A short train or bus ride direct from Naples, CASERTA, incongruously surrounded by a sprawl of industrial complexes and warehouses that stretches all the way back to Naples, is known as the "Versailles of Naples" for its vast eighteenth-century Palazzo Reale, the only attraction in this otherwise completely nondescript modern town. Begun in 1752 for the Bourbon King Charles III to plans drawn up by Vanvitelli, and completed a little over twenty years later, it's an awesomely large complex, built around four courtyards, with a facade 245m long. However, it's a dull structure that generally substitutes size for inspiration. Only the majestic central staircases up to the royal apartments (Mon & Wed– Sun 8.30am–7.30pm; 4.20, 6 for apartments and gardens combined, Web: www.reggiadicastera.org ) hit exactly the right note. The apartments themselves are a grand parade of heavily painted and stuccoed rooms, sparsely furnished in French Empire style, with great, overbearing classical statues and smug portraits of the Bourbon dynasty – look out for the one of the podgy Francis I with his brat-like children.
Behind the palace, the gardens (Mon & Wed– Sun: Jan, Feb, Nov & Dec 8.30am–2.30pm; March 8.30am–4pm; April 8.30am–5pm; May & Sept 8.30am–5.30pm; June, July & Aug 8.30am–6pm; Oct 8.30am–4.30pm; 2) are on no less huge a scale, stretching out behind along one central three-kilometre-long axis and punctured by myth-inspired fountains. The main promenade is longer than it looks from the palace (it's a good 30min walk or a short bicycle ride), and regular buses make the round trip, dropping you off at selected intervals along the way and turning round by the main cascade at the top, completed in 1779, which depicts Diana turning Actaeon into a stag. Walk to the top, look back at the palace, hop on a bus and depart.