Naples and the nearby town of Sorrento have been popular with British travellers for centuries. They’ve come for the rich history in places such as Pompeii, as well as the amazing landscape, dominated by the famous volcano Vesuvius. But around thirty minutes west of Naples lies the little-known town of Pozzuoli, in the Campania region, which has its own unique attractions for tourists.
I spoke to Giulio Gambardella from tour company Experto Italy, who told me that regular volcanic activity in the area has shaped everything – from the landscape to the food – and given it a very distinct culture. “What is very different here are the people who can live in a volcano,” said Giulio. “We make wine in a different way, we take things from the ground in a different way. The culture is very different.”
Giulio told me that Pozzuoli is not a well-known destination outside Italy, which means it’s remained low key. “The area is not really a developed area, so what you can feel here is the authentic Italian hospitality,” he explained. “It’s somewhere you can come to enjoy the slow life that we have here.”
Although life might be slow in Pozzuoli, the town sits within one of the largest and most volcanically active areas on the planet, the Phlegrean Fields. “We can’t forget that on the seashore around Pozzuoli is the active Italian super-volcano – it’s one of the biggest magmatic areas in the world and one of the most dangerous,” said Giulio. “It’s something that changes your way of life.”
This has created some unique experiences for visitors, including diving at an underwater archaeological park – the only one of its kind. “Due to the volcanic activities in the past, part of the Roman port was submerged from the seaside. Now it’s just 3m deep, so you can go down and see the statues and columns and mosaics on the floor. It’s something that’s unique in the world and you can do this only in Pozzuoli.”
And if you want to keep your feet dry, Giulio told me there’s plenty of Roman remains on land too. “We have the third biggest amphitheatre in Italy,” he said proudly. “The difference between our coliseum and the one in Rome is that you can also visit the underground areas. It really shows you how it worked.”
A popular activity is to tour the volcanic features in the area, particularly the Solfatara – a collapsed volcano crater that regularly emits steam and sulphurous fumes. “Solfatara means something coming from the sulphur. It’s like a hole full of sulphur that seems to be like hell because there’s hot steam coming from the ground,” explained Giulio. “There are also boiling pools of mud in the area. You can walk inside the crater, which is different from Vesuvius. Here you stay inside the crater, because all of our volcanoes are collapsed.”
Giulio told me that the fertile volcanic soils found in the area means Pozzuoli has a reputation for growing some of the tastiest food in Italy. But it’s actually best known for its seafood. “People from Naples know that fish from the Pozzuoli area is the best so they come here to eat very good fish in the restaurants.”
Another unique experience for visitors is wine made from ancient varieties of grapes that were killed off elsewhere in Europe by a disease in the 1800s. “We still have historic vineyards. All over Europe in the 18th century, all the vineyards were destroyed but not here. It’s one of the authentic and typical things you can taste here,” said Giulio.
The southern part of Italy can get quite hot in summer, so Giulio told me the best time to visit is during the shoulder periods, in spring and autumn. But most attractions are open all year round, so Pozzuoli could be perfect for a warm winter break. “If you don’t want a seaside vacation, you can come all year round, because this is a twelve-month place to stay,” said Giulio. “The restaurants are always open and so are the museums.”
Pozzuoli is just thirty minutes from Naples by regular trains. You can find out more at ExpertoItaly.com.