Campania and the Amalfi Coast villa holiday guide
It is no exaggeration to say that the 50km or so of coastline on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula is among the most famous stretches in the world: the Amalfi Coast. The fishing towns turned resorts hanging from cliffs or wedged into coves; the azure views over the Bay of Salerno—it all looks exactly as you hoped. For centuries travellers have paused on the island of Ischia to soak in the thermal springs and laze by the sea. An Amalfi Coast villa holiday’s urban kick comes courtesy of Naples, home to museums of ancient art and, of course… pizza.
Exploring Campania and the Amalfi Coast
From a visitor’s perspective, urban life here is all about Naples. The ‘capital of the south’ is a buzzing, chaotic, messy, food-obsessed, and surprising city of four million people. Its Archaeological Museum is the best in Italy, packed with finds from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and many other ancient sites. World War II was hard on Campania’s cities: the Allies invaded Italy at Salerno in 1943, and life in the rubble of wartime Naples was documented in Norman Lewis’s classic, Naples ’44.
The Campania & the Amalfi Coast countryside
The plains of Campania are rich agricultural lands: Italy’s best mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), is made in Campania; olives and citrus groves thrive. The interior is quiet and mountainous, but the most dramatic geography lies by the coast. Don your hiking boots to enjoy the views from Amalfi’s Sentiero dei Dei (‘Path of the Gods’). The view from the highest point on Ischia—the 790 metre summit of Mount Epomeo—takes in the entire Bay of Naples.
Explore Campania & the Amalfi Coast's history
Naples first grew as an outpost of ‘Magna Graecia’ (ancient Greater Greece); the ruined temples at Paestum, south of Salerno, date to before 500 BC. Both Pompeii and Herculaneumhave been a key source of knowledge about life in Roman times. Later in its history, Campania was ruled by Normans, Angevins, Spaniards, French Bourbons, and even—during his time as the hero of local football club Napoli—Diego Maradona. Amalfi was once a maritime republic to rival Genoa and Venice, and has a Romanesque cathedral dating from its heyday, between the 11th and 13th century.
Arts and culture in Campania and the Amalfi Coast
Naples is Campania’s cultural hub. Its Capodimonte Museum houses paintings by many of Italy’s leading painters, including Simone Martini, Caravaggio, and Bellini. At the city’s Feasts of San Gennaro, in early May and mid-September, streets are packed as Neapolitans celebrate the miraculous liquefaction of their saint’s blood. ‘Pulcinella’, the prototype for seaside character Mr. Punch, also hails from Campania—he is a stereotypical, anarchic Neapolitan. Sorrento has a tradition of intarsia woodworking, and has a museum and shops dedicated to the craft.
Eating and drinking in Campania and the Amalfi Coast
Pizza is a religion on the streets of Naples, and the city’s wood-fired ovens serve up the world’s best. The raw materials grow just outside the city limits: mozzarella di bufala and the plum-shaped San Marzano tomatoes that grow on the volcanic soils around Mount Vesuvius. These tomatoes are also the base for a napoletana sauce (tomatoes and basil). Around the Amalfi Coast, your lunchtime bowl of pasta will probably have something from the sea; spaghetti alle vongole(with clams) is a staple. Campania’s white wines like Greco di Tufo and Falanghina can be powerful, sometimes yellow in colour, and often high in alcohol. Finish a meal with a limoncelloliqueur—spirit infused with sweet local lemons.
Discover the nature of Campania and the Amalfi Coast
Mother Nature has had her say here, that is for sure. The catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 caught Pompeii and Herculaneum in their own frozen Armageddon. Both lay undisturbed under the lava and mud until the 1700s. Rocky island coastlines have formed over millennia into odd shapes, like Il Fungo (‘the mushroom’) off Ischia and Capri’s Blue Grotto. Nature got a helping hand in the 1950s from an English composer and a landscape architect, in creating the exotic gardens at La Mortella, on Ischia.
Relaxation in Campania & the Amalfi Coast
The Romans used Campania’s coast and islands as a holiday playground. Pompeii was a prosperous resort for the middle classes; Caprihas preserved remains of a grand villa used by Roman Emperor Tiberius, Villa Jovis. Lush, green Ischia has several natural volcanic spas where you can soak in the thermal waters or get caked in mud; hit the sandy beach at Citara afterwards.
The Amalfi Coast
Along the Amalfi Coast, villages cling to the impossibly steep coast or perch on rocky spurs amid lemon groves. Take your camera for a ride around the nerve-jangling hairpins of the Amalfi Coast Drive—the SS163—and halt at Ravello to admire the view. It is more sedate on the sands at Sorrento and on the island of Ischia; try windsurfing or kayaking if you are feeling sprightly. A day’s gentle island hopping in the Bay of Naples between Ischia, Procida, and Capri is easy by hydrofoil.