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Get Those "Bay of Naples Blues"
Come back to Sorrento… and Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast

We were crammed into a small rowboat with our guide rowing from a standing position at the stern. He oared us from the motorized tour boat over to the cliff face on the Isle of Capri’s northern shore. Ducking, he called out, "Guardate la testa!" as we lowered our heads and glided below the two-foot rock clearance into the grotto. Slowly growing accustomed to the reduced light, we enjoyed the reverberating notes as our guide crooned Italian love songs. Soon we understood how perfectly the Blue Grotto matched its name… the azure water’s hue was the richest and the most luminescent that we had ever seen. Light refraction may have been the technical explanation, but to us Capri’s Blue Grotto was no less than a miracle. We imagined the amazement of the early Romans when they first discovered the site 2,000 years earlier.

Capri's Blue Grotto
Capri's Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto was but one of scores of memories that my wife and I took back from a weeklong visit to Italy’s Bay of Naples. Blue Mediterranean waters, ringed by imposing cliffs and mountains held our eyes and begged for further explorations. And explore we did: the pleasant town of Sorrento perched above the bay; the excavated Roman site of Pompeii; the Isle of Capri’s villages and fantastic shoreline; the Amalfi coast and its vertical village of Positano. It’s no wonder that we’ve got those "Bay of Naples Blues."

View of Sorrento from Via Capo hotel

Sorrento -- a Grand Home Base

Sorrento sits atop cliffs directly across the bay from Naples. Although only a 90-minute ride away on the Circumvesuviana train route circling the bay, Sorrento is a world apart from Naple’s hustle and bustle. The town’s center of cobbled streets stretches for a kilometer westward and a half-kilometer northward from Piazza Tasso with its ring of terrace caffes. We ambled along the lively main thoroughfare, Corso Italia, and then searched for restaurants and small shops displaying Sorrento’s leather goods and signature multi-pieced wood engravings along narrow alleys such as Via Giuliani and Via Grazie.

When we got the urge to soak up some of the local history, we found sites such as the Cathedral Bell Tower, spanning an architectural range from the 6th to the 15th century, and sections of the old city wall originated by the Greeks and modified by the Romans.

As for convenience and lodging, Sorrento was a perfect choice. A taxi from the train station took us up Via del Capo, a mile from the town center, to our hotel with cliff-side views of the Bay and the town. Sorrento’s train station provided access to Pompeii, on the Circumvesuviana route. The local bus routes provided access to the splendors of the Amalfi coast, just south of the Bay. Ferries from the Marina Piccola harbor provided fast access to the Isle of Capri.

Bell tower
Bell tower

Pompeii Tells Its Story

We stood in the center of the Pompeii’s Forum looking north to the columns and arches of the Temple of Jupiter. Mount Vesuvius towered in the distance as a grim reminder of August 24, 79 AD. We imagined that fateful day when Pompeii’s 10,000 residents saw the volcano literally "blow its top" before burying them under six meters of ash. It took 1,700 years before the city’s remains were found. Now after 250 years of continuous excavation, approximately 80% of the town is revealed. To fully visit the square-mile excavation takes several days. However, we found that a single day here using a good guidebook itinerary revealed the essence of Pompeii’s story and its encapsulated Roman culture.

Pompeii's Forum & Mt. Vesuvius
Looking from the Forum to Mt. Vesuvius

Apollo statue

Pompeii's Basilica

As we entered Pompeii through the gate which faced the seaport, we came upon a vast array of public buildings and places of worship: the Temples of Venus and Apollo; the Basilica, seat of the law-courts; the Forum, heart of Pompeii’s politics and religion; the Temple of Jupiter; and the Forum Baths with dressing rooms and cold and hot water tubs. Winding along narrow streets further into the town we came upon incredibly preserved private residences. The House of the Vettii provided us with a close view of daily life for rich Roman merchants. The completely intact home is highlighted by its atrium, kitchen, frescoes, artwork, and gardens. Completing our circle itinerary, we marveled at the array of merchant’s shops along Via dell’Abbondanza, the primary commercial thoroughfare. Pompeii had revealed to us just how closely Roman daily life resembled that found in today’s Italian towns.

Capri Beckons

We had planned but a single day’s visit to the Isle of Capri, but its incredible beauty called us back for a second day. We circled the island’s shore by boat, exploring grottoes, cliffs and coves. In addition to the Blue Grotto, a major highlight was passing through the impressive arch of the Faraglioni rocks. Returning to Marina Grande, we took the funicular up to the main town of Capri with its inviting Piazza Umberto. Narrow, winding medieval streets lined with white washed homes then led us past San Stefano's Church and to the shaded Gardens of Augustus. The garden's cliff top perch took in views of the coast, the Faraglioni Rocks, and the 14th century Carthusian Monastery. We could not pass up the steep descent on the cliffside winding trail, Via Krupp, which led us to Marina Piccola and a tasty pasta luncheon overlooking the sea.

Capri View from Villa San Michele

Umberto Piazza

The Faraglioni Rocks

A bus and taxi ride took us to the small town of Anacapri. We enjoyed a stroll through quiet streets and visited art-filled churches. After an espresso at a relaxing caffe, we hiked to Villa San Michele with its magnificent views back to Capri Town and the Bay of Naples. Our taxi ride back to Capri Town was one of the most thrilling rides of our life, although not by choice. It seems that Capri's drivers know only one gas pedal position, "floored." Back in Capri Town it was not a hard chore to find a good restaurant for dinner. Of course, our enjoyment of the ambiance, views, Neapolitan food, wine, espresso, and gelato had us tarrying a bit too long. A fitting end to both of our days on Capri were mad dashes to catch the final evening ferry back to Sorrento.

Hanging on the Edge -- the Amalfi Coast and Positano

A short bus ride over the ridge south from Sorrento brought us to the breathtaking Amalfi coastline. A bus was definitely the way to see the sights here, because any driver on the switchback-filled route must pay full attention to the road. More than once we felt as if we were hanging in space above the crystal blue Mediterranean waters. Despite the awesome bus ride, it felt good to land on solid ground in the vertically inclined village of Positano. Stairs and steep streets descended from the main route to the fishing village’s main piazza, beach, and harbor. A day of swimming and sunning was concluded with an amble among the shops and a relaxing beachside dinner at a restaurant terrace.


Fishing boats
Fishing boats line Positano beach

Got Those Bay of Naples Blues

With such an extravaganza of beautiful and historic sites, we were truly saddened to see our week come to an end. We got those "Bay of Naples Blues" in a big way. It won’t be long until we "Come Back to Sorrento," just as Ernesto De Curtis’ popular Italian song suggests. (Click for a few entrancing bars, furnished in Real Audio by www.catovah.com).

Click here for details to plan your own trip to Italy’s Bay of Naples.

Les Furnanz
Photos by Rita Furnanz

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