The black giant rises up in the distance, completely dominating the landscape. The artistic and natural wonders to be found along the coast beneath Vesuvius are guaranteed to astound the visitor: the best way to explore the area is, without doubt, to follow the ancient Via Regia di Portici, also known as the Strada del "Miglio d'Oro" or "Golden Mile" which, from Naples, leads directly to Herculaneum, town famous for its Roman ruins and gateway to the National Park of Vesuvius.

We commence our exploration of the volcano here. Since 1995 the National Park of Vesuvius has been declared a protected area. Home to over 900 species of indigenous flowers, within its boundaries some 15 nature trails and 2 cycle routes have been created so as to allow visitors to explore the park in complete freedom. The Gran Cono, some 1282 above sea level, can only be visited in the company of an authorised guide. Occasionally, visitors get the chance to see the fumaroles which indicate the active state of the volcano.

Travelling along the Miglio d'Oro, we come across numerous sumptuous villas and patrician residences built here during the 18th century. Immersed in a unique landscape characterised by the lush Mediterranean vegetation, the sea, and the great volcano, 122 of these magnificent dwellings are part of the Villas of Vesuvius Foundation. It was this concentration of architectural masterpieces of the high baroque Kingdom of Naples, in the vicinity of Herculaneum, to have given the name of the Golden Mile to this section of road which coasts past the villas. On Corso Resina, for example, one finds Villa Campolieto whilst, towards the sea, there if the splendid park of Villa Favorita.

Little more than a kilometer separates Herculaneum from Portici. In this densely populated town south of the provincial capital, we find the National Railway Museum of Pietrarsa, which takes its name from Italy's very first steam train which made its opening journey in 1845 along the first railway line to be realized on the European continent, the Naples-Portici, which was inaugurated on the 3rd of October 1839. The museum is situated inside the ex Royal Mechanic Factory, built under the rule of the Bourbon King Ferdinando II, the year following the inauguration of the railway line.

Once beyond Torre del Greco, known for the crafting of coral, and Torre Annunziata, home to the Villa Oplonti, we come to Pompei, the city of the famous archaeological site and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Rosario. Each year the basilica with its Madonna of Pompei is the destination of a constant flow of pilgrims: estimated to be as many as 4 million each year.

Close by lies the archaeological site of Pompei. The area of the excavations, which extends over some 44 hectares, reveals the remains of a city, which had been entirely buried under a 6 meter deep layer of lava and ash during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 B.C.. Visitors to Pompei can now observe the streets, houses, marketplaces, the Suburban thermal baths, the Forum and basilica which reveal the advanced civilisation and wealth which the Roman town enjoyed, as testified by the ornate decorations present on the walls of the buildings. The visit is made in the presence of Vesuvius, which looms on the horizon as if to remind the tourist of both past and present danger.
In the Northern part of the site there are the various temples of Pompei, including that dedicated to Apollo, the most important of the town's houses of worship, and the Temple of Jove. Equally fascinating is the Via dei Sepolcri, one of ''Pompei's necropolis, the tombs of which are displayed on either side of the road. Recently opened to the public, the Lupanare''' is one of the most famous buildings in Pompei: a two-storey brothel, the highest floor of which was reserved for the most illustrious clients.

Our journey along this fabulous stretch of coast concludes in Castellammare di Stabia, the sea side town which lies at the feet of Monte Faito. From the town center, visitors reach the summit of the mountain by the funicular railway which transports passengers up the 1000 meter ascent in just a few minutes: from here a spectacular panorama can be admired. The Varano promontory, a mere 2kms from the center of Stabia, is particularly interesting from a historical and archaeological point of view. This is where numerous residential villas were built in the Roman period, the ruins of which can still be seen. Varano's town center is home to a number of interesting buildings: Palazzo Farnese, which now houses the town hall, the Cathedral with its ornate decorations and frescoes, and the Cassa Armonica, within the Villa Comunale. The Cassa Armonica, built in the early 20th century in Moresque style, provides the elegant venue for important concerts and musical reviews, and is, arguably, one the most beautiful Musical Pavilions in the whole of Europe.