Up Pompeii, and down the Amalfi highway

One hour from: Naples

From the premier city of southern Italy, seek out the inspiration of northern luminaries, including Ibsen, Nietzsche and Wagner, plus a thousand tenors, hydrotherapists and vulcanologists.

From the premier city of southern Italy, seek out the inspiration of northern luminaries, including Ibsen, Nietzsche and Wagner, plus a thousand tenors, hydrotherapists and vulcanologists.

Pompeii

Two million visitors a year pack into Pompeii, so go very early or late in the day. Once past the mêlée on the perimeter, marvel at the remains of this city, which stopped breathing in AD79 when Vesuvius blew its top. Get your bearings at the Forum, then head for the Temple of Jupiter and the Roman baths.

By car: take the A3 motorway south and follow signs; journey time approx 20 mins. By train: take the Naples-Sorrento Circumvesuviana railway to Pompeii Scavi-villa dei Misteri; journey time approx 15 mins.

Sorrento

This town, which once inspired the likes of Ibsen, Wagner and Nietzsche ­ as well as waves of tearful tenors ­ is now a mass-market resort, with sun-worshippers like sardines on the scanty beaches. So walk along the coastal path or hire a boat to reach less populated coves. Slip back into a past era with cocktails at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, once a must for 19th-century travellers on the Grand Tour.

By car: take the A3 motorway south, then follow the SS145; journey time approx 50 mins. By train: take the Naples-Sorrento Circumvesuviana railway; journey time approx 40 mins.

Ravello and the Amalfi coast

Along the Costiera Amalfitana, the corniche snakes its way around sheer cliffs, stringing together the jewels of Amalfi, Atrani and Positano, which drop into the sparkling Gulf of Salerno. The crowning glory is Ravello, home of the summer music festival, which sees the likes of Pavarotti and Domingo dropping in by helicopter. Bypass Branson's swanky new Palazzo Sasso hotel and hole up like foreign royalty in the faded grandeur of the Caruso Belvedere, with its stunning terraces and restaurant.

By car: take A3 motorway south to the Angri exit and follow signs to the Valico di Chiunzi pass and Ravello; journey time approx 1 hour.

Herculaneum

Less popular than big brother Pompeii, Herculaneum is just as impressive in its way. It was once thought that most of the population managed to escape Vesuvius's eruption, but the discovery of hundreds of skeletons in the 1980s put paid to that. Don't miss the well-preserved dwellings, the House of Neptune and the Forum Baths.

By car: take the A3 motorway south and follow the exit signs for Ercolano; journey time approx 15 mins. By train; take the Naples-Sorrento Circumvesuviana railway; journey time approx 10 mins.

Caserta

Home to the over-the-top palace, the Reggia di Caserta or Palazzo Real, it's the largest and grandest in Italy: Neapolitan baroque at its most splendid.

By car: take the A1 motorway north to the Caserta-sud exit; journey time approx 40 mins. By train: frequent service from Naples' Stazione Centrale; journey time 30 mins.

Ischia

Since the shooting of The Talented Mr Ripley (Jude, Matt, Gwynnie), Capri's sleepy sister, above, has seen a steady influx of visitors. Aficionados make for Sant'Angelo and the cafés that line the harbour, while for a sensational overview head to the volcanic centre of Monte Epomeo. Need some hydrotherapy? There are plenty of spas, drawing healing waters from the island's 103 hot springs.

By boat: take the Caremar hydrofoil; journey time approx 45 mins.

The Magic of Italy (0870-027 0500; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) offers two nights at the five-star Grand Hotel Santa Lucia from £385 per person, including return scheduled flights from London. Extra nights from £74 per person. Europcar (0870 607 5000; www.europcar.co.uk) offers weekend car hire in Naples from £83.67.

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