Positano, Amalfi Coast

Along with the recent opening of the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum, the last few weeks have seen a number of TV programmes about the events leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Thanks to the many artefacts excavated in recent years from the foothills of the brooding Italian volcano, there has been a fascination about these once-thriving Roman towns that has only grown as the years have passed.

If seeing the eruption played out on TV or wandering through the exhibition in London isn’t enough to satisfy your curiosity, a trip to Italy might be just what you need to fuel your interest about this most devastating display of natural power. And as if the volcano and the buried remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum are not enough, Vesuvius also happens to be close to some of Italy’s most picturesque coastal towns.

Sorrento is probably the best choice for a base from which to explore Vesuvius and its slopes. You can wander the town’s narrow lanes, popping in and out of the seaside town’s gelateria after (or even before) you enjoy a meal at one of Sorrento’s many restaurants. Take a walk down to the shore and the climb back to town will help build up an appetite for the many temptations on offer.

From Sorrento the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum are no more than an hour away by car. Pompeii is by far the more popular site of the two and it’s wise to arrive early before the large groups roll in around mid-morning. We took out the audio-guide and found it very helpful in telling the stories of the people behind the exhibits. It’s easy to wander around the ruins and forget that it is the site of a  massive human tragedy.

My advice for those with a real interest in making the most of their experience at the two sites is to visit on separate days. We went to Herculaneum immediately after our Pompeii visit and I have to admit to getting overwhelmed with all the information and stories I’d already heard. As a result I remember little about our time at the second site; returning the following day would have been a better move.

If seeing the devastation caused by Vesuvius is not enough, you can always take a trip to its summit and stare into the volcanic crater. There’s a road that takes you to a car park that is a mere 5 minute walk from the crater rim. Around the rim you can see plenty of commercial activity, despite the fact that Vesuvius is considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes and one will certainly erupt again, most likely with devastating consequences for the millions who live in its shadow.

If you base yourself in Sorrento and spend a couple of days exploring the area in and around Vesuvius, you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy the Amalfi coast, surely one of the prettiest stretches of coastline anywhere in Europe. At the other end of the attractiveness scale there’s Naples – big and ugly to some, full of character and roguish charm to others. Love it or hate it (I’m a big fan of Naples), it’s certainly a city that you won’t describe as boring.

Visit our site for example itineraries and ideas for tours from Sorrento.