Have you ever felt like you are standing on top of the world, with no worries and concerns, a light wind whipping through your hair, the sun burning your eyes slightly and everything stretched out below you? Looking directly at the space where the blue sea meets the blue sky, and thinking “how lucky am I to be here, right now in this moment?”.
I have, just once. And it was when I was standing at the top of Mount Vesuvius.
I’ve had an odd fascination with volcanos since school, and a few years previously I visited Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica, which at the time was the 10th most active volcano in the world. But exploring Mount Vesuvius has been high up on my bucket list for a very long time – simply because of its relation to the total devastation of the ancient city of Pompeii.
Mount Vesuvius looms large over the bay of Naples, visible from both Naples itself and of course from within the ruins of Pompeii. It’s beautiful, of course but I’ve always found the idea of having a volcano in your backyard a little disconcerting, even if the last time it erupted was 1944. But, Italy has three active volcanoes – Mount Etna, on Sicily, Stromboli on one of the Aeolian Islands and Mount Vesuvius near Naples.
But as Mount Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe, its no wonder most aren’t used to the concept of living next door to one.
So visiting then – Mount Vesuvius is a volcano you can climb! Which depending on your viewpoint is either crazy or brilliant, but I had long decided that it was probably a bit brilliant to be able to peer in to its dormant crater and look out over Sorrento and the Bay of Naples from above.
There are a couple of different ways to visit Moutn Vesuvius – either by tour, or independently using public transport. If going it alone, you’ll need to catch the Circumvesuviana train from Naples or Sorrento to either Ercolano Scava or Pompeii train station and then take a bus up to the entrance to the Mount Vesuvius National Park.
I ended up going by tour bus from Pompeii, as part of my day trip to the Pompeii ruins with Project Napoli, booked through Viator. We didn’t have a tour guide whilst in the national park, but the ease of travel made the whole thing much more straightforward. No matter what you decide, you are either dropped 250m from the summit (the entrance to the national park) or 100m further down in the car park (if by public bus) so you have a walk either way!Have you ever thought about climbing an volcano? Well now you can! Try exploring Mount Vesuvius.Click To Tweet
The climb is beautiful, but relentless. It is not steep, but it is a winding on going gravel park to the top. You probably need a rest or two on the way and even though I was very unfit I did huff and puff my way to the top. I definitely wouldn’t want to do this in the height of summer, but in March it was very manageable.
Part way through your climb, you’ll get to a small hut and here you can wait for a scheduled tour by a volcanology guide. It’s free (well part of your entrance fee to the national park) and available in English, and whilst it only lasts 10 minutes you’ll learnt a fair bit about what you are looking at and the history of Mount Vesuvius.
Beyond that you can climb some wooden steps and walk part way round the crater (and peer in, which is slightly disconcerting) and get to the highest peak for an excellent view.
And despite being hot, clammy and a little tired I’d do it again and again for the view. We were extremely lucky to visit on a clear day so the top was not shrouded with clouds or mist, and the views across the Bay of Naples are spectacular. Honestly, I just stood up there and stared across sea for what felt like a very long time.
When you turn to face the crater, you don’t see bubbling lava flowing, but it does feel a little bit like you’ve landed on the moon – with grey craters and gases rising it’s really unusual. I haven’t seen much like that before.
So many people miss out on a trip to Mount Vesuvius and I’m not sure why. Perhaps they haven’t considered the lonely beauty of standing up there staring out in to the sun, or perhaps people think it’ll be too much effort. In fact many people I’ve spoken to on my return didn’t even know you could visit there. But it’s perfect to combine with a trip to Pompeii, and really straightforward to organise a trip!