After a stressful day driving the Amalfi Coast road we decided to ditch the car and opt for the train. Our destination – Pompeii.

This ancient city has a famous story. It’s eerie at times to think that Mt Vesuvius still stands proudly today, casting its shadow over the Bay of Naples and the cities and towns that inhabit its coastline.

Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii was completely destroyed after an eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Prior to the eruption the people of Pompeii had no idea of the threat Vesuvius posed because the volcano had been inactive for such a long time. The catastrophic event buried the city under metres of ash and it remained buried for almost two thousand years.

Pompeii is now an important archaeological site and one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations.

The first thing that struck my husband and I as we explored the ruins was the sheer magnitude of the site. We also marvelled at how much still remained and in such detail. It’s as though the city had been suspended in time, holding its breath beneath all those layers of ash until finally being rediscovered. It was in the eighteenth century that excavation began.

On the day we visited we were lucky enough to have brilliant blue sky but it was scorching hot. Perhaps it was for this reason that we decided not to take the guided tour and find our own way. Normally this is my preference in any case but on reflection I wish now that we had opted for the tour. The site and its history are fascinating and you’ll discover a lot more if you let the experts lead you around.

Look out in particular for the body casts of the victims they’ve been able to preserve after being entombed in ash for all that time. Very moving – you can almost imagine their terror on that fateful day.

We spent the morning at Pompeii and could easily have stayed longer but it got hotter still as morning ticked over to afternoon. And there was little shade to be had. My tip if you’re visiting in the summer time – go early to avoid the soaring afternoon temperatures.

As for getting to Pompeii, if you’re staying in Sorrento or nearby one of the easiest ways to travel there is by train. The site is an easy walk from the station. You might even be lucky enough to be entertained by the buskers that hop on and off the trains. But a quick tip – they do expect you to pay for the privilege of having been entertained during your journey.

If a guided tour is more your thing there are plenty on offer – it’s a good idea to check with your hotel as they can often arrange everything for you.

If you’re heading to this part of Italy, Pompeii is definitely not to be missed!

The following day we once again left the car safe and sound in the garage of our hotel and this time caught the ferry. Our destination – Capri.

It’s one of the more popular spots on the Amalfi Coast so my first tip would be to avoid going on the weekend. It gets extremely busy.

There are great views of the island as you arrive by ferry and the harbour is colourful and lively.

On the day we arrived we had planned to take the funicular (a tram-like cable railway) up to Capri town after disembarking at Marina Grande. It’s a great option and will take you directly to the Piazzetta (Capri’s most famous square).

But fearful of queues and delays my husband and I decided to hit out on a taxi. In fact it wasn’t that expensive and it turned out to be somewhat of an adventure. The road that leads up to Capri town is narrow and winding (with some amazing views on the way) and I’m guessing gridlock is a common occurrence. Our taxi driver ended up getting out of the car. We watched as he talked and gesticulated wildly with the other drivers. We found it all rather amusing.

Finally arriving at the Piazzetta (and we’ll never know if it would have been quicker to take the funicular) we decided that first on the agenda was a refreshment stop. After a wander down the elegant main street we came to a hotel that had a lovely terrace with tables set out. It was a beautiful day and I could think of nothing better than to sit on that terrace with an Italian coffee and watch the world go by.

The photo above has become somewhat famous among my family and friends because we did indeed stop at the hotel of my choice and that cappuccino I have in my hand cost eleven euros. No, that’s not a misprint. Eleven euros. I’m sure the smile I’m sporting is somewhat ironic. But it was a fabulous spot and a very delicious cappuccino. Just as well!

After our refreshment stop we browsed the shops – Capri’s main shopping street is littered with designer stores. You’ll see many of the big names from the world of fashion and all within one small shopping district.

We had been told by a local we got chatting to in Sorrento that when on Capri it's worthwhile visiting Anacapri also. This is a town on the western side of the island. We opted to catch the bus. It’s a good way to get around the island – the buses to Anacapri run every fifteen minutes and the journey only takes ten minutes or so.

Anacapri has a very different feel to Capri’s main town. Less busy and swanky and definitely where you want to head if you’re on a budget. We thought it was charming and had a more authentic feel.

The one thing we missed doing, which I regret, is catching the chairlift up to Mount Solaro. It’s the highest point on the island and the views are supposed to be spectacular. So make sure you don’t miss out as we did. The chairlift only takes twelve minutes and the entrance is very close to the bus stop.

We meandered around Anacapri for long enough to build up an appetite for lunch and found a lovely spot to eat al fresco. As usual the Italian food did not disappoint. Everything was fresh and colourful and tasted delicious. I’m sure I could live on the mozzarella and tomatoes that they serve in Italy.

Sated after a lazy lunch we caught the bus back to Capri and spent some time gazing out at the views before heading back to Marina Grande and our return ferry.

How fantastic is Italy – one day we’re walking around ancient Roman ruins in Pompeii and the next we’re drinking coffee and lunching al fresco on the island of Capri. Every day is a surprise, an adventure.

I love everything about this wonderful country.

Published by Tracey O'Brien