Sorrento is one of the most beautiful places in southern Italy with it's high perch overlooking the bay of Naples with the best view of Mount Vesuvius. The historic center of town is beautiful most days of the year, but it's during the Christmas season that the place takes on a really magical aire.
Starting in late November, the Christmas tree in Piazza Tasso is lit which leads off the celebrations which include a Christmas Treasure Hunt, weekend street performances, concerts in churches and other venues in all sorts of musical genres and Villaggio di Babbo Natale (Santa’s Village) at Villa Fiorentino.
If you're planning to visit, you might consider their Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) party with pulsing music rocking in Piazza Tasso, followed by a fireworks display down at the port.
Some highlights: 19 December 2016: Lauro Square from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm, "Papers Christmas" 20-21 December 2016: Campo Italia Soccer tournament “Christmas Stars” Piazza Tasso 6pm, Christmas Concert Basilica di S.Antonino 5 pm, Christmas Choir 22 December 2016: Church of SS. Rosario 6:30 pm, Traditional songs 23 December 2016: Church of Lourdes 7:00 pm, Carlo Morelli Gospel Choir 24 December 2016: Neapolitan fried pizza at Pizzeria Da Gigino; Street Animation 25 December 2016: Street Animation; Christmas Treasure Hunt 26 December 2016: Casarlano from 6 pm to 20 pm, Living Nativity; Cattedrale Sorrento 7:30 pm, Christmas concert; Christmas Treasure Hunt 27 December 2016: Christmas Treasure Hunt; Chiesa SS. Rosario 7 pm, Concert “Christmas Melodies” 28 December 2016: Teatro Tasso ore 7 pm (free), Nino Buonocore 29 December 2016: Teatro Armida, Concert 31 December 2016: Historical center, 10 am to 9 pm, Street entertainment; Teatro Tasso 11:30 am, New Year’s Concert; Piazza Tasso 6 pm, “Ciuccio di Fuoco” Fireworks; Piazza Tasso from 11 pm to 2 am, New Year party/dancing,music After Midnight, 1 January 2016: Port of Sorrento Fireworks During the month of January: Many weekend concerts, street performances and events.
When we visited Sorrento, our impression was a place for the Oh-so-Chic, with expensive shops, gourmet ristoranti, over-priced hotels and perfectly tailored gardens. Little did we know that right in the heart of this tourist Mecca with amazing views of Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius was an example of nature taking over what Man had built before...
The Valli dei Mulini (Vallone dei Mulini, singular) are actually two deep gorges where abandoned mill buildings from centuries past have been taken over by Madre Natura and turned into a nature preserves, often looking like they deserve to be in one of the Lord of the Rings stories.
The abandoned mills in Sorrento are in an ancient gorge formed 35,000 years ago during an explosive volcanic eruption. You can easily find the valley adjacent to Via Fuorimura, just behind Piazza Tasso, and can be visited on foot. One of the hiden gems of Sorrento, this site is known for the variety of unique plants and ferns, growing in their own microclimate--a shady, moist evironment clinging to both the abandoned mill buildings and structures and the native tufa rock.
Further east, as the road comes upward from Naples toward the Amalfi Coast (just east of the town of Gragnano), there are abandoned mills alongside the Via del Presepe, winding through its millstream gorge. The Via del Presepe is a very narrow, cobblestone paved road, so don't drive it with an overly wide vehicle.
One of the old Gragnano mills
The view from Sorrento's Parco Ibsen
For more than 700 years the mills in these unique valleys produced flour, reaching a peak in the 18th century when producing over a million bushels of wheat flour each year. They utilized water from the Vernotico River for power. During times of drought, they filled tall towers with water for use by the people living in the surrounding Naples region. In the 10th century, a sawmill was also in operation. Inevitably, they became unprofitable and in the 1940’s the mills became overgrown and abandoned.
Today, there are walking tours of the Vallone in Sorrento and you can easily drive streamside to see the mills near Gragnano. Bring your cameras, water colors and leaf folios...
When I was planning the southern leg of our Voyage through Italy, one of the pins on my Google Earth map was at Paestum, an archeological site in Campania about 25 miles south of Salerno and the Amalfi Coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea. We opted to leave Salerno and drive a more direct route to the rocky villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa--villages that remind me of Machu Picchu clinging to rocky precipices. If we had driven to Paestum first, we would have had a more arduous, long mountainous drive to bring us toward Basilicata and Puglia.
In hindsight, I wish we had at least done an early morning side trip to Paestum. It's located in the part of southern Italy known as Magna Graecia, which used to be settled by the Greeks long before the Roman Empire. The ruins of Paestum are famous for their three Greek temples with massive, intact Doric columns dating from about 600 to 450 BC. All structures are built from the local bedrock--travertine. Also intact are the foundation walls of many parts of the ancient city, an amphitheater and paved roads as well preserved as the Appian Way in Rome.
Both large temples at the site are dedicated to the goddess Hera
Nearby Agropoli, an ancient Greek port city
The site is open to the public, and there is a modern national museum within it, which also contains the finds from the associated Greek site of Foce del Sele. Founded by Greek colonists under the name of Poseidonia, it was eventually conquered by the local Lucanians and later the Romans. It has been known by several names... Lucanians dubbed it Paistos, with Pesto being another variation. The Romans changed it later on to Paestum. During early Christian times, the town was ruled by a Bishop but then abandoned and forgotten by the Middle Ages. It was rediscovered in the 18th century.
The modern town of Paestum, just south of the archaeological site, is a popular seaside resort, with long sandy beaches where many Italians spend their Ferragosto summer holiday in the month of August. However, if you want to relax and enjoy the flavors of this region, make your hub in the beautiful port town of Agropoli... a seaport just to the south, with its town hugging the cliffs above. The town is definitely worth more than just an overnight stay. Some might call it a romantic getaway. Another important aspect of the area is the raising of buffalo to produce the famous mozzarella di bufala. You may visit local farms to see the prized buffalo being massaged and pampered, as well as see how the fresh cheese is made.
These magnificent beasts produce amazing mozzarella
Heracles kills Alcyoneus
Aerial view of the site
If you go:
By Train Catch a train from Salerno or Naples to Paestum station. Buy a two-way tick if you need to return. I have read that the ticket machines in the Paestum station rarely work. By Boat There are ferrys during summer months from Salerno, Naples, Positano, Amalfi
By Bus Buses run throughout the Campania regions, especially in Avellino province, picking locals up for various points and taking them to the site for €9 return.
Paestum Tickets You can buy separate tickets for the archaeological site and the museum but if you're visiting both it is cheaper to purchase a combined ticket (about €6.50). There are various categories of discount. This is an Italian national monuments. Check for free entry for seniors and handicapped. The open air site is open daily; the museum is closed on the first and third Mondays of each month.
Funiculì, funiculà was written in 1880 by Luigi Denza. The text of the song was inspired by the opening of the first cable car built in 1879, to reach the top of Mount Vesuvius. The song describes the advantages offered by the new means of transport, which allows tourists to climb, without effort, to admire the view from the summit of the ancient volcano.
Over time, the melody became famous all over the world.
Click HERE for more on Italian funiculars.
If you are going to the Isle of Capri while visiting Campagnia--Naples or the Amalfi Coast--then you might want to feel what film stars feel like and take a taxi ride around the island. But these aren't just any taxis... these are Capri taxis. Some are as long as limos, some like vans and others are vintage custom Italian vehicles--all with their roofs cut off to enjoy the sun. And if the combination of sun and dizzying views over the cliff edge get you a bit light headed, ask the driver to roll out the canopy over your head to help keep your cool.
These unique looking, top-chopped, sun-worshiping taxis first appeared on Capri in the 1930s. They were mostly Fiat convertibles, or custom made convertibles with their roofs cut off. By the 1950's, they'd become a welcoming symbol for the chic isle, with some drivers becoming as well known as the film stars they transported... Sophia Loren, Princess Margaret and Brigitte Bardot. Later on, Jackie Onassis and her hubbie-to-be Aristotle Onassis brought even more attention to them. One driver even proved his loyalty when Onassis left wallet on his yacht, the driver paid for their meal. This is the stuff legends are made out of--at least in chic Capri. By the seventies, finding replacement parts for the colorful canopy frilled taxis became more difficult and today only a handful of these vintage vehicles can be hired--for higher than normal fees. There are hotels that use vintage taxis to transport their guests from the harbor to their hotel. Still, the modern breed of unique vehicles offer the same sun and wind filled adventurous ride while passengers soak in the sights along their way...
There are many taxis to pick from at the taxi parking areas as you get off the ferry or you can book ahead online to plan a tour. Most do a circumnavigation of the island, giving you all the best views from the magnificent curvy roads. You can choose from the less expensive van or sedan type or, if you can find one and can afford it, choose to ride in a 1950s or 60s era classic vehicle. Circumnavigation tours around the island range from around $100 to $200 dollars, depending on the vehicle and the length of your tour. To go from Marina Grande up the mountain to the Piazzetta in Capri town, a 10 minute taxi ride will cost you about $22 (whereas the Funicular rail car will cost about $3). It might well be worth splurging on the ride for a truly unique experience. (I'd still take the funicular for that experience also!)
A Fiat 1600 Taxi and a wedding party
Now I for one would love to be at the wheel while driving the twisty roads of Capri, as I did on the Amalfi Coast. (Click HERE for Amalfi Coast Drive: Part Paradise - Part Hell). Voyagers to Capri should be aware that, while renting a car is possible in Capri, it's not recommended. The rental car rates in Capri are much higher than rates in Italy, mainly because the Capri government itself wants to discourage excess car traffic. The situation is so bad that in the busiest months travel by car is restricted to residents only! (In my opinion, they should also do this along the Amalfi Coast during the high season). So when visiting Capri, relax and let someone else do the driving for you. Besides these taxis, there are other local taxi services you can call by phone, taxi stands, cheap buses, the famous funicular in Capri town, and of course, the always available and pleasant water taxis and ferries.
We drove a Fiat 500L in Italy, but not like this one: The new Capri Tiberio 500L Capri Taxi Special, named after Emperor Tiberius, who used Capri for his summer palace.
The wonderful photo above, by Alessia Pignetti, shows her grandmother using the iconic o'panar, a basket or bucket lift used to bring groceries up to apartments in and around the Naples area. Old apartments MINUS elevators PLUS a bucket PLUS some rope EQUALS Italian Ingenuity at its best. Italians have all sorts of roadblocks in their way as they live their Vita Bella, but still find ways to get around their problems. That's being a true, furbo Italian!
The o'panar (also called a Panaro - bread basket) is an especially great tool for elderly nonnas, living in an un-airconditioned top floor apartment, in the heat of the City of Naples or Sorrento or other towns in Campania. Their legs perhaps failing from a lifetime of walking the many hills in their environment, o'panar is used daily to lift up deliveries of milk, cheese and eggs, produce, a fast food delivery, or other supplies brought to them by their never-too-far-away offspring. You can imagine how dangerous it can be when Nonna loads a couple of sharp knives or scissors into the bucket to send down to l'arrontino--the knife-sharpener--on his weekly visits! Instead of traditional wicker baskets, many nowadays use plastic buckets, but in a bright blue color--perhaps for visibility so that unaware passersby on the street below can see it coming down (often just dropped) and avoid being smashed in their testa.
So, if you're even in Campania visiting Naples or Sorrento or Salerno... look up, or should I say, heads up!
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Copyright, 2016, Jerry Finzi/Grand Voyage Italy - All rights reserved
Pompeii, and to some extent its sister site Herculaneum, are notable for being destroyed by a particularly ferocious eruption of Vesuvius. Time stopped at that very moment. The archaeological site became a vast museum of that moment in time, which is why it is so compelling--and why archaeologists have learned so much from the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is one of the top Roman era attractions in Italy. It's also pretty easy to get to. The main train line, the FS from Naples, and the private line, the Circumvesuviana, both arrive in the modern Pompei, albeit at different stations, as you see on our Pompeii map below.
As you can see from the map, the ancient town of Pompeii to the north of the modern Pompei is not so much smaller than the modern town that's grown up around it. You can take quite a long time exploring it--the whole city is at your feet.... (CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AND SEE THE MAPS)
Take a funny look at the challenging driving on the Amalfi Coast in this video Lisa shot while heading toward Salerno and onward toward the mountains of Basilicata.
The Amalfi Coast Road is curvy and very narrow with the cliff on one side and nothing but air and sea on the other. When researching the Amalfi Coast Road, I read that the buses are specially made--narrower than normal buses. Don't you believe it! They are every bit as wide as large tour buses in the States. When driving the Coast Road you with share the road with them... along with center-lane scooters and motorcycles (the line in the middle IS their lane it seems), cyclists (often going faster than you), teeny cars hugging your butt so close you can't see them in your mirrors, and huge, double tandem 18 wheelers!
And there are more than a few pazzo Italian drivers passing on blind curves (often with a quick beep beep of their horn as they come around) and crossing over the line. Another danger is cars, trucks and buses parking on the side of a narrow road (most of Amalfi is a no parking zone along the roadside) that you'll have to get around while cars are coming toward you. In some places they are starting to introduce alternating stop lights, giving the east and west bound traffic each their turn on especially narrow stretches. But don't trust this too much... Italians are notorious for ignoring both traffic laws, signs and lights.
Enjoy this video and then if you like, check out the rest of our experiences during our three week Voyage through Italy. As for driving the Amalfi Coast Road... I did it! I don't have a medal to prove it, but I surely deserve one! The driving was intense--more than you can imagine--but the pleasure of seeing the beauty all around the Coast Road was like living in a dream...
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