“Sitting on the deck of the gulet in June 2012, watching the steep and verdant terraced slopes of the Amalfi coast slip by, I can’t help but wonder how this cannot be the most perfect way to experience Italy’s famous Tyrrhenian coastline.”
Earlier this year, Julie Brown, our Office Manager, went along on our Cruise along the Amalfi coast. She has kindly recorded some of her impressions, thoughts and experiences for us:
“Arriving at our gulet’s home port of Marina di Stabia (near ancient Stabiae) in June 2012, on the first night of the tour, I could not help but break out into a happy smile as I saw the gulet Deriya Deniz moored between the superyachts and motor cruisers. The varnished wood gleamed in the lights suspended from the deck canopy; she looked warm, friendly and welcoming compared with the smooth, white and plasticky utility of her modern neighbours.”
She also liked the company:
“Even more welcoming were my fellow travellers , as well as Captain Ernesto and his crew who made the whole experience of being on board a constant delight. Antonio, the chef, produced course after course of beautifully prepared and delicious meals. Nothing could surpass the lobster caught locally off Positano or the memorable sea urchins which Antonio actually dived for as a special treat for us. His ingredients were hand-picked in the true sense of the word. All that, plus freshly baked chocolate cake for breakfast… who could say no?“
Indeed, who could? Most importantly, she enjoyed the itinerary and the sights, their combination being – like all our tours – the result of careful preparation, drawing on the experience of our tour expert, multiple reconnaissance trips and meticulous planning.
“Although I knew the details of the tour and had pored over guidebooks in preparation for the trip, I was unprepared for the grandeur of the sights that greeted us each day. We were the only people visiting the enormous Roman villa at Baiae, preferred resort town of ancient Rome’s super-rich. A special treat that night – after our fantastic meal in a local seafood trattoria – was the arrival of a local man carrying the keys to the largest of the three magnificent Roman bathhouses, situated right by the harbourside and no longer open to the general public. One of the basins within those huge domed edifices still contains water, maybe not particularly inviting as far as bathing is concerned, but providing an unlikely and impressive home for fish. As we entered, with only the moon and stars to light our path, our guide began to weave the story of the lives of the people who once used this majestic building. The acoustics of the vault magnified his voice as the story became more and more lively. You could almost hear someone say ‘Pass the soap!”. (As a Classicist, the editor of this text feels compelled to add that soap was probably not used in those baths – it was a barbarian invention; the ancient Greeks and Romans preferred olive oil.)
And onwards to one of the world’s legendary cities:
“The next day we headed for Naples. The famous city is busy, noisy and gritty, but above all incredibly fascinating – there has been a concerted effort to clean things up and there can be no doubt that Naples feels ‘tourist friendly’, despite the warnings in some of the guidebooks. Each place has its own wonders and I don’t want to fall into the trap of making a shopping list of the sights of Naples, but some aspects of that great city impressed me beyond belief. I urge everyone to visit the Sansevero Chapel to see Giuseppe Sanmartino’s marble statue ‘Veiled Christ’. Its detail is exquisite, meticulous and painful in its humanity. The Chapel is also home to many other sculptures of incredible beauty and craftsmanship. An underground chamber contains the Anatomical Machines by Dr Giuseppe Salerno, the Gunther von Hagens of his time. Go when it’s quiet, so you have plenty of time to just stand and stare.”
Not surprisingly, Julie enjoyed the Archaeological Museum of Naples, one of the most important in Italy:
“Like all museums, Naples Archaeological Museum can lead you astray and if, like I, you are inclined to wander off as things catch your eye, you will need to set aside a considerable amount of time to see it all properly. The mosaics and frescoes from Pompeii are probably the main draw – but our timing was carefully arranged to avoid the busiest time, so one would not just see the tops of other people’s heads or have one’s view obstructed by arms clutching cameras the size of small cars.
Electronic accoutrements have apparently reverted from the recent trend toward miniaturisation back to ‘big is beautiful’, making for a perfect segue to the Farnese Hercules. Standing over 10ft (3m) tall, a powerfully muscled and somewhat weary-looking Hercules rests on his club, draped with the skin of the Nemean Lion, clutching the apples of the Hesperides behind his back. A colossus in myth and marble, focused on muscular strength, not on the obvious male attributes. The museum is home to many more treasures including the Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii; and glorious bronzes – Seated Hermes is my favourite (so very Puck-ish), but other may prefer the beautiful demure Venus in her golden bikini.”
After Naples. the cruise left the Italian mainland to explore some of the nearby islands:
“Our next stop is the Island of Ischia with the archaeological museum at Pithecusae (or Pithekoussai). Driving across the island, the colours of nature are astonishing; the vibrancy of the bougainvillea against the dark green of the distant hills, the white canopied shops and houses, their steps covered in pots of bright orange, yellow and white flowers, with clematis scrambling over fences, hedges and roofs. The museum is located in the Villa Arbusto, its driveway flanked by perfumed oleander and its terraced gardens open to the public. Never was a place so aptly named (Arbusto means “shrub”). At its heart is the museum with objects dating back from the middle Bronze Age to the Iron Age and right through to Roman times. I stop by a glass case containing funerary offerings; they are strange, eclectic and obviously very personal. Like the painting of the Virgin Mary garlanded with a blue bead necklace hanging in a chapel in the gardens, these objects are small and simple but touchingly beautiful.”
Sometimes, the Amalfi Cruise itinerary looks like an exercise in name-dropping: from Ischia to Capri…
“The next day takes us to Capri, bustling home to the jet set, artists, writers, exiles, eccentrics and of course
emperors. Having taken one of the island’s famous open-topped taxis to the Piazza Umberto, we ascend between brightly painted villas to the island’s eastern summit, location of the Villa Jovis, retirement home of Rome’s second emperor, Tiberius. I think it is safe to say that the Tiberius can be classed as one of Capri’s earliest eccentrics. The whole villa complex covers a huge proportion of the mountain top and the views alone are well worth the walk, taking in the architecturally wonderful Villa Malaparte, far below on an isolated rocky promontory. Accessible only by foot down the steep mountainside or by boat, the villa is now used for architectural studies, which is probably just as well. As a domestic home it must have been extremely frustrating to wake up on a lazy Sunday and find you had run out of milk.”
We’re not running out of big names just yet. After Capri, the boat returned to the mainland and the next site visit took in what may well be the most famous archaeological site on the planet:
“Pompeii is stunning. Covering a vast area and so beautifully preserved you are at once immersed in the lives of the people who lived, and died there. Our guide’s enthusiasm for Pompeii brought it to glorious, vibrant life as we strolled down ancient streets, stopped at bakeries and public houses, stood in the forum and pondered on the closeness of Vesuvius. The highlights of Pompeii are well known, but we also got to see things not open to the general public, things that our guide very much wanted us to see and share. We ate our picnic (including more freshly baked cake, lemon this time) in what was most probably someone’s dining room, on a quiet street far away from the rest of the visitors. It was very peaceful. You could go to Pompeii again and again, I don’t think I would ever tire of it.”
Pompeii may be hard to beat, but we had one more highlight in store: the famously sumptuous villa of Oplontis, sometimes considered to be the local pied-à-terre of Poppaea Sabina, wife of the infamous emperor Nero.
“Similarly, the Villa Oplontis is a monumental example of Roman architectural and decorative exuberance. The frescoes, room after room of them, are unlike anything I have ever seen. The detail, variety, subject matter, and level of design and perspective are just extraordinary, reflecting the function and purpose of the room or area of the villa they are in. They depict landscapes and mythological scenes, intricate flowers and gardens, fish and boating scenes around the enormous swimming pool, at 61 metres a challenge for even the greatest Olympic swimmer, and use wonderful architectural features like columns, doors and porticoes to give perspective and frame images of peacocks and theatrical masks. Take a camera, multiple SD cards and make sure your batteries don’t run out.”
Tempted? Have a look at our upcoming cruises on the Amalfi Coast.