The Amalfi Coast & Capri
The Amalfi Coast has had many a heyday. Its first, back when the Roman Emperor's called it Domus, set the 'idyll' tone for the area completely. The introduction of Amalfi's famous lemons, the glorified holiday homes overlooking the shimmering waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the elegant romance of the dramatic landscape, all began during this tumultuous period. Later, it found greater fame with the Hollywood crowd, when Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, although never together, it should be noted, would laze under the Capri sun, basting in Piz Buin, on craggy rocks above breaking waves. Now, it has found its form again after a bit of a lull. I like to take some of the credit for this, as I have long been an advocate of a return to the calm and natural elegance the area immediately instills.
The bright colours, the Amalfi yellows and azure blues, really do help conjure up an attitude, a fragrant air of romance and of an endless summer. It has become part of the Honeymooner's Grand Tour, and judging by recent comments made by certain local dignitaries, the region is buckling under the sheer weight in numbers, such is its rediscovered popularity. Don't let this deter you, however. Peace, calm and joy can still be found here, but you just need to box a little cleverly to avoid the droves who come and go as frequently as a butchers dog. I say, "limit the number of cruise ships that are aloud to dock on any given day and your problems are solved, Mr Mayor."
Most of us gain access to Amalfi via Naples and its famous bay, and let's not put too finer point on Naples - it's not everyone's cup of tea. The many scare stories relating to hoards of sneaky pickpockets stealing all your stuff whilst you hunt down the best pizza in town are commonplace, as are the mounds of decomposing rubbish that can be found lining the most elegant of Neapolitan streets.....Probably not the best idea to put refuse collection in the hands of the mob. The simple trick with Naples is to avoid the station area in particular and don't take many possessions into town when you do go. Naples is well worth as look, even if it is interesting rather than beautiful.
Choosing how to get to the Amalfi Coast from here is up to your wallet, if it hasn't already been nicked at the train station, obviously, and your ultimate destination. A taxi or bus from the airport or station down to one of the two harbours, and then on by catamaran or ferry is one option, the train itself another. If you are heading to Sorrento particularly. Another option is a taxi or limousine. Certainly not a bad idea if their are a few of you travelling or if it's a special occasion and you are keen to impress (*Impress = Make your life easier.) I have tried every option available over the course of many visits but my last, by car, organised through my accommodation, was clearly the best. I know this seems like an obvious thing to say, but if you can make savings elsewhere, which I am prone to do, and have detailed in some great length elsewhere in these pages, I strongly recommend it. There will be plenty of time to get out on the water, and the train journey really isn't great, unless you want to spend your time eyeing everyone suspiciously and sweating nervously into your Birkenstocks, although you should be wearing pumps or ballet flats here really.
The road out of Naples is as you would expect - all bustle and suburban dereliction, but once out from the guard of the tunnel, the road becomes that place so familiar, so awe inspiring and so incredibly beautiful. It is hard to take it in actually. It's not a time for a camera and it's never a time for a selfie stick either. It's a time to take in the view, adjust to the light, to understand just where you are and a time to pinch yourself and smile ... from ear to tingling ear. Oh, and the scariness of the drive shouldn't actually detract you from the beauty itself.... After all, the only cars and buses that go careering over the precipitous edge are those driven by holiday makers. Your trusty driver has no problem navigating the hairpins, avoiding the Kamikaze Vespas and combing his hair whilst explaining the dormancy of Vesuvius or Napoli's current crisis in front of goal.
Sorrento is several places really. The modern town, which I don't really bother too much with, the Marinas, and the old town, with its maze of lanes, sunny piazzas and Italian hustle and bustle. Although the shopkeepers have gone crazy for the marketing and sale of every kind of lemon paraphernalia, it shouldn't detract from the mood of the 'centro storico'. It's a very nice place to be..... Until the cruise ships and coach companies unload their shouty and hurried cargoes upon its lemon tea-towelled lined streets. Tipping them out like a Neapolitan garbage man emptying his bins on to the Via Amerigo Vespucci instead of the actual municipal dump. Me and these shuffling mood spoilers are not the best of friends. Again, I won't go into why too much here, as my feelings are known, but you must time your trips in to town accordingly, and find your haven away from their natural habitat whenever possible. (You can find a list of where they'll be on any Pinterest board entitled "10 Things You Must See in Sorrento If You Only Have 4 Hours There.").
My favourite place to stay is at the Maison la Minervetta. You can read all about that on OST's Best Stay's of 2016 page or at the hotel's site linked, and some more on Sorrento as well. Do not, under any circumstances, choose your dining experience via Trip Advisor, as the posts are usually made by those rushers and harriers with whom your mealtimes cannot be trusted... Just follow your nose, as the timing is everything and one place can change its guise more often than Lady Gaga changes her sequined underpants.
The right place for old schoolers like me is a place down in Marina Piccola called Porta Marina. Family run, the catch caught that day by the father, cooked by the mother and served by the daughter. Not at all pricy like some of it's glitzier cousins further around the harbour, but simple, rustic and totally fabulous. It's a great place to sit and watch the fishermen, the boats and the comings and goings of romantic travellers. Totally, wonderfully 'authentic'. Sorrento is an excellent place to get to Capri from. In fact, our itinerary saw us travel from Naples to Sorrento, from there to Capri and then a boat from Capri to Positano. There, a porter helped us up the many, many steps up the hill for a small and reliable fee. Don't skimp on that little luxury either.
I absolutely love Positano. Chez Black is the place to eat if it's traditional, well priced food, right on the seafront you want. I don't know how many hours I could while away the hours here. Just lovely for pizza, seafood and pasta too. Again, you can catch up on a further review at my Positano Best Stay 2016 blog. A table at the front should do nicely.
It really is an seaside town in its most traditional sense. Staying at Casa Buonocore helped me love the place but a word of warning, not all of the rooms are as glorious as the one we were lucky enough to secure overlooking the harbour and the tiled dome of the church. Boats from here to Amalfi itself are a really good idea. You can also bus it, so boat there and bus back is a great option if you want to cover all the bases. The bus is particularly good if you want to stop and wander around some of the lesser known fishing villages that line the coast. That way you get to travel on that wonderful craggy road again.
Amalfi & Ravello
Amalfi isn't great in my view. Spoilt by mass tourism, the bus and boat load's funnel through the town and up into what seems like a Cul de Sac, lined with sad tourist menus and bad ice cream parlours. It does have the virtue of a bus stop however, and it's from here that you can take a bus up the mountain to Ravello.... and Ravello is a must, believe me. This is much more like it, and far away from the lazier crowds below. The bus journey up is an experience, however, but when in Rome, right?
It's a picture perfect little town with grand hotels and even grander gardens. Miss these gardens at your peril as not only are they beautiful in their own right, the views down and along the rugged coastline are a lifetime of memories in themselves. The town boasts a splendid piazza, were you can enjoy an aperitif and watch the world go by, or gander at a wedding in the Duomo Ravello should you be lucky enough to catch one. Further into town there are plenty of wonderful Trattorias with very warm hospitality. Once you've roamed the gardens, partaken of a 'livener' or two, had a nose around the lanes, and lunched heartily, its time to walk back down the mountain and back to Amalfi. Walk, yes I know - It must be done. It's the walk taken by Jackie Onassis when she needed to visit her Amalfan lover for a right good seeing to, I suppose. I bet she took the bus back, however, as you really don't want to do them the other way round ... especially after ... y'know, illicit and presumably lemon scented sexual intercourse.... She must have showered when she came, as it can be a sweaty decent ..... as it were. The views really are majestic and you won't pass another soul. I won't say how long it takes... It really depends on your mood and how many times you want to stop and take it all in.
There are many other little towns scattered around and if you can figure out the bus timetables and ferry stops, it's well worth exploring the less frequented places. Escaping the multitude is what the Amalfi Coast has become, but don't let that deter you. It is simply something that must be done, It's like hulling an oyster or corking a bottle of Primitivo. These stubborn little lids must be removed to get to the cake within.
Capri is the Amalfi Coast rolled into one.... like the Isle of Arran is a miniature Scotland. Capri Town has the chic, or as I like to them 'crass' shops, but with the very impressive people watching Piazzetta, where Prosecco is sipped in great quantities by the rich and smaller by the poor and grateful, and the town has spectacular views down to the Marina Grande. There is a fernicular railway that will ferry you up the hill to Capri Town very regularly and will save you a rathe cramped trip on the bus. The island also boasts the more tranquil and much more charming and 'real' Anacapri, with it's chair lift to the top of Mount Solaro, its perfume factory, its pizzerias and the ethereal Villa San Michel. Former residence of humanist and author Axel Munthe.
It is an homage to light, seclusion and understated splendour and well worth a visit. Capri, being an island, has an incredible relationship with the sea and sea and spending time on or in it is key if you are to truly understand, relate and bond with the place, and to this end, a trip around the island by boat is crucial. A private trip is worth the spend but whichever way you can, get out there. Please make the effort to go to the ubiquitous Blue Grotto, but there are many others of lesser fame where you can swim and explore at a more leisurely pace. It would be ridiculous to go to Capri and not see them all for yourself, although, dare I say it, particularly the blue variety but don't forget to duck. The most famous restaurant on the island is Il Riccio but it's pricey and can be a bit 'in and out' depending on its mood but its location, view and ambience are hard to beat.
In Capri town, some places are equally as pricey, however but just walk through the main square and out into the leafy lanes and you'll soon find a restaurant of your choice and budget... ish. Hotel Caesar Augustus is my place of choice in which to stay but it's eye-wateringly expensive. A trick is to book the cheapest possible room during a 'Special' and then communicate with them that you are on Honeymoon etcetera and you should get an upgrade for your trouble. At this point, it all becomes much more value for money. Perched high on the cliffs and with incredible views out across the Bay of Naples, this family run hotel knocks the socks of its glitzier and more starstruck opponent, the Capri Palace. Once again, more information can be found on both the Caesar Augustus and Capri in my earlier Blogs.
Ultimately, the island has everything you might wish for, apart from maybe a sandy white beach, but it's the cragginess and the rockiness of the island that is its stand out feature. It's what makes this wonder the place that it is. It isn't an island to be poor on... A bit of cash helps but I dare you to find a more entertaining journey than the one from Marina Grande to Anacapri by bus. Not for the squeamish but what a laugh... albeit a shrill and trembling one.
There are several other islands which might take you fancy, like Ischia or Procida but I found the ferry timings too haphazard and troublesome to make them easy day trips but undoubtably worth your time if you do get the opportunity.
I should mention that flying back out from Naples Airport is quite common, as is squeezing in a day trip to Pompeii. It all seemed a bit too trainy and hard and possibly a waste of a day so we combined both by using a limousine service. Again, I know this seems quite a costly exercise but when you break it down, it's both great value for money and a good use of time and opportunity, especially if you book an evening flight. Getting from your hotel to the airport is always going to be a task but this way you driver will pick you up at check-out, drive you to Pompeii where you're free to roam (?) the ancient ruins at your leisure, with your luggage safely stowed, recollect your lift and head off to catch your flight. It really is worth considering, and lets not forget, as its only a one way trip, it is very time friendly. I won't link a taxi service as your accommodation will have the best idea of who to use and may even have a discount arrangement.
Obviously, the world has gone crazy for Aperol Spritz and I am totally in favour of this orange and rhubarb delight but there are other drinks to consider. Limoncello is going to be served everywhere but those clever Amalfans have got in on the act and not to be outdone have invented the Limoncello Spritz. Very refreshing, easy drinking and highly toxic. We had one of those spontaneous nights getting wellied on this concoction at the Taverna Neopolitana in Sorrento.
One of those nights where the terrible guitarist turns into Eric Clapton after 4 drinks. It was a very funny night from not very promising beginnings. There are many great wines from the region to consider too. One of the areas where you can save money is by drinking local wines by the carafe rather than the more expensive ones. I have found that house wines can be very drinkable indeed and its not long before you've saved enough money by getting drunk on cheaper sips, to afford that private tour of the island you've been dreaming about. Grappa is up to you as is Amaro. After a meal the latter will help with the indigestion that the former gave you. Long refreshing vermouth's are also a great alternative during a sunny afternoon's hiatus.