian-era fantasy creation, there are two main intersecting wings, both completely domed with intricately patterned glass. Along the pedestrian-only arcades are boutiques and beautiful little restaurants with outside tables for people watching.
After more than two decades of controversial restoration, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous mural, The Last Supper, is once again on view in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The mural, which covers an entire wall of the church, has been a problem for many years mainly because Leonardo experimented with painting onto drywall rather than employing the more usual fresco technique of applying paint to wet plaster. In an effort to prevent further damage, air filters, special lights, and dust-absorbing carpets have been installed, and the small groups of visitors are limited to a stay of 15 minutes. It is vital that you make an appointment in advance: from the USA 011-39 (Europe, 00-39) 0289-421146; from within Italy, (199) 19 91 00, www.cenacolovinciano.org. The unilingual Italian-speaking reservationists will make you an appointment and give you a confirmation number. Arrive at the church about 15 minutes before your appointment, confirmation number in hand, and pay cash for your ticket.
Milan’s other great claim to fame is La Scala, one of the world’s most renowned opera houses. In addition to wonderful opera, other types of performances are given here. If it is opera season, try your best to go to a performance; if not, try to get tickets for whatever is playing. It is such fun to watch the lights go down and the curtains go up in this magnificent theater with row upon row of balconies rising like layers on a wedding cake. Tickets are sold in the ticket office located around the left-hand side of the theater.
DESTINATION I SIRMIONE
Sirmione is located on Lake Garda. The station where you need to disembark is in the town of Desenzano, which is on the main rail route between Milan and Venice. There are many trains each day between Milan and Venice, but not all stop in Desenzano. One we suggest runs as follows:
1:10 pm depart Milan Central Station by train
2:21 pm arrive Desenzano
When the train arrives in the ancient port of Desenzano, you can take a taxi to the pier where hydrofoils, steamers, and buses leave regularly for Sirmione. However, although it is more expensive, we suggest you splurge and take a taxi directly to Sirmione (about 10 kilometers away). This is definitely the most convenient means of transportation since you are taken directly to your hotel.
Sirmione is a walled medieval village fabulously located on a tiny peninsula jutting out into Lake Garda. This peninsula seems more like an island because it is connected to the mainland by just a thread of land. To enter the ancient town, you first cross over a moat, and then enter through massive medieval gates. Unless you are one of the lucky ones with a hotel confirmed for the night, you cannot take your automobile inside the town walls, since only pedestrians are allowed through the entrance. But if you have hotel reservations, stop near the entrance at the information office where you are given a pass to enter in taxi.
It is an easy walk to the dock in the center of town where you can study the posted schedule to decide which boat you want to take for your day’s excursion. You can glide around the lake all day and have a snack on board, or get off in some small jewel of a town and enjoy lunch at a lakefront café. There is a choice of transportation: either the romantic ferry boats or the faster hydrofoils.
There are some Roman ruins on the very tip of the Sirmione peninsula which can be reached either on foot, or, if you prefer, by a miniature motorized train that shuttles back and forth between the ruins and the village.
DESTINATION II VERONA
There are trains almost every hour that cover the half-hour journey between Desenzano and Verona. But if it is a beautiful day, it is much more romantic to incorporate sightseeing into your transportation and take a boat and bus instead of the train. If this appeals to you, the following gives an idea of how this can be done.
10:20 am depart Sirmione by ferry
2:20 pm arrive Riva
You can have lunch on board the ferry or else you can wait until you reach the medieval town of Riva, located on the northern shore of Lake Garda. The interesting ancient core of Riva is small, so it doesn’t take long to stroll through the old city.
After lunch and a walk through the old part of town, leave Riva by bus for Verona (buses run every 15 minutes in summer), tracing a scenic route along the eastern shore of the lake.
When you arrive in Verona you are in for a treat. This is a town that is all too frequently bypassed by the tourist, but what a prize it is. This medieval gem is the perfect city to explore on foot. Buy a detailed map and be on your way.
Definitely not to be missed is the Roman Amphitheater, one of the largest in Italy. This dramatic arena, dating from the 1st century, has perfect acoustics and hosts operatic performances in summer. As you continue to wander through Verona’s enchanting streets, you discover many delights, including the Piazza delle Erbe (Square of Herbs), which is the old Roman forum where chariot races used to take place. Follow your map to nearby 21 Via Cappello to find the 13th-century Casa di Giulietta and the balcony where Juliet rendezvoused with Romeo. Another colorful square, the Piazza dei Signori, features a statue of Dante in its center and 12th-and 13th-century buildings. The Castel Vecchio (Old Castle) built by Congrande II of the Della Scala family in the 14th century, houses an art museum with paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and armaments. The 14th-century Ponte Scaligero (Scaliger Bridge) links the Castelvecchio with the opposite side of the river. The Cathedral, dating from the 12th century, is well worth a visit to see its fine red marble columns and richly adorned interior. Just across the river from the heart of the old city, visit the old Roman Amphitheater where performances are still held in summer.
DESTINATION III VENICE
When you are ready to leave Verona, there is frequent train service to Venice so the following departure time is just a suggestion. NOTE: As you approach Venice, be sure not to get off the train at the Venice Mestre station, but instead wait for the next stop, the Santa Lucia station (about ten minutes further).
2:33 pm depart Verona, Porto Nuova station by train
3:55 pm arrive Venice, Santa Lucia station
As you come out of the front door of the train station, you find that the station is directly on the Grand Canal. It is a few short steps down to where you can board a boat to take you to your hotel. The vaporetti are the most popular means of transportation and are a very inexpensive means of getting about the city. They are like boat buses that constantly shuttle back and forth from the train station to St. Mark’s Square. If you have a lot of luggage you might want to consider a watertaxi. The motoscafi (watertaxis) cost about € 50 but deliver you right to the door of your hotel, provided there is a motorboat dock (noted in the hotel description). The third choice of transportation is the gondola, but these are much slower and very expensive, so save your gondola ride for a romantic interlude rather than a train connection.
Venice has many hotels in every price range. In our description we give the closest boat stop to each hotel so that you know where to disembark if you come by canal from the train station. For a few of the hotels, you need to change boats at the San Marco boat stop.
Venice has so many sights-marvelous restaurants, beautiful boutiques, and fascinating little alleyways to explore-that you could happily stay for weeks.
Of course, you must savor the incomparable ambiance of Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square). Late afternoon is especially romantic as music wafts across the enormous square, courtesy of the tiny orchestras entertaining visitors as they enjoy an aperitif. A colonnaded walkway encloses the square on three sides, forming a protected path for window-shoppers at the beautiful boutiques and fancy cafés. The fourth side of the square is dominated by the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Cathedral), richly endowed with gold and mosaics. The church dates back to the 12th century when it was built to house the remains of St. Mark. Next to the church rises the 99-meter-tall Campanile di San Marco (bell tower) where in the 15th-century priests were suspended in a cage to repent their sins. If you are in the plaza on the hour, watch the two Moors strike the hour with their huge bronze hammers as they have for 500 years. To the right of the basilica is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), a sumptuous fantasy of pink and white marble-open now as a museum. The Palazzo Ducale faces on to the Piazzetta, a wide square opening onto the Grand Canal. The square’s nickname used to be the Piazzetta Il Broglio (Intrigue) because in days of yore, only nobles were allowed in the square between 10 am and noon, at which time the area buzzed with plots of intrigue. Adorning the center of the square are two granite columns, one topped by the Lion of St. Mark and the other by a statue of St. Theodore.
There is no better way to get into the mood of Venice than to join the crowd at St. Mark’s pier as they climb aboard one of the ferries that ply the city’s waterways. It is a real bargain to board the vaporetto and enjoy the many wonderful palaces bordering the Grand Canal. In addition to exploring the canals that lace Venice, you can take ferries to the outlying islands. Go either on your own or on a tour to the three islands: Murano (famous for its hand-blown glass), Burano (famous for its colorfully painted fishermen’s cottages and lace making), and Torcello (once an important city but now just a small village with only its lovely large church to remind you of its past glories).
Another all-day outing by boat is to take the II Burchiello, named for a famous 17th-century Venetian boat. From March to November, this boat departs Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 8:45 am from the Pontile Giardinetti pier near St. Mark’s Square and travels the network of rivers and canals linking Venice and Padova. (The schedule might change, so verify dates and times.) This little boat, with an English-speaking guide on board, stops at several of the exquisite palaces en route. Lunch is served and there is time for sightseeing in Padova before returning to Venice by bus. Reservation office: Siamic Express, Via Trieste 42, 35121 Padova, Italy, tel: (049) 66 09 44, fax: (049) 66 28 30.
A favorite pastime in Venice is wandering-just anywhere-exploring the maze of twisting canals and crisscrossing back and forth over some of the 400 whimsical bridges. One of the most famous, the Rialto Bridge, arching high over the canal, is especially colorful because it is lined by shops. Also much photographed is the Bridge of Sighs, so named because this was the bridge prisoners passed over before their execution.
Although all of Venice is virtually an open-air museum, it also has many indoor museums. Two excellent ones are both easy to find near the Accademia boat stop. The Galleria dell’Accademia abounds with 14th- to 18th-century Venetian paintings. Within walking distance of the Galleria dell’Accademia is the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, featuring 20th-century art. The paintings and statues were the gift of the now-deceased wealthy American heiress, Peggy Guggenheim. The lovely museum was her canal-front home.
DESTINATION IV FLORENCE
There are several direct trains each day from Venice to Florence: however, in summer, space is at a real premium, so be sure to reserve a seat in advance. Some of the express trains must have prior seat reservations and require a supplemental fee. NOTE: During the busy season, if you want to dine on the train, it is necessary to make advance reservations when you buy your ticket.
11:45 am depart Venice, Santa Lucia station (reservations obligatory)
2:42 pm arrive Florence
When you arrive in Florence take a taxi to your hotel.
Be generous with your time and do not rush Florence-there is too much to see. You must, of course, pay a visit to Michelangelo’s fabulous David in the Galleria dell’Accademia located just off the Piazza San Marco.
During your explorations of Florence, you will cross many times through the Piazza della Signoria, located in the heart of the old city. Facing this characterful medieval square is the 13th-century Palazzo Vecchio, a stern stone structure topped by a crenellated gallery and dominated by a tall bell tower. It was here that the signoria (Florence’s powerful aristocratic ruling administrators) met for two months each year while attending to government business. During this period they were forbidden to leave the palace (except for funerals) so that there could not be a hint of suspicion of intrigue or bribery. Of course, you cannot miss one of Florence’s landmarks, the Ponte Vecchio. Spanning the Arno in the heart of Florence, this colorful bridge is lined with quaint shops just as it has been since the 14th century.
Don’t miss the fantastic museums and cathedrals-the world will probably never again see a city that has produced such artistic genius. Florence’s Duomo is one of the largest in the world. The cathedral’s incredible dome (over 100 meters high) was designed by Brunelleschi. Climb the 464 steps to the top of the dome for a superb view of Florence. The Baptistry has beautiful mosaics and its bronze doors by Ghiberti were said by Michelangelo to be worthy of serving as the gates to paradise. The main door shows scenes from the life of John the Baptist, the north door shows the life of Jesus, and the east door shows stories from the prophets of the Old Testament. The Uffizi Museum (housed in a 16th-century palace) is undoubtedly one of the finest museums in the world. You can make advance reservations at the Uffizi Museum (tel: 055 23 88 651), www.virtualuffizi.com, or call Hidden Treasures (888) 419-6700 (U.S.). Also, do not miss the Pitti Palace with its fabulous art collection, including paintings by Titian and Raphael. NOTE: In addition to regular hours, museums stay open during June, July, August, and September until 11 pm. Be sure to buy a guidebook and city map at one of the many magazine stalls and study what you want to see. We just touch on the many highlights. Florence is best appreciated by wandering the historic ancient streets: poke into small boutiques; stop in churches that catch your eye-they all abound with masterpieces; sit and enjoy a cappuccino in one of the little sidewalk cafés and people watch; stroll through the piazzas and watch the artists at their craft-many of them incredibly clever-as they paint portraits and do sculptures for a small fee. End your day by finding the perfect small restaurant for delicious pasta made by mama in the back kitchen.
DESTINATION V ROME
There is an excellent train service from Florence to Rome. EUROSTAR trains offer rapid, excellent service from Florence to Rome and vice versa. Trains take one hour and 38 minutes and depart several times an hour. It is probably best to take one of the midday trains-this allows you to enjoy lunch as you soak in the beauty of the Tuscany hills flowing by your window. Remember that you need both seat and dining reservations.
As the train pulls into Rome, you feel overwhelmed by its size and confusion of traffic, but once you settle into your hotel, you realize that Rome is really not as cumbersome as it looks. The ancient part of the city is manageable on foot-a fabulous city for walking with its maze of streets and captivating boutiques just begging to be explored.
According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by Romulus, who, along with his twin brother, Remus (whom he later conveniently “did in”), were suckled by a “she wolf.” Although a far less colorful story, historians concur that it was the Etruscans who first settled here and gave the city its name. By the time Christ was born, Rome controlled the entire Italian peninsula plus many areas around the Mediterranean.
Rome is bursting with a wealth of fantastic museums, ancient monuments, spectacular cathedrals, gourmet restaurants, beautiful boutiques, colorful piazzas, whimsical fountains, inspiring statues, theater, and opera-the city itself is virtually a museum. You cannot possibly savor it all. Either before you leave home or once you arrive in Italy, purchase a comprehensive guidebook and decide what is top priority for your special interests. There are many stalls along the streets as well as bookstores throughout Rome where guidebooks are available and every hotel has brochures that tell about sightseeing tours. If there are several in your party, a private guide might be money well spent since he will custom-tailor your sightseeing-with a private guide you squeeze much more sightseeing into a short period of time.
To even begin to do justice to Rome’s many wonders, this entire book would need to be devoted to its sightseeing possibilities. However, we cannot resist mentioning a few places you must see.
The first must-see is the Vatican City which includes in its complex St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. The original construction was begun in the 4th century by Emperor Constantine over the site of St. Peter’s tomb. In 1447 Pope Nicolas V began plans for the new cathedral, which took over 100 years to build. It is no wonder the complex is so utterly breathtaking-all of Italy’s greatest Renaissance artists were called upon to add their talents-Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Sangallo, to name just a few.
The Vatican is a miniature nation tucked within the city of Rome. It is ruled by the Pope, has its own flags, issues its own postage stamps, has its own anthem, mints its own coins, and even has its own police force-the Swiss Guard who still wear the uniform designed by Michelangelo.
Fronting the cathedral is the Piazza San Pietro, a breathtaking square designed by Bernini. It is so large that it can hold 400,000 people (making the square a favorite place for the Pope to address large audiences).
A double semicircle of columns encloses the square, so perfectly designed that the columns fade into each other, giving the illusion that there is a single row. In the center of the square is a towering ancient Egyptian obelisk-adorned, of course, by a Christian cross. As you stand at a distance, the Piazza San Pietro forms a visual frame for the cathedral.
To fully appreciate all the Vatican City has to offer, you could easily spend two days, one in St. Peter’s Basilica and one day in the Vatican Museum. The Basilica is like a museum. Not only is the structure magnificent, but the vast collection of works of art inside are almost unbelievable: imagine gazing at such masterpieces as the Pietà (the ethereal sculpture of Mary holding Jesus in her arms after the crucifixion, carved by Michelangelo when he was only 25) and the Baldacchino, the bronze canopy over the papal altar created by another master, Bernini. Also, be aware when you gaze up at the double-columned dome, that this too was designed by Michelangelo.
The Sistine Chapel alone is well worth a trip to Rome. Savor the breathtaking beauty of its ceiling painted by Michelangelo. In addition to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museums, the gardens and the rest of the Vatican can be visited, but only on guided tours. If you are interested, inquire at the Ufficio Informazioni Pellegrini et Turisti in St. Peter’s Square. NOTE: The Vatican museums are closed on Sundays, except for the last Sunday of the month when they are open free of charge.
Vatican City, as spectacular as it is, is just one small part of what Rome has to offer. You must see the gigantic Colosseum, the entertainment center for the citizens of ancient Rome. Here 50,000 people gathered to be entertained by flamboyant spectacles that included gladiatorial contests, races, games, and contests where Christian martyrs fought against wild beasts.
Another landmark is the Forum. It is difficult to make out much of this site because it is mostly in ruins, but at one time this was the heart of Rome. Once filled with elegant palaces, government buildings, and shops, it teemed with people from throughout the known world.
My favorite building in Rome is the Pantheon. It is difficult to imagine that this perfectly preserved jewel of a temple dates back to 27 B.C. Step beyond the heavy bronze doors which open into a relatively small, beautifully proportioned room lit only by light streaming in from an opening in the top of the dome.
No trip to Rome would be complete without a stroll down the Via Veneto, lined by fancy hotels and luxury boutiques. There are also many outdoor restaurants where a cup of coffee costs almost as much as a meal in a simple trattoria. However, along with your coffee, you are paying the price for the fun of people watching along one of Rome’s most elite avenues.
While walking the back streets of Rome, you find many picturesque squares, usually enhanced by a fountain adorned with magnificent sculptures. Especially popular is the Trevi Fountain into which tourists go to throw a coin-assuring that they will return to Rome.
Rome has many festivals including the Festa de Noantri (Our Festival), which starts on the third Sunday in July. It takes place in Trastevere, which is transformed into the venue of a village fair with stalls, open-air taverns, band music, and theatrical shows throughout the entire neighborhood. The event is wrapped up with fireworks over the River Tiber.
The Spanish Steps is definitely a landmark of Rome. Topped by the twin spires of the Church of the Trinity of the Mountains, the wide avenue of steps leads down to the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square). This large square is highlighted by the Fountain of Baraccia (Fountain of the Boat), a masterpiece by Bernini. The steps are usually crowded both with tourists who come to capture the moment on film and vendors who lay out their wares to sell.
Leading from the Piazza di Spagna, the Via Condotti is an avenue lined by shops and boutiques selling the finest of merchandise. Branching off the Via Condotti are the narrow lanes of Old Rome, again featuring exquisite small boutiques.
When you are ready to relax, walk to the Villa Borghese, a splendid large park in the center of Rome that originated in the 17th century as the private gardens of the Borghese family. Stroll through the park watching the children at play. If you are not saturated with sightseeing, there are many museums to see in the park. One of the loveliest is the Museo di Villa Giulia, a museum in a pretty villa that features artifacts from the Etruscan era.
DESTINATION VI NAPLES
You could spend endless weeks discovering the museum that is Rome, but if you have time to add a few more highlights, venture farther south to visit Naples, using it as a hub from which to take side trips to Pompeii, Capri, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Drive. If you want a special treat, instead of visiting romantic Capri as a day excursion, end your holiday there.
There is frequent train service from Rome to Naples. A suggestion for your departure is given below:
10:45 am depart Rome, Termini station
12:30 pm arrive Naples, Main station
When you arrive in Naples, take a taxi from the train station to your hotel. If you are arriving by car, be sure to buy a detailed city map in advance and mark with a highlight pen the route to your hotel. In addition, ask for exact directions when making your hotel reservation because Naples is a confusing city in which to find your way by car. However, once you get settled in your hotel, you will discover Naples an excellent city to explore on foot.
Naples, a fascinating city whose history dates back 25 centuries, reflects its rich heritage in its architecture and culture. It seems everyone at one time claimed Naples as “theirs,” including the Greeks, the Romans, the French, and the Spanish. Until the unification of Italy, Naples was an important European capital, and is still today a vibrant, exciting city with a stunning setting on the edge of the sea. For many years Naples had the reputation of being a dirty city that was plagued by petty crime. Most tourists came to see its fabulous Museo Archeologico Nazionale and then move quickly on. However, recently a great effort has been made to freshen up the entire city plus deal with the crime issue. Today a great transformation has taken place and Naples is indeed well worth a visit. It is a wonderful city filled with intriguing small squares, an unbelievable assortment of churches, a colorful waterfront, palaces, fortresses and world-class museums. Plus Naples makes an excellent base from which to take side trips.
Below are some suggestions on what to see and do in and around Naples:
SIGHTSEEING IN NAPLES
If you enjoy walking, you can visit almost all of the sights listed on foot. Or, at least walk one way and return to your hotel by taxi.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale Etrusco: The Museo Archeologico Nazionale is considered one of the finest museums in the world, and rightly so. It has an incredible collection of jewels of antiquity, including unbelievably well-preserved statues, intricate mosaics, and delicate frescoes. There are endless marvels to see. You are bound to be awestruck as you stroll through the corridors lined with the dazzling Farnese collection of ancient sculptures. You could spend endless hours gazing in wonder at the huge statues and deftly carved marble busts that line the well-lit hallways. If you include a visit to Pompeii (which you must) you will find that the originals of the most outstanding mosaics and sculptures have been transferred to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale for safekeeping. The mosaics alone are worth a trip to Naples.
Within the museum there is an “off limits” section that is called the secret cabinet which is a series of rooms that display a collection of quite risqué paintings, sculptures and mosaics discovered under the ash at Pompeii (only a limited number of people are allowed in at a time and you need a special ticket that can be bought when you arrive at the museum).
Arrive at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale when it opens in the morning in order to be among the first visitors. As the day progresses, busloads of tourists descend. After looking at your map, if you decide walking round trip is too strenuous, we suggest taking a taxi to the museum then strolling back to your hotel since the return will be downhill. NOTE: Museum closed on Tuesdays.
Capodimonte Hill: Perched on Capodimonte Hill, which rises above the city, is a splendid park with over 4,000 varieties of centuries-old trees. Within these grounds is the Palazzo Capodimonte, built in 1738 as a hunting lodge for the King Charles III. Housed within the palace is the Museo e Gallerie Nazionale di Capodimonte featuring a breathtaking art collection of the wealthy Bourbon kings, including works by such masters as Bellini, Michelangelo, Titian, and Botticelli.
You can walk to Capodimonte from the Museo Archeologico, but it is a steep, uphill climb so you might well want to take a taxi, or save the excursion for a separate day. NOTE: Museum closed on Mondays.
Spaccanapoli District: For savoring the delights and charm of Naples, our favorite tour is in the Spaccanapoli District. Here, on the site of the old Greek-Roman city, you find tiny plazas, little boutiques, outdoor restaurants, coffee shops, markets, and a seemingly endless number of churches. Make your way to the pretty Piazza Gesu Nuovo, where you will find the tourist office facing the square. Pop in here and ask for their map that outlines a walk exploring the Spaccanapoli District. If for any reason, the office is closed, the route is easy to find on your own. Basically what you do is follow streets in a rectangular pattern, returning where you began in Piazza Gesü Nuovo. Leaving the square, head east on Via Benedetto Croce that soon changes its name to Via San Biagio dei Librai. Continue on until you come to Via Duomo where you turn left and go a couple of streets to until you see on your right the Cathedral Duomo di San Gennaro. Next, retrace your steps on Via Duomo for a half a block and turn right, heading west on Via Tribunali. When the road dead-ends at Via San Sebastiano, turn left, go one block, turn right and you are back where you began. You will see many churches along your way, including two that are on the Piazza Gesü Nuovo (The Church of Guesü Nuovo and the Santa Chiara Church). Most of the churches are open only during services, but the fun of this walk is not so much sightseeing as savoring the flavor of this colorful, ancient part of the city. Make this a leisurely stroll, looking into the little shops, sitting in the small square, maybe a cappuccino at a small café or a pizza, which originated in Naples.
The Piazza Plebiscito and Places to Visit Nearby: The Piazza Plebiscito is a large, bustling square located just at the lower part of one of Naples’s principal boulevards, Via Toledo. This is a major square, so it is not surprising there are many monuments and museums nearby. Listed below are some of the recommended places to visit.
Palazzo Reale: Dominating the east side of the Piazza Plebiscito is the large, impressive Palazzo Reale, an outstanding palace that was built for the Spanish Viceroys in 1600, in honor of King Philip II’s arrival in Naples. Accenting the façade are niches with statues of the kings of Naples. This is a massive complex, and it might take a while to find your way to the ticket office. Once you have your tickets, you climb an imposing double staircase that sweeps to the floor above where the royal quarters have been opened as a museum. You might want to rent a cassette which gives commentary on what you will be seeing. It is fun to wander through the endless rooms in this noble residence, including the queen’s private chapel, the throne room, a quaint 18th-century theater, and an assortment of sumptuously adorned apartments. NOTE: Closed on Wednesdays.
Theatre San Carlo: Just around the corner from the Piazza Plebiscito, in a wing of the Palazzo Reale that faces the Piazza Trieste e Trento, you find the dazzling Theatre San Carlos. Commissioned by Charles of Bourbon in 1737, this jewel is reminiscent of La Scala Theatre in Milan. It looks like an ornate wedding cake with 186 private, gilt adorned boxes that rise in six tiers that face an imposing stage. Sometimes there are tours of the theater so you might want to drop by to check the schedule before visiting the museum in the Palazzo Reale.
The Umberto Gallery: Just to the north of Piazza Plebiscito, facing a second small square, the Piazza Trieste e Trento, is the belle-époque-style Umberto Gallery, a shopping arcade dating to 1887 which is made of four wings radiating like a cross from its core (if you have been to Milan, the Umberto Gallery is similar to the Galleria there). Wander in to admire the handsome mosaic floor and the ornate, glass-domed ceiling which soars over 50 meters.
Castel Nuovo: Just to the east of the Palazzo Reale, the Castel Nuovo rises on a bluff above the Porto Beverello, the dock from which the ferries leave for Capri and Sorrento. The Castel Nuovo (New Castle) certainly isn’t very new-it dates back to the 13th century. The building is definitely dramatic, a rectangular stone building punctuated by huge round stone towers. In the 15th century a splendid white marble Triumphal Arch was added, a true masterpiece whose beauty contrasts pleasantly with the stern, fortress like castle. A deep moat, originally filled with sea water, embraces the fortress. Within the museum you can visit the Museo Civico that contains 14th-century frescoes. It is also possible to visit the Palatine Chapel and the Baron’s Hall.
Castel dell’Ovo: Leaving the Piazza Plebiscito, head down to the waterfront and turn right, following the Via Nazario Sauro as it traces the waterfront. As it rounds a bend, the name of the boulevard changes to Via Partenope, which is fronted by deluxe hotels that face onto Santa Lucia Harbor. Built on a rocky peninsula, that juts into the sea and forms one side of the harbor, is the Castel dell’Ovo built by the Norman King William I in the 12th century. The name means Castle of the Egg, which supposedly originated from a legend that a magic egg was buried in the castle, and if ever broken, bad luck would descend upon Naples.
SIDE EXCURSIONS FROM NAPLES
Naples makes a convenient hub from which to make side trips to some of Italy’s jewels, including Sorrento, the Amalfi Drive, Capri and the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, all accessible by either organized tour or “do it yourself” by public transportation.
Pompeii & Herculaneum: Near Naples are two exciting archaeological wonders: Herculaneum and Pompeii. Both are fascinating, but if you don’t have time to visit both, don’t miss Pompeii. You can choose between joining a guided tour or taking a train to the site. A company called Circumvesuviana has narrow-gauge trains leaving Naples’ Central Station about every half hour, arriving at the Pompeii Villa dei Misteri station (located across from the entrance to the site) about 40 minutes later. At the entrance to Pompeii, we suggest either buying a map explaining what to see or hiring a certified guide.
An aura of mystery lingers in the air as you wander the streets of Pompeii. All visitors are touched by this ancient city of an estimated 25,000 inhabitants, which in one day became frozen for all time. Probably there is nowhere else in the world where you can so vividly step back in time. Much of what you see today has been reproduced, but the reality is pure. Plaster was poured into molds formed by the lava that demolished the buildings and buried so many families that fateful day. Thus it became possible for latter-day archaeologists to reconstruct houses and make reproductions of people and pets. Walk through the town along the sunken streets crossed by high stepping stones, strategically placed so that pedestrians did not get their feet wet on rainy days. Be sure not to miss some of the reconstructed villas that allow you a glimpse into the daily life of long ago. The Casa del Fauno, a fine example of how the wealthy lived, has two inner courtyards and several dining rooms. The Casa del Poeta Tragico, a more modest home, has a sign in mosaic saying “Cave Canem” (beware of the dog). At the Villa di Giulia Felice you see the example of an entrepreneur-in addition to using it as a private villa, the owner rented out rooms, had shops on the ground floor, and operated an adjacent bathhouse. If traveling with children, you might want to go alone into the Lupanare (Pompeii’s brothel) where there are erotic paintings on the walls. At the Terme Stabiane you see a sophisticated underground water-heating system.
There are many more places to visit than those listed above. As you explore Pompeii, there is no need to watch the time. There is a narrow-gauge train departing from the Pompeii Villa dei Misteri station about every 20 minutes for the half-hour scenic journey to Sorrento.
Sorrento: Sorrento is a charming city that sits on the top of a bluff overlooking the sea. Below is a colorful harbor with ferries constantly gliding in and out, en route to such picturesque destinations as Capri, Positano and Amalfi. The historic center is charming, richly reflecting its ancient Greek and Roman legacy. Pretty boutiques and outdoor cafes beckon as you stroll the narrow streets and explore intimate plazas. The same Circumvesuviana trains that depart Naples’s Central Station for Pompeii, continue on to Sorrento. The total time is a little over an hour. Another option for visiting Sorrento, is to take one of the hydrofoils that ply between the two towns.
Amalfi Coast: The strip of coast that runs south from Sorrento to Salerno is world famous for its beauty. A two lane road hugs the steep, winding coastline, capturing breathtaking views as the bluffs fold around the brilliant blue Mediterranean. Enchanting villages dot the coast, further enhancing its idyllic beauty. One of the most accessible of these villages is Positano, a postcard-perfect fishing hamlet snuggled in a cove that is wrapped by an exceedingly steep hill. Colorfully painted houses, trendy boutiques, cute restaurants, and cascades of brilliant bougainvillea add to the appeal of this jewel. From Naples you can take a ferry to Sorrento and then on to Positano, or take the train to Sorrento and a bus from there (the buses leave from the train station).
Capri: Several shipping companies have ferries that leave frequently from Naples to the romantic island of Capri, leaving from Molo Beverello, the dock below Castel Nuovo. By choosing an early morning departure, it is easy to visit Capri and return in time for dinner in Naples. However, if time permits, we would suggest spending a few days in this beautiful small island. For sightseeing in Capri, see the following destination.
DESTINATION VII CAPRI
There is frequent boat service between Naples and Capri. Boats leave from either the Mergellina Pier (Boat Companies: Alilauro and S.N.A.V.) or the Molo Beverello Pier (Boat Companies: Caremar and N.L.G.). You can take a ferry (traghetto), which takes one hour and fifteen minutes or a hydorfoil (aliscafo), which takes forty-five minutes.
Your boat arrives at the Marina Grande, a small harbor filled with colorful boats and edged by brightly painted shops. When the boat docks, you find hotel porters on the pier along with carrier services that go to all of the hotels. They relieve you of your luggage and take it directly to the hotel of your choice, freeing you to take either a minibus or the funicular to the main town of Capri, which is located on a flat saddle of land high above the sea. There are many charming places to stay on Capri.
Capri has many wonders. The most famous is its submerged cave, the Blue Grotto, which can be accessed by boat when the seas are calm. Large boats begin leaving the harbor every day at 9 am for the short ride to the entrance to the grotto, where you are transferred into tiny rowboats. The earlier you go the better since the seas are calmer in the morning. The excursion is an adventure in itself. As you approach the tiny cave opening, it seems impossible that there is adequate room for a boat to enter, but suddenly the sea surges forward and in you squeeze. Like magic, you see it-the mysterious, stunning blue light reflecting from some hidden source that illuminates the grotto. The cost isn’t great, but be aware of the system: You pay for a ticket for the motorboat that takes you to the cave, and then you pay again, on site, to the oarsman who skillfully maneuvers his little rowboat through the hole and into the grotto. It is appropriate to tip your boatman-he will do his best to make your short ride memorable and quite probably serenade you within the cave.
Capri is a superb island for walking. As you stroll the trails, all your senses are treated by the fragrant flowers, the gorgeous vistas of the brilliant blue waters, and the sound of birds luring you ever onward. There are many spectacular walks. Follow the trail winding down the cliffs to the small harbor Marina Piccola, located on the opposite side of the island from the ferry dock. At the Marina Piccola there are lovely views of the shimmering aqua waters as you make your way to the small beach where you can enjoy a swim before your return. Instead of walking back up the hill, take the little bus that delivers you quickly back to the main square.
Another absolutely spectacular walk-although a long one of at least 45 minutes each way-is to Emperor Tiberius’s Palace, Villa Jovis, perched high among the trees on the cliffs on the western tip of the island. This is the grandest of the palaces left by Tiberius. Although it is mostly in ruins, you can easily appreciate its former magnificence as you climb about exploring the ruins of the terraced rooms. From the palace there are stunning panoramic vistas: you have an overview of the whole island and can watch the ferries shuttling back and forth to the mainland. A much shorter walk, but one equally beautiful, is to the Cannone Belvedere. This path guides you near delightful private villas hidden behind high walls (you get glimpses through the gates) and on to a promontory overlooking the sea.
Another excursion is to Anacapri, the only other town on the island, to visit the Villa San Michel, a lovely villa overlooking the sea that was the home of the Swedish scientist Axel Munthe. His residence is now open as a museum. Anacapri is a bit too far to walk easily but buses leave regularly from the main square in town.
During the day, Capri is swarming with tourists on package tours that descend like a swarm of locusts from the constant stream of hydrofoils and ferries. You might surmise that in the evening the activity subsides, but it isn’t so. The tour groups leave at dusk but then a new group of people emerges from the secreted villas and fancy hotels. Guests in chic clothes and fancy jewelry stroll the streets-both to see and be seen.
When the real world calls and you must leave Capri, there is frequent ferry or hydrofoil service back to Naples. From Naples, you can take a train to Rome or a plane to your next destination.