Love Touring Italy - Campania West Of Naples by Levi Reiss
on the Isle of Capri
Island Hotels / Naples
If you are hankering for
a European vacation, you should consider the area west of Naples in the
Campania region of southwestern Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea. While the
area is not undiscovered it tends to be less "touristy" than many other
parts of Italy including Campagnia on the other side of Naples, namely
Sorrento and the Isle of Capri described in companion articles in this
series. If you're in the neighborhood, make sure to visit Naples, described
in another companion article in this series.
We'll start our tour in Solfatara
just west of Naples. Then we will head west to Pozzuoli and southwest to
Baia. We'll pop up north to Cumae. We finish our tour with some island
hopping, first south to Procida, and then southwest to Ischia. The entire
area is called Campi Flegrei (Fields of Fire) because it sits on molten
lava. There is no reason to believe that volcanic eruptions are a thing
of the past. And remember, the area is not far from Mount Vesuvius on the
other side of Naples.
Solfatara is a semiextinct
volcano whose most recent eruption was in 1198. Its name comes from the
Latin sulpha terra for land of sulphur so you know what to expect. Solfatara
is not very pretty, unless you like to look at boiling mud. But as long
as you stick to the path you should be safe. On the positive side the escaping
vapors have been used for medicinal purposes since Roman times.
|Pozzuoli is a fishing town
that has become a suburb of Naples, hardly suprising given its proximity.
The Greeks founded it in the Sixth Century B. C. Formerly the home of affluent
Romans, its famous residents include St. Paul and Sofia Villani Scicolone
better known by her professional name, Sophia Loren. Pozzuoli was damaged
by volcanic eruptions during the Middle Ages and again in the 1970s. You'll
want to see the Anfiteatro Flavio (Flavius Amphitheater), Italy's third
largest, that held 40,000 spectators. It hosts evening concerts in the
Baia was perhaps the greatest
Ancient Roman resort of them all. All the big shots including Caesar, Nero,
and Tiberius had a home away from home in Baia. Cleopatra was visiting
when Julius Caesar met his untimely end. For many people part of Baia's
attraction was its thermal, mineral waters famous for their healing powers.
Local excavations include
the Temple of Mercury, the Baths of Mercury, the Baths of Sosandra, with
the semicircular Theater of the Nymphs and a statue of Sosandra, the Temple
of Venus, and the Baths of Venus.
Cumae was perhaps the first
Greek colony on the Italian mainland, founded in the Eighth Century B.
C. You'll want to see Antro della Sibilla (Sibyl's Cave) considered by
many people to be the most romantic classical site in all Italy. This cave,
almost five hundred feet (one hundred thirty one meters) long, was carved
out of solid rock. According to legend Sibyl was a prophet granted almost
eternal life (as many years as the grains of sand in her handful) but she
sadly forgot to request eternal youth. As she aged she shriveled and shriveled;
her body fit into a bottle that hung from a tree. She interspersed her
prophecies with pleas for death.
Most present Cumae is underground.
Make sure to see Lago d'Averno (Lake Avernus), a volcanic crater lake that
the Romans considered the entrance to Hades (Hell). According to legend,
birds flying over the lake would die from the poisonous fumes. It was on
these shores that Virgil wrote The Aeneid. Let's assume he didn't inhale.
Right near the coast you'll
find Procida, a densely populated island with about eleven thousand people
jam packed into two square miles. This is about one third the population
density of Hong Kong but Procida is the most densely populated island in
all Europe. Yet Procida is beautiful and relatively undiscovered when compared
to the other islands off the coast of Campania. Try not to miss the Good
Friday procession, an annual event since 1627. The island and its small
fishing village Corricella were featured in the films Il Postino and The
Talented Mr. Ripley, filmed in many Campania locations including the island
of Ischia, described next.
We will finish our tour of
this sometimes lovely area west of Naples at the island of Ischia, probably
inhabited for thousands of years. Its almost sixty thousand inhabitants
including thousands of German citizens most of whom make a living from
tourism thanks to an estimated six million visitors a year. No, this is
not one of the undiscovered gems that pop up from time to time. Over the
millennia Ischia endured many conquests. Among the worst was in the mid-Sixteenth
Century when the pirate Barbarossa devastated the island, taking four thousand
prisoners in the process.
The Castello Aragonese (Aragonese
Castle) is Ischia's most heavily visited monument. It was built on a rock
near the so-called mainland somewhat less than 2500 years ago. In 1441
the castle was linked to the island by a stone bridge. The nearby beach
is fine and its waters may heal your ailments.
The La Mortella gardens belonged
to the British composer William Walton and his Argentinean wife Susana,
23 years his junior. It is home to several thousand rare Mediterranean
plants. After visiting the garden you can climb the long dormant volcano,
Monte Epomeo, bathe in the Giardini Poseidon Terme (Poseidon Gardens Spa),
or take a short boat trip to the village of Sant’Angelo on the southern
What about food? Volcanic
soil makes food tasty and plentiful and gives wine a special zest. The
regional focus is on vegetables and fruits. Tomatoes are served every which
way, including pizza and spaghetti of course. You should really taste the
mozzarella cheese, made from the milk of water buffalo.
Let's suggest a sample menu,
one of many. Start with Nero di Seppia (Spaghetti with Black Squid Ink).
Then try Coniglio all'Ischitana (Rabbit simmered with Tomatoes). For dessert
indulge yourself with Strufoli (Honey Balls). Be sure to increase your
dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We conclude with a quick
look at Campania wine. Campania ranks 9th among the 20 Italian regions
for both acreage devoted to wine grapes and for total annual wine production.
The region produces about 64% red and and close to 36% white wine, as there
is little rosé. There are17 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione
di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled
Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita,
but there is no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Only 2.8%
of Campania wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. The G stands for
Guarantita, and you'll find three, the red Taurasi, the white Greco di
Tufo, and the white Fiano di Avellino. I have tasted the Fiano and found
it to be top of the line. A single DOC wine is produced west of Naples;
the Ischia DOC whose region covers the entire island of Ischia and is made
from a variety of local grapes. This wine may be red or white. The red
may be dry or sweet, while the white may be still or sparkling. Frankly,
I'd go with the Fiano di Avellino.
Hotels on the Isle of Capri
Island Hotels / Naples
About the Author - Levi Reiss
has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but
he prefers drinking fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right
foods and people. He knows about dieting but now eats and drinks what he
wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language
community college. His new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website http://www.wineinyourdiet.com
links to his other sites.