Steaming crater

Walking up Mount Vesuvius – vulcano e vino

A volcano! Unlike on all our previous trips, we TOTALLY took the easy way up the beautiful and legendary, although periodically terrifying, Monte Vesuvio.

Mount Vesuvius, a volcano formed by the meeting of African and Eurasian tectonic plates, sits about 6km east of Naples and currently rises to 1,277m1 (the height changes with eruptions). Largely infamous for erupting in 79AD and destroying Pompeii and Herculaneum, it last erupted in 1944 and still smoulders quietly, emitting little plumes of sulphurous steam. It’s carefully monitored for activity, due to the 800,000 people who live in the nearby “red zone”.

There’s no athletic prowess in the way we did this, because we used a bus for most of it. Still, though, it was an adventure.

We were on holiday. After a punishing 2018, I decided to treat the family to our first “package deal” – an all-inclusive, blob-out trip to Italy where we planned to eat, drink, and sleep: grazie mille, 2019. But, blobbing aside, we were offered day trips and obviously, when offered a volcano to climb, we were going to say yes. Si, fantastico. 

Our route

So we hopped on a tour bus whose driver kindly took us to about 1,000m, where we were deposited in a car park with the contents of several other coaches, to make our way to the crater on foot. The summit was just less than 1km away, up a gradually sloping, even grit path made of pumice/ash. It wasn’t the kind of slope that would easily take a buggy, but for four able sets of legs, it was a quick (15-20 min), easy trot to the summit, where we enjoyed beautiful views spanning the Bay of Naples. We peered into the crater, smelled the sulphur, and wandered around the slightly lumpier path to the little hut a further 1km on, which marks the end of the public access (I believe there’s some form of maintenance going on; the park website mentions plans to open up the circuit).

Looking back down the ascent

We arrived in cool weather with clouds being blown across the crater, but clear in between, so we had the advantage of comfortable walking conditions and good views. We’d been to Pompeii in the morning and had already walked for several hours, so with three kids in tow, it was nice to have an easy walk. HOWEVER, our coach tour anticipated people just seeing the crater and coming down again, rather than exploring further around the rim, so time was tight: even at a pace, we only just had time to cover a 4km walk and still have time to take photos and buy wine.

Yes, I was the mother who sprinted down a volcano trailing three kids and clutching a bottle of Lacryma Christi. Always a good look. I’d tasted the wine in my teens and loved it, and thanks to it being local to the area and (to my knowledge) not extensively exported, I’d waited 30 years before finding it again. The previous day I’d tried to be a good mother by not parking my offspring outside a vineyard while I enjoyed a wine-tasting tour, so then when I spotted a bottle in a little tourist stall up on Mount Vesuvius… well, that was just destiny, right?

(Wiki tells me it’s been analysed and found to be very similar to the wine the Romans drank. You had your chance, Romans, it’s mine now.)

So, would I do it again? Yes, definitely, it was brilliant. Again, as with so many mountains, it offers tons of enjoyment for all ages and all four of us loved it. My seven-year-old adored the bubbly, red rocks, and all of us loved peering down into the crater, which looked deceptively peaceful as trees grow in there now. (I would not want to be that tree.)

Trees grow inside the crater now, but steam still vents and you can smell the sulphur

On this particular day, we were happy to have a short walk and cushy experience but if I did it again, I’d be tempted to walk up the full mountain from its base and there are tours and guides that allow that. Although we didn’t explore the option this time, I believe it’s also possible to visit independently and there would be a real incentive to do this, as the “hurry” factor of group tours is a bit wearing when you find somewhere that you’d like to linger. However, the roads are narrow and there are a lot of wide coaches heading in both directions, while the off-road options just looked like scree, so how safe or enjoyable this would be in practice, I don’t know. The park also has its own closing time which varies seasonally. I’ve seen tracks mapped on the eastern side so perhaps that would be a way up: it would need research and probably local advice.

Still, though, the coach tour is a brilliant trip and easily manageable with even small children provided they can manage a 1km hill climb and are carefully monitored at the top.

Things to note…

It’s a national park and there’s a gated €10 entrance fee per person.

Tours give you a set time to go up and down: due to the gritty path, they warn it can take longer to descend than ascend – we did not find this but others did. Also the park has its own closing time which varies seasonally. 

If you start at the 1000m point, you can do it in any comfortable shoes; it’s more of a walk than a hike.

Don’t expect a funicular cable car: it was destroyed in the 1944 eruption.

There are souvenir and refreshment stalls en route. They sell wine. 

Enjoy!

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