Following our stay in Capri, our plan was to spend 3 days in Sorrento using it as a base to visit Amalfi and Positano. My sister likes gardens and I wanted to take her to Ravello where there are two villas with wonderful gardens, the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone. Since this was supposed to be a walking trip we had also planned to do an 8km hike on the edge of the cliff from Agerola near Ravello to Positano. Called the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), the views are said to be spectacular.
We stayed in Sorrento as planned, but between the rain and the random bus schedules our plans for walking along the cliff went downhill so to speak. We did manage to get to Amalfi, Positano and the gardens in Ravello but in the rain, they were far from a pleasure unlike my previous visit there in the spring 2 years ago. We spent most of the time waiting for the bus, or for the rain to stop but when it did stop the views were breathtaking.
Having had enough of the rain, we decided to return to Rome stopping at Herculaneum (Ercolano) for a couple of hours to see the excavation of the roman ruins that had been buried together with Pompeii when Mt Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. It was quite a nice day for a change and the train stops fairly close to the ruins so we were going to walk down to them when we saw people selling tickets for a bus to Mt. Vesuvius. We decided on the spur of the moment to take it and climb up to the crater. Ercolano being a small town, the person selling the tickets had a brother who rented out an apt for summer guests. He phoned his brother, arranged for us to have the apt for the night and assured us that we could safely leave our bags in his office until we returned. We were both wearing our hiking clothes as they were too bulky to pack and also had sandwiches to eat on the train to Rome so we were all set for our walk to the top.
The bus wound its way inland and stopped at the base of the mountain which is around 1,300 metres (~4,000 ft) high. There was a muddy and fairly steep path to get to the crater.
On the way up, we could see lava rock and lava mud which had flowed down the mountain after the eruption.
When we got to the top, we could see all the way down to the bottom of the crater. There were parts where there was smoke and vapour pouring out. The eruption in AD 79 was the most violent but there have been about 30 eruptions since, the last serious one in 1944.
We walked as far as we could go but couldn’t get to the side closest to Pompeii as it was closed off. It would have been interesting to see the ruins of Pompeii from this perspective. The earthquake in AD 69 covered Pompeii with ash and it was abandoned until serious and systematic excavations were started in 1738.
Back down in Ercolano, the brother of the man in the ticket office drove us to his rental apartment which was just a convenient 10′ walk from the station and overlooked the ruins of Ercolano which is on the edge of the sea. The eruption in AD 79 did not kill the inhabitants by being buried under ash but by asphyxiation from the heat and sulphur fumes. The town as it was then is well preserved, and we visited it the next day.
Ercolano was smaller than Pompeii in AD 79 but the inhabitants were wealthy and there are many fine houses to be seen. Many are large, double storied with windows at the top, and with marble cladding. Others have ornamental gardens. There are frescoes and mosaics in situ and one can see that many of the houses were homes of the rich.
Unfortunately, it was raining again when we visited the ruins but they were fascinating despite the rain. The Amalfi coast is so much more beautiful in the spring and summer but flooded with tourists. Despite the rain, we were able to stroll about peacefully without having to fight our way through a throng of people so that was an advantage. I still would like to walk on the Sentiero degli Dei but perhaps the way to do it is to check the weather forecast at the end of the tourist season and race over when the weather is still fine and the tourists have left.