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Trip Report Trip Report: Amalfi Coast, October 2015

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We returned from a wonderful trip, and what follows is a trip report of our time in the Amalfi Coast. We traveled in the beginning of October, and it was a part of a larger trip. I am writing it as a way to remember what was a very special trip for us but also to thank the numerous people on this board who answered my questions during the trip planning process and for the many others who wrote their own trip reports that helped guide us in our planning. I hope this report is of some use to those considering going to what is truly a special corner our world.

Day 1

We arrived into Rome early morning after an uneventful flight from Newark. We had reserved a car with Hertz prior to leaving the States. After withdrawing some cash at the ATM we headed to Hertz to pick up our rental. With a long line of people already waiting, we took our number from a machine and waited until our number to be called. The wait was almost two hours! In hindsight, we should have headed to the rental desk immediately upon disembarking the plane to take our number and then took care of other business during the wait.

We were “upgraded” to a bigger car, which we realized was downgrade once we reached the narrow roads along the Amalfi Coast. The weather in Rome was glorious and the drive to Positano was fairly straightforward, albeit a bit challenging after a trans-Atlantic flight.

We arrived into Positano, parked our car at a garage, and walked a block up to our B&B. We stayed at a small apartment in Residence La Tavalozza, which we highly recommend. It was centrally located, clean, spacious, had wonderful views from the balcony, and Celeste and her daughters could not have been more helpful during our stay, including helping us plan our itinerary during our time on the coast.

We ate at Restaurant Bruno, which had terrific views, decent food, but was expensive. But that describes most of the restaurants we experienced along the coast.

Day 2

After an early breakfast at a local bakery, we drove to Paestum along the coast, passing by Praiano, Amalfi, and Vietri Sul Mare. With the passage of each town, the temptation was great to stop and stay awhile, but the temples of Paestum beckoned so we just enjoyed the stunningly beautiful views along the way.

Paestum was great. Parking was easy and the drive there pleasant. When we arrived mid-morning, the place was relatively empty and we had the luxury having the place nearly to ourselves. After we toured the temples and the museum, it was time for lunch. Rather than eat there, we decided to stop by at the one of numerous restaurants we saw on the drive there. About 3 miles or so from Paestum we stopped by a restaurant that ended up being one of the more memorable meals during our time on the Amalfi Coast. The restaurant clearly was not catering to tourists and it showed in both taste and price. Such fresh seafood, mozzarella di bufala, and house wine.

We drove back to Positano via the Autostrada and avoided the coastal road. We noticed that traffic on the road got progressively worse throughout the day, and wanted to avoid the stress. Our plan was to drive back to Positano, but on the way back we saw signs for Pompeii. We were planning on visiting Pompeii on another date, but decided to take the exit and go.

Pompeii was magnificent and surpassed my expectations. It was a remarkable glimpse into the life of ancient Romans. Though the site was overrun with tourists—and understandably so—we could still find empty streets to walk down to ponder what life must have been like back then. It was magical. Because we arrived fairly late into the afternoon, we only had several hours to see the site. We drove back to Positano and picked up a pizza from a bakery on the way back to our hotel. Pizza, we found, was by far the best value meal in Positano.

Day 3

We took the boat to Amalfi from Positano. It was a scenic ride. After touring the town of Amalfi and an early lunch, we took the bus to Bomerano to begin the Path of the Gods hike. We hiked all the way down to Positano. Although a long day, the views more than made up for it. Instead of eating out, we decided to pick up wine, cheese, and fruit from the local shop and had a wonderful dinner on our terrace.

Day 4

We drove to Ravello, found parking, and toured Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. Though both villas were beautiful, it would have been even more amazing had we visited in the spring when the flowers in the gardens were in bloom. The views of the ocean were amazing nonetheless. Mid morning, we continued our drive up SS373 into the mountains towards the Autostrada on our way to the Herculaneum. This was also a great drive with mountain scenery. There were numerous chestnut trees with chestnuts strewn along the road and the views approaching Naples were remarkable.

We followed signs to the Herculaneum archeological area, but ended up getting lost and had to navigate the narrow streets. This, I would not recommend! Luckily a friendly local on a motorcycle led us on the right path to the site. We parked nearby and walked in. The ticket office had run out of maps and navigating proved more difficult as a result. I relied on the map and the guided tour in the guidebook I brought. The site was nice and worth visiting, but for me it didn’t have the magic of Pompeii. Some of the houses and mosaics were better preserved than ones in Pompeii, but I enjoyed Pompeii more.

Day 5

In the morning, we checked out of our hotel in Positano and drove to Sorrento to drop off our rental car at the Hertz office and walked to our hotel, Palazzo Starce. It was difficult to find in the rain. The staff was very friendly, breakfast very good, the location central, but the rooms were very small. After settling into our room, we decided to take the train into Naples. The train was standing room only and it was a very long, uncomfortable ride—made longer by the fact that we had prolonged unscheduled stops along the way.

But one bite into the magnificent pizza at Da Michele made all of our worries disappear. We waited about 15 minutes to get in for the most delicious pizza I have ever had. After being ripped off by a taxi driver on our way to the other end of town, we did some shopping and took the early evening train back to Sorrento. We had a late dinner in Sorrento.

Day 6

We spent the morning wandering the streets of Sorrento. One of us was feeling under the weather and wanted to take it easy. I wanted to go up Mount Vesuvius so I took the train to the Herculaneum stop to take the bus up to the mountain, only to discover that there had been a landslide up in the mountain the previous day and the buses were not running. So I continued on to Naples to spend the day. I went to the archeological museum, which was fantastic, and had pizza at I Decumani after a lengthy wait. It was good, I thought, but I preferred the simpler pies we had at Da Michele. We spent the evening back in Sorrento.

Day 7

We took the morning ferry to Capri for one of the more memorable days of our trip. Capri was magnificent. In retrospect, we should have spent a few nights there. We had planned to do the Blue Grotto tour, but the seas were too rough that day and the boats were not going out. So instead, we took the bus to Anacapri and took the lift up to Mt. Solerno for one of the most beautiful views of our entire trip. We hiked down from Mt. Solerno to Anacapri. After spending some time in Anacapri, we took the bus to Capri, enjoying wandering and getting lost in the narrow streets. There were numerous scenic walks here we wished we had the time for. We took the funicular down to the marina for our late afternoon boat back to Sorrento.

Even in October, Capri was so busy and overrun with tourists. I cannot imagine what it would be like at the height of the tourist season in spring / summer. There was a line for everything—getting tickets for the boat, getting on the boat, getting tickets to Mt. Salerno, getting onto the lift to Mt. Salerno, getting on the bus to Capri, etc. Getting onto the boat for our trip back to Sorrento was chaotic. There was no line—just a mob of people trying to get onto the boat, shoving and pushing their way on. Once on, the ride back was spectacular. We had an unobstructed view of Mt. Vesuvius on the way.

But even with the crowds, Capri was one of the favorite parts of our trip. The scenery is spectacular, even compared to what we had already seen on the Amalfi Coast. Getting a glimpse of the limestone cliffs on our boat ride to and from the island made us wish we had done a boat cruise around the island. I think wandering the narrow streets of Capri after all of the tour groups have left would be magical. Next time…

Day 8

We checked out of our hotel in the morning and took a very convenient bus costing only 10 Euros to the Naples Airport for the next leg of our trip—Spain. It was a wonderful trip, filled with breathtaking natural beauty, great food and wine, and remarkable archeological sites.

Here are some concluding thoughts…

-Driving on the Amalfi Coast was a pleasure at this time of the year, though it presented some challenges. The roads become busier throughout the day, and at certain points where the road narrows, it is a very tight squeeze, particularly if there is a big tourist bus or SITA bus approaching from the other way.
-Finding parking also becomes more difficult (and expensive) throughout the day. We left our car parked at the garage in Positano for the most part along the coast. However, for the three of us, it was great to have a car to get to Positano from Rome and for our trips to Paestum, Ravello, and Pompeii. Also, the drive along the coastal road in the mornings when the roads were less busy was simply joyous.
-For those considering driving down to the coast from Rome and ending your trip somewhere on the coast, there is a Hertz office in Sorrento, where we dropped off the car without a drop off charge.
-Some of the best meals we had was by picnicking, purchasing wine and the most wonderful cheeses, fruits, and vegetables in delis and markets. The pizzas were excellent and often the most budget-conscious choice.
-We debated where to stay during our week on the Amalfi Coast. We enjoyed Positano much more than Sorrento, though Sorrento was more convenient for day trips to Naples, Capri, Pompeii, and Herculaneum.
-Our trip to the Amalfi Coast was the first leg of a trip that included a trip to Spain and Southern Africa. In many respects we found traveling here to be logistically more challenging than the other places we encountered on this trip. The lines were long and frequent even in the shoulder / off season, the trains / ferries were often late or had sudden schedule changes with little to no explanation, and the Rome airport felt more chaotic and challenging than any airport we experience in southern Africa. Despite these challenges, this is a special area of our planet and we look forward to returning, perhaps venturing further south.

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