8 Exciting Places You Need To See While On The Amalfi Coast

If you are planning a trip to Campania chances are you are just thinking about Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and maybe a quick jaunt into Naples. Problem is, these are the places that everyone goes to, which means the crowds can be brain-bendingly overwhelming.

There is much, much more to see and do in Campania than just the big tourist spots. Whether you want to take a half day or day to do something different, or whether you may want to add an extra few days to your Amalfi Coast trip, here are 8 places to consider when planning your trip to the Amalfi Coast.

Be sure to read to the end as you probably haven’t heard of 6 through 8!

1. Caserta

The Palace at Caserta
The gardens and palace of Caserta

If you enjoy visiting European palaces this one is a must see. Built to rival Versailles, Caserta is the largest palace in all of Europe. Like Versailles it is a gaudy display of too much gold, over the top frescoes and somewhat crass excess, all of which make it completely fantastic!

throne room at Caserta
The Throne Room at the Palace of Caserta

Rent a bike and explore the beauty of the garden and fountains which extend 3.5 kilometers in front of the palace, have lunch in the café and explore the royal apartments.

Caserta Palace

One thing I learned while there was how fascinating Marie Carolina was. Her well known sister Marie Antoinette gets all the attention, but Marie Carolina was a tremendous character, much, much more interesting. This was her palace and her story unfolds throughout the royal apartments.

staircase caserta
The staircase leading up to the Royal apartments at the palace of Caserta

RELATED POST: THE ROYAL APARTMENTS AT CASERTA

The palace at Caserta is a quick and easy train ride from either Naples or Salerno.

2. POMPEII, HERULANEUM AND OPLONTIS

While in the area of Naples and the Amalfi Coast take a morning to visit the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and Oplontis

If you are not familiar with these incredible sites these are the ruins of three towns taken out by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The towns vanished from the face of the earth for 1700 years.

POMPEII

Pompeii

Over the centuries when people tried to find the fabled Pompeii they looked along the coast line, as it had been a port city but the eruption of the volcano moved the ocean 2 kilometers out to sea. Pompeii was discovered in the 18th century when a farmer inland had been digging for a new well.

Pompeii streets
Some of the first pedestrian streets were discovered in the ruins of Pompeii

Pompeii is Italy’s most unique archaeological site, its 109 excavated acres giving us a snapshot of 1st century Roman life.

RELATED POST: 18 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POMPEII

wealthy home in pompeii
Remains of the home of a wealthy family in ancient Pompeii

I recommend visiting in the morning at opening time (8:30am) as for much of the year Pompeii gets overwhelmingly hot. Be sure to wear good walking shoes and a hat and bring a water bottle to refil at the fountains staggered around the site.

RELATED POST: THE BEST SANDALS TO WEAR IN EUROPE

statue in bathhouse in Pompeii
Holding up the roof in the thermal bath house in Pompeii

I suggest doing Pompeii first as this will give you insight into the life of 1st century Romans, their social structure, the absolute genius of their technological innovations, and the devastation caused by the eruption.

Herculaneum

Herculaneum/Ercolano is only 3 stops away on the local train (the Circumvesuviana) and makes an incredible second excavation to visit.

ruins at Herculaneum
Herculaneum

After seeing the destruction of Pompeii, much of which was crushed down to one level, Herculaneum lets you experience the multi storied homes replete with their red Pompeii style frescoes. Resplendent in its own right, this site is jarring also because it gives you greater insight into the way Pompeii would have looked up until the day the volcano blew.

herculaneum frescoes

Herculaneum is about 1//3 of the size of Pompeii, and rather than being an important merchant port city was a luxury resort town for wealthy Romans, so features more elegant villas than commercial buildings.

boathouse caves at herculaneum
The boathouse/caves at Herculaneum

The caves at the beach level are filed with skeletons. When Vesuvius erupted the people of Herculaneum were certain rescuers would come by sea, so the women and children were waiting in the safety of the caves while the men waited on the beach.

skeletons at herculaneum

Unfortunately for all of them a pyroclastic current of trapped gases at a heat of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (and up to 900 degrees) blew their way, instantly vaporizing their bodies.

Their instant death meant they were in fact luckier than their neighbors in Pompeii who suffocated and in many cases took multiple hours to die.

OPLONTIS

From the 1st century B.C Oplontis was a super elegant suburb of Pompeii where the uber-wealthy had their country villas. As with Pompeii it disappeared for 17 centuries and was only rediscovered in the 18th century. There is just one villa is open to the public, but it is spectacular and well worth the visit.

Villa di Poppea

Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
The Villa di Poppea in Oplontis

Poppea Sabina was Emperor Nero’s second wife. This is thought to be her villa due to an amphora with the name of her freedman and a vase with her mark on it being found on the grounds.

This is actually the largest Roman suburban villa ever discovered and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, largely due to the sensational frescoes. This villa is enormous, with  large portico opening to gardens lined with statues, a swimming pool, loads of rooms, passageways and cubicle as well as a kitchen still recognizeable.

frescoes in Villa di Poppea, Oplontis
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

One of the most extraordinary features of the villa is the wealth of frescoes and mosaics all remaining in situ rather than having been carted off to a museum somewhere.

villa poppea frescoes
Frescoes inside Villa di Poppea

Interestingly there is no sign of life here at the time of the eruption. Some of the statues were found on a storeroom, suggesting that perhaps the villa had been closed up for renovations after the earthquake of 62 A.D

Villa Poppea, Oplontis
Villa di Poppea, Oplontis

3. Procida

An alternative to the frequently overcrowded and always expensive island of Capri is the delicious little island of Procida. Almost completely off the tourist radar this one is a weekend getaway for the people of Naples, but with the exception of August the streets are delightfully empty. So try to come here on a weekday if possible.

Procida
Procida

Procida is one of the most colorful places on earth. As you arrive into its little harbor your eyes don’t know where to land – all the fishermen’s homes lining the seafront are painted in bright pastel hues, the sunshine sparkles off the sea, which like the sky is a completely impossible shade of blue. Procida is visually stunning.

This tiny island is part of the Flegrean island chain, off the coast of Naples. The island is between Capo Miseno and Ischia, and occupies a mere 4.1 square miles. Its history dates back as far as the 16th century BC with Mycenaean objects having been discovered there, although the first known settlers were Greeks in the 8th century BC.

More than 30 movies have been filmed here including Il Postino and the Talented Mr. Ripley.

RELATED POST: JUST ONE DAY IN PROCIDA

If you take a day trip to Procida be sure to wander the waterfront and the streets of the Marina Grande, then head over to the back side of the island. Walk along sun-bleached little streets (but watch out for vespas zipping around) and head to Marina Corricella for lunch. This darling fishing village was one of the locations in Il Postino.

A variety of eateries line the waterfront, picturesque with fishing boats bobbing at their moorings, fishing nets lying out to dry and colorful buildings all around. Lunch here is authentic, inexpensive and wonderful. I recommend having a long, leisurely lunch with a view, then having a swim before heading back to the mainland.

Procida is easily accessible by hydrofoil from Naples.

4. Salerno

Another absolute treasure lies at the bottom end of the Amalfi Coast, the lovely medieval town of Salerno. Not only a wonderful place to take a day trip to, Salerno is also a tremendous place to base your Amalfi Coast trip.

historic center of salerno
historic center of Salerno

With train access (including the high speed AV trains) you can move around much more easily than if you are staying in any of the towns along the coast road, yet still have ferry access to the entire coast and Capri.

early morning in Salerno
Early morning in Salerno

The crowds, tour buses and cruise ship travelers don’t come here, (well, maybe a few small cruise ships do, but not the monsters that invade the rest of the coast)so you can wander around freely, enjoying the beauty, the history, the ambience.

If you stay in Salerno the local nightlife is infectious. Everyone comes out at night to enjoy a glass of wine and see friends in the cafes and bars dotted around the piazzas and the picturesque little streets. The restaurants are fabulous – I love evenings in Salerno.

RELATED POST: GLAM ITALIA TOUR IN SALERNO

Along with the castle, the Duomo, the medical school (the first in Italy, it dates back centuries) and the medieval town center, another benefit to staying or visiting Salerno is that it is the gateway to the beautiful Cilento region.

5. PAESTUM

Only 30 km or so south of Salerno you will find one of the coolest and most un-touristed places you have never heard of, the Greek temples at Paestum.

The 8 best preserved Greek temples in the world are in Southern Italy. Five of them are in Sicily, the other 3 are here in the former town of Poseidonia, now known as Paestum.

2500 years ago this was part of Magna Grecia. Greece sent its young men out to discover and conquer new land. Southern Italy and Sicily were hot favorites, benefitting from amongst other things, incredible Greek architecture. Be warned that these three temples are breathtaking.

Temple Hera 2 Paestum
Temple Hera II also known as the Temple of Nettuno

I love arriving by car (you can also get here by train) because as you drive through the countryside surrounded by open fields and buffalo mozzarella farms, these 3 giant temples erupt up out of nowhere. And they are truly magnificent.

Paestum Hera 1
Temple Hera I also known as the Basilica

Built in 550 B.C, 500 B.C and 480 B.C the temples of Hera, Athena and Hera II are in unbelievably good condition.

Paestum at Sunset
Sunset in Paestum

RELATED POST: THE GREEK TEMPLES AT PAESTUM

Also still in place are a heroon, a pool and various other structure dating back to the Greeks.

The temples are surrounded by the remnants of a Roman town. Romans loved Greek architecture so instead of pulling it down opted to build around it. Roman roads, houses and apartment buildings can still be seen here. If you have been to Pompeii and understand the layout of a Roman home, you will appreciate being able to walk inside the ruins and identify the front and back doors, the views from the homes as well as their layouts.

mosaic floors in ruins on ancient roman homes in Paestum
Mosaic floors still remain in the ruins of the Roman homes at Paestum

As if that weren’t enough, the cats eyes and mosaic floors are still intact. Not a cigarette butt, coke can or McDonald’s wrapper inn sight – it is all just here for you to enjoy.

If at all possible try to be here at sunset – it is just unbelievably beautiful. Also noteworthy are the famous roses that bloom here in the spring, famous since antiquity, bathing the temples in their gorgeous perfume and draping the area in even more beauty.

6. VELIA

If you enjoy seeing really ancient sites and are in the area, not too far south of Paestum there is another treasure, the town of Velia.

Velia, Cilento
Velia

Velia (originally named Elea) was founded around 540 B.C by Phoenicians from Corsica who fled the island after a brutal battle with the Etruscans ad Carthaginians. The town had a long period of economic prosperity as well as being an important cultural center. Home to philosophers such as Parmenides who founded the Philosophical School of Elea in the 6th century B.C, and Zeno, who was around in the 5th century B.C

The Romans took over in 88 B.C. The citizens of Elea were recognized as Romans but were allowed to maintain their Greek language and customs.

Porta Rossa, Velia
The Porta Rossa in Velia

Things to see here include the monumental Porta Rosa gate. Dating back to the 4th century B.C it is thought to be one of the only intact monuments of the ancient world. It is perfectly preserved too, cut blocks of volcanic tufa perfectly placed together without the use of lime to hold them in place, reaching a height of 6 meters. Interestingly it is the only example of a rounded arch in Greek architecture to be found in Italy.

The gate leads to an ancient road and paved steps that take you down to one of the town’s 2 ports.

In the other direction from Porta Rosa there are 2nd century Roman baths, and a lovely town square.

Greek Theater Velia
Greek Theater in Velia

The acropolis has a medieval church sitting atop a Greek temple, and just below it a small theater dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

Also to be seen here are remains of ancient homes and frescoed buildings.

7. BADIA SANTA MARIA DI PATTANO

Not far from Velia you can find the best preserved Italo-Albanian monastery in Southern Italy, the Badia Santa Maria di Pattano. Although the first known mention of this site was in a document dated to 933 A.D it is thought to be much older.

Badia Santa Maria Di Pattano
Badia Santa Maria di Pattano

The complex is noteworthy for its church of Santa Maria, an example of Angevin architecture with polygonal apses and ribbed groin vaults. The bell tower is one of the most ancient Early Middle Ages bell towers in Southern Italy. Standing 15 meters tall it may have been built in stages, because it has 5 different decorations, making it fascinating from an artistic point of view.

CHurch of San Fidelfo Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Church of San Fidelfo Roman ruins

The Church of San Fidelfo was built on top of Roman ruins. (A thermal structure can be seen under a glass floor.)

Byzantine frescoes at Badia Santa Maria di Pattano
Byzantine fescoes in the church of San Fidelfo

The interior walls are decorated with some amazing Byzantine frescoes, in my opinion, alone they make the trip worth while.

8. THE CILENTO COAST

Cilento Coast Italy
The Cilento Coast

If you are not one for stone beaches, the crowds, high prices and overly manicured visage of the Amalfi Coast, this could be the area for you.

Cilento coast
Cilento Coast

Stretching 65 miles from Salerno to the Tyrrhenian coast of Basilicata, the Cilento coast is a beautiful alternative. With sandy beaches; pristine, clean ocean, affordable accommodation and dining options, this stretch of coast is authentic, a little erratic and the antithesis of the Amalfi Coast. Don’t expect glitzy hotels or the lamorous posturing of the uber rich, instead think of ancient port towns with the local fisherman still taking their boats out at dawn and fishing with handmade nets.

Cilento
Cilento

Break your days up with mornings spent discovering ancient Greek and Roman ruins, lunches in quaint little piazzas and afternoons on the beach.

Some of the towns to look for:

Agropoli, the largest town in the area can be a great place to base yourself.

Agropoli cilento
Agropoli

Only 15 minutes away is Castellabate. The castle ruins and the views of the ocean are fabulous, as is the main piazza. Although pretty tiny it is buzzing with cafes, a wine bar and restaurants.

castallabate cilento
Castellabate

Acciaroli is a lovely little seaside village you won’t want to leave.

Acciaroli, Cilento
Acciaroli photographed by Antonio Vaccarini

Interestingly it is known for the longevity of its inhabitants, with around 300 centenarians wandering the streets, 20 percent of whom have reached the ripe old age of 110!

Pioppi is another lovely seaside village. Ancel Keys lived here for 28 years studying and living the Mediterranean diet.

Pioppi Cilento
Pioppi

Palinuro is yet another beautiful coastal village with a rugged but spectacular coastline broken up with sandy beaches, the ruins of a medieval castle, a blue grotto – it has a lot to offer.

Palinuro, Cilento
Palinuro

Chances are you will want to run away here…

Are you planning a trip to Italy? I have 2 best selling books to help you create the trip of a lifetime. Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) helps you to put it all together as well as giving you loads of help when you are actually in Italy. Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps is designed to not only give you the ultimate experience in Rome, but also to make you fall head over heels in love with this amazing city. Both books are available exclusively on Amazon.com

728x90 Get Quote

Do you belong to my Private Member’s Newsletter? This newsletter comes out each month with special, in depth information to help you build the perfect itinerary for your trip to Italy. Join the newsletter HERE today!

8 cool places to see while you are in Amalfi

Discovering Caserta ~ The Royal Apartments

I have this theory when traveling. If Plan A goes awry, Plan B is invariably far better anyway.

And that’s how it was when I went to Caserta.

Reggia-Di-Caserta

As I was running up the stairs to the platform the train was pulling out of the station. My perfect plan to spend hours and hours at Caserta had just gone sideways. The next train wasn’t for over an hour.

Plan B

Once I finally arrived at Caserta the lady in the ticket booth told me to hurry and go to the gardens first, as they would be closing in an hour. You can rent bikes and ride the 7 kilometer round trip to the top of the garden and back, which had been my plan, but the bike rental dude wouldn’t rent me one due to the garden closing in an hour.

Read about the gardens of Caserta Palace

So I walked it, which turned out to be the most perfect option! It was a gorgeous December afternoon, sunny and t-shirt weather, ideal for strolling through palace gardens. Had I rented a bike I would have been stopping every couple of minutes to take photos anyway, so I was happy as a clam. The entire 7 km round trip I only saw maybe 40 people (including the workers), so it was almost like having the entire place to myself. 
See images of the gardens here

Stairs-Caserta-Palace
The Grand Staircase, Caserta Palace

Plan B got really great once I walked inside the palace itself, because that late in the afternoon on a Monday in December I literally was the only person there. 

Staircase-Caserta
Grand Staircase Of Honor, Caserta Palace

If you have ever been to any palace in Europe you will already know how maddeningly full of tourists they all are, all the time.

Caserta-Palace-Top-Of-Staircase
Upper vestibule Caserta Palace

Normally you can’t get a clear picture of anything because there are so many people in the way.

Caserta-Palace
Empty upper vestibule Caserta Palace

This by contrast was absolutely surreal. There was just me and and empty palace. 

royal-apartments-caserta-palace
Entrance tot he palace royal apartments

Every now and then a room would have a worker in it, but I basically could have run naked through the place and not encountered a soul!

royal-apartmets-Caserta-Palace
A worker at the end of an otherwise empty hallway, Caserta Palace

At one point in one of the grand salons I decided to take advantage of having the place to myself, and played some Verdi on my iPhone.

With no one to stop me I lay down on the floor of the Throne Room and took in the ceiling while La Traviata played.

Laying-Of-The-First-Stone-By-Gennaro-Maldarelli
Throne Room Ceiling, Caserta Palace

It was brilliant! Then, because you only live once, I danced my way around the entire salon to Verdi then Delibes, whirling round and round like a fool. The kind of red haired fool who has an entire palace all to herself.

Caserta-Throne-Room
The Throne Room

I sat next to an Italian ballroom dancer once on a flight to Sicily. We have always stayed friends, and I kept thinking how much fun it would have been to have him there with me, dancing around my private palace.


Royal-Apartments-Caserta-Palace
empty hallway in the royal apartments at Caserta Palace

Italy has the greatest art in all of the world, none of which is in the palace of Caserta. 

Ceilings-Caserta-Palace
Neo classical ceiling fresco in the royal apartments, Caserta

To quote Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, “Art lovers shudder at the lèse-majesté ”  
but in all honesty it is actually part of the mad-charm of this place.

Reggis-Di-Caserta-Palatine-Chapel
The Palatine Chapel, Caserta Palace

Caserta is bombastic yet delightful. And it is enormous! It gives you an incredible insight into the world that was, and you can’t help but be impressed by how magnificent it must have been in it’s heyday.

Caserta-Palace-Foyer

 It is definitely worth taking the time to visit, and I know that I will go back over and over.

Bathroom-Apartment-Caserta
Bathroom, Caserta Palace

Unfortunately the chances of me having the palace all to myself ever again are slim to none. 
I found out that earlier that day there had been a few thousand visitors to the palace. My missing the first train had meant that I arrived as they were all leaving. Had my day gone as planned I would have been there with the masses, and would not have had an entire palace to myself.
I also discovered that the day before 10 000 visitors had come to the palace. 

19th-Century-Apartment-Caserta-Palace
Add captionThe New Apartment, or 19th Century Apartment, Caserta Palace

Tablet Hotels

To end this perfect Plan B day I asked the man in the palace bookstore if there was somewhere nearby where I could have a glass of wine before taking the train back to Salerno.

Caserta-By-Night
The December sun setting over the Palace of Caserta

He drew me a map, told me I could take in the town’s Christmas tree while enjoying a glass of the local Moio, and still have ample time to stroll to the train station 5 minutes away.

Wine-Bar-Caserta
Gran Caffe Margherita, Caserta

Red-Wine-Campania
A glass of local Moio, Gran Caffe Margherita, Caserta
Caserta-Christmas-Tree
The Christmas Tree in Caserta

When I got back home I did some research on Maria Carolina. She, like her palace, was just fascinating. If you are heading to Caserta read up on her first.

Read my post on the Caserta Palace Gardens, and see photos of the statues here.

Discover Caserta

Caserta-Palace-Italy
View of the palace from halfway up the gardens

Did you know that the largest royal palace in the world sits just 37 kilometers outside Naples? 

On the morning of January 20th 1752 the first stone of Caserta Palace was laid for Charles VII of Bourbon, King of Naples and Sicily. 
The Bourbon King had decided to build the largest palace in all of Europe, a palace to rival the beauty of Paris’ magnificent Versailles, and the Schonbrun palace in Vienna. 
In an odd twist of fate Charles VII never lived in Caserta, instead abdicating the throne in 1759 to become the king of Spain. His third born son, Ferdinand IV became king of Naples and Sicily, lived in Caserta, and in 1768 married Maria Carolina of Austria, who grew up in the Schonbrun Palace, and who’s sister Marie Antoinette would marry Louis XVI of France two years later and move to Versailles, the very palace that Caserta was designed to beat.
Makes your head spin, non?

Reggia-Caserta
Aerial view of Caserta Palace (image via google)

The Palace of Caserta is massive. It has more than 1200 rooms, stands 42 meters (45 yards) high and 250 meters (273 yards) long, taking up 44,000 square meters.

Caserta-Palace-Gardens
the uppermost end of the gardens

Caserta-Fountains
The fountain of Diana and Actaeon

The gardens are 3.5 kilometers long, with a central waterway and 6 fountains, surrounded by a tree filled park. 

reggia-caserta-statues

Statues enjoy a break from the sun, tucked away in the shade of the trees. 

statue-reggia-caserta

They also line the walkways.

reggia-caserta-statue

And adorn the bridges. The statues are a celebration of the arts.

statue-reggia-caserta

You can take a horse and carriage ride through the grounds, rent a bike, or just stroll.

gardens-caserta-horse-carriage
The park was nearly empty on this Monday afternoon in December
palace-gardens-caserta
pathways in the palace gardens, Caserta

In 1997 Caserta became a UNESCO World heritage site.

For years and years I had wanted to go to Caserta but it never fit in with the trips I was on, whether I was private tour guiding or traveling with friends. 

Tablet Hotels

This past December I was lucky enough to be able to sneak off to Italy for a week, during which I was able to finally go visit the spectacular Palace of Caserta.

See inside the royal apartments at Caserta Palace here

The palace and the grounds are nothing short of spectacular.
No matter how prepared you think you are, once you walk onto the palace grounds the sheer size of Caserta is staggering.  
In it’s day it must have been magnificent.

But basically no one bothers to go see it. You would think the largest royal palace in all of Europe would get great tourist traffic, but Caserta gets around 500, 000 visitors per year compared to Versailles 5 million.

Unfortunately Caserta is sorely lacking in funds and as such is a little run down. The palace has been used as a training facility for the Italian Air Force, which along with the Carabinieri still has offices there. Movies including Star Wars, Mission Impossible and Angels and Demons have shot there. Palace security is apparently lacking, and despite the Air Force and the Carabinieri both being in residence there have been problems with theft, most notably recently $100, 000 worth of copper being stolen from a lightening conductor on the roof.

There is something incredibly sad about this once majestic palace and it’s enormous gardens. Just the thought of Hollywood descending on it and stomping around disrespectfully all over the grounds and the rooms while they make their movies makes it feel desecrated.
And yet because hardly anyone bothers to go visit Caserta it also feels like your best kept secret. 
Other than my friends who live in the area I don’t even know one person who has been there before.

If you are in the Amalfi Coast/Naples area Caserta is well worth a visit. The train station is right outside the palace, so you don’t need to rent a car.

Best Boutique Hotels in Italy at Tablet Hotels

Join The Corinna B's World Newsletter!
Special Information For My Private Group Only

Join this private group to get special information about travel in Italy that doesn't get posted on the blog.

Private Group members receive newsletters telling them the secret stuff, from the restaurants I love to my favorite secret towns in Italy and much more!