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…

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8 cool places to see while you are in Amalfi

Discover The Ancient Greek temples Of Paestum

One of the (many) things that keeps me coming back to Italy the never ending supply of historical surprises waiting around each and every corner.
Everyone knows about the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Grand Canal in Venice. I love all the big, well known postcard famous sights, and will always go back to them, but I find pure magic in the lesser known, less visited ‘secret’ places that I stumble upon every time I’m there.

Paestum-Italy

This year I took my Corinna B’s World Glam Italia Tour to several of my secret Italian places, one of which was the magnificent Paestum, located an hour south of Salerno, south of the Amalfi Coast.

Paestum is the Roman name for a small, ancient Greek city in Campania, formerly known as Poseidonia (back when southern Italy was known as Magna Grecia in the 8th thru 5th centuries BC).

Greek-Temple-Paestum
Temple Hera II, Paestum

Paestum is the home of 3 of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. (The other 8 best preserved Greek temples are not found in Greece, but in Sicily’s Valley of the Temples, near Agrigento.)

The experience of visiting Paestum is just staggering.
In the middle of nowhere, as you drive through the countryside past farms that make bufalo mozzarella, suddenly these three giant temples rise up majestically out of the landscape, completely taking your breath away.

Paestum-Temple
Hera I, Paestum

They are huge. They are magnificent. They are ancient. And they are unspoiled.

Related Post: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pompeii

Built 2500 – 2600 years ago, before even the Parthenon, this is really ancient Greek. The scale of these temples, the force with which they rise up out of the earth and the absolute beauty of them just leaves you at a loss for words.
Goethe said it was like a strike of lightening hitting his mind.

Roman-town-Paestum
Roman road built circa 300 BC, with roman apartment buildings on the right, and temples on the left

You really feel like you are standing in a vanished, ancient city.

Paestum-Italy
remains of Roman  apartment buildings in Paestum

Paestum is a little remote, and unlike Pompeii which is surrounded by shops and vendors and tourism as well as neighborhoods where locals live, here there is almost nothing. And no one. Just you, the breeze coming off the ocean and a mere handful of other tourists.

Related Post: 8 Things You Must Do In Naples

The Greeks were always in search of perfection and ideal beauty, and they liked to build their temples and ampitheaters with beauty in mind and with gorgeous views, especially over water.

Grouped closely together, the first temple is Hera I, built for the goddess of fertility and wife of Zeus, circa 550 BC.
Hera I is also known as The Basilica. has perfect geometric doubling with 9 columns at each end and 18 along each side, giving it a very horizontal feel. It has massive heavy columns that have no feet, instead rising up from the stylobate and ending in a simple geometric capital. To support the weight of the roof the columns bulge in the middle and taper at the top.

Hera-I-Paestum
Hera I, The Basilica, Paestum

It was built from local stone and then stucco’d, but the stucco is long since gone. This temple is massive, yet in spite of it’s size retains a gracious femininity and equanimity.

Related Post: 10 Things To Do On The Amalfi Coast

The-Basilica-Paestum
Hera I, Paestum

The middle temple is known as Hera II, and was built circa 460 BC.
With 6 columns along each end and 14 columns along each side, Hera II feels like an exercise in perfect balance. Standing beside Hera I she by comparison feels very vertical and slender. The 6 column figuration in front means you can walk through the middle, making her feel more symmetrical.

Paestum-Hera-II-Temple
Hera II, Paestum

It is thought that Hera II would have had a terracotta roof, and she appears to have had a second story, or perhaps some form of platform that sat over top of the ground floor.
Both Hera I and Hera II face the ocean. You can imagine how magnificent they must have looked standing side by side, gleaming white in the hot Campania sunshine as they watched over the blue sea from the front and the fertile pastureland from the back.

Inside-Hera-II-Paestum
inside Hera II

The Temple of Athena, also known as the temple of Ceres, built in 500 BC. This is actually the first temple you see as you drive into town. It sits a little higher and away from the other two temples, which stand side by side.

 

Ceres-Paestum

Ceres/Athena Temple in Paestum

Interestingly this temple has Doric columns on the outside and Ionic columns on the inside.
In front of the temple is an alter where sacrifices took place.
Greek temples were houses to the Gods, where statues were stored. Ceremonies and worship took place at the alter outside of the temple.

In Paestum Hera was not only the Goddess of fertility, but also of childbirth.

Fertility-Hera-Pool
Hera’s fertility pool, Paestum

An elaborate pool was built for Hera where women who were trying to conceive could bathe and sit, but also where women would come to ask Hera for an easy childbirth.

Related Post: The Palace Of Caserta

When the Romans took over the area in the 3rd century BC they didn’t destroy the temples, and they didn’t just move down the road a ways to build their new city out of sight of them, instead they renamed Poseidonia to Paestum and built a city around it’s temples.

Roman-Town-Paestum
ancient Roman roads in the city of Paestum, beside the temples

This adds another layer of magic, as you can walk through the wide streets of this roman town and into apartment complexes that border the temples.

Roman-apartment-Paestum
mosaic floors more than 2300 years old, in Roman apartments in Paestum

Who knew that the Romans built apartment buildings? I didn’t.
There are still mosaic floors intact, and enough of the structure of the ruins remain so that you can figure out where the front door was, what the view was, where the various rooms were positioned.

Paestum-Mosaic-Floor
mosaic floors at the entryway to a Roman apartment, circa 300 BC
Paestum-Apartment
inside another Roman apartment

There is a small museum opposite the temples, where you can see the oldest surviving wall paintings from ancient Greece, which makes them also the oldest surviving wall paintings in all of western art.
In 1968 the excavation of a tomb in Paestum unearthed paintings dated to around 480 BC.

 

Paestum-Painting-Tomb
art was a celebration of the love amongst men

This ancient Greek world was a homo-erotic world. If you were going to be in love it would be with another man. Men were for love, women were for procreation.

 

Greek-erotic-art-Paestum
the ceiling of the tomb

Paestum is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been.

And it’s one of those treasures that no one seems to know about. We were there on a free Sunday, and I had been worried that it would be overflowing with tourists taking advantage of the zero ticket price, but in all the hours that we were there exploring there would not have even been 100 people total. Probably not even 50. It felt as though we had this giant, spectacular slice of history all to ourselves.

If you do take the time to visit Paestum I definitely recommend visiting Pompeii first, as it will give you a fantastic understanding of how Roman homes were laid out, and this will add another dimension to the already incredible Paestum experience.
If you are staying on the Amalfi Coast it is well worth giving up a half day or a day and taking the train to Paestum. It’s a long drive from Positano or Sorrento, but by car from Salerno it only takes one hour.
I am amazed that there is such a mad tourist crush in nearby Capri, sometimes you can barely walk down the street in Positano there are so many people, and yet there is virtually no one visiting Paestum.

Related Post: How To Order Coffee In Italy

Paestum is not actually on the Amalfi Coast, but for most people traveling in the region, the Amalfi Coast is the closest geographical reference that they will be familiar with. 

All photos taken with my iPhone remain my property. Please do not re-use without my written permission.


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