07/09/2012 07:37 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2012

Amid The Ash Of Italy's Pompeii Alternative (PHOTOS)

The so-called "lost" city of Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the vicinity of Naples and among the most famous archeological sites in the world, attracting nearly three million annual visitors.

Pompeii's perpetual crowds are large and occasionally unbearable, especially if you visit during the white-hot southern Italian summer. Pompeii is not only a steamy ride from Naples on an aged train, but also a bit of a walk through streets shimmering in the heat.

Given all that, I've come up with a modest proposal: Don't go to Pompeii. Instead, head to Ercolano, which gives travelers the experience of wandering around a town trapped by volcanic ash like a mosquito in amber.

Though Ercolano is slightly further from Mount Vesuvius than Pompeii, it is arguably better preserved.

Ercolano's footprint is smaller than Pompeii's, but -- given that the town is home to the same architectural, cultural and artistic relics of its larger cousin -- the size is not a shortcoming. To the contrary, crowds there are less dense and locals are less efficient.

The alterna-Pompeii lacks the big name, but it also lacks the big hassles.