The Weekend Traveller – Naples (inc Pompeii and Sorrento)

Why go away to just one destination on a long weekend trip, when you can visit several.

Our latest long weekend getaway consisted of a three night trip to Naples.

Naples can be reached directly from Manchester in around 2:45 hours with Ryanair. One thing to be aware of when flying with them, is the change they made to their cabin baggage policy.

Unless you are flying ‘Priority’ you can only take one ‘small’ bag that must fit under the seat in front of you, that means no cabin sized trolly bags. Whilst this works just fine for me, India likes to take her slightly larger bag, which in the past would have been free to take on board.

I decided to book our seats together at the front of the plane – these include priority boarding and therefore the ability to take TWO bags, one small and one larger. I also paid a small extra free to use the security fast track.

I have to say that the total cost of just over £60 for the two of us was well worth it. Sailed straight past all the queues at security, on the plane first and got the extra baggage. The number of people getting on board and asking if the crew could move them because they weren’t sat together was laughable. Many were complaining of nervousness of flying or medical conditions that meant they had to be sat together. I always wonder – why would you not pay the small cost to take away the stress.

Sitting at the front also meant first service with the drinks – Gin and Tonic onboard and some Kevin Bridges on the Ipad – the flight literally flew by.

On arrival I used the ATM in the terminal to withdraw some cash – I always use a nationwide card that does not charge for withdrawals and gives the best exchange rate – we then took a taxi from outside the terminal to the hotel.

We were staying at the Ramada, a 4 star hotel located directly beside the main train station in Naples – its a short 15 min ride and costs 20 Euros

The hotel was chosen because of its location – not the prettiest area in town, that award would go to the opposite side and an hours walk from where we are, but its great from which to explore, especially right next to the train station. The room was large and comfortable, but very old fashioned, worn and dated.

Check in staff along with the bar staff were all very friendly, however breakfast was a whole different story. Still as a place to bed down it was ideal for what we needed.

We checked in and then off out to explore. Heading straight down to the marina we passed the commercial port and then the passenger ferries. The ferry port is about a 25 min walk from the hotel and has a number of ferries departing. Trips to Capri for example run every 30 mins or so and take between 50 mins and 1hr 10 mins depending on which ferry you take.

Costs to Capri are approx 40 Euro per person each way – We had this trip in mind for day 3 of the trip.

We continued walking and headed towards the historical centre and Piazza del Plebiscito. This walk takes around 45 mins in total, taking us past the beautiful Castel Nuovo and the Royal Palace of Naples – Home to the Bourbon Kings – and Yes, it is where the name for the biscuits stems from. No they weren’t invented by them, but the name was inspired from the area, first produced by the same company that invented the Garibaldi Biscuit!

The streets of Naples are busy but beautiful, stunning architecture is all around, such as the Galleria Umberto I – A mall constructed in the name of then then king, designed to regenerate the area, topped with a gorgeous glass ceiling with large dome. Today this still is a small shopping mall and the perfect place to sit and rest.

We stopped at a coffee shop and I enjoyed an espresso and one of the specialities of the region a sfogliatella. Sometimes referred to as a lobster tail, this is a stunning pastry made up of thin leafs or layers and filled, usually with a sweet ricotta cheese. The thin layers make for a gently crisp outer, while being soft and smooth on the inside.

We continued our walk back towards the hotel, taking in all the shops and restaurants busy with locals and tourists alike.

For dinner we had been recommended a pizza restaurant named La Figlia Del Presidente, located about a 20 min walk from the hotel in a small side street, we are shown downstairs into a beautiful looking cavern and shown to our table.

One of the specialities of Naples is the Pizza Fritta, or Fried Pizza, so I just had to indulge. This isn’t some kind of battered and deep fried wonder that you would find in a Scottish town, this is a light and fluffy pizza base that is fried instead of baked. It is then topped with the topping of your choice.

I decided to keep it simple with such a dish and I’m glad I did. The tomato on the base was incredible in flavour, soft juicy mozzarella and fresh zingy basil – I’m in heaven – oh and the cost – Just 6.50 Euros!!

I really didn’t need any extras on the side, but I also couldn’t resist having a Arancini on the side. This again was immense.

There were plenty of other options for pizzas and India decided to go for a ‘White Pizza’ – these have no tomato base, instead it uses a white sauce – this again was a real treat.

On Day 2 we had decided to go and visit one of the must see sites – Pompeii.

This historical site is easily reached by local commuter train which takes around 40mins and costs under 6 euros per person return.

The train journey is busy, packed with locals and a scattering of tourists, the scenery is stunning and you get some amazing views of Vesuvius on route.

Halfway through the journey some local musicians got on and we had some accordian music to really make this something different – why you would choose to sit on a tour bus instead of experiencing this, I have no idea.

On arrival at Pompeii station, we disembark and walk directly across the road to the entrance. The queues aren’t to bad and it takes us about 20 mins to get our tickets, the cost to enter is 15 Euros per person and includes a map and a thorough written guide to all the numbered sites (Of which there are hundreds).

You can pay more for an audio guide, but with these just being a spoken version of the book you get anyway, we didn’t bother. If you really want, you can also hire your own tour guide to take you around – as I have worked as a tour leader around many other roman ruins I didn’t think this was really needed – and I was right. The main spots have guides working as guards, so you can ask them questions that you have – or like I did on occasion, use google to help you out as you go.

Organised tour groups usually get a couple of hours to explore the site – be warned, this is NOT enough time. The tour for EVERYONE that takes approx 2 hours misses out on most of the most amazing sites. We wandered for around 5 hours, trying to make sure I saw the best parts, even so I’m guessing we only visited around a third of the numbered spots.

We finished around 3 pm, but rather then heading back to Naples, we decided to carry on in the opposite direction and visit Sorrento, which is the final stop on the train we had been on.

This cost 2.40 Euro per person from Pompeii and took under 30mins.

The town is beautiful and there is lots of wealth on display, however despite its beauty, it felt a little touristy, food was more expensive and seemed to cater for tourists more than locals. It was a nice spot to see, but I was happier in Naples. We had dinner and headed back, catching the DD train on the timetable – this got us all the way back to Naples in about 45 mins.

Day 3 comes and the plan is to take the ferry over to Capri – however this is hit with a major flaw. It’s pouring with rain and set to continue all day.

Instead we wander a little with a newly purchased umbrella, have a coffee a sit and think about what else to do, we head to the archeological museum, only to find queues all the way around the block – maybe left that one too late on a rainy day.

I spot the underground experience – the chance to go under the city on a 90min walk – tickets online are selling around £22 (Inc a voucher for pizza), but I want to know more. With a bit of research I find the address of the office where the tour starts and we head over. Looks like everyone has the same idea as there is a large queue. Luckily this was the Italian speaking tour, with the English one starting in 10 mins and having a small queue – the cost direct = 10 Euro, result.

We get taken down steps deep under the streets of Naples, told how the large rooms were carved out by the Greeks when they built the city from the stone underneath it. These vast chambers were then used as a water supply with a viaduct built from local hills.

When they were no longer needed for water they were actually used to store rubbish, a massive underground dump, but then the war happened. The rubbish was crushed into the floor and these were used as shelters for people to live in.

The tunnels and open spaces were a real wonder to see, plus under here it was dry.

Then came the highlight of the tour and the bit I wasn’t expecting. We were taken into a local home, discovered around 30 years ago to be the home of an old lady, thought to deal in wine illegally. Her bed hid a secret trap door into a cellar where she kept her stash, but unbeknown to her, this cellar was actually part of the old roman amphitheatre that once stood in the centre of Naples. We stood in what would have been a back room of the massive roman complex.

As we toured under the houses we entered into other parts of the old amphitheatre, that over time had been plastered over and wall reused for new buildings and uses.

The tour was a real eye opener and a real find – I would definitely recommend it for the price, raining or not.

The rain had eased and we decided to go and eat, but instead of Pizza, this time it was all about the Ragu.

We stumbled across a small restaurant named Tandem Ragu, which according to the internet specialises in its slow cooked ragu, served in various ways.

I opted for a Gnocchi dish, smothered in this rich tasting sauce, which I could not fault, paired with 1/2 Litre of local wine for just 14 Euro the lot.

We had planned pizza again at a small local restaurant near the hotel where locals wait nearly an hour for tables, however we are that stuffed from the late lunch that all we can handle is a glass of wine at the hotel and an early night.

For the last day in Naples I decided to book a trip. Most I would do independently, but with time constraints to get to the airport later, paired with not knowing how to get there, a tour it was. This tour was to the slopes of Vesuvius to experience some of the wines that are produced in this fertile region.

We are collected by our guide who takes the two of us on a short panoramic tour of Naples, upto a lookout point for some great views of this great city, we then head over to Vesuvius and to Sorrentino Wine Experience.

The half day tour consists of food produced on their land, paired with their wines.

Tasty tomatoes on Brushetta, Spaghetti with the most stunning tomato sauce, cheese, meats and homemade apricot pie are served up along with a serious of wines from the vineyard.

A mixture of Falaghina, Caprettone Whites along with Piedirosso and Aglianico Reds and Rose are a great introduction to these local grape varieties.

After dinner we have a tour of the vineyards before heading back to the hotel.

We have spent three nights in Naples and in that time we got to see and do so much. Many say we should have stayed in the nicer part of the city, but where we stayed was great for getting about, catching trains and mixing with the locals in stunning restaurants – its not always about staying in the prettiest street, what I want is an experience.

I don’t think I’ve ever left a city on a weekend break thinking – I have so much more to see here.

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