Cruising Campania: Exploring Italy’s south west coastline

Peter Cumberlidge picks out his favourite spots on the Campagnia coastline, from Sorrento to the Bay of Naples and the remote Pontine islands

The west coast of Italy is blessed with some of the finest harbours and most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean.

More than halfway down from Genoa, opposite the middle of Sardinia, Campania province has the stunning Bay of Naples as its centrepiece.

This dazzling theatre of history is dominated by the shadow of Vesuvius, a picture-book, slightly menacing volcano a few miles inland.

On the south side of the bay, the rugged Sorrento Peninsula juts out towards the romantic island of Capri, whose cliffs soar far above the rich blue sea.

Off the north arm of the bay are two more islands, tiny Procida and much larger Ischia (pictured below) with its soothing subtropical vibes.

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Ischia islandA short cruise out to the west you reach the scattered Pontine Archipelago, where even by Italian standards time turns slowly in the picturesque harbours of Ponza and Ventotene.

Naples itself is a noisy cultural melting pot, which engages all your senses at once. It is a city of contrasts, where gracious piazzas, opulent palaces and ornate churches are set against warrens of narrow streets whose urban poverty is relieved only by shafts of bright sunshine.

You can sample these vivid impressions from one of Naples’ well-appointed marinas around the bay.

But the place to begin a Campania cruise is on the south side of the Sorrento Peninsula, where the Amalfi Coast looks across the glittering Gulf of Salerno.

Amalfi coastFrom offshore this dramatic spur seems to rise sheer from the sea, with sparse villages clinging to its cliffs.

As you get closer, more looming layers emerge from the haze, as the peaks of Monti Lattari rise to 1,500 metres.

At the head of its gulf, Salerno is an attractive cruising base and a favourite of mine because the place feels so pleasantly ordinary.

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