I recently came back from an absolutely FANTASTIC trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and really want to share details of it with you as it was quite a hard trip to plan due to it being a really expensive area. Even with all the research I did, I didn’t quite get it right and it ended up costing a small fortune so I hope this will help you avoid some of the mistakes I made! I’m splitting the trip into three separate blog posts – the first being the main reason for going to the area, which was to visit Pompeii and the lesser known Herculaneum. I have always been fascinated by the two archaeological sites so it was an absolute dream to see them in person, and I really cannot recommend going enough. Definitely a bucket-list item ticked off!
I sorted out a hire car online (Alamo on https://www.enjoycarhire.com) to pick up at Naples Airport and drive to the first little hotel in Pompei. I even paid extra for the special insurance, which would ensure that I wouldn’t be hit with any extra costs – the total came to just £138 for the week – bargain!… Or so I thought. Until I walked into their office and tried to pick up the car: “Okay so, if you just put your credit card into the machine, we will reserve the €2,000 deposit”. Erm.. what?! Firstly, my credit card limit is £1,500. Secondly, there was no mention of this on the website (did you read the fine print? No of course not). Thirdly, what is the proposed solution to this problem? The lady at the desk didn’t know. I didn’t know. I did a quick whip around the other car-hire desks to ask if they had any alternative cars I could use. I was faced with a resounding “no”. I went back to the original lady, who advised she had spoken to her manager and could sell me extra insurance for €150, which meant that I would only have to put a €100 deposit on my credit card. My protest that it would double the cost of the car-hire fell on deaf ears. It was my only choice, and by that time it was creeping close to 10pm (and we still had a 1.5 hour drive ahead of us in a manual car, on the other side of the road, in the dark, on unfamiliar Italian roads). So, with a heavy and furious heart, I gave her my credit card to be charged €450. Note – I also took the extra extra insurance they offered for €50, which paid for itself within 20 minutes as I smacked into someone’s wing mirror having misjudged the width of the car.
With the worst of the ordeal behind us, I had to now figure out how to drive this alien car and get used to driving on the other side of the road as it was my first time. It took a while but it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. We got lost several times and ended up driving slowly through a very dodgy, sex-worker-filled area a couple of times (doors locked) trying to find the entrance to the motorway, but eventually we pulled up into the little street which housed our hotel.
Where to stay:
We stayed at Area Domus in Pompei, which I would really recommend – It had private gated parking, and a couple of really sweet dogs. The room was absolutely huge, with a large balcony affording fantastic views of Vesuvius. The family who ran the place were really welcoming – they even taught me a few words in Italian. They also helped me park the car which I was very grateful for following the wing-mirror incident.
By the time we arrived at around 11.30pm, we were starving, but also not 100% convinced much would be open to provide us with dinner as we were staying in a quiet part of a small town. Luckily there was a pretty nice burger restaurant (Burger 49) about 100m away from the hotel where we managed to get a warm meal before heading to bed.
In the morning we were greeted by a stunning view of Vesuvius, and a great breakfast of fresh pastries, juice and home-brewed coffee. We set off to Pompeii Historical Site at around 11am, and parked in the camping area right next to the Site entrance, where we easily found a space. It cost around €15 for the three-four hours that we spent there, along with the €23 entrance fee for two people.
Pompeii was absolutely stunning – I could not believe just how big the city was. I would recommend giving yourself at least three or four hours to look around the site, as we could easily have spent longer there. The obvious tips apply – wear comfy shoes, bring a hat and plenty of water and suncream. There are places to refill your water bottle for free which are marked on the maps, so don’t waste money at the overpriced shops inside the site. We got there around midday, and although the first few stops were quite busy, the site is so large that tourists naturally spread out, so we often found we had a whole street to ourselves. If you have the time, I would even recommend looking into camping next to the site in the campsite we parked in, as it would have been great to wake up and walk straight into the site before all of the crowds of tourists.
When I was a teenager I was subjected to the Cambridge Latin Course textbooks, which followed the life of a banker called Caecilus who lived in Pompeii. I can still recall some of the key plot lines to this day: “Caecilius est in horto” – “Caecilius is in the garden”, and “Canus est in via” – “The dog is in the street”, so as you can see this was pretty exciting stuff. Therefore, naturally I had to seek his house out. It is marked on the map as Casa Cecilio Giocondo, which is the Italian translation of the Latin Caecilius Iucundus (it took me a while to believe I was in the right place!). It’s marked as no. 4 on Via Del Vesuvio, so go seek it out and make the inner Latin nerd in you happy.
After a long day walking around the ruins of Pompeii, we returned back to our hotel and had a frugal (but delicious) tapas-style dinner of a take-away rotisserie chicken with cooked vegetables from a nearby shop, some cold meats and breads, and of course a great bottle of Italian wine. We ate outside on the table and chairs, watching the sun set over Vesuvius – it was beautiful!
Should I pay for a guide?
With regards to getting a guide / audio guide, I would not particularly recommend the audio guide, as I got quite bored and distracted and probably only used it a couple of times. However my boyfriend fared slightly better and gleaned some interesting facts from it. We mainly just wandered around and used our imagination as to how Roman life would have played out in the streets we were walking down. A lot of the more important buildings had information boards that you could read, which I preferred to the audio guide. I also downloaded the Pompeii App which I saw advertised as we queued for tickets… I wouldn’t buy it again – it wasn’t as cool as they made it look. I didn’t ever find out how much it would have cost for a real-life guide, however I have heard they are really interesting and informative, so go for it if you have the budget!
The next day was Herculaneum, where we again drove and parked with real ease – we found a carpark right next to the site, and had only a very small queue for tickets. Herculaneum is still less well known than Pompeii, which meant that there were fewer people and crowds. Price-wise, it was similar to the Pompeii site, although parking was slightly cheaper. We were surprised by how small Herculaneum was – it was really only a few streets long and wide, although the different type of lava flow over this town has preserved the buildings in greater detail. This allowed objects such as wooden doors and wine racks to be preserved and viewed, which gives you more of an idea of how people lived. It also means a lot of buildings’ second floors and roofs were preserved. Another difference between the two sites is that Herculaneum has real skeletons, and not the plaster casts of bodies that we are used to seeing in pictures of Pompeii. These are mainly all found near the sea with women and children seeking shelter in the boat houses, and men standing on the beach. For archaeologists, having the bones to study is really helpful, as they can find out a plethora of details about how they lived their lives through bone analysis. One more fact (last one, I promise) about the seaside town is that it was home to much wealthier people than Pompeii, meaning that the buildings are much more lavishly decorated.
If you are in the area, don’t miss out Herculaneum – this little town deserves as much fame and interest as its bigger sister Pompeii!
Should I pay for a guide?
I couldn’t sleep very well the night before Herculaneum, so I ended up watching a really interesting youtube documentary. (Link: https://youtu.be/uDWZEJK6VSc) Armed with my newfound knowledge, I decided that I would be the guide for Herculaneum, and we ditched the audio guides for this one. I think this actually worked out well, as I could point out and explain a lot of the sights and artifacts that we came across – I was particularly proud of my spotting of a bronze bed-post on the second floor of a shop. There is also something particularly exciting about finding yourself in a place you have only just seen on television. However, again, I’m sure we missed some really interesting stories and information in not paying for a guide, so if your budget allows I would recommend getting one.
TLDR; Recommend Pompeii and Herculaneum wholeheartedly, you should always do your research when hiring a car (or just be prepared to spend a lot), and audio guides are boring.
Have you been to Pompeii or Herculaneum? What else is on your travel bucket-list? Have you got any better tips with getting hire cars?! Would love to hear from you in the comments! 🙂