As you wind your way south from Naples, by road or the Circumvesuviana, the towering peak of Mount Vesuvius looms large wherever you are. It's a landmark to guide yourself by, but also one you can visit as a destination in its own right. With transport available, most of the way up, a walk to the summit is both beautiful and achievable. Most famous for the devastating eruption of A.D. 79, Vesuvius continues to be an active volcano, indeed the only one on the European mainland to have erupted within the last century (March 17th-23rd 1944).
1,281m high, you can choose to walk up the whole volcano, but most people choose to take some form of transport most of the way. Buses leave regularly from nearby destinations such as Herculaneum or Pompeii, or from further afield, for example, Naples itself. They career around the hairpin bends in the roads which snake up the side of the volcano, bringing new amazing views into view after every turn.
Eventually, just 200m (vertically) from the summit, is a car park. Here buses will drop you, and taxis hover, ready to meet more individual needs (a taxi to Herculaneum is reasonably priced, in the region of 40 Euros, if you want private transport).
As in ancient times, the volcanic soil is fertile, giving rise to a beautiful landscape and plentiful viticulture. The Lacryma Christi wine, from the volcano grounds, is sold both on the volcano (in tourist booths, at acceptable prices) and in local shops. The name means 'tears of Christ', a reference to Christ crying over Lucifer's shoulder. It is supposed to be the closest to the wine drunk by the ancient Romans. If you are a wine lover, then red, white and rose are all distinctive and pleasant.
The views are outstanding. Looking out over the sea, on a clear day, you can island spot, looking out for places such as Capri and remembering the millennia of people who have done the same. Designated a national park on 5th June 1995, the area is beautiful and carefully managed.
At the top is a small kiosk offering a few refreshments, including a local almond and black pepper biscuit, which is worth a try (with a good drink in hand). Souvenirs available include all kinds of things made out of lava, especially rosaries and skull-themed items. There is a bench at the edge of the crater for weary travellers to rest and be photographed having made it, and a good seating area by the kiosk itself.
The walk is not difficult, but the ground is uneven and the path largely covered in loose soil and stones. Railings stop you falling either into the crater, or over the edge of the slope. Walking sticks are offered at the entrance to the final ascent, and may prove helpful in steadying nervous walkers. At this point, you also pay the entrance fee of 10 Euros. It is worth going early in the morning (from 9am) as the paths are less crowded, the crater more peaceful, and the sun less intense. At a gentle pace, allow up to half an hour to get to the top. There are basic toilet facilities available in the car park.
An active volcano, Vesuvius is expected to erupt again. Photographs in exhibitions at nearby sites (especially Villa Regina) show the terrifying majesty of the volcano in full flow. It is kept under close observation, with evacuation plans in place for the area. Pompeii, and indeed Naples, may one day be buried again, with 600,000 people in the danger area. In the meantime, climbing the volcano is a beautiful walk, reminding one of just how powerful and uncontrollable nature is.