If I were to come up with my top 10 conversational travel places, Amalfi Coast would absolutely grace the list. The 50 km stretch of coastline dotted with colorful towns carved into the cliffside is a cherished destination for Europeans and Americans alike. A place for the bougie, who enjoy sailing and sipping italian rose´ and don’t wince at the inflated prices. It’s difficult to get to, horrifyingly overpriced, and completely over run with tourists… but the scenery is absolutely jaw-dropping and the towns are adorably quaint.
This is my guide to get the most of your time and money during your trip to Italy’s paradise. Prego.
How to do the Amalfi Coast Right
When to Go:
This is my most preeminent advice. The one that will, above all else… make or break your trip to the Amalfi Coast. You should plan your vacation for April, May, late September or October. If you go during the peak summer months, be prepared to pay triple for hotels (if you can find one), have to sit squished on the ferry to Capri because the private boat charters are sold out, and wait for hours to sit down for dinner at mediocre restaurants (naturally the top ones are only seeing hotel guests & distinguished diners). June, July, August and the beginning of September are crowded and hot. There won’t be a place for your towel on the tinsy stretch of Positano beach, nor will you be able to squeeze yourself onto a deck to catch sunset over the water. There are tourists littered everywhere, bumping into one another as they rummage through overpriced souvenirs. Many of which are habitual Amalfi visitors who are more than happy to line maitre d´ pockets (and the like). If you’re not in a place to compete with this, then summer in the Amalfi Coast is not for you. Winter is also not an option as the majority of the restaurants and hotels lay dormant when the chilly winds roll off the sea.
You’re going to need to rent a car and drive from Rome, stopping briefly in Napoli to eat at L’Antica. Not because Julia Roberts ate there in “Eat Pray Love” (okay a little because of that), but because this is allegedly the birthplace of pizza. Order the margherita with extra cheese and a perroni and experience the pie that started a revolution. Napoli is dingy and unwelcoming, which is another reason to get in, get the pizza, and get out. The car ride is going to be terrifying at times, but it trumps being confined to a tour bus schedule. Watch my video of driving in Italy & read my tips here: “Driving in Italy, Why it’s a Wonderfully Terrible Idea” You’re going to want to be able to get up and go, explore the coast, visit each town and feel the sun warm your face through the convertible top of your fiat. Having a car is an absolute must. If you’re like me and being behind the wheel along winding narrow roads of cliffs sounds more like a death sentence than a scenic adventure, then the only other viable option is to hire a personal driver… yet still, I’d take my chances dancing with the devil for the experience. (Isn’t this a great place for a cheesy quote about ‘getting there is half the adventure?’).
Where to Stay:
Let me begin by saying that Sorrento is not technically the Amalfi coast. And while it is charming with the quintessential Italian streets, you will be kicking yourself when you finally make it to Positano or Capri and see what you’ve been missing out on! Stay in Positano, Ravello, Capri or Itscha, not Amalfi or Sorrento. the city of Amalfi, unfortunately, is quite overrun with cruise ship drop offs and bus tour unloads. Positano is great for livelier tourists who are craving restaurants with views, shopping and a bit of nightlife. It is also the perfect spot for taking trips to the islands or other towns along the coast. Set high above the coast, the small town of Ravello is quiet, romantic and relaxing. Capri is the much busier island and a must see. Staying here will be similar to Positano, but perhaps a bit quieter when all the day tourists leave on the ferry. Itscha is the much less know island. It’s a bit further of a boat ride from Positano but worth it if you want to explore the nature of the island in a peaceful and quiet setting. If I were you, I would spend 2-3 nights on Positano, do a day trip to Capri and then spend 2 nights on Itscha. Just thinking about it makes me Itscha to go back. (God that one was horrid.)
We stayed in Positano at a lovely affordable little hotel called Hotel Miramare with an enormous room and two large balconies overlooking the colorful cityscape and ocean. Can’t really beat it for the $200 euro/night price tag. Plus the room was spacious, adorably decorated and not nearly as outdated as many of the neighboring hotels. You’re not going to find our modern idea of 5 star opulence on the Amalfi coast aside from San Pietro, which we had the luxury of visiting our honeymooning friends at. This hotel is a once in a lifetime fit-for-Beyonce experience, and the pricetag reflects it. In a coast without beaches, San Pietro has a private one carved into the cliffside with a restaurant, bar and tennis courts beside it. For guests only, naturally. Other viable options in Positano are: Hotel Palazzo Murat and Le Sirenuse.
What to Do
- Cruise the coast through Amalfi and up to Ravello. Oh my God, this drive. I mean, wow. Prepare to have your breath taken away around each corner. If you see a parking spot in Amalfi (kind of a joke, you won’t find one), be my guest and get out to fight your way through the tour buses to get your photo of the Amalfi Cathedral in the city center, but then move on. I can’t even get over how quaint Ravello is ….like a little village out of a Disney movie. Stroll all the way through the narrow cobblestone streets until you get to the botanical gardens “Villa Cimbrone” that are worth the ticket price… if only for the backdrop.
- Charter a Boat to Capri. Since I just saved you so much money, I’m going to need you to open your wallet for a private boat transfer to Capri and/or Itscha. These will be two separate trips, so if you only have time to do one while you’re here, Capri is the island for you. Charter a boat and you can sip prosecco and nibble on a charchutiere plate (my bougie is coming out) as you cruise across the smooth water to the jagged cliffs of the island. You can also dive right off into the refreshing ocean to cool off from the warm sun and watch the sunset on the glistening town of Positano as you float into the dock. Sounds fabulous right? It is. In Capri you’re going to need to do three things:
- Follow the sweet aroma of waffle cone to Buenocoro. Holy $%^& is this gelato good.
- Eat pizza at Ristorante e Pizzeria L’Approdo overlooking the ocean. Take note of the vegetables grown in a garden next to your table. Wash down with italian vin.
- Get custom leather sandals made.
- Catch the sunset from your balcony or one of the beachside restaurants, like Tres Hermanas.
- Stop in Sorrento on your drive back to Rome for souvenir shopping.
- Eat fresh fish. And pasta with clams. And pizza. And gelato. And mozzarella. And fresh fruits and wine and limoncello and gelato. Did I already mention gelato?
I’ll make a separate post on where to eat and the like, but I think this is a good start. Amalfi is a right of traveller passage. A place that will undoubtedly always be recommended to you, and that you will in turn recommend to others after you visit. It’s just one of those special little nooks of the world that leaves an imprint on your heart long after you’ve returned from its rocky shores and dramatic cliffs.
When life fails to give you lemons, head to the Amalfi and get your own damn basket. 😉