Alyson McIlroy from our Lisburn office seized the opportunity to step back in time with an awe-inspiring, expert-escorted journey to Pompeii, Paestum & Herculaneum as guest of Travelsphere.
When Vesuvius erupted in 79AD it buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a blanket of ash and pumice, killing thousands while miraculously preserving much of their world. Today the excavated archaeological remains of these formerly thriving cities provide us with a unique glimpse into the past and a chilling warning of the power of nature.
From serious scholars to armchair fans of The History Channel, the oft-recounted tale exercises a unique hold on our imaginations, attracting millions of visitors to the region each year. It’s easy to stroll around on your own, but an escorted group tour gives a whole new dimension to this unique journey of discovery, giving context and making sure you’re not overwhelmed by the sheer size of the world-famous excavations.
Of course it’s a holiday too so getting the right balance of experience and relaxation is essential – and Travelsphere hits the mark with perfection. My tour was based in the beautiful coastal town of Vico Equense in the 4* Aequa Hotel, which has a slightly faded charm, with stunning terrace views over Vesuvius, and (as is the norm in Italy) dinner was a set menu.
Vico Equense is ultra-convenient; just 10 minutes’ easy train journey away from the bustling resort of Sorrento and with easy access to other Amalfi coastline towns and to Naples for some big-city sight-seeing. Naples may not be an obviously glamorous, touristy city, but there is plenty to see and do here so it’s well worth a trip – plenty to eat too, for this is the original home of pizza, plus you’ll certainly want to stop for a Neapolitan Ice Cream … amazing great gelato, even if it was actually invented elsewhere, with the colours of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate giving a pleasing nod to the Italian flag!
From airport pickup our tour guide, Roberto, was a charming and insightful travel companion, staying with us at the hotel and providing a wealth of information and insight on every aspect of Italian living as well as the rich history of the region. All excursions had expert guides who brought the history of each site to life in friendly and accessible fashion, introducing us to amazing elements of what constituted everyday life for people of the 1st Century AD.
At Pompeii and at lesser-known Herculaneum we walked in their footsteps in cobbled streets, read their graffiti, visited their wine shops and bakeries, sneaked a curious peak at their brothels and admired the ingenuity of their baths and the comfort of their luxurious private villas.
Fabulous murals and beautiful murals abound but who would have expected excavations to unearth a mosaic featuring a dog and the warning ‘Cave Canem’ – ‘Beware Of The Dog’? Or a set of weighted dice from a less-then-honest ancient gambler?
A trip to the postcard-pretty Isle of Capri delighted us all and added to our history lessons, for we discovered that the Vesuvius eruption was viewed and documented from the island by Pliny The Younger. His descriptions of the ash cloud were so critical to latter-day scientists in determining the type of eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum that this type of natural occurrence now bears his name - a Plinian eruption.
Our visit to the Archaeological Park of Paestum revealed yet more treasures as we strolled around the (mercifully flat!) site. Most of this ancient Greek/Roman city which was abandoned back in the Middle Ages has yet to be excavated, but its three magnificent Greek temples remain and have been attracting visitors for centuries. Indeed Paestum was a ‘must do’ for well-to-do ladies and gentlemen on The Grand Tour of the 17th – 19th Centuries, as a beautifully preserved reminder of the glories of Ancient Greek heritage.
My only regret is that I didn’t spend longer exploring this wonderful region of Italy … and that’s probably the best thing to be said about any holiday! It has also inspired me to consider similar trips to other areas where I might benefit from the sociability of being with an interested and curious group of travellers who, like me, want to find out more about their chosen destination. And, if you’d like to find out more before you go, let me recommend the excellent ‘Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town’ by TV historian Mary Beard; a great taster for the delights ahead!
Travelsphere is a leading exponent of this travel style and has a flexible approach to booking – fly with them on connecting flights Gatwick to Naples; opt for tour only or add a few days’ relaxation to the package. Talk to your Oasis Travel consultant today about guided tours which celebrate the past as well as the present.