On our fourth trip to Italy with Lincolnites Jane Griffin and Francesco Ciotti as our guides, we explored some of the highlights of Rome and adventured along the Amalfi Coast to the Isle of Capri and the ruins of Pompeii.
There were eight of us in addition to Jane and Francesco (www.ItalianoForYou.com) on this early fall journey that featured some of the crowded tourist spots like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. But it also included a hike to an isolated waterfall in the Amalfi valley; pampered water buffaloes; a piano concert in the City of Music. And, as always, great food and wine. We were able to completely enjoy our destination without having to worry about any of the logistics, always professionally provided by Jane and Francesco.
The room in our hotel in Rome, Alberto Del Senato, overlooked the 2,000-year-old Pantheon, once a temple, now a church, that faced the Piazza della Rotonda, which came alive at night with singers, dancers and other merrymaking around a lighted fountain, great viewing from the hotel rooftop bar.
We visited the Vatican Museum, filled with precious and valuable artworks; St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church; the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel — the ceiling of which is arguably the greatest work of Michelangelo — and marveled at the Colosseum, learning that the Pope visits every Good Friday to pay homage to the Christian martyrs who died there. We had a local guide for this tour as for some of the others. A special and important feature always for Italiano For You trips.
We wandered through the Roman Forum that was the city center but is now a scattering of ruins once housing government buildings, markets and temples — including the Senate. But that was not the location of Julius Caesar’s brutal murder on the Ides of March. Brutus (Et tu, Brute?) and other lawmakers stabbed the dictator at another location while the Senate building was being renovated. It is the place, though, where his corpse was cremated and where Marc Antony gave his acclaimed testament to the departed Caesar. Flowers decorated the site.
Day three of our stay in Rome included a visit to the Catacombs, miles of underground burial grounds that have been beautifully preserved for viewing, but no photographs. We took a short walk on the famous Appian Way — maybe the world’s first super highway — built in 312 B.C., thrilling to the idea of the historic figures in whose footsteps we were trodding. Nearby was the convent, crypt and church art of the Capuchin friars, which included an impressive statue of Jesus Christ by Michelangelo.
The next morning we left Rome by train for Salerno, and then by bus to Paestum — an ancient port, but now about a mile from the sea — to view the 2,500 year-old Greek temples that still stand nearby. Digging still goes on at the archeological site. The weather here, as for most of our 10-day trip, was warm and sunny.
After a fabulous pizza and salad lunch at the Oasi Ristorante, we bused to the San Francesco Resort near Agropoli on the Tyrrhenian Sea, about 200 miles from Rome. We only stayed one night, but it was a memorable one with a beautiful sunset, great wine, dinner, and conversation.
We heard about St. Francis, who came here to preach but was not accepted by the local populace. It is said he stood on a rock in the sea to speak and all the fishes gathered around to listen. The people were so impressed they welcomed him and erected a cross on that rock, which is visible from the hotel.
Our next stop was the Tenuta Vannulo Organic Mozzarella Farm, where great cheese comes from 300 water buffalo that are fed, bathed, serenaded with soothing music, and massaged to produce the best milk for mozzarella, ricotta, yogurt and gelato. Top notch leather products are sold there, as well. Following an organic lunch, we bused to the Port of Salerno where we took a ferry along the scenic Amalfi Coast to Positano, our destination for the next three nights.
A city of 3,000 hugging the rugged coastline, Positano swells with tourists enjoying the beaches, scenery, restaurants and shopping. Our hotel, Buca di Bacco, provided a perfect vista of the town, the beaches and the ocean from the front terrace.
While we joined the throngs below for some shopping, we also were able to escape to the village of Ravello, high above the coast. There we strolled through the spectacular gardens of the Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, had a delicious dinner at the Ristorante Villa Maria and finished with a piano recital featuring works by Schumann and Chopin.
The following day, we again bused high above the sea to begin a 3 1/2 mile, fairly-rugged hike down a beautiful valley, to the seaport of Amalfi. An hour detour for some of us was a treacherous scramble to a spectacular series of waterfalls spouting from the rocks in a government-protected area in which few are allowed. Before reaching our destination, we stopped for lemonade and lunch at Agricola Fore Porta. Forbes Magazine has named it one of the 10 best farm-to-table restaurants in the world. I have no reason to argue!
We traveled to the Isle of Capri in a private boat, stopping along the way for a dip in the sea and lunch on the coast. A sometime haunt of the rich and famous, Capri is an enchanted place, housing the beautiful Augustus Gardens, donated to the the isle by one of the German Krupp family. The 2,000-foot high Monte Solaro is reachable by a 15-minute ride on a chairlift and provides a panoramic view of the island, the many sailboats and the Faraglioni Rocks, weathered by sea and wind.
Some of us hiked down from there to the town of Anacapri on a trail where, along the way, we spotted the Stations of the Cross and wild goats. Anacapri is the home to the church of St. Michele with a colorful tile floor featuring the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve being driven out for breaking the rules.
On our final day of the trip, we ferried to Sorrento on the mainland for a bus journey to Pompeii. It was a bustling seaport of 20,000 when nearby Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 A.D. and covered it with ash and rocks. Excavation began in the 1700s and continuing work on the site has uncovered many treasures, including a brothel with paintings still visible signifying the types of services one might find there. Fantastic mosaics, tile work, paintings and statues have been discovered. Human and animal remains once covered are now on display.
Once again, my wife Jane and I enjoyed another visit to Italy with Jane and Francesco, making some new friends, and appreciating the culture and traditions of a very old and beautiful land.