We took the train from Rome to Naples on the third day of our trip and again, loved the train ride. It’s a really relaxing way to travel, seeming to slow down the often-frantic pace of traveling and forcing you to sit and look out the window as the scenery goes by. We found train travel in Italy to be a fantastic way to get around this beautiful country!
We arrived at around 10:30 AM and took a taxi from the train station to our next Airbnb apartment, which was very cool and VERY modern. The apartment had several lofted sleeping areas that the kids LOVED, but for the sake of safety, we wouldn’t even let them sleep on the highest one. (Not to mention that it was lofted above the room Matt and I were planning to sleep in, and the whole point of the Airbnb is so I don’t have to share a room with my kids on the trip!)
Naples sort of shocked me though; it is a DENSE city.
We had three very important events planned for our short (one-night only!) stay in Naples: a horseback ride up the side of Mt. Vesuvius, dinner with an old friend of ours who just moved to Naples for work last fall, and a tour of the ruins of Pompeii. We were only in this area for about 30 hours, but we packed a lot in.
We booked the horse ride up Mt. Vesuvius months in advance; I read about it on Pinterest while researching the trip and, as far as I can tell, Horse Riding Naples is the only company that does this type of tour up the volcano.
It. Was. Epic.
Bridget and Gabe each had their own horse, but Owen and Quinn rode with me and Matt. Although they were both annoyed that they couldn’t be on their own even though they’d both ridden before, once we actually started up the side of the mountain, I was really relieved the smaller kids were with adults. Parts of the trail were really narrow and pretty rocky and uneven; in some areas my boots touched the rocky outcrops on either side of the trail we rode through. Although it was absolutely breath-taking and amazing, if Owen and Quinn had been on their own I would have been really nervous about their ability to stay on through the particularly steep sections and to keep the horses going in the right direction.
The ride itself really was not difficult at all; there was another family with us who had never ridden a horse at all before, and they had no trouble. The guides and the horses know what they’re doing. The scenery was pretty unbelievable the whole way up the side of the mountain. But I was still glad that my smallest children — both weighing in under 60 lbs — were attached to adults with a little more strength and sense.
When we reached our clearing, bordering a lava field from the last eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 1944, and looking out at the most amazing vista of Naples and the Bay of Napoli, we dismounted to give ourselves and the horses a little rest and so we could explore this incredible location. It was breath-takingly beautiful and just unreal.
The kids spent a good twenty minutes climbing around on the lava, picking through the rocks and pocketing some souvenirs. Our guide Roberto pointed out some key sites and showed us the smoke rising from the crater higher up on the mountain, evidence that Vesuvius is still very much an active volcano. It was absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
After an equally amazing descent back to the stables, Roberto shared with us some lovely red wine made by his family from their vineyard located just a little ways away there at the base of Vesuvius. Our other guides, it turned out, were Roberto’s uncle and his cousin! The whole experience was so unique; rather than feeling like tourists simply looking at and hearing about this renowned and historic location, we were actively exploring it alongside people who had lived there their whole lives. Such an immersive experience is hard to come by on a short trip, and I was so grateful for the experience. The children ABSOLUTELY loved it and have said it was the coolest thing EVER.
That night we met our friend Liz at a little restaurant not far from our apartment for dinner. In Italy most restaurants don’t open for dinner until quite late by American standards, but we made a reservation for 7:30 — the earliest possible time to book. We were literally the only ones there. The food, as you’d expect, was amazing, and it was lovely to catch up with an old friend in a new place.
The next morning we woke up and packed up — we had a tour of Pompeii that morning and instead of returning to the apartment afterwards, we had a car service picking us up at the entrance gate to Pompeii to drive us to our next stop on the Amalfi coast.
Although there was a direct train from the station near our apartment to the Porta Marina gate of Pompeii ruins, we decided instead to take a cab. With 6 suitcases and 6 backpacks, the train, though a much cheaper option, sounded a bit daunting. Our cab driver brought us right to the Pompeii train station we’d have gotten off at anyway — we wanted to go there because there was a bag check service where we could leave our luggage while we did our tour of the ruins.
We met our tour guide Jeanette, again from Angel Tours, at the gate to Pompeii and she expedited us through the line, another benefit of the tour service. Jeanette was an extremely knowledgeable and personable guide; she kept the kids absolutely engaged throughout the day. Pompeii was big — bigger than I anticipated — and we saw a lot of it. Again Gabe was really proud of his knowledge of Ancient Romans when he was able to answer several questions on the tour.
Before our trip we’d also made a point to read a few books geared toward Owen and Quinn that would give them a better understanding of what we’d be seeing: Vacation Under the Volcano is a Magic Tree House book about Mt. Vesuvius that did a really good job of explaining what happened without being terrifying. We also read the Magic Tree House non-fiction companion book about Ancient Rome and Pompeii that I highly recommend if you’re traveling to Pompeii with younger kids. And actually, I read both books out loud to all the kids over the course of a few evenings before the trip, so I think even my older kids learned a lot from the books that they were able to relate to the real thing when we were there.
The most interesting thing I think we all took away from our tour of Pompeii was this: scientists have learned that Vesuvius has a fairly regular eruption cycle. The last major eruption took place in 79 A.D. and covered the city of Pompeii in the ash that preserved it until the present day. Prior to that, the last major eruption was approximately 1,900 years earlier, and then again about 1,900 years before that. There are also usually smaller eruptions about every 60-70 years, but those don’t generally result in major destruction — the last one took place in 1944 and created the lava field on the side of the mountain that we saw on our horse ride up Vesuvius. However, 72 years have passed since the last minor volcanic eruption of Vesuvius. And 1,937 years have passed since the last major eruption. Some people believe that the volcano “skipped” the last minor eruption because she is gearing up for the major one that’s due…basically now. You could almost see the gears in the kids’ heads turning as our tour guide posed the questions to them and let them do the math. A bit unnerving certainly, but our guide assured us that scientists monitor the volcano very closely for any uptick in activity, so we were perfectly safe. That little tidbit, though? An absolute highlight that has been widely discussed over and over since the trip.
Although we were only in the Naples area for less than 2 days, it was one of the most interesting parts of the trip. Between the incomparable horse ride up the face of an active volcano and the in-depth tour of the incredible ruins at Pompei, I felt like we’d really made the most of our time there. I’d highly recommend both activities if you’re planning a trip to that area!