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Does culture, history, turquoise sea and amazing food sound like an ideal combination? If yes, Southern Italy won’t disappoint you! My long weekend in Southern Italy started with a two-night stay in Naples. In advance, I had a bit of mixed feelings based on what I had learned about the city in media and doing a bit of research online before travel. I knew to expect it to be hot, crowded, possibly dirty and noisy – people seemed to be divided to those who had loved it and those who weren’t impressed. I was even thinking of skipping central Naples altogether and just going to the smaller towns close by. However, in the end I decided to stay in the city and it turned out to be a positive surprise!
Naples traffic is often described as chaotic so I decided not to rent a car but use public transportation instead and I was amazed at how well it worked. Alibus from the airport to the city cost 5 euro and worked well although it took a while between the central station and the last stop in Porto Beverello.
There’s plenty of options where to stay in Naples – from bed and breakfasts to Airbnb and boutique hotels and it’s relatively affordable. I stayed at La Ciliegina hotel and room was very small but the location, rooftop terrace and breakfast were just magnifico!
Naples’ location by the sea charmed me instantly since first stepping out of the airport bus in Porto Beverello.
Castel Nuovo is a medieval castle rising behind Porto Beverello. The walking path from the harbor to Municipio metro station and my hotel went around it so I had plenty of opportunities to admire this impressive landmark.
Castel dell’Ovo is a seaside castle with free entry and fantastic views to Naples coastline. I found it to be especially beautiful in the evening. It’s also nice to sit at one of the close by restaurants, have a gelato and watch the sea. Some people were even swimming at a small beach between the castle and the harbor.
Walking in the historical center Centro Storico at sunset is a great experience. There’s so many restaurants to choose from on especially Via dei Tribunali. On a warm summer night, lively and happy people were having aperitifs and heading to dinner.
I decided to take the first ferry departing Porto Beverello – whether it would go to Proscida, Ischia or Capri. Capri it was! There’s no need to buy tickets in advance but it’s convenient to check the timetable online. The cruise aboard the high-speed ferry (hydrofoil) was pleasant although I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t possible to sit outdoors (from this perspective the smaller ferries from Sorrento to Capri looked nicer). Luckily the aircon worked well and there was a small kiosk selling drinks and snacks.
The ferry arrives to Capri at Marina Grande that is a lovely port with luxury yachts to fishing boats. Right next to it is a small pebble beach that can get very crowded in the busy months. The bus stop is next to the beach and if you desire to escape the crowds you can take a bus uphill to Anacapri. The bus (2,5€ per person, same for luggage) can be packed with mostly standing places and beware of a very narrow and serpentine road – there’s barely space for a newspaper to squeeze through the passing buses! Naturally no seat belts and driving fast is the norm. The ride up was worth it just for the views on the way. Anacapri village is nice, small shops and restaurants. However, it was a surprise to me that it was more inland and no views to the sea. It would have been great to take the chairlift to Monte Solaro or a boat to the blue grotto but timing was too tight. It would be worthwhile to spend a night on the island. Don’t be in a rush or expect the buses to run on schedule during the busy season. It was taking quite long at the bus stop and we decided to group up 4 people and take a taxi – it was much more comfortable but cost 30 euro.
There’s plenty of cafes and restaurants to choose from on the island but if you prefer a picnic there’s a small grocery store in Grand Marina. I got some water and ice cream and went to the beach to enjoy the last moments before it was time for the return ferry back to Naples.
I was thinking of visiting Pompeii already when I was in Rome but it was much more convenient to take a tour from Naples which is only about half an hour away. It’s possible to get there by public transportation and just walk around but if you’re interested to learn about the history and get interesting insights I’d warmly recommend to book a tour or a guide. I booked my tour via Viator only a day before and everything went quite smoothly. Maria our tour guide shared lots of fascinating stories about the life of Pompeii people in the beginning of 1st century. When the Vesuvius volcano erupted in 79 AD the town was buried under 6 meters of ash! The tour started off by taking a look at the big and small Amphitheater that still today has incredible acoustics (thanks Linda for the concert!). Pompeii used to be a vibrant city with tens of shops and restaurants. I found the Roman spa most impressive and especially the sauna section which is remarkably well conserved.
The climate at Pompeii is typically very hot and humid. We were lucky that there was a bit of breeze. Still 8 out of 35 people on the tour gave it up midway so I would only recommend it in the summer if you can stand the heat and walking quite a long way in crowds. Lunch at a close by restaurant was included in the tour and a basic Pizza margarita served Al fresco tasted amazing.
Mt. Vesuvius was just a 35 minutes’ drive from Pompeii. According to our tour guide Lucinella it’s one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world and it gave a bit of an adrenaline rush to hear her words that this could be the last experience of our lives! On the way up it’s possible to see the lava flows of the 1944 eruption. There had been a big fire last year in the national park and the devastating effects were still clearly visible.
We were given only 1,5h for visiting the volcano so it was better get going fast! There’s 3 cafes at Vesuvius – one at the start of the climb and two at the top. It’s a good idea to buy some cold water. Good walking shoes are essential although the path isn’t difficult as such but there’s gravel and rocks that made walking in sandals look painful. It was a quite an easy hike, hot but we were lucky to have a bit of breeze. The views across Naples and to the sea were amazing. I enjoyed the hike a lot and although sweaty, dusty and far from glamorous, felt re-energized after it.
In the next morning it was time to say good-bye to Naples and head to the other coast. The metro ticket cost only 1 euro 10 cents and was convenient, modern and clean, although a bit noisy and not sure if there was air-conditioning in the cars so it might not be ideal in the rush hour but in the weekend morning it was fine. I took the metro from Municipio to Garibaldi – the central train station and the bus station and got on-board the Flixbus for Brindisi – 5 hours bus ride for under 20 euros with wifi and aircon seemed like a good deal compared to more expensive trains with having to transfer at least once on the way.
In case you do take the bus be sure to check the departure AND arrival places – I got dropped off somewhere at the edge of Brindisi without any taxis in sight and had to walk a couple of kilometers in the afternoon heat to get to the central station and catch the bus to the airport for picking up the rental car. This area of the city wasn’t particularly pretty but at least it was possible and safe to walk. Of course, there would be much more to see but I was very happy to finally get to the airport and get the rental car to continue the journey.
Santa Cesarea Terme
After a couple of hours drive I arrived to Santa Cesarea that was our base for the next few days. It’s a small village that seems to be a popular vacation spot for locals and Italian tourists but not too many foreigners have found the place yet (although we did hear some French and German). Puglia is known for turquoise sea and combined with the rocky coast of this area the views were stunning. Spiaggia Porto Miggiano was an incredibly beautiful spot to go swimming.
We also enjoyed lovely dinners in restaurants with amazing views:
Santa Maria di Leuca beaches
Next morning we hopped into our trusted red Twingo and cruised through the narrow Southern Puglia countryside roads towards the beaches west from Santa Maria di Leuca. The beaches stretch 5 kilometers and are also known as the “Italian Maldives”. It was a bit tricky to find a good spot and where to park without knowing the region but finally got to the long white sandy beach to catch some sun, swim in the sea and had lunch at a beachside café Papeete.
Gallipoli is a charming little town with the centro storico on an island, accessed via a bridge alongside the Castello Angioino di Gallipoli. I was excited to see a group paddling in kayaks – what a wonderful way to discover this beautiful coastal spot! Walk through the island and reach the lovely beach cove with amazing views to the sea. There was plenty of stylish restaurants with outdoor seating that looked very inviting!
Otranto is the easternmost town of Italy and has a beautiful Port with views to the turquoise sea, a lovely beach walk with restaurants and a white shallow sandy beach. Enjoyed a swim in the warm water and the lunch with a view.
Lecce is famous for its beautiful old town with lots of churches. Remember to dress accordingly if you plan to go inside the churches. There’s a few nice gelaterias around the central square that make it a perfect spot to relax for a moment.
Huge thanks to my friend Heidi for inviting me to visit – otherwise I probably would never have discovered this gorgeous region!
There’s so much to see in Southern Italy that in a long weekend it’s only possible get a first glimpse of this amazing region. Next time I’ll be sure to go to Amalfi coast. I was told that it’s extremely crowded in July and August and therefore decided to save it for a future trip. Capri really impressed me and I regret that I didn’t have more time to spend there. In the future, I’d like to stay overnight and visit the Blue Grotto and take the chairlift to Monte Solaro. Additionally, Procida and Ischia islands would surely be worth visiting.
I almost booked tickets to Naples Opera and heard that the interior of the building is very beautiful. There would be lots to experience also further south from Naples in the Calabria region aka the “toe” of the country’s boot.
Puglia region north from Brindisi is the home of a number of famous cities to be discovered in the future – for example Alberobello, Matera, Ostuni, San Lazzaro, Polignano a mare, and Altamura are terrific reasons to return to Puglia one day…
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