The coastline of the Sorrentine Peninsular, known as the Amalfi Coast, is just south of Naples in the region of Campania, Italy. We recently visited this movie-inspiring backdrop with its lemon groves dating back to Roman times, and colourful hill towns overlooking the aquamarine Tyrrenhian sea. You can read about our bucket-list trip along this coastline, the wonderful places we stayed, the food we ate, and the limoncello of course!
When I was about 12 years old I watched the movie Only You, with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Junior. I will never forget the scene where Marisa Tomei, dressed all in white, runs with Espadrilles in hand through narrow stairways in Positano. Since then my mom and I knew that we had to visit this place one day. And a good many years later we finally got to do this very special trip together along the Amalfi Coast.
Singing along to Dean Martin’s That’s Amore while I packed my bikinis into a suitcase the night before we left, I was filled with excitement, hoping that it would actually live up to the anticipation I had built up and the magic I had imagined. It is a part of Italy that I have not really explored, besides a short school trip to Pompeii and Paestum that I went on when we lived in Italy. Which left a considerable mark on me, as I have a bit of an interest in ancient history. And being 15 at the time, the phallic symbols and brothel ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii is something I will probably never forget.
On arriving at Napoli airport and driving out of the city in our little Lancia, Mount Vesuvius stood quietly to left. I was intrigued as having recently watched a documentary on this volcano, there are theories that it is due an eruption sometime soon, well in the next 100 years or so…
Our first stop along this coastline was Sorrento. We wandered through the cobbled streets of the town, looking at all the ceramic shops with their blue hues and iconic lemons painted on them, tasting limoncello along the way and we were treated to beautiful vistas of the bay below with Mount Vesuvius in the background. We even came across the cafe from the movie Love Is All You Need, an English-Danish film set partly in Sorrento.
After our afternoon in Sorrento, getting our first taste of the Amalfi Coast, we drove along the narrow, curving single lane SS163 coastal road, mountains above, and cliffs into the aquamarine sea below…with the crazy Italian drivers. There were cars, buses, motorini, and pedestrians, as well as hazardously parked vehicles along the sides of the road (this is pretty much the parking on the Amalfi Coast). Well, driving along these roads was an experience - a truly Italian experience if you ask me! (Tip Number 1: Watch your wing mirrors).
Our destination was Minori, a small seaside town further south from Positano and Praiano. We were staying at an agriturismo (guest house) just inland, up on the hills overlooking the sea and town. I would tell you the name of this place, but I prefer not to, as it is a truly special discovery. Perhaps if you ever bump into me on the streets you can try to pry it out of me with food and wine! My mom had heard of this place, and it came highly recommended, especially for the food. It is family run, with the husband caring for the farm and tending to guests and the wife cooking.
When we first arrived, after a long, hot car journey with treacherous coastal drivers, we were, well, accosted would probably be an accurate description, by a man with a strong Amalfitana dialect telling us to stop and asking gruffly, and somewhat suspiciously, through the driver-side window where we were going. We explained, at which point he told us to get out of the car and he would take it. My mom was having none of this! After some confusion, and a little situation reminiscent of a Peter Sellers comedy clip, we left the car with him. Turns out he was actually in charge of parking and moving the cars. (Tip Number 2: This is commonplace in this area, so expect to leave your car and the keys with someone, possibly anyone). And we started our walk up the many stairs through lemon groves to the agriturismo. The hills all around are terraced and most are abundant with giant hanging lemons and lush green vegetation.
Once we reached the top we had gorgeous views of the terraced hills, down into the town and the bay below. It is a small agriturismo with five or six apartments, all with private enclosed patios facing the sea. The little apartamento was lovely and simple, and sitting outside our shuttered doors at the wrought iron table with lemons hanging above us and the view of a sunset on the bay, it was truly serene.
Our dinners were at the little candle-lit tables on the main terrace, with that view, along with other guests, and lucky-to-get-a-booking locals. The food was lovingly made by the infamous matron of the house, and there was ample homemade red wine provided by the patron. You don’t get a menu, you are told that night’s specialities and then they are brought out: starter, primi, secondi, ending with a light summer dessert. The reputation of the food and cook didn't disappoint. It is my favourite type of fare: simple, fresh, local food. Things like deep fried fior di zucchini (grown on the farm) or local cozze steamed with lemon and white wine for starters, homemade pasta (special to the area), with a fresh tomato and mozzarella sauce, and lemon granita and limoncello for dessert. The lady of the house also has cooking classes but as it was high season, she was too busy cooking for guests to do this. We shall be returning in a quieter period for these lessons.
Being summer and a water-baby, we spent some of our time down at the beach, with most of it spent floating in the warm aqua sea, or eating gelato like only the Italians can make, and drinking Nastro Azzurro on our patio. There is something perfect about a cold beer on a hot summer’s afternoon, as friends of mine who were spending some time on the Amalfi Coast during their tour of Italy would agree. We met up with them a couple of times, once in the beautiful Ravello.
Ravello, host to incredible views of the coast below, the ancient Vila Rufolo with bougainvillea gardens and the Ravello Festival, one of Italy’s oldest music festivals. After finding gold-dust parking, we explored the town, the narrow alleyways, the old convent and monastery, hotel gardens used for wedding venues with an artist’s fantasy scenery, and lunch at a restaurant covered by an old tree and its massive branches. A must-do when visiting this town is exploring the gardens of Vila Rufolo, which was also the venue for the Ravello Festival. And that evening, one of my favourite folk artists, the talented Israeli singer/songwriter, Asaf Avidan, was performing there. I’ve had the privilege of seeing him before, but not at a venue such as this…the stage was set in the ancient fragrant gardens, with the backdrop of blue sky and mirrored sea, the villages around glowing by night, and a canopy of stars above. Goose-bump inducing.
After our three wonderful days spent in Minori, including our day in Ravello, we moved onto our final stop in Positano, braving the roads to get there. There is a single, one-way road running through Positano, and based on the heads-up from friends, we had pre-booked our parking at our hotel (Tip Number 3: Always try to pre—book your parking space). We were booked in at the Hotel Marincanto. We were fortunate to find a parking space and descended to the reception area in a under-the-sea themed elevator, including paintings of mermaids, where we were told we had been upgraded(!). Our room was lovely, spacious and had its own patio with sea view and the out-of-a-painting panorama of the town to our right. Below we could see the beach, above, the infinity pool and restaurant terrrace. That evening we discovered the town, meandering through streets covered by canopies of bougainvillea, a warm night, with fresh sea air and the bustle of busy restaurants and bars.
The days were spent either on the private beach below, featuring the blue sun deck chairs and umbrellas, or at the infinity pool, which almost seems to fall off into the horizon.
As the chef at the hotel restaurant is exceptional, we had dinner there one evening. And when you see the terrace, you would want to spend a magical candle-lit evening there too! The food here is totally different from the agriturismo, fancier you could say, but equally delicious.
Our final evening we were surprised to discover that they were setting up for an intimate concert on the beach below, a small number of chairs were facing the make-shift stage, and couples were arriving by motorboat from the yachts in the bay. From our room above, we were treated to a private performance of opera, with the voice of the tenor lifting up off the water. The town twinkled to the right, the waves lapped below, and he ended this little show with Nessun Dorma…moving and magical...
All I can say is that we couldn’t have asked for all these things coming together, as if woven in dreams, experiencing the Amalfi Coast in an even more magical way than I had imagined! We shall definitely return to this special place one day, soon I hope. It has certainly got me under its spell.
In the words of Dean Martin: 'When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore! When the world seems to shine like you've had too much, that's amore!'
Amalfi Coast Crib Sheet:
If you have never been to Pompeii, it is highly recommended! It is on the road from Napoli to the Amalfi Coast, so a very easy stop to make to spend an afternoon (or day!) exploring the impressive remnants of this ancient city. Look out for all the phallic symbols. Who am I kidding? They are hard to miss! ;)
Sorrento is one of the first towns along this coastal route, and a lovely town to wander through, especially for views back to Mount Vesuvius from some of the hotel vernadahs, so pop in for a drink. This is a good town for ceramic shopping and limoncello tasting.
We unfortunately did not have enough time to take the boat trip to the Isle of Capri (and I would add Ischia to the list if you are visiting islands in the Gulf of Naples). There are day trips you can take to Capri with boats leaving from most of the main towns along the coast, usually leaving early morning and returning later in the evening. Highlights include the Blue Grotto and the Faraglioni, the ocean rocks jutting from the sea, an iconic view of Capri. I personally would like to spend a couple of days on the island the next time I go.
Ravello was a very pretty town, up in the hills, with lots to explore the higher up you go, including the convent and monastery, and a must-see are the gardens of Vila Rufolo, an ancient villa with incredible views of the bay below.
We also did not get a chance to get to Agerola, known for its fior di latte (mozzarella) and very precious Provolone del Monaco (provolone cheese) production. A culinary trip of this region would probably be quite delicious!
And last, but not least, the famous Positano, which more than lives up to its reputation as a pretty and romantic, movie-inspiring destination, fit to run through with Espadrilles in hand a la Marisa Tomei style!
(All photos taken by author)