17-18 April 2014: Naples, Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii

The Caves, the Road, and the Elephant in the Room

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Sorrento is a gem of one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and dangerous regions in all of coastal Italy: Campania. On the mainland, it stretches from the Amalfi Coast and then Sorrento north to Naples. In between are Pompeii and Herculaneum.

And from almost everywhere you can see the hulking threat of Mount Vesuvius: one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.[whohit]-Naples 17Apr-[/whohit]

As we sailed toward our planned anchorage at Sorrento, the Master of our ship read the tea leaves (and the meteorological charts) and decided to change our itinerary so that we could avoid possibly rough seas at Sorrento. Instead, we docked at Naples.

The wide Gulf of Naples is framed by three major islands: the most famous is Capri just west of Sorrento. West of Naples is Procida and further out Ischia.

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The best real estate value in Amalfi: a miniature village at the top end of town. Photo by Corey Sandler

Capri has been a resort since Roman times. Actually the Greeks were there earlier, and are believed to have given the island the name Kapros, meaning wild boar.

Natural wonders include limestone masses called Sea Stacks (Faraglioni) and the famed Blue Grotto.

Now, let’s consider the mainland of Campania: Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples.

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Positano from above, midway through our drive of two thousand turns from Sorrento. (I counted them.) Photo by Corey Sandler

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s.

John Steinbeck may have helped.

In an essay in Harper’s Bazaar, Steinbeck wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Positano was featured in the film, “Under the Tuscan Sun” in 2003. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones somehow used the solace of the cafés of Positano to write the song “Midnight Rambler.”

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Huge lemons of the Amalfi Coast. Granita (real Italian ice) for lunch, Limoncello after dinner. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Fruits for passion? Red peppers at a roadside stand along the Amalfi Coast. Photo by Corey Sandler

Naples was founded in the 8th century BC, as a Greek colony, first called Parthenope and later Neápolis (New City). Neápolis became Naples.

The city was at its peak as the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, from 1282 until Italian unification in 1816.

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Inside the spectacular Naples Cathedral (parts dating from the 13th century), and the shadow of the church on the street outside. Photos by Corey Sandler

By the 1st century, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located around the base of Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous farming the rich volcanic soil.

The 79 eruption, which is thought to have lasted about 19 hours, released about 1 cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of ash and rock over a wide area to the south and south-east of the crater, with about 10 feet (3 meters) falling on Pompeii.

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More treasures of Herculaneum at the Archeological Museum. Photo by Corey Sandler

It is not known how many people were killed, but the remains of about 1,150 bodies–or casts made of their impressions in the ash deposits–have been recovered in and around Pompeii. The total number could be between 10,000 and 25,000.

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The greatest treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum are on display not at the ancient cities, but instead safely and handsomely displayed at the Naples National Archeological Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

Most of those killed at Pompeii died from a combination of blast and debris, and suffocation through ash inhalation. About a third were found inside buildings, probably killed by the collapse of roofs.

By contrast, Herculaneum, which was much closer to the crater, was saved from tephra falls by the wind direction, but was buried under 75 feet (23 meters) of hot material deposited by pyroclastic surges.

The last major eruption took place in March 1944, in one of the almost-forgotten moments of World War II.

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Scenes of the town of Amalfi. It’s not easy, but it is possible to find back alleys free of tourist throngs. Photos by Corey Sandler

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All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

16 April 2014 Olbia, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

In Sardinia, the traditionalists are partial to Sardinian, although in Olbia many old-timers speak a dialect of Catalan Spanish.[whohit]-Olbia 16Apr-[/whohit]

But these days the old-timers are much outnumbered by an influx of international persons of great wealth and portability.

We used to call them “jet-setters.”

I think of them as sometimes interchangeable denizens of places like Saint Bart’s, Monte Carlo, and other playgrounds of the party people.

In Olbia itself, much of the older architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

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Ancient Nuraghi are scattered throughout Sardinia, most about three to four thousand years old. Archeologists are at work on examining and restoring a major site near Olbia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The newer construction in Olbia and in nearby modern gathering places like Porto Cervo are a little bit Las Vegas, a little bit San Tropez.

The lingua franca is Euros, American Express, MasterCard, and Visa.

And they call the region the Costa Smeralda: The Emerald Coast.

Sardinia is about 23,821 square kilometers or 9,200 square miles, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

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Archeologists and workers restore an ancient nuraghe. Photo by Corey Sandler

Olbia is at the northeast corner of Sardinia. On the other side of the north end of the island is Alghero, about 136 kilometers or 85 miles away. Cagliari, the capital, is at the south end about 277 kilometers or 172 miles away.

The Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Popes, Aragonese, the Dorias, the Italians, and a few others remade the settlements of Sardinia over the millennia.

There’s one other who had an impact in the northeast corner of the island.

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV has lived far from his family’s historic roots in Persia and Iran for all of his life.

Born in Geneva in 1936 and now a British citizen, the Aga Khan is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam. He has an estimated 15 million followers in more than 25 countries.

Most Nizari Ismailis live in African and Asian countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. There are also sizeable communities in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

The imam part of his job description accompanies other roles as a business magnate, real estate developer, and racehorse owner and breeder.

His name was regularly found in close proximity to the phrase “international playboy”.

Not to matter: the Aga Khan IV is considered by his followers to be the proof of God on earth as well as infallible and immune from sin.

The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Aga Khan is one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million, although some think he has a lot more than that.

He is unique among the richest royals in that he does not rule over a geographic territory.

Which brings us to Sardinia.

In 1962, the Aga Khan began development of Porto Cervo and by extension the Costa Smeralda. It grew quickly from a hangout for the Aga Khan and his crowd to become an international destination.

All sorts of characters, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, bought villas there. A large home up on the hill is said to be owned by–or in the possession of–Vladimir Putin. That falls under the category of “interesting if true.”

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Lifestyles of the rich and infamous at Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Aga Khan sold off most of his Sardinian holdings in 2003 to an American real estate baron.

And in 2012, the Smeralda property was sold again, this time to the Qatari royal family (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) through the Middle Eastern state’s sovereign fund, Qatar Holding.

Today the Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo is known for summer events like the Rolex Cup sailing race,

The Rally Costa Smeralda off-road driving competition, a very high-end food festival, and a new event, Fashion Week.

There are also white sand beaches, a much-celebrated golf club, private jet and helicopter service, and hotels costing several thousand dollars per  night in the peak season.

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A modern evocation of things ancient, at Porto Cervo. Photo by Corey Sandler

And if you’re looking to buy a little pied-a-terre, consider that luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers ranked Costa Smeralda as the most expensive location in Europe.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler, and all rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

 

15 April 2014: Livorno, Pisa, Florence

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Silver Wind began her turn south and eventually east toward Istanbul with a return visit to Livorno.

An extra day in Tuscany is never a bad thing. I wrote about our visit there in my post for 11-12 April, which you can find below.