We’ve just spent two amazing days in Italy, docking first at Salerno and then at Civitavecchia. It’s been a whirlwind of ancient sites and breathtaking vistas, and although we only had a taste of Italy it was the most exquisite introduction, and we’ve vowed to return – especially to the Amalfi Coast.
I can’t offer you tips about what to see as there is so much to do, and we had only an introduction. But I can hopefully give you an insight into the places we were privileged to visit, and perhaps tempt you to visit them or reconnect you to places you’ve been to in the past.
So without further ado …
After a beautiful day cruising on Sea Princess through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea we travelled on towards Italy. We had our first views of Italy as we entered the Straits of Messina, which separate Sicily with mainland Italy.
Later that night we were incredibly lucky to slowly circumnavigate the volcanic island of Stromboli at dusk. Stromboli is an active volcano and every once in a while we spied plumes of smoke and spectacular fiery bursts emanate from the top of the volcano like fireworks. Being a bit of an embellisher of the truth, I swore I could feel the heat emanating from the volcano as we went past.
The next morning we cruised into Salerno just before 7am, and with a cup of tea in hand watched this beautiful Medieval city come into focus rising up out of the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, framed behind with a stunning backdrop of craggy cliffs.
Perched high above the town we could see the imposing Lombard Castle, a fort dating back to the 8th century, and as I sipped my tea I read a little about the history of Salerno which was a Roman colony in 197BC but came into its own as the capital of the Norman Empire form 1077 to 1127.
Ancient, and picturesque.
“We’re going to have to return,” Dave said as we took in the spectacular scenery in front of us. We weren’t going to have time to explore Salerno today for we were heading off on a ship’s shore excursion that would take us along the Amalfi Coast to Capri and then on to Sorrento and Pompeii.
Our day started quite early and we disembarked Sea Princess just after 7am then met our garrulous Italian guide Maria, and hopped on a coach that took us into Salerno where we boarded a small ferry to Capri.
The boat journey, which took us along the scenic Amalfi coast was thrilling. We sat on the open upper deck in glorious sunshine as we sped past towering limestone cliffs, sweeping bottle green terraces of lemon trees and small towns that tumble down from the hills to the sea. If you get the chance to see the Amalfi Coast from the sea, take it as the journey offers dramatic vistas and breathtaking views.
We briefly stopped at the town of Amalfi (above) before heading on to Capri.
We passed small towns like the one above hugging the cliffside, and also the picture postcard town of Positano (a place I’d love to visit) where pastel coloured houses tumble down sheer cliffs to a beach dotted with fishing boats.
I’d heard about Capri, the famed resort isle off the Sorrento Peninsula, and heard hint that it’s been a getaway for the rich and famous since Roman times, and in my mind’s eye it was a pretty place but one that perhaps I’d never get to see.
The soaring white limestone cliffs of the island rose dramatically from the sea and were bathed in sunlight. As we approached we saw a swathe of whitewashed buildings and a harbour bustling with boat life, and on this sunny day in mid June, it looked picture postcard perfect.
From the bustling Marina Grande where the sun bore down on us like a hot flannel we made our way past a myriad of small colourful crafts offering round trip island tours, and the bustling sea front restaurants, and the gift shops and limoncello sellers, to the Funicular where we were whisked up the mountain side to the town centre in just a few minutes.
The town itself was quaint and colourful and the shopping looked amazing. You’ll find chic boutiques, designer fashion stores, and all manner of quaint, visually appealing shops along the way, but we had no time for shopping today, save for a delicious lemon gelato ice cream as we walked up the hill.
Everywhere we looked and didn’t look, there were colourful flowers; red geraniums and multi coloured petunias and there was the sound of melodious birdsong, which to us was very evident after 5 days at sea.
We visited the beautiful and shady Gardens of Augustus set high on top of a sheer cliff with beautiful views all the way down to the turquoise sea that was peppered with small boats.
Down to our left we could see the famous three Faraglioni rock pinnacles formed over time by erosion from wind and sea, offering a fabulous (and quite well known) photo opportunity.
Then Maria shepherded us back to the Marina Grande and off we set on a 25 minute ferry ride to Sorrento.
The seaside town that lured Ulysses with its siren song captured our imaginations right from the start too.
It overlooks the Bay of Naples and as you approach by sea you’ll see high, ancient city walls and elegant old hotels around the jetty.
A shuttle bus took us up a steep and windy hill to the town centre which seemed lemon-scented and flag-adorned with a jumble of medieval alleyways and narrow cobbled streets lined with interesting shops where we bought locally produced Limoncello and souvenirs to take home.
Sorrento is known as a popular holiday resort, for its stunning views, its seafood delicacies and the locally made Limoncello, a tangy lemon liqueur.
We had a typical Italian lunch at a quaint restaurant in a small side alleyway, where the ravioli was delicious – wine was included too. The service was fast and efficient and the company at our table great fun – we sat with one of the ship’s doctors and his fiancée.
Afterwards we had a short while to explore Sorrento before getting back on a coach and a 45 minute drive to Pompeii.
To say that I was filled with excited anticipation about visiting Pompeii is a bit of an understatement. The macabre part of me was filled with abject wonder about people being petrified by volcanic ash and gases in the midst of going about their daily tasks 2000 years ago.
For Pompeii is a city that was buried by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption when the big bad Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD in a tragedy that covered the city and its citizens in ash and cinder.
It was fascinating walking around this ancient city, now a UNESCO World Heritage site that once bustled with life in Roman times for a period of about 700 years before the tragedy struck.
A shady walk takes you from the gaggle of souvenir stalls and the Victoria Hotel to the main entrance, and we were ‘wired up’ again to Maria by our radio earphones as she explained some of the history of Pompeii.
You really get the feel that it was once a vacation getaway for Rome’s high society because some of the villa remains suggest opulence and grandeur of the highest order. There are still frescoes on the walls and remnants of beautiful mosaic floors – the excavations were all done by hand, and must have been painstaking labour.
You can see where there were once streets of shops, because there are furrows in the stone where the shutters would have been. You can see storerooms of urns and pillars and garden pots … and a petrified man crouching, as well as the petrified remains of a child.
It was sad, and fascinating all at once, giving us a glimpse of ancient Roman life.
I’m not sure how many people stayed awake for the coach ride back to the ship, but I do know we passed through some very pretty Italian countryside on the way.
Our shore excursion had taken from 7.30am to 6pm and we arrived back at Sea Princess tired, but full of awe and wonder.
All in all this was a brilliant Sea Princess ship’s tour, well organised and full of fun, giving us a taste of the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii and Italian life past and present.
We will return!
I’m travelling as a guest of Princess Cruises, but all opinions are my own.