Travel to Italy: Escape the Crowds and Head South

Temple of Serapis located on the coast of Gulf of Pozzuoli. Image credit: Joseph Walker.

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Because we’re living in a changing world, keep up to date on travel protocols to Italy by visiting the U.S. State Department website for Italy.

It’s been quite a while since I wrote about international travel. Wanderlust’s been on my mind. I’m vaccinated and boosted from COVID-19 and hope you are too. Now’s the time to talk and plan about visiting Europe. Specifically, travel to Italy and escape the crowds by heading to the southern part of the country.

The Volcanic Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D

A 20-something-year-old male temple caretaker in Italy’s western Neapolitan coast was one of more than 16,000 souls who perished during the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. His remains were recovered in the 1960s, found covered in ash in a wooden bed in the Roman town of Herculaneum. Found with his remains was black glass.

Relatively recently, paleobiologist Pier Paolo Petrone of the archeological team from Federico II University in Naples, Italy, published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about the black glass. Research concluded it is remnants of the caretaker’s brain. It’s estimated heat from Mount Vesuvius reached at least 950°F. The heat burned human flesh and turned it to glass.

Italy travel expert Joseph Walker. Credit: Joseph Walker.
Italy travel expert Joseph Walker. Credit: Joseph Walker.

Consult an Expert to Plan Your Travel to Italy

Although morbid, Mount Vesuvias’ eruption continues to fascinate travelers. Excavations continue in Pompeii, another ancient city devastated by the volcano. Southern Italy, including Naples and Mount Vesuvias, holds intriguing layers of history. Years ago, a friend and I booked a trip to Italy through a low-cost tour operator. The trip consisted of two nights each in Venice, Florence, and Rome, and ground transportation on the rail system. As a first-time visitor, it was a nice introductory trip to Italy. But, we did not leave the tourist trail and experience the country’s authentic culture or delve into its centuries of history. If I had to do that trip over again, I would.

These days, it is relatively easy booking a trip to Italy on your own and seeing major tourist attractions. However, living in the Instagram era, many Americans are seeking lesser-known destinations to avoid the crowds and enjoy a cultural immersion. But how do you find those must-visit destinations of tomorrow? Recently, I asked Florida-based tour operator Joseph Walker, founder of Walker Travel Group, for suggestions on enjoying an authentic Italian holiday.

Walker, a Georgia native, served in the U.S. Navy before entering the travel industry. He spent more than 15 years living in Italy before moving to Brazil and eventually back to the U.S. Walker and his tour company craft personal and unique experiences for Americans traveling abroad. He called Italy home for nearly two decades and over the years, he has created more than 5,000 tours including dozens of well-known actors, musicians, and U.S. politicians. Walker returns to Italy at least once a year to maintain and update contacts. The travel expert recommends visiting these five sites for an authentic Southern Italian experience.

Ancient City of Cumae

History is more exciting when you can walk in its footsteps and Walker recommends a visit to Cumae near Naples. It’s the site of the first Greek colony, founded in 775 B.C. It is “where many of the early ancient Greek legends were located. This location played a role in the foundation of the Roman Empire and where the rich and famous of ancient Rome lived in the summer for centuries,” Walker said. Julius Caesar and Cleopatra were summer vacationers.

Temple of Serapis located on the coast of Gulf of Pozzuoli. Image credit: Joseph Walker.
Temple of Serapis located on the coast of Gulf of Pozzuoli. Image credit: Joseph Walker.

Aragonese Castle

Julius Caesar’s villa, along with that of other Roman emperors as Augustus and Nero, is submerged more than 16 feet underwater in the city of Baiae. Historians liken the ancient city to that of today’s Las Vegas. Volcanic activity about 1,700 years ago, is to blame for the submerged city. Since visitors cannot see the underwater city in the Gulf of Naples, they can visit Aragonese Castle which is built on a mountainous island and overlooks Baiae. Its history dates to the fifth century B.C. Explore the ancient castle, meander through the gardens, and soak up the stunning views. The castle is in the 2019 film, Men in Black: International.

Temple of Serapis

West of Naples and north of Pozzuoli on the coast of the Gulf of Pozzuoli is Temple of Serapis. Built around the second century, the site is named for Deity Serapis, a Greco-Egyptian god of the Underworld and fertility. He was worshipped by the Romans. When excavated in the mid-1700s, a sculpture of Serapis was found and it’s believed the site was a place of worship. Recognized for its three columns carved from marble, during the 20th century scientists determined the site was a marketplace.

Its history is fascinating but so is its geology. Over the centuries, the site has risen above and below sea level through the geological phenomenon called bradyseism. Ebbing and flowing of magma chambers below causes this. Today, visitors cannot walk through the ancient market but can walk around and above and look down into it.

Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli

The Roman Colosseum is one of Italy’s most popular site. Walker recommends visiting the Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli as an alternative. It is Italy’s third largest Roman amphitheater and “many would say that its better preserved and more enjoyable to visit because of fewer crowds,” Walker said.

Visitors can explore the subterranean chambers and see the ancient stonework of the first-century A.D. colosseum. Emperor Vespasian commissioned the chambers and it was complete during the Flavian dynasty. It served as a sophisticated entertainment venue with a capacity of about 40,000 spectators.

One of the most significant events happened in 305 A.D. during a dangerous time for Christians. Seven Christians were sentenced to death by wild animals. Following a blessing by Januarius I of Benevento, one of the condemned, the beasts refused to attack and instead, bowed before them. The seven martyrs did not escape persecution. Unfortunately, after surviving the beasts, they were beheaded.

Volcano Solfatara

Naples is a volcanic region and Phlegraean Fields (Italian: Campi Flegrei) has 40 ancient volcanoes with some being active and others inactive. Together, they create a large area with a caldera more than nine miles wide which makes it a super volcano. Although Solfatra is dormant, there is still geologic activity. See and hear bubbling mud pools, steam rising from fumaroles, and smell the distinct odor of sulfur. Roman mythology reads this was the home of the god Vulcan. Volcano Solfatara last erupted in 1198.

“Some say that it gave Dante [Alighieri] the idea of the deepest reaches of ‘Inferno’,” Walker told me. “Inferno” is the first part of the 14th-century poem, Divine Comedy, which tells the tale of Dante’s journey through the nine circles of Hell.

Cin Cin!

Italy’s wines are as rich as its history. Wines visitors to the Campania Region should enjoy include Aglianico, a full-bodied red; Fiano di Avellino, a strong-flavored white; and Falanghin, a dry and fruit white. Walker Travel Group can intertwine an affinity for wine with ancient sites. A popular activity is enjoying “lunch or dinner at a vineyard under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius,” Walker said. Enjoy wine tasting in Cumae, the West’s oldest Greek colony.

“Visit the remnants of a Greco-Roman prototype amphitheater while sipping local wines where gladiators once clashed.”

Americans have had a love affair with Italy for decades, if not centuries. We are familiar with destinations as Milan, Rome, and Tuscany, but there are destinations where American’s are just beginning to discover, such as those in southern part of the country. Use 21st century technology to plan a journey that began more than 2,000 years ago, or, find a travel professional to curate your Southern Italy adventure. Whatever avenue you use to plan your Italian holiday, as the saying goes, when in Rome, or near Naples, sip some wine and raise a glass saying, “Cin cin!” (cheers) Or, “Alla vostra salute!” (to your health)

Contact

Interested in planning a trip to Italy? Contact Joseph Walker with the Walker Travel Group at Tel: (404) 437-6377 and website www.walkertravelgroup.com

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Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is the voice behind Solo Travel Girl. She's an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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