Visiting Sorrento, Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast

Marina di Praia

“Viva!” We didn’t understand any of the other lyrics on the radio station, but we couldn’t help but recite “viva!” repeatedly along with the song that was playing. It was a perfect moment to roll up to a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean. The sun was warm, the water glittering below us. Matt, Brian, Thea, and I got out of our rental car to stretch our legs for a moment after a four-hour drive from Rome (Read When in Rome here.).

Back in the car, we drove up the winding, skinny roads of Sorrento to our Airbnb. We chose Sorrento for a home base while traveling in this area of Italy because of the location (it’s centrally situated near Pompeii, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast), and it’s a very welcoming (and charming!) town perched above the Mediterranean Sea.

I have to show you images of the Airbnb (Casa Lina Sorrento) because I would highly recommend staying here if you’re traveling with a small group. It has a three bedrooms, two bathrooms, tons of living space, a fabulously spacious patio, and it’s only a 10 minute walk to the center of town.

Casa Lina Sorrento
Casa Lina Sorrento
Casa Lina Sorrento
Casa Lina Sorrento (and the fabulously spacious patio!)
Casa Lina Sorrento

Right around the corner from our place is a lively trattoria, Torna a Surriento. We decided to eat there and quickly realized that the source of the liveliness came from the proprietor himself! We were the last to go after our fantastic meal. Brian had so much fun that when he hugged our waiter goodbye, he lifted him off the ground.

Torna a Surriento
Torna a Surriento
Torna a Surriento

The next morning we headed straight to Pompeii and immediately tuned in to the self guided tour offered by Rick Steves. (We each downloaded the tour through the Rick Steves Audio Europe app ahead of time through the Wi-Fi at our Airbnb.)


It’s amazing to wander around a town that’s over 2,000 years old, yet so well-preserved. Pompeii was a middle class, bustling port city of 20,000 people, when it was abruptly covered with 30 feet of volcanic ash in A.D. 79 from nearby Mount Vesuvius. The excavation of Pompeii didn’t begin until 1748.

On the day Mount Vesuvius erupted, many of the residents fled, but about 2,000 stayed behind. The volcano did it’s business for 18 hours. During that time, with the winds changing direction, 60 feet of ash covered the smaller, ritzier town of Herculaneum. And finally, in the last hour, the lava headed over to Pompeii for a second time.

The Basilica – Not a church, more like a courthouse.
The Forum – This is part of the large piazza where people gathered to chat and shop, and whatever else the people of Pompeii did while they were out and about.
Throughout the forum, there used to be statues dotting all pedestals. Most of the artifacts found in Pompeii are now housed at the Archeological Museum in Naples. We didn’t go to the museum, but we heard from several friends that it is a great way to round out the Pompeii tour.
There were six public baths in Pompeii. This fountain overflowed onto the heated floor to create steam. In addition to the steam room, there was a hot bath, a warm bath, and a cold plunge. All adjacent to the nearby gymnasium.
This is in the dressing room (or the undressing room).
Rick Steves refers to this as a “fast food joint”. Ancient Romans didn’t cook for themselves much, and maybe many didn’t even have the proper facilities. These counters held pots of food and the containers could hold heat or keep things cool. One could dine in or take the food back to their place. There are so many of these identical counters all over Pompeii.
Aqueduct Arch – This arch helped to provide water pressure for the 100 mile long aqueduct system that Pompeiians relied on for fresh water.
The Dancing Faun – this small bronze statue lives at the House of the Faun, the largest home in Pompeii (It’s over 27,000 square feet, taking up an entire city block!).
I’m pretty sure this is a fresco in The House of the Vetti. Two rich brothers lived in this home and really enjoyed showing off their wealth and success to everyone who entered. It’s also the best preserved home with every surface painted with a fresco and mosaic tiled floors.
This is a single lane street in Pompeii. See the ruts? Those are from the chariots.
Here is a major street in Pompeii. Pompeiians flooded the streets with water everyday to keep them clean, so they used these raised stones as stepping-stones for people to cross the street.  The sidewalks are raised to hide the plumbing.
This is an example of the sidewalks in Pompeii. There are bits of broken pots mixed in with the occasional piece of white marble. The white marble was reflective and it allowed people to get around at night in the moonlight.

There is so much more to Pompeii. In a few different areas, you can see the cast of bodies – people preserved in their lasts moments. Of course everyone loves to visit the old brothel, but it’s such a popular (and amusing!) stop that there is a long line to go inside. From what I remember on a previous visit, there were beds made of stone which were covered in hay and racy frescoes up above which may or may not have depicted particular specialties.

Next we drove over to Herculaneum, the much smaller town that was buried under 60 feet of volcanic ash.

Here is Herculaneum. See how it sits so much lower than the modern city of Ercolano above? Also, see Vesuvius on the top right? It’s still active…
Here is another visual of how deep Herculaneum was buried. That wall is solid ash. The grass here used to be the shoreline, but now the shoreline is about a quarter-mile away.
Here’s another angle, looking down on what used to be the shoreline. Those arched openings were used for boat storage.
In 1981, during excavations, hundreds of skeletons were discovered in the boat storage areas. These people tried to escape by sea but were overtaken by the lava flow. Other than this, there were very few bodies discovered in Herculaneum (The population was around 4,000 people.).
In case you wanted a closer look at those skeletons.
Most of the buildings here were made of stone, with wood floors and beams. The wood was actually preserved in the lava.

Did you know that you can hike up to the summit of Vesuvius? You can! You can find the trailhead up a long road from Torre del Greco (in between Pompeii and Herculaneum). From the parking area it’s a 20 minute hike with 600 foot elevation gain. We were so excited to check it out, but the trail was closed for maintenance. :(

This is as close to the summit of Vesuvius as we could get. The summit is actually behind me, but so was the sun.
And before driving back down to Sorrento, we drowned our sorrows in a glass of wine while looking out at the Bay of Naples.

The next day we drove the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Salerno and back.

Driving the Amalfi Coast

Our rental car was equipped with sensors that beeped when we were close to an object (like another car, or a wall), and beeped more intensely when that object was within a few inches. While we had encountered the beeps several times while driving around Italy, we hadn’t truly experience the sensors until we were driving the road along the Amalfi Coast. What was initially amusing became extremely annoying.

The Amalfi Coast

Anyone who has visited the Amalfi Coast knows how slow the traffic can be, that finding a parking space may be impossible, and that the two lane road is really more like one and a quarter lanes. But the scenery is incredible.

We stopped for a snack in the tiny fishing village of Marina di Praia. If you dislike crowds as much as me, this is a great place to experience the coast.

Marina di Praia – this tiny little fishing village is wedged in between these cliffs.
Marina di Praia
Marina di Praia
Marina di Praia – Il Pirata. We ate beef carpaccio and various fried cheese things while gazing out at the sea. Then we were splashed by a monster wave.
Marina di Praia

We also stopped in Ravello, a hilltop town 1,000 feet above the sea.

Villa Rufolo, a 13th century palace in Ravello.
Villa Rufolo, Ravello

The next day we had a food tour scheduled in the late afternoon. Sorrento Food Tours took us to about eight food places in three hours. We ate cured meats, a small cake with cream and cherry, saltimbocca (a prosciutto and cheese focaccia type of thing), lemoncello sorbet, a deep-fried risotto ball (!), caprese salad, Sorrentine style gnocchi (A smaller sized gnocchi made with a different kind of potato, and swimming in tomato sauce with buffalo mozzarella chunks. Yum.), and gelato.

Lemoncello sorbet at the Lemon Grove Garden
Sorrentine style gnocchi
Sorrento Food Tours
Caprese salad with a giant buffalo mozzarella at Da Gigino.
Gelato at Davide Gelateria

We wrapped up our final night in Sorrento with an Aperol Spritz at sunset. I have somehow ignored this drink on my previous visits to Italy, despite seeing them on many tabletops at outdoor restaurants all over the country. Aperol is an orange flavored liqueur, just add some prosecco and a splash of soda, and you got yourself a refreshing cocktail.

Our first Aperol Spritz

Next stop: Montepulciano!

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