December 3, 2009

Favorite Places: Southern Italy

Blue water, cliff-hanging villages and lemon groves. These are the visual imagines that come to mind when I reminisce about the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.

There's much more that cannot be captured in photos. The kindness and hospitality of the people in this region reminded me of our own southerners here in the United States.

My husband, one son (the archaeologist) and I spent five nights at Villa Oriana, a bed and breakfast in the hills of Sorrento. Maria and her son, Pasquale, treated us like family! It was a sad departure at the end of our stay. Maria sent us off with a tearful farewell and gifted us with lemon preserves and fresh fruit for our train ride to Rome. Her husband gave us a complimentary ride to the station. That was 2004 and we hope to someday return to our "family in Italy" as Pasquale wrote in an email after we were stateside again.

There are spectacular archaeological sights in the region as well as pleasant outings just wandering the village streets, hiking coastal trails and dining at wonderful restaurants.

We took day trips to Capri, Positano, Paestum and Pompeii - by ferry, by bus and by train. Transportation was fairly easy without a car rental, although driving the high curves of the Amalfi Coast looks like it would be a thrill for those without vertigo!

On Capri, we went to the top of the isle, then hiked downhill to visit the famous Blue Grotto. You enter the Grotto in a small boat and you MUST almost flatten yourself in the boat to avoid hitting your head, depending upon the tide level and roughness of the sea. It's a very quick trip inside, but we're glad we went. The hike provided us with a close-up look at the community and we grabbed a good lunch in Anacapri.

Positano was also reached by ferry. If you've seen the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, this was the seaside location for filming those romantic scenes. My husband and I visited Positano for a leisurely lunch while our son explored Sorrento.

We took a recommendation from Rick Steves and dined at the wonderful (200 steps uphill, after you've already climbed uphill) at Cucina Casareccia. We spent the entire afternoon perched up there, slowly dining on every course imaginable, sipping wine and enjoying the view.

You don't have to go to Greece to see ancient Greek temples. I've been to Athens, so I consider myself qualified to say that Paestum did not disappoint! Paestum, located south of Salerno, was founded in 600 BC. The Poseidon Temple is considered one of the best examples of preserved Doric style. This area may sound familiar, as the Allied invasion of Italy during World War II took place near Salerno in September 1943.

At the suggestion of Pasquale, we took a chartered tour, including transportation, so that we could make the most of our short visit to the ruins.

We rarely take organized tours since we prefer to strike out on our own, but this day-long excursion was worth going with the crowd. Our guide gave us quite an education on the history of Paestum.

The tour included lunch at the onsite restaurant. I mention this because REAL mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) comes from the domestic water buffaloes that we saw in the area. The soft, egg-shaped white cheese is best when it's perfectly fresh. When the mozzarella is pierced with a fork and milk runs out, then you know it's fresh!

There are several places in the world that I consider a "must visit" for anyone who likes to travel. If you find yourself close enough in Italy, please take a day to visit the ruins of Pompeii.

From Sorrento, we took the Circumvesuviana train (Trentalia) to the station at the entrance to Pompeii. We spent over six hours visiting the ruins and I'm sure we could have stayed even longer. My son shared much knowledge about the ruins and this was his second visit.

Here, you have the experience of wandering through the streets, homes, gardens and businesses that once were teeming with life. In only two days in 79 AD, Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. It's intriguing, but haunting.

When not in Rome... there are many wonderful and favorite places in Italy.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron; Location: Southern Italy; May 2004; No products, services or discounts were received for mentioning the businesses in this story.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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