“Magna Graecia”, “Poseidonia: Paestum”, “Hyele: Velia”
I can call this trip another of the great life travelling achievements for reaching this spectacular once in a lifetime site (well, or twice or more I don’t mind to return in the future). With this trip it’s been already quite a few places this year we’ve manage to come to very much desired places and quite off the usual path, far from main cities and even airports hence why that complicated to reach them and why we kept postponing on behalf of other “easier” destinations. But now with so many places across Europe already been, it’s time to continue this trend in planning this sort of exciting destinations.
Returning to Naples in any case is always great on its own!. So much to do not only in the city but around the impressively rich region, that even though this is the 3rd time we come here, we still need to plan future trips to Naples and continue exploring the hidden gems. The beauty of the Amalfi and Sorrento coastline for example it’s worth an entire weekend and not just a day. With so many idyllic villages perched from the hills and cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean it is guaranteed to keep you busy all the time. Then the island of Capri off the coast from Naples is another trip on itself. Yes, certainly we will be back; as soon I can find a good deal at the perfect flight times when it is also nice weather.
Although this is not a guide about Naples, I must still write about the best pizzas in the whole of Italy. Do not look anywhere else, those are here in Naples. No matter that we spent today well outside of the city (and so the following day), it was our base where our hotel was and therefore could enjoy once more pizza and a bit of the thriving nightlife.
In trying to make the most of the day trip, I managed to figure out that apart from the main site of Paestum, another 2 would be possible to be included, but only because we had a rental car otherwise and unless you are on a tour, it would be impossible to do all on public transportation. The other two were another of the ancient Magna Graecia cities, Velia; and the monastery of Certosa di Padula, in the little village of Padula and quite off the path from both Paestum and Velia, or Naples itself. But I could not let the occasion pass by and as usual, although making it an extremely busy day, I planned the route to include it all.
In Paestum you will not need much time. Here you can see the 3 best preserved ancient Greek temples in the world in the Doric style. This region of Italy was once part of the Greek Empire and known as Magna Graecia, hence why such monuments found in the area. Velia, in the other hand, is more modest without spectacular constructions.
Completing the circle before returning to Naples, heading east from Velia across the beautiful scenery of the Cilento National Park you reach Padula with its impressive monastery, the Certosa di San Lorenzo. All of those sites, the ancient Greek cities, the monastery and the national park are UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the listing: “Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park with the Archaeological sites of Paestum and Velia, and the Certosa di Padula”.
For more information about these places check both the Wikipedia sites for Paestum, Velia and Padula. Italy’s currency is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there:
Being one of the top archaeological sites in Italy, it is in the other hand not massified as Pompeii is. The reason being is the location, quite far from the major tourist points and cities. Along the coast, south of Salerno and near the Mediterranean coast, the only “nearby” airport is Naples (where we flew into). From Naples, if continuing by public transportation, then the good point here is that there are trains connecting both Paestum and Velia from Naples, and all the way south towards Reggio Calabria at the tip of the Italian peninsula.
From elsewhere in Italy, trains to Naples might involve a change in between, but along the trunk Milano-Roma-Naples, the route is served by high-speed comfortable trains. However it will not make sense at all if you are planning to travel from the north of Italy all the way south for reaching this place. The best would be taking an internal flight, out of question.
If you happen to be based at Naples or Salerno, you are guaranteed to have an easy access here by train or buses, so do not worry if you were thinking you need to get a car and drive. From Naples to Paestum is 100 kilometres, either on the A30 Motorway (paying one) or the E45, slower but very scenic passing through Ercolano, Pompeii and the Mount Vesuvious along the coast. Paestum to Velia is another 45 kilometres south along the coast.
But when including the Certosa di Padula, it is then when you need a car or any sort of transportation. It lies at the other side of the Cilento National Park at over 90 kilometres of ever turning roads. From Padula back to Naples is 170 kilometres all along the A3/A30 Motorway hence making the journey fast and comfortable.
Entrance fees and opening hours:
Each of the sites are having a separate entrance ticket that you can purchase at the entrance, or you can get a combo ticket for both of the ancient Greek cities. Entrance to either Paestum and its museum, and Velia, if separate, is 10 Euros each, or 11 Euros for the combo ticket. Entrance to the Certosa di San Lorenzo is 4 Euros.
Both Paestum and Velia open from 9.00am until 18.45pm. The Certosa di Padula opens from 9.00am until 19.00pm.
What to see and do in Paestum:
- First Temple of Hera The oldest in the complex, built in 600 BC. It is unusual for its great wideness and uneven number of columns on the short sides at 9.
- Second Temple of Hera Thought to be dedicated to Poseidon and built between the 460 and 450 BC.
- Temple of Athena Built around 500 BC and located on the highest part of the city, farther from the other 2 temples.
- Roman Forum In the central part of Paestum. Built on the grounds of what was the Greek Agora, but not much is on display as it is not fully excavated and restored.
- Heroom Chamber Absolutely intact, it is where inside was found bronze vessels statues.
- Via Sacra The man street created by the Romans after they took over the Greeks. It is still complete and perfectly paved.
- City Walls and Towers Enclose the entire city of Paestum and bearing few sections now gone, it is in a great state of preservation.
What to see and do in Velia:
- Porta Rosa This entrance gate to the ancient city is a rare example of Greek arch made of dry masonry of sandstone bricks, dating to the 4th century BC.
- Porta Rosa Road The main street, still entirely paved and greatly preserved.
- Theatre Of small proportions, a half of it has been reconstructed.
- Medieval Towers Of course of much later date, medieval, were built using some ancient Greek structures as the quarry.
What to see and do in Padula:
- Certosa di San Lorenzo Or as commonly known, Certosa di Padula is a Carthusian monastery or Charterhouse built in Baroque style. It is home to the largest cloister in the world.
As we did not stay over at any of those places bu returned to our base, Naples, then I cannot suggest nor comment anything about the region on where to stay. In any case, the ancient Greek cities are lying near the Mediterranean coast along some of the most famous sandy beaches in the region south of Salermo, by the Amalfi Coast, and therefore there are many resorts you can chose. Bear in mind this is not a cheap area though.
In the other hand, Naples offers a huge choice that will save you lots of money and will be somehow, more comfortable if what you are looking is a weekend break and not a beach break. This was our third time in Naples, and third different hotel we are in the same area. Such near as pretty much around the corner from the previous ones. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Ibis Styles Napoli Garibaldi, very well located near both train stations, the city centre, and a short walk to the port. Nice clean and comfortable rooms although a bit small, nice and friendly staff and quiet during the night even though half of their rooms are facing towards the Circumvesuviana rail tracks of Porta Nalona. Their fares were also great at the time I booked it, and gladly I got it some weeks ahead as it was completely booked out matter of days after.
Further information on hotels and the city of Naples itself you can find in the travel guide for this city here.