In the last edition of Planning your Italy Vacation, I wrote about traveling north from Rome, with Venice as the final destination. In this post we’ll explore the alternative: traveling from Rome southward. This alternative will be attractive to travelers who have already seen the major sights in the north of Italy, and to travelers who prefer to tread the less-beaten path. I suggest traveling to Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and Lecce (located in the heel of the boot.)
Southern Italy is markedly different than northern Italy. To make a general comparison, the differences between northern and southern Italy is similar to the differences between the South and the Northeast in the United States. Northern Italy is more industrial and contains most of the largest cities in Italy. Southern Italy is agriculturally focused and less built up. Money goes farther in the south. Further, the attitudes change from the north and the south. I find “old Italy” much more apparent in the south, where people take afternoon siestas and life generally rolls at a slower pace. But that’s not always true.
The closest city to Rome is Naples, and nothing in Naples happens slowly. While the pulse of Naples is similar to that of a skydiver’s in mid-flight, the city offers many of the most important sights in Italy, including Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, the Naples National Archeology Museum, The Phlegrean Fields, the islands of Capri and Ischia, and, of course, there is Neapolitan pizza. I’ve written more on Naples’s Major Sights and on its pizza – check it out. The nearby town that surrounds Pompeii is quite tiny, necessitating the use of Naples as a home base. I also highly recommend visiting the Naples National Archeology Museum after visiting Pompeii, as it is home to the most impressive artifacts found in the city and fully fleshes out and explains Pompeii as a whole.
From Naples, a bus or a train to the Amalfi Coast takes one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours, allowing travelers to spend a half-day in either location. The sheer beauty of the Amalfi Coast is enough to take even the most avid traveler’s breath away. Homes and churches are built right into the cliffs. Lemon orchards likewise adorn the rocky shore. For more details, check out my article, Hiking Italy’s Amalfi Coast and Cam Hassard’s, White Knuckled Ride to the Place with No Horizon.
End your visit to the Amalfi Coast in the small city of Salerno, which is located at the eastern end of the Amalfi Coast. From here, you can catch a train or bus to Lecce. Salerno is a transportation hub with excellent, inexpensive food, as well as a few sights of its own. The huge temples of Paestum are a 40-minute train ride south. Dating back to 600 B.C., they are worth a look if you have the time. If you truly want to get off the beaten track, you can visit the nearby buffalo farms where the world-renowned buffalo mozzarella cheese is produced.
However, travelers working within a shorter time frame should head straight to Lecce. You might wonder why I chose Lecce over Sicily. I did so for two reasons. First, Sicily is so large that it deserves its own trip; its largest city, Palermo, is a two-day journey from the Amalfi Coast. Second, the ferry ride to Sicily takes quite a bit of time and planning. In my opinion, it isn’t worth making a quick stopover in Sicily. Instead, I highly recommend dedicating an entire trip to Sicily, which I’ll address in the next Planning your Italy Vacation article.
Getting to Lecce from Salerno, you can choose to take a bus or a slightly more expensive train. It takes between six and seven hours. However, this under-exposed city is well worth it. Often called “the Florence of the South,” Lecce touts some of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the world. It is a city that is truly off the beaten path, and the area is entirely unique to that of the rest of Italy, from the food and wine to the beaches and agriculturally fortuitous countryside.
The only thing south of Lecce is Africa, so travelers are faced with two additional route choices, 1) take a seven-hour train back to Rome, or 2) take a ferry to Greece. Then again, there may be a third choice as Albania is a mere 69 miles from the coast of Puglia (the region in which Lecce is located).
Feel free to write in with any questions or comments.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com
Monday 3rd of August 2015
You're welcome, Scott! Firstly, I think I'd caution against driving from Puglia to Naples. Even I wouldn't dare drive in Naples on purpose. That said, it's more that the roads in southern Italy are very slow going. If you have the time, there's lots of great stuff to see (especially Matera), but in general, you might spent a lot of time between notable sights.
As for wine tastings and olive oil tastings, Puglia is your oyster. I spent a solid year riding my bike from Lecce to local wineries (many of the best are within 7 miles of the city). Ciao!
Sunday 2nd of August 2015
Mattie: THANK YOU for your insight on Lecce. My wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next month. We are flying to Brindisi to spend time in Lecce (via Izmir, Turkey), but wondered what your thoughts were about driving to Naples from Lecce (the reverse direction). Are there sights worth seeing? Or would it be better to take a bus/train? We also have some interest in finding olive oil (and or wine) tastings in Lecce. Any recommendations?
Absolutely love your website!
Thursday 27th of January 2011
Your trip sounds so much fun!
If you want to rent a house then you'll have to stay more or less in one place. This is a great, because many people try to fit in too much and miss out on the relaxed culture of Italy.
That said, I think you should base yourself in Rome. You can access the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii from there, as well as see all that Rome has to offer (a year wouldn't be enough time to see everything!).
Naples is a great city, but it is very chaotic. If you're adventuresome, you could spend more time there, because there's a lot to see.
Have fun planning! ---Mattie
Friday 21st of January 2011
I am planning a trip to southern Italy with my 18 & 14 yr old daughters, along with grandmother 75 and 2 girlfriends. We are coming from Boston and California. I had seen an all inclusive tour which seemed a bit pricey. I would love to rent a house and be able to book several tours (Rome included) allowing time to roam freely with the locals. We are planning a 9 day trip. Any suggestions for us. We have never been to Italy. Thank you for your help. I loved your article!
Friday 19th of November 2010
Hi Cathy---Thanks for the good question. Paestum's temples were dedicated to different Pagan gods. The three most important temples are The Temple of Hera, The Second Temple of Hera, and The Temple of Athena. One of these impressive Greek temples featured an absolutely massive statue of its goddess, but I cannot remember whether it was Hera or Athena.
Archeologists and historians have misidentified these temples for centuries. It was thought that The Temple of Hera was actually a Basilicata (a Roman building rather than Greek), that The Second Temple of Hera was dedicated to Poseidon, and that The Temple of Athena was dedicated to Ceres.