Naples + Walking Tour

Old May 22nd, 2017, 10:37 AM
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Naples + Walking Tour

Sunny Southern Italy was Even Better Than I Hoped!

I’m writing this trip report mainly to discuss two aspects of my holiday that don’t get frequent discussion on these boards: a guided walking tour and sightseeing in Naples. I’m putting in headings for those who want to skim.
The trip in the first half of May was 2 weeks long: Air Canada cut off the first day, cancelling my St. John’s-London flight and rebooking a version that added 24 hours and 1600 km to the journey. But eventually…
I started the (revised) trip with the Curreri Viaggi bus from Naples airport to Sant’ Agnello (about 2 km from its final stop in Sorrento). This is an air-conditioned, express (about 5 stops) service for about €10, with luggage storage, and I’d highly recommend it. If you’re heading directly to Sorrento it avoids the trip into Naples to catch a ferry or train. Just go out the arrivals exit, turn left and look for the bus parked beside the departure entrance.
The bus stop at the Sant' Agnello main square was only 10 minutes walk from Hotel Caravel, where I spent 9 nights. Lovely spot, with a small pool, breakfast buffet/ evening restaurant, a shady garden, friendly staff, and clean spacious (for Italy) rooms.

I had an evening and two days free in Sorrento. It’s a lovely spot for strolling and relaxing. The St. Francis cloister and nearby garden, the inlaid wood in the cathedral, the lemon groves and limoncello production, and the waterfront restaurants in the small-boat harbor (called, for some reason, Marina Grande—the large ferry port is Marina Piccolo) are all enjoyable. There is ample information available on Sorrento, so that’s all I’m saying about it.
I spent most of one day on a trip to Capri. Just go down to the main Sorrento port, and the circular plaza is ringed with ticket offices. Choose the jetboat or the hydrofoil according to your schedule, since the difference in time or price is minimal. I took a boat tour around Capri. The scenery is lovely, but I think I might have preferred a bus/walk to Anacapri (the second town on the island; Capri is both the island and the main town) as the tour was not well narrated. Yes, I did visit the Blue Grotto; yes, it’s overpriced for 5 minutes in a cave of pretty water seen by dim light while the boatmen bellow “Santa Lucia”. But some tourist traps I just have to fall into! The town of Capri has pleasant narrow streets with a LOT of high-end shopping, so if Longchamps and Prada are your thing, you’ll really enjoy yourself. The centre is very crowded—and I’m told it gets more so in summer.

This was a long-time goal for me. My ideal would have been one of those trips where they give you a map and move your luggage for you. However, I wasn’t keen on doing that alone, my husband’s health issues make international travel difficult, and none of my travel buddies were up for a walking tour. So I ended up choosing a guided walking tour with HF Holidays: this one was called the Sorrento Peninsula Guided Walking Tour.
It was a really good choice for me. As I said above, the hotel (this was also the tour hotel) was comfortable and well-located, so that you could go out in the evening or run out to a grocer. The guides were friendly and well-informed. The HF “system” is not to offer holidays with different walking levels, but to have two leaders, and let the walkers divide themselves each day into an easy and a harder walk (total range from 5 km to 13, ascents from 300 to 550 m). A minibus would take us to the departure point for each day’s walk, and we’d return that way, or by catching a local bus in one of the villages. We had one free day in the week, which I knew from the beginning that I’d spend in Pompeii, since history and nature are my ideal holiday mix. (see below).
I soon realized that I’d have to do the easier walks, since although I often walk 10-15 km in a day, I could not possibly walk fast enough to avoid slowing the harder (and much taller, lol) walkers in an intolerably irritating way. Slowing other people down while being asked “Are you ok?” every 30 minutes is NOT a fun day. However, the easy walks still offered wonderful scenery, village life, and charming seaside stops. The routes included parts of Vesuvius, the Path of the Gods, Positano, and the village of Termini. One afternoon was a sightseeing tour of Herculaneum. Picnics beside a “queen’s bathing pool”, or atop a hillside, coffee breaks in tiny cafes, meeting mules pulling chestnut poles down the hillside, wild orchids, a view of a Russian oligarch’s yacht….what’s not to like? Even though Sorrento is a tourist mecca, we often walked for an hour without meeting anyone. The weather was warm enough to swim, but not hot enough to make walking unpleasant. Altogether idyllic. And HF is reasonably priced, as walking tours go. The walkers were all British (HF is a British organization) except for one American woman, and me. Very agreeable people, fortunately, as we ate together in the evenings.
Pompeii is easily reachable from Sorrento/Sant’Agnello on the Circumvesuviana commuter train. Cheap, and you may have to stand, so be aware if you’re taking this train with luggage. Although the train has a reputation as a pickpocket’s haven, we encountered no issues (but we had our bags firmly grasped). . I went with one of the other walkers, we left at 9:15 and returned around 4:30, and didn’t even make it through everything on the guide’s must-see list! However, I had gone through my guidebook ahead of time, so I did get through everything on my personal list. One of the HF guides kindly loaned me his official handbook, which describes and pictures all the point on the official map. This was fortunate, because the site was out of English-language handbooks, and apparently often is. There are audioguides, but I prefer to avoid them if a visual alternative exists. However, I will give the authorities credit that the on-site washrooms and cafeteria were reasonably clean, and the food was tasty and affordable (tasty for cafeteria food, don’t expect anything special). Pompeii was amazing. Everything from the theatre seats to the chariot ruts to the water distribution system can be seen, and although there are hundreds of visitors, the place is so large that it isn’t unpleasantly crowded. Even the brothel (the most visited interior site, lol) didn’t have a line when we came back in the afternoon. Do include the Villa of Mysteries (just outside the city wall, past the Necropolis) as it’s spectacular. Pompeii displays reproductions of the most famous works of art found there; the originals are in the archaeological museum in Naples.

The day I “lost” from my trip was to have been a day in Naples, so I cut the Capodimonte Museum and the Royal Palace. The Museum would have been the most time-consuming, as it required a taxi from central Naples. However, Naples definitely has enough to make 3 days worthwhile. I took the ferry from Sorrento, as it guaranteed me a seat and was just as quick as the train (including getting to & from the ports). As a bonus, it gives a lovely view of Vesuvius and of central Naples.
Historical sites first: I took the funicular (from the Montesanto metro station—not well signposted) up to the hilltop Vomero neighbourhood. I didn’t visit Castel Sant’Elmo (other than a peep round the courtyard), but I did visit the San Martino monastery museum. The monastery was large and elaborate, with a church, sacristy, cloister (sadly unkempt), etc. The museum has some fine statuary, but its main attraction is a collection of historical presepe, the traditional Neapolitan manger scenes . They range from life-size to fit-in-an-egg, and from 15th to 19th c. There are also spectacular views of central Naples.
Along Spaccanapoli (the narrow main street of the old city), I admired the churches of Gesu Nuovo (very unusual exterior—it was originally planned for a palace) with over-the-top Baroque arabesques and gold leaf inside—and the Gothic Santa Chiara across the street. The square between them has a gigantic “obelisk” dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, which appears to be losing its electric light “halo”. Further east are a 17th c. Plague Column and a 1700-year-old Roman statue of the Nile God. And a few blocks up is Capella Sansevero, a private funerary chapel designed by a wealthy and eccentric 17th c. noble. It is crammed with marble statues, most having esoteric Masonic references. They are also tour-de-force examples of Italian sculpture of the period, a veiled woman, the Veiled Christ, and an incredible statue of a man escaping a net, called Disillusion—all done in marble. Google them. And, I almost forgot to mention the bizarre 17th c. models of the circulatory system found in the crypt. After that, even a Gothic cathedral famous for an annual miracle of liquefying blood, didn’t seem particularly strange. Seriously, the cathedral is beautiful, especially the high altar. The nearby Treasury of St. Gennaro contains the incredible “necklace” (more of a giant breastplate) and the jeweled mitre made to decorated the saint’s image, as well as a variety of silver/gilt vessels. The jewels are really incredible, unless you are blasé about emeralds bigger than walnuts.
The Naples must-see, for me as well as most visitors, was the Archaeological Museum. It has the collection of Roman marbles appropriated by a 16th c. Pope, which were eventually inherited by a Bourbon king of Naples. Then it has the original mosaics, frescoes, glass, bronze, etc. excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum. An entire morning allows you to skim these…ignoring everything else and getting a serious case of museum overload. The statues alone are fabulous, the small-scale mosaics are delightful, and the wall-filling Alexander mosaic, showing Alexander the Great defeating the King of Persia, is an eye-popping revelation of what constituted house decoration for ancient Rome. There are rooms full of frescoes…your eyes start to glaze…then you come to large glass vases, musical instruments, surgical instruments (!)…. Did I mention the “Secret Cabinet”, the museum-within-a-museum which once barred women and the common rabble from viewing the erotic art found in ancient Roman sites?
Strolling: I walked down the S. Martino steps into Spagnoli, or the Spanish Quarter. You’ve seen pictures of the traditional steep narrow streets with 4-6 stories of apartments, laundry drying, and scooters whizzing through? This is the place. It’s described in some guidebooks as intimidating, but I walked through alone (60s woman) with no sense of menace. Probably not a good idea at 1 am, just the same. I also went down Via Toledo (the main shopping street), across Piazza del Plebiscito (a huge pedestrian plaza edged by a royal palace and a basilica which imitates the Pantheon in Rome), past Castel Nuovo, along Via Parthenope to the waterfront, and back around Via St. Lucia (which has a 4-story “hill” of tufa, the local stone, sitting in the middle of upscale stores). When using the metro, I even stopped at the much-warned-about Garibaldi Station, and ventured outside for a gelato. Large, busy, and probably there were sneak thieves around somewhere, but I sat and slurped unmolested. Naples has lots of cafes (with helpful staff, even if English isn’t always available) and plenty of people-watching opportunities. However, it is quite hilly and frequently cobblestoned: wear comfortable shoes.
Some guidebooks advise avoiding Naples, a nest of pickpockets, filth, and organized crime. It’s true that southern Italy has third-world levels of litter (not just Naples, the lower slopes of Vesuvius were disgusting). Quite probably the organized crime would make it a terrible place to live/retire/etc. However, it is a fascinating and friendly place to visit. As I said above, as a 60ish solo female, I had no issues during my three nights in Naples.
Hotels: The prices are fairly reasonable, but only a handful of expensive places are in what a North American would consider a pleasant neighbourhood. I finally decided on Lifestyle Hotel Correra 421. It’s a block from Piazza Dante, on the upper end of Via Toledo, 3 blocks from the Archaeological Museum. First: the street is narrow and definitely not touristy. The high metal gate (with a tiny button for which you have to search) was the most intimidating thing I found in Naples! But inside it is modern (ultra-modern, actually—the tomato-red breakfast room with plastic chairs wasn’t really my taste). The rooms are not large, but mine had a 12’ ceiling and a view of a stereotypical Neapolitan alley, complete with laundry! AC, safe, 24-hour desk, and English-speaking desk staff made it a satisfactory stay.

To see some of these places (Naples’ Capella Sansevero and the Treasury don’t allow pictures), go to
nfldbeothuk is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2017, 01:51 PM
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Glad you enjoyed your trip! I loved Naples and the other parts of Campania I've visited, and can't wait to return.

Tonight I will read your walking tour section more carefully. Sounds quite interesting.

What did you think of Herculaneum?
Leely2 is offline  
Old May 29th, 2017, 08:24 AM
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Good to see another Naples report - we loved our few days there and would go back for more. We stayed in an Airbnb in the Spanish Quarter and felt super safe at all times, even late at night - the advice in guidebooks I think is fairly historic now. The third world levels of litter is a big exaggeration though! Glad you had a great time.
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Old May 29th, 2017, 12:37 PM
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Leely2, I enjoyed Herculaneum, although I did find that several spots I had expected to see were closed. It was small enough that you could see the whole town--not possible in Pompeii unless you spent a couple of days--and it was amazing to realize that even wooden door frames etc. had been preserved by the lava. But Pompeii was a "real city", with a forum, several baths, a basilica, a theatre and an amphitheatre, so there was a lot to experience that Herculaneum can't demonstrate. So if I only had a chance to see one... I'd probably say Pompeii.
And tjhome, I have to say that the bottom of Vesuvius compared with Belize or Panama City in terms of litter. That was the worst spot I saw, though, so maybe it isn't a fair comparison--the upper part being a National Park made it seem worse, perhaps.
nfldbeothuk is offline  
Old May 29th, 2017, 02:15 PM
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A great read (will view photos later).
Adelaidean is offline  
Old May 29th, 2017, 05:38 PM
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Thanks for your comments about Ercolano. Next time I will visit.

And I didn't have time for San Martino in Naples! Darn it, will have to go back...

The pictures of your walk remind me just how beautiful the walking is in that part of Campania.
Leely2 is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2017, 08:48 AM
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Thank you so much for all the info. We plan to stay in this part
next trip & just confirmed why I love it here!
rowenaibanez is offline  
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