03 MAY 2018: It was during the second week of February that we skirted Rome before veering off the highway into the hills to the south.  Our actual destination was unknown; all we did know was that we had a set of co-ordinates plugged into our GPS.  Our guidebook listing farms and wineries that welcomed motorhomes for overnight stays had featured one close to our route and were going to give it a try.

We were led deeper and deeper into the countryside, up hills and into valleys on roads that became increasingly narrow and potholed.  Occasionally we had to slow down in order to squeeze past a farm vehicle, feeling most out of place in a motorhome!  I started to have words with 'James' - the name we had given our GPS guide - but he seemed confident.  And he was right.  After quite the drive we arrived in the Valle delle Ginestra and were led to our farm.

A young woman with a baby on her hip greeted us enthusiastically in good English.  Of course we could stay, we were most welcome, park over there where there is electricity and a lovely view, yes the dogs are friendly, do we need any supplies, would we like dinner in the farmhouse?  

We were enchanted!  And yes, a few hours later, we were ensconced in front of a roaring fire being spoilt by our young hosts plus grandmama and grandpapa all of us using our varied English and Italian language skills.  In season this was obviously a fully functioning inn and restaurant, but tonight we were the only guests and felt like kings.  Needless to say the food was delicious!

We were on our way the next morning, but not before we had been shown the smokehouse and purchased ham, sausages and salami and been presented with a bag of fresh vegetables.  All the family were in attendance as left.  We shook hands, said we hoped to return one day and drove away waving through our open windows.  A memorable stay.

Some hours later we drew into a campsite outside Naples listed in our guidebook as 'near Pompeii'.  Of course one always wonders 'how near?' but in this case we were amazed to discover the site actually abutted the walls of the famous ancient city.  And the campsite itself was destined to be one of our favourites: a grassy orange grove complete with abundant fruit, shy but pretty feral cats, just one other motorhome in a distant corner with Mount Vesuvius towering over all.  We were to stay here for a whole week.

Not only was the site beside the ruins of Pompeii, it was also very close to the rail station from where we could take the regular train into the city of Naples itself.  This we did on a couple of occasions.  So many adjectives can be applied to Naples.  There is no doubt visitors love it or hate it depending, probably, on whether they are city folk at heart or not.  It certainly is chaotic, but also thrilling.  Its gorgeous setting on the shores of the Bay of Naples cannot be disputed and it's easy to find a fairly quiet patio overlooking the ocean for a meal.  

In contrast, not quiet at all, is the famous Sorbillo restaurant in the old town that is said not only to be the best place for pizza, but also the world's very first pizza restaurant.   It can't be missed, as by late morning a large crowd has gathered in the narrow street outside where, having given one's name to the doorman, everyone waits to be called to their table.  With these famous pizzas starting at 3 it not hard to understand why!

The Archaeological Museum of Naples, one of the great museums of the world, is also a 'must', especially for those planning a visit to Pompeii, for it is here that most of the ancient site's treasures are housed.  And then there is Pompeii itself, a wonderful site which needs no introduction from me apart from the fact that we thought it deserves at least a whole day's visit or, in our case, two days.

The other great Naples sight is Mount Vesuvius, which towers over all.  There are, of course, tours but the regular bus also climbs the slopes for a nominal fee and that is the route we took.  Passengers are dropped at the roadhead and there follows a 20-minute trek uphill on a well-worn track to the rim of the crater.   We didn't want to dwell on the facts about the volcano, the most pertinent being that one day there will be another major eruption.  But with steam belching from cracks in the crater this is easy to believe.

All too soon it was time to be on our way.  We left early in order to be fresh for the spectacular but challenging drive along the Amalfi coast, pausing to have a quick look at famous Positano and Salerno.   This area is justly famous for its beauty, but even in early February the road was busy and we could hardly imagine what it must be like when the crowds and tour buses arrive for the 'season'.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Naples and this busy coast lies a wonderful treat, which we later agreed was one of the highlights of our trip.  The 19th century English writer George Eliot proclaimed it was "the finest thing, I verily believe, we have seen in Italy" and many other travellers, including us, agree with her.  

Standing on a grassy plain this Greek site known as Paestum comprises not one but three well-preserved, superb Doric temples, built over a span of about 100 years.  Unlike the Acropolis in Athens, here one can wander at will over, in and around these superb edifices and choose a fallen piece of masonry on which to sit and enjoy a picnic.  The price of admission to the site includes entry to the modern museum in the tiny adjoining village which is well worth a visit, especially to see the famous mural paintings from the Tomb of the Diver.  Yes, a depiction of a diver dating from around 480 BCE!

Before leaving this area we stopped at a buffalo farm to buy some fresh mozzarella for which the region is famous and then it was back onto the highway for the long drive towards Italy's 'toe' and the ferry to Sicily, which will be the subject of my next column.

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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