"Two weddings, two Roman villas and a long walk!" Castellammare di Stabia by leics
Castellammare di Stabia Travel Guide: 7 reviews and 57 photos
I was *almost* determined to visit the two Roman villas I knew existed in Castellammare. Before the Vesuvian eruption this area (like the rest of the coast as far as Sorrento) was a Roman seaside 'resort' (Stabiae) with, one assumes, many villas built by the uber-rich for their summertime pleasure.
The Vesuvian eruption pushed the coastline much further out (the result of all that ash and pumice) and the villas are much less-visited than Pompeii, Oplontis or Herculaneum. They were first excavated in the 1700s but are really not well-known. Even my trusty Rough Guide, and Lonely Planet, give very little information about how to get to them.
So my determination to visit was tempered by almost total lack of directions or information on how to find the sites (which I knew were well outside modern Castellammare) and a grasp of Italian which is scanty, to say the least. There is a villa website (there are plans to massively raise the profile of the whole area) but its walking directions involved a long walk uphill (30-40 minutes)
The modern town of Castellammare di Stabia has a working port and dockyard and is almost, but not quite, just an extension of Naples' vast urban sprawl. But it has its own character and, as well as the villas and a pleasant seafront along which to promenade, has vertiginous funicular (really a cable car) up to Monte Faito. When I got off the Circumvesuviana train at Castellammare I did consider taking the funicular up the mountain (the access is on the station itself). But when I considered the windiness of the day, and saw the car descending, I thought....no. Not today. I'm not good with heights at the best of times.....
Once I walked out of the Circumvesuviana station I could see the sea, so decided to wander down and sit for a while (I'd walked a very long way in Herculaneum that morning).
Castellammare at 2pm on a Wednesday was fairly quiet, with closed shops, little traffic, and fewer people.... so imagine my amazement when I suddenly spotted a very frilly bride in a local cafe with an interesting name (see photo). As I walked further towards the sea I realised that there were in fact two wedding parties in the immediate vicinity, and that the seafront and it's rather nice bandstand were perfect spots for all the wedding photos and video.
So I spent the next twenty minutes or so sitting on the seafront, enjoying a stupendous view of Vesuvius and the rather amusing sight of the brides and grooms being posed by their photographers in sundry 'romantic' spots. I suppose it's all part of modern wedding days...I saw a similar wandering-around-town-being-photographed in Kaunas...but I did wonder where all the rest of the guests were. Having fun (and drinks) elsewhere, I imagine...
But this was not getting me to the villas. I knew bus number 1 'would get me there' (according to my Rough Guide) but could see no bus stops anywhere (it turned out that there aren't any, but everyone knows where to stand). So I made a decision: I'd walk back to the station and ask a taxi driver how much it would cost to get there.
As luck would have it, a bus1 drew to a halt just as I reached the tiny square where the station is. A combination of 'Scavi Stabiae??' on my part and a repetition of the same thing with the correct local pronunciation meant I was on the bus and away.
It seemed like a very long journey. I'd intended to remember the route for the walk back, but it was so circuitous I had no hope of doing so. Finally, we stopped and the driver pointed up the road. A couple of local ladies told me the site was 'centi metri' (100m) away so off I walked into the countryside above Castellammare.
100 metres? I think Castellammare residents may have a slight misunderstanding of distance! The walk was more like half a mile (800m) but eventually I arrived at a sign for Villa San Marco.
Following the sign meant walking through a working farmyard (a little disconcerting) but the lady at the site was overjoyed to see me. She'd only had one other visitor that day and, when I signed the visitors' book (as she insisted) it was clear that very few people make the trek. She was so keen that she also insisted that she gave me a guided tour. Unfortunately, she spoke only Italian.
On the bus I'd passed a hot, sweaty family trekking up the hill and was very pleased indeed when they suddenly appeared...and were English. Coping with an enthusiastic guide who spoke no English was much easier with a group of us: we could sort-of translate for each other, as best we could.
And the Villa San Marco is truly magnificent (see tip and travelogues). Not quite to the standard of Villa Poppea at Oplontis, but very clearly belonging to someone who not only had loads of money but wanted to make it very obvious indeed that he had loads of money! As we wandered we imagined the summer parties here, the impressing of colleagues and friends, the girls (and boys) brought in as amusements, the deals made over meals on the patio, the fun and frolics in the massive swimming pool and the baths....'bunga bunga', most definitely!
We decided we'd walk to the Villa Arianna. the guide said it was only 'cinquecento metri' (500m) and that it had very beautiful frescoes. It was actually about a mile (1600km), although the walking was flat and easy, although it would not be much fun in the heat. No keen guide at Villa Arianna and, to be frank, I was not much impressed by the frescoes either. I thought those at Villa San Marco were better.
We found our way back to Castellammare by a much quicker route, which was just as well...we were all tired from the walking at the end of a long day of sightseeing elsewhere (the family had also been to Herculaneum).
So. Castellammare for itself? Probably not. But for the funicular (if you enjoy such things...I believe it gives superb views over the bay of Naples) and for the villas...yes. If you've seen the other main sites and have a half-day to spare then both villas are worth a visit, although San Marco is the better imo.
But.....I was a little concerned by the evidence of much ongoing reconstruction and redevelopment. I'm more than happy for sites to be stabilised and restored, of course...but I felt that the Villa Arianna, in particular, was actually being reconstructed. It was not always easy to tell where original ruins ended and new works began. To me, that is not what should be happening.
Perhaps you should visit before the site is fully 're-developed'?
- Pros:Two Roman villas and a funicular
- Cons:No obvious bus stops.
- In a nutshell:Worth visiting the villas and/or going up to Monte Faito.
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