PART 5: POSITANO, CAPRI AND SORRENTO
POSITANO + CAPRI
After our long day of travel on Monday from Umbria to the Amalfi Coast, we decided to enjoy our beautiful coastal retreat on Tuesday and "stay in". We had work to get caught up on and none of us really felt much like venturing out. We did, however, need some groceries, so after some meal planning, April and I drove into the little village of Massa Lubrense to take care of our grocery shopping and spent the remainder of the day just hanging out enjoying our beautiful ocean view.
We were up bright and early on Wednesday as we had a boat to catch in Positano at 9:15 AM, about an hour drive from Massa Lubrense. We left the villa about 7:15 and proceeded to journey via Sorrento, using our not-so-trusty GPS as a guide. Somehow, we got off track in Sorrento when the GPS sent us down a dead-end road (narrow too, so turning around was a bit of a challenge). Driving merely by instinct (we knew we had to travel the opposite direction from Massa Lubrense to cross the peninsula and to the other side of the Bay of Naples), we thankfully were able to get back onto a road that actually had signs pointing towards Positano (Amalfitana road).
We were winding our way through Sorrento on some pretty narrow and winding roads when we turned a corner and we're pretty much nose-to-nose with a rather large truck (for Italy standards). The problem was that BOTH of us could not fit on that road, as it was too narrow. So with little choice to be had, I was required to drive backwards down a very steep and winding road until I could find a spot that was wide enough to allow the truck to pass. I probably had to drive at least 1/3 of a mile backwards. This was not a fun thing to do given that I couldn't see if traffic would rear-end me around blind corners that I had to navigate down (backwards) and needed to avoid a collision with other objects in the road, like rock walls. This was NOT a good way to start my morning and I hadn't even had a cup of espresso yet!
I finally was able to back into a driveway (or was it an alley?) and let the truck (and LOTS of traffic behind it) pass. I think I let out an audible breath once that near-fiasco was over. So onwards we went, climbing higher and higher up the steep mountainside. Finally, we were back along the coastal road, with a view of the ocean and perilous cliffs below. It was a beautiful view (or so I was told) as I had to concentrate very carefully on the task at hand, which was to deliver my passengers in ONE piece to Positano.
Only 15 minutes behind schedule, we arrive in Positano, park the car in the designated parking garage and walk down a few thousand steps to the port. We have just enough time to sit down at a cafe and enjoy a cappuccino and croissant. We had made a reservation with a Capri tour company, L'Uomo e IL Mare, for a "semi-private" boat tour to Capri, a journey that would span 8 hours. Apparently part of our tour included the opportunity to swim in one of the grottoes we would visit, but somehow I had missed that bit of information, so we did not come prepared to swim.
It took us a little more than an hour to arrive at the island of Capri. We all disembarked and had 4 hours to ourselves to explore the island. We agreed to not explore the Anacapri side of the island and we thought that might be too much walking for our parents. So as the saying goes, “that’s another trip.” Our expectations high, we rode the funicular up to the main part of the island to begin our tour.
Although the views were stunning, the rest of Capri was a huge disappointment. It was like an episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" with one trendy, expensive boutique after another, next door to some swanky hotel. And talk about a tourist trap! We were elbow to elbow with hoards of rude, smelly and impatient tourists and shortly after we arrived, we were ready to leave. We had no choice but to wander around a bit until it was time to find a spot for lunch. Yes, they had some beautiful shops, but they were slightly above my budget, so just window shopping had to suffice.
We tried to find a reasonably priced restaurant with an ocean view for lunch, but you can imagine that NONE of the restaurants in this swanky little town fit those requirements. We either had the snack bar at the Funicular, or the 100 Euro per person lunch option. Down the funicular we went. When we had first arrived to Capri, our boat tour guide had pointed out some restaurants near the marina that would fit our specific budget requirements so we decided to eat our lunch at one of those recommended spots. And it was a great choice. The food and service were good, as was the view. I don’t remember the name of the place, but they had an huge iron swordfish hanging from their entrance.
We finally had run out the clock on our Capri imprisonment and we were back on the boat. We all decided that it would be more fun to sit in the front of the boat this time. I suspect most of our fellow passengers enjoyed some adult beverages while on Capri as they all seemed just a bit more friendly now. So our tour of the grottoes around the island commenced, and they did not disappoint. This was definitely the best part of the entire trip. There were a total of 4 grottoes we were going to visit, including the famous "blue grotto" but there was a catch. Once we arrived at said grotto, you had to pay a fee of 12 Euros to gentlemen in the little rowboats to actually see the grotto, which was hidden on the other side of the cave. Another tourist trap! Naturally, about 1/2 of the boat took the bait. Their "blue grotto tour" was about 2 minutes long, with about maybe 30 seconds actually spent inside the grotto.
So onto another grotto we went. This one was the "white grotto" and supposedly if you look real closely into the cave, you can sometimes see Mary and the baby Jesus. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed the tour immensely. Capri (the island destination) was a huge disappointment, but I had a great time, nonetheless. We returned to Positano late in the day and all of us were pretty tired. Originally, we had talked about spending some time in Positano after the boat ride, but we all were in agreement that we should just head back to Massa Lubrense.
Thankfully, we returned without incident (and without getting lost). I was starting to get more comfortable with my Italian-ness and was getting more gutsy with my driving, even passing some slower-moving vehicles ahead of me, but not on blind corners. Not sure I'll ever have the guts to do that!
For our last hurrah on the Amalfi Coast, we spent a few hours touring Sorrento, a short 15-minute drive from Massa Lubrense. It was a hot and humid 92-degree day; pretty hot considering it was September 28th. In hindsight, perhaps we should have found a beach club in which we could enjoy our last day on the coast, whilst (I'm feeling British) a cute cabana boy served us delicious and cold limoncello drinks and fanned us with palm fronds while we basked in the sun. But back to reality. I suspect hanging out at a beach club probably wasn't at the top of Dad and Joan's "must do" list while in Italy!
Sorrento isn't a very large town, with only about 16,000 residents. When I was planning our trip to Italy, Sorrento was our desired "home base" for our visit to the Amalfi Coast, but we were unable to find a rental villa there that met our requirements, mostly due to not wanting to climb up/down hundreds of steps to reach the front door.
Although our villa in Massa Lubrense has worked out fine, I think Sorrento would be more desirable just because of the access to shopping, dining and other amenities like ferries. Originally, we were only going to keep the rental car for our tour through Tuscany and Umbria, but we felt it was pretty much a requirement on the Amalfi Coast since our rental villa wasn't very well situated for use of the somewhat limited public transportation. And I'm glad we had a car; although it was certainly stressful to drive the coastal roads, it was nice to be able to be flexible with our time and not be dependent on public transportation.
Our agenda for our visit to Sorrento wasn't that well thought out; perhaps do some souvenir shopping, enjoy a nice lunch and see a few of the local sights. After parking the car safely in a local "parcheggio", we walk to the center of town to see what touristy things we can find.
Given the heat, our first order of business was to find a cool/shady place to sit and enjoy a very cold beverage. It didn't take us long to spot the perfect place. Although we had seen plenty of Limoncello for sale throughout the Amalfi Coast, we hadn't yet tried any, so the time had come. We were expecting to find some kind of cocktail concoction on the drink menu featuring Limoncello, but we didn't see anything. According to our server, it's more common to either drink it straight (sip it) or cut it with a mixer, like Sprite, Club Soda, etc. So that's what we did. Us girls ordered a Limoncello cut with soda and Dad had an Italian beer. Limoncello is pretty potent and tart. I can't imagine just drinking it straight, but I did enjoy it over ice with a Sprite. Perhaps just slightly too sweet, I think it might be better with just club soda (which they didn't have). Joan and April cut theirs with tonic, which was fine. As usual, sitting at the cafe and people watching was pretty good entertainment.
Refreshed (and perhaps with a slight buzz), we wandered over to the "tourist train we had seen go by earlier. We purchased our tickets for train and waited a few minutes for the next one to arrive. To be honest, it was pretty hokey, but we did see a bit of the city and we could now check off "Sorrento" off our lists of places visited. I did sit next to a lovely British woman on the train (hence my use of a very British word above) and after discussing our Italian travel horror stories, we spent most of the remainder of our short 30-minute tour of Sorrento talking about Paris. As it turns out, she also adores Paris and often takes her granddaughter for long weekends (or is that "mini-break" in British-speak?) to Paris for some fine dining and shopping. What a lucky girl! I hope somebody I can bring my granddaughter(s)? to Paris to do the same. Of course, being able to just jump on the "chunnel" from a London train station is a much more cost-effective mode of travel then let's say American Airlines, but I thought it was a lovely idea.
My sister had found a place on Trip Advisor for lunch and I have to say, I think my fellow travelers steered us wrong. Although it was very highly rated (and recommended), the food was pretty mediocre, not that well-priced, and the service was awful. And have I mentioned that I'm getting REALLY TIRED OF PIZZA AND PASTA? After our lackluster lunch, we wandered the streets to do a little souvenir shopping.
With some souvenirs in hand, we return somewhat wearily to the car and head back to Massa Lubrense. I think it was the heat, but even though it was maybe just 4:30 PM, we were all exhausted! We enjoyed another uneventful, disaster-free drive back to the villa. It's these small victories that I can smile about now. It's another beautiful evening at the villa and we enjoy what's left of our stay staring out into that big, beautiful Bay of Naples.
We spend a somewhat leisurely evening at the villa, but also begin to pack up our things and clean up. We're heading to Rome the next day and we'll be up bright and early since we have to first train from Sorrento to Naples, then switch trains in Naples for our scheduled train to Rome.
So here are my reflections on the Amalfi Coast. It's breathtakingly beautiful. I loved being so close to the sea, but I think it would have been nice to be closer to a beach club or pool? I also think staying somewhere a bit larger (like Sorrento) might be nice for the added amenities a larger town provides; we were a bit remote in Massa Lubrense, but once we learned the roads, Sorrento wasn't really that far, so perhaps we could have done more evening activities in Sorrento. The other trade off was that we had a beautiful villa overlooking the sea for a really inexpensive price; we paid only 750 Euros for 5 nights in a 3-bedroom/2-bath villa with multiple terraces. That worked out to be something like 37 Euros per night, per person. Not bad! Villa rentals in Sorrento and Positano were much more expensive.
Should I ever return to this area, I would love to spend more time in Positano to just wander around. It's very charming and definitely worth a second look. There are also other towns along the coast that I would have liked to visit as well, including the town of Amalfi. But as our new-found travel motto goes "that's another trip."
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PART 5: POSITANO, CAPRI AND SORRENTO