August 10, 2014

Swimming in the Bagni della Regina Giovanna

Every visit to Italy ought to include at least one day on the coast.  In the midst of an itinerary packed full of ruins, monuments, fountains, museums, beautiful churches, Unesco World Heritage sites, and hurry-hurry-hurry!, we paused for a day on the Campanian coast, basking in the salt breeze, soaking up the warm sun, and swimming in crystal clear water.  Turns out, it was our favorite day of the whole Italian trip.

After half the kids got off the train car, it
wasn't that bad of a ride.
After tiring ourselves with a day touring the ruined city of Pompeii, the next morning we needed some rejuvenation, so we caught the Circumvesuviana train south to Sorrento.  According to the train schedules and website, the journey would whisk us there in thirty minutes.  However, if you've read my griping about public transportation in Italy (and specifically, the Circumvesuviana line!), you won't be surprised to learn that we spent an hour jam-packed into a car devoid of air conditioning and full of laughing, shouting, sweating, boisterous Italian youths on the way to the beach.  Stereotypes depict Americans as loud, but I think Italian kids can give us a run for the money!

We finally reached Sorrento at about eleven.  As we left the station, my first impressions were favorable; that is, until I stepped squarely onto a thick, gooey glob of gum.  Welcome to Sorrento!

Piazza Tasso
Sticking to the pavement with every step, we wound our way into old town Sorrento, admiring a parade of flags in the square, and making our way down a steep road towards the shoreline.  Danny wanted to look into renting a kayak or two for the day; I was less than keen on the idea, but eager to cool off in the water.  By the time we reached the crowded black sands of the beach and I had caught sight of the waves, I'd completely made up my mind against a kayaking attempt.  And as the beach was overflowing with people, swimming there was not appetizing either.  So we bought a couple of paninis, a Coke, and then made our way back up the hill to find the road leading to Capo, a small hamlet roughly 5km from Sorrento.

The crowded, black sand beach.
I'm not going to lie - it was a long, hot walk.  Apparently there is a bus that runs from Sorrento to Capo, but at the time we didn't know where the bus stop was located.  Besides we would've missed out on walking within mere inches of buses on a windy, cliff-hugging road!

View of the Tyrrhenian from the cliff-hugging road to Capo.
After nearly an hour of walking, we finally reached a point that Danny recognized from his research on Google Street View.  We turned right off the main road into a small lane, flanked by stone walls and houses on one side and lemon and olive groves on the other.  Soon we could smell the sea, feel the refreshing breeze on our hot faces, and see the beginnings of ruins poking up through the grass and bushes.  We had reached the Bagni della Regina Giovanna, the Baths of Queen Joan.*

The path led us down a steep, damp, potentially ankle-twisting way to the bottom of a natural pool fed by an arched opening to the sea.  The water was a bright cerulean color, affording clear views to the bottom, and we had to share this beautiful "mermaid lagoon" with only another dozen people - practically deserted by beach standards!

Here my commentary will falter, and pictures will take over.  Words can't do this place justice, and my pictures really don't either.  This place is magical.

Our first glimpse down into the Bagni della Regina Giovanna.
Our little "mermaid lagoon"
Some of these rocks were razor sharp. I cut my calf and left foot on this one.
Splashing around.
These rocks blocked most of the sound from the sea, prevented any problems with a current, and kept most waves at bay. Only the wakes from boats would occasionally cause a gentle "wave pool" effect in the cove.

The alluring entrance to the sea.
After a few hours, we decided to explore the seaside beach, accessible by climbing back up the walls, through the Roman ruins, and out towards the Tyrrhenian.  There were more people here than in the Bagni, but nowhere near crowded.  A portable radio crooned Italian love songs for a group of young men and women nearby; an older British couple lounged nearby on their beach chairs reading; and a few men tried their luck fishing on the rocks below us.  I found the perfect dip in the rocks, creating a chair-bed for me, and fell asleep to the sound of the waves under the Campanian sun.  Truly, this was our piece of paradise in Italy.

View from the top of the ruins.
View from below, looking up to where the other picture was taken.

Picture perfect.

All too soon, the day was drawing to a close, so we started making our way back to Sorrento, thoroughly relaxed and craving more.  If I could plan the trip all over again, I would've spent at least one more day there.

I must admit to you that I almost didn't write this post, in a selfish bid to keep this place from being discovered by tourists hungry for an off-the-beaten-path experience in the general Sorrento area.  And I found it to be one of the more difficult posts to write, simply because before I even started writing, I felt like I couldn't adequately paint just how ethereal and stunning this place is.  However, as this was arguably the best day of our Italian travels, I decided to share this secret place with you, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.

Have you been to the Bagni della Regina Giovanna?  What did you think?   

Cost: A few euros per person for the train and/or bus ride, but otherwise only what you consume.
Time Needed:  A whole day.
Website That Inspired Our Visit
Accessibility:  From Naples, take the Circumvesuviana train line all the way to Sorrento.  You can either walk all the way to Bagni della Regina Giovanna or you can catch the Linea A bus from Piazza Tasso to the hamlet of Capo.  Other sources online state that it's a 10-15 minute bus ride; I'm not sure how frequently the bus runs.  It took almost exactly an hour to walk from the Circumvesuviana station to the Baths, and there were many great photo opportunities along the way.
Walking Directions:  From the Piazza Tasso in Sorrento (this is the main piazza with the various international flags and the statue of Torquato Tasso), proceed due west on Corso Italia for 600 meters.  Continue on SS145 (essentially the same road) for the next 1.5 kilometers.  It's the only road leading west out of Sorrento and is built into the cliffsides.  Be forewarned that eventually the sidewalk ends, and you'll be walking with traffic.  You'll come across a fork in the road at the 1.5 kilometer mark mentioned above.  Take the road to the right, which is still Via Capo.  After another 600 meters, you'll see a sign for "Ruderi Romani" (Roman ruins) beside a very small, cobble-stoned lane to the right.  That's your exit; it's barely big enough for a couple of people to walk abreast.  You'll continue downhill past lemon and olive groves, residences, and gardens, until the lane turns into a dirt footpath (roughly 36 meters).  Continue onward; it's only another 40 meters and you can't miss it!  It took us almost exactly an hour each way for this walk.
Tips:  Either eat before you go or pack a picnic.  Bring water!  It's very rocky, so you might want to bring water shoes and some band-aids in case you cut yourself on the volcanic rock (as I did!).   We visited on a Sunday, and there were about a dozen people down in the actual Baths.  There were more than that on the seaside portion of the beach, but it was not crowded at all.  The closest bathroom would be at the American Bar roughly a 10 minute walk away, but it's only open during the height of summer.  A foam roll would've made laying out on the rocks more comfortable, but as that's a lot for an international traveler to be toting around, just use a couple of beach towels and prop your head up on a backpack for a cozy siesta!

* The Baths are named after Queen Joan of Naples, who ruled in the 15th century.  According to history (and perhaps exaggerated by legend), the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting would swim naked in the pool or meet their lovers there for an illicit rendezvous.  Note that there were two Queen Joans in Naples' history, and it appears as though the queen of this legend is Joan II.

Linking up for #TravelTuesday!


  1. These photos are gorgeous!! I haven't been to Bagni della Regina Giovanna, but I was in Sorrento in 2006. We spent a weekend there, and took the ferry over to Capri. I loved swimming in that clear Mediterranean water. When it comes to that area, you really cannot go wrong. :)

    1. You're right; the scenery is beyond stunning. I would love to spend more time there on our next visit!

  2. Phew, cannot even imagine how hot it is over there in the summer (especially on a packed train). So gorgeous though, I suppose it makes up for all that :)

    1. I think we just had bad timing on the train. 10am on a gorgeous Sunday morning? Apparently it's a recipe for a ton of teens from Napoli to go to the beach!

  3. First of all - you are a babe! Rocking that bikini. Sounds like a bit of a hot, sweaty mission to get there, but it is beautiful! I loved the way you wrote about this, you got me excited to visit one day! :)

    1. Thanks! :D It really is a drop-dead gorgeous place. Pictures really can't do it justice, and I hope you're able to see it one day! Only take the bus. It's faster. :P

  4. Wow, so beautiful, I've never heard of this place, would love to go! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Since it's just outside Sorrento (which is gorgeous in its own right) and on the way to Amalfi (which I've also heard is beautiful!), maybe you will one day! It's such a scenic part of Italy!

  5. Wow, I love this little mermaid lagoon! It reminds me of one I went to in Malibu in California, but of course this is 100x better because it's in Italy!! I totally know what you mean about not knowing how to write about something because no words could do it justice. But you captured it so well, and I'm now dreaming about soaking in that little pool!

    1. Thanks! I've never been to California, but it seems like there are definitely areas out there that look like Italy!

  6. Well, now I'm quite bummed that I didn't go here while we were in Sorrento for a few days. It does look heavenly and magical -- the type of experience that captures exactly what you hope for in your travels. I'm glad your guy recognized the way from Google Street Views so that you could get there.

    1. Sounds like a good excuse for a return trip, though, right? :)

  7. That looks so lovely. I am in Italy now and I am exhausted! I need a beach day :D

    1. Italy really does wear you out, doesn't it? I think our next visit will be deliberately more relaxing as we didn't get much R&R running from site to site! Our Sorrento day was the only low-key one.


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