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50th Anniversary Trip Report Bellagio/Amalfi Coast!!

50th Anniversary Trip Report Bellagio/Amalfi Coast!!

Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 12:22 PM
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50th Anniversary Trip Report Bellagio/Amalfi Coast!!

Thank you so much to all the fodor's people who helped on our parents 50th anniversary trip to Italy. It was an AMAZING trip and I fell in love more with Italy, the people, food and culture even more. This report will include lots of hotel and food opinions from me. Those are my passions.
Started out in Bellagio. Took car service from Milan to Bellagio. Worth it to me and my parents with all the luggage. It took 2 hrs with traffic. Stayed at Hotel Florence. Would go back here in a second. Charming little hotel that was very clean, friendly staff especially at breakfast, and perfect location. I had a view of the gardens and my parents a view of the lake. Couldn't beat it. Loved the bells ringing and walking thru the charming streets of Bellagio. Yes, it is touristy, but you can find your own special way to make it your own. Had a great lunch outside our hotel overlooking the lake. Strolled in town for a gelato..plenty of these this trip. Eat dinner that evening at San Giacomo. One of my favorites from a previous trip. Didn't disappoint. Wonderfully cooked fish dishes, great wine and dessert. It was a prix fix and we were so full. Owner is very attentive and there is always a line to get in. They can pick and choose how many people they can accomodate. Go early if possible. Scheduled a boat ride to visit the gardens of Babilinello. Lovely couple who owns Bellagio Water Taxis (www.bellagiowatertaxis.com). For 45 Euros per person, they take you on a boat ride to the gardens with commentary along the way and you get a private tour of the house and gardens and of course return ride home. I think it's a can't miss.
Breakfast was delightful here. All the staples..yogurt, eggs, bacon, fruit, pastries and your fill of coffee and juice.
Dinner the second night was at La Punta, which overlooks the lake as well. Beautiful views, great menu of fishes, and fantastic desserts..one of my dad's favorites..walnut tart. Nice walk back to hotel. That is what is so nice about this town. Can walk everywhere.
Next day in Varenna and Menaggio. Varenna is charming for those of who who have been know. Strolled thru some of the shops. Particularly the one gentleman who has a lovely selection of beads. SO HELPFUL with tips about his town. We ate lunch at Hotel du Lac overlooking the water, away from the crowds. Another stunning view and great tuna salad (save room for gelato later). Very peaceful with lots of beautiful flowers as we sat under a terrace in the garden. Took the ferry to Menaggio. More of a city with less charm in my opinion, but some shopping and nice views of the lake.
Back to Bellagio and dinner reservation at Bilacus. The owner was very kind and gave me a reservation even though they were booked. We just had to come early and he gave us the best table with a view of the quaint steps leading to the lake. One of my favorite meals. Salmon Bilacus...salmon with tomato, mushroom and shrimp topping. They suggested a nice wine. It was so amazing to me to see the owner work all the tables with a little help from a couple of people who pick up dishes and get dessert orders. In America, we would have numerous waiters, but they seem to handle it with joy.
Had the car service take us from Bellagio back to Milan. Total for trip back and forth was 320 Euros for the 3 of us. Our lovely driver Christian, was very helpful getting thru a huge traffic jam by weaving thru back roads. Took Easy Jet to Naples. Do yourself a favor and pay a little extra and get Speedy Boarding. Allows you to get on first. Quick flight.
Arrived in Naples and arranged for another car service to our hotel, Don Alfonso. I know some of you were looking forward to my report here, as no one has seemed to have an updated visit here. I have to tell you...it was the highlight of the trip! Upon arriving, the driver had misunderstood me asking if he took credit card and only took cash...Fortunato, who has been here for 15 years and in charge of hospitality as we arrive, offered to pay the 100 Euros until we could get to a teller. Nice way to welcome us to the hotel. Don Alfonso is the most charming place in Sant Agata. It is situated beside a beautiful church whose bells ring continously. I love this, but the hotel offers earplugs to those who don't! You feel like family when you are escorted to your rooms. Someone already gets our bags as we sip on fresh lemonade and wait in the front reception area. I LOVE the decor here. No detail is left out of place. As you walk to your room, you can see the lovely kitchen with numerous windows and the restaurant decorated in pinks with elegant antiques everywhere. The rooms were DELIGHTFUL. You had fresh fruit, dried apricots, and flowers floating in water. The bathtub was a treat! I never take baths in hotel tubs, but this one called my name every day. The tile, chandliers, linen sheets, and the spotless rooms were HEAVEN! This was a package deal I had arranged for a gift for my parents anniversary. It included 3 nights, breakfast, 1 night of dinner at their Michelin starred restaurant and a tour of the family farm (one of my favorites of the trip). I had also arranged for dinner that night at Antico Francischiello da Peppino thru Fodors recommendation. They offered to pick us up and drive us to the restaurant. Little did I know this would be another highlight of the trip. The nephew of the restaurant owner, Antonio, picked us up and was so sweet. We arrived at the restaurant and I was blown away with all the towers of cookies and antipastas as we walked in. Francesco, the owner, took special care of us and gave us another best table overlooking Capri and Procida. The tile floors, copper kitchen that housed Nona Pina, the charming mother of Francesco, would steal my heart. Our dinner was fabulous. This restaurant is one of the oldest on the Amalfi Coast. Our fish dishes, pasta and dessert were so delicious we arranged to take our whole family back when we were staying in Positano. We also arranged for a cooking class with Francesco. We left with a plate of those cookies we saw upon arrival and a complimentary ride back to our hotel. I scored on this restaurant big time. My two favorite things about the whole trip were Don Alfonso and Antico Francischiello. Driving up to Don Alfonso and seeing all the lights from the restaurant and kitchen and being able to look in and watch the mastery of the chefs was a spectacle. You could sit on a wonderful terrace and take it all in. We couldn't wait for our dinner Sat night! Up to our rooms where a fresh biscotti sat by my bed...after all those cookies at Antico...ok, twist my arm! Getting into those sheets and winding down...with the windows shut, you could barely hear the bells. I
I awoke to a nice run around the town. Had to make more space for breakfast! The town doesn't have a lot of touristy shopping. Kinda of nice, but not much to do. No problem for me, as you don't want to leave the Don Alfonso. They don't have a set time for breakfast because they want you to not feel rushed. Afterall, it is your vacation. They are there to serve. We couldn't wait for breakfast. I had read a review from Faith Willinger, who blogs about Italy. I have never disagreed with her picks. She talked about the breakfast here and I couldn't wait to experience it. My parents and I came down to the patio that overlooked the pool with beautiful lined flowers and umbrellas. Again, you could see the chefs in the kitchen hard at work. Our server, Max, greeted us with a smile and we started with freshed baked bread in the stone oven, fresh perserves (apricot and mulberry and their HONEY that I loved so much I bought some from the local store). I can still taste the next course...homemad brioche, pear tarts, and the most lightest lemon bread...my mouth is drooling. I have been eating the jar of apricot preserves I also purchased from the store with greek yogurt...I will be ordering a case of this! All of these mouthwatering pastries were served on their exclusive Vietri dishes. Yes, I purchased some of these too! You got a selection of buffalo milk yogurt, fresh eggs, bacon, banana and cinnamone crepes, etc....and fresh orange juice...I'm not a coffee drinker, but my parents loved that as well. Ok, I told you I would go on about the food. Lucia who works at the front desk who helped me tremendously arranging my trip, promptly and professionally, printed off the bus schedule to Sorrento. You can catch the local bus right in town. We walked off some of breakfast winding thru the streets of Sorrento. I had never been here before. Lots of touristy shops and some great views of the water. It was a hot one. Got some very pretty jewlery here at a local shop. Had arranged for lunch at Il Buco. It came highly recommended. We were barely hungary, but lunch was a nice excuse to sit down and get out of the sun. We were greeted with all smiles and service here, complimentary sparkling wine and a nice light lunch selection. I had grilled calamari and my parents had a great fish dish. They also served another complimentary appetizer. Every place I went, I mentioned it was my parents 50th and this place (and Don Alfonso) were the only ones who recognized it without me suggesting something special. We were stuffed and weren't going to order dessert, but they brought a special tray of little desserts and complimentary limencello. Italy rarely disppoints when it comes to hospitality. I had to get a gelato at Davide..had heard it was the best and I can say, yes, it was one of the best I have had. Took the bus back to Sant Agata and a nice bath before yes, another dinner. Fresh peaches in my room this time. Everywhere you walked at Don Alfonso, you were greeted with a smile from the people and assurance if you were enjoying your stay. The soaps and lotions are all locally made and smelled of myrrh. I had never smelled myrrh before, but now that I have, I know why they use it here. Delightful! I had searched Trip Advisor and found that Lo Stuchizzo was #1 and was right across the street. It was a great restaurant, and the owner was so nice, but Antico was still holding the top spot in our hearts. Another view of the bustling restaurant and lovely gardens as we returned to our rooms and yes, another yummy biscotti.
I had decided to take a cooking class at Don Alfonso the next day, so after another run and heavenly breakfast, I walked over to the cooking school which was right next to the terrace. Beautifully tiled and equipped with everything you could possibly need, I met Andrea, our teacher for the day. I was joined by 2 other people who had dinner at the restuarant the prior evening. Andrea spoke excellent English and had impeccable knowledge and skill and took us thru 3 different preparations of fish. I learned so much and he never rushed and we ened up being there 5 hours. I wanted to take it all in, so I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. We sat at the table that was adorned in pink with the vietri ceramics, a light white wine, and fresh bread, as we ate our way thru the 3 types of fish. I wish I could have taken the dessert class, but another time! We also went into the kitchen of the restaurant and saw Ernesto, the son of the owners, who is in charge of the kitchen. He was making jam and gave us a nice hello. We also met Mario, the owners other son, who is in charge of hospitality for Don Alfonso. He couldn't have been nicer. He treated us like family and explained the philsophy of Don Alfonso and why the people there are so delightful. He said when he hires, people are 20% resume, 80% heart. You could tell he knew how to make you feel at home. It is a gift and they have it here at Don Alfonso. His parents were returning the next day. I hated we didn't get a chance to meet them. They have done a magnificient job passing their talent and treasure into their dream here. My parents had a nice light lunch as I cooked and we met at the pool. With only 8 rooms at the hotel, you never had to compete with lots of people or noise...just relax....Fresh lemonade served at the pool with comfortable chairs that begged for a nap. I drifted off as the water fountain by the pool lingered in the background.
We had scheduled our trip to the farm at 5pm...had to go when the sun wasn't so hot. Fortunato, our charming host, drove us to Le Peracciole, Don Alfonso's farm where all the dishes for the the restaurant have their vision. Once I saw this, it made me appreciate all the work behind the dishes I had grown to love so much. We started with a taste of a warm mulberry...one of the jams we had eaten with breakfast. Don Alfonso is very intrigued with olive trees and has numerous varieties covering the farm. Yes, I had to purchase my favorite at the local store. The road down to the farm was a NARROW road that Fortunato drove with ease. Mario had told us Pierre Brosnan had just been there for lunch and a tour of the farm. I could retire here and live on this farm. It overlooks the sea and a view of Capri. I saw the chickens that produced my rich orange yoked eggs in the morning, the apricots with more of that jam and tons of fig trees just getting ready to pop. We met Sabatino (which means Saturday in italian, because they got the cow on Saturday) who fertilizes the farm since it is all organice. He enjoyed the leftover nectarines Fortunato picked for him. The magically part of the garden was the lemon trees. I felt like I was in what the garden of Eden would look like with all the large beautiful yellow lemon trees that were guarded under green mesh. It was nice and cool under here and would be a great place to enjoy a picnic. This would make dinner tonight at the restaurant extra special after the farm visit. We wanted to make sure we would have time to return and shower and Mario assured us whatever time we arrived at the restaurant would be just fine...again never rushing any aspect of our experience.
We showered for dinner and walked downstairs to the restaurant we had staring into for the past 2 days. We were given the best table in the restaurant that overlooked the window where the chefs worked preparing our next meal. Ernesto had a spoon in his breast pocket that made me smile. He was in charge of making sure every bite was perfection and he didn't fail at any turn. We had chosen the tradition menu as opposed to the more modern one. The waiters and Mario made sure every detail was taken care of. We started with a bang...mozzerella souffle with a red sauce, oregano sprinkle and basil chip. It followed with a fried lobster with a sweet and sour sauce, then grandmother Titina's chocolate arancino grilled pumplin, salami and dairy products. Numerous fresh breads and an olive oil tasting took place so I could pick my favorite olive oil. We smiled after each course...how many would there be??? We had to experience some pasta...ravioli with fresh caciotta and tomatoes from the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius and mozzarella cream....reef fish and yes, Mario threw in another course...grilled goat....DELICIOUS and I don't even care that much for meat. Then another piece of fresh bread...what we are stuffed, but ok...because the selection cheese dishes followed. My favorite was parma and the buffalo mozz just as Max, our waiter had assured me. We started at 730pm and it was approaching 1030, but we were enjoying every second. Dessert is my favorite, so I waited in anticipation...They brought 3 different ones...a lemon mousse so beautifully placed in a fresh lemon, a coffee dessert and delicious baba...and then Max had arranged for a special dessert for my parents...lemon cake shaped in the form of 2 hearts with Happy 50th Anniversary. This and the lemon mousse were my favorites. No matter how full I was, I licked the plate. Of course, it ended with a plate of cookies and tiny treats. We had selected a light sparkling wine and my dad had a nice red with the goat. They also have an extensive wine selection because they have their own wine cellar that you can tour. Didn't fit that it...another reason to return! This dinner was such a special treat to celebrate my parents anniversary. Now I know why all the fuss about Michelin stars! I would give it 3 instead of 2. The restaurant was completely full and service never waivered. I couldn't eat that last cookie by my bed as we returned to our rooms...save something for breakfast.
We went to Mass at the local church the next morning, very quaint and peaceful. Still not hungary for breakfast, I took another run to build up an appetite for my last breakfast. I enjoyed every morsel and basked in our last morning at Don Alfonso.
I settled my bill and purchased my favorites from the store and Lucia gave me a special gift of pasta and tomato sauce...as Andrea, my chef teacher put it, it's in our blood here in Italy....I agree. Lucia and Fortunato arranged for our travel to Positano with a nice Mercedes van and all our luggage. I wish their was a Don Alfonso in our next destination, but no such luck!
It was 35 minutes to Positano and my dad had booked the Marincanto. He searched for hours and days to find the best hotel to fit our needs and budget. We wanted a pool for our nephews who would be joining us, of course of view, and a nice location to town. We would have loved the Palazzo Murat, but they didn't have a pool and the Covo da Saraceni was going to be quite a bit more money than Marincanto. He had insisted that he would pick up all our rooms for 6 nights x 8 rooms...so Marincanto seems to fit the bill. It's a lovely hotel with beautiful views, but certainly not as clean as I would expect from a 4 star hotel. The carpet on the steps was extrememly dirty. The people couldn't have been nicer and the breakfasts were great. If you wanted a drink by the pool, we had to wait at least 30 minutes numerous times. There were 2 weddings there and it limited access to the terrace area so there was limited space to lounge by the pool. We had been spoiled at the Don Alfonso. I even got a phone call from Lucia from Don Alfonso. It seemed the jam I had purchased wasn't up to par for them and they made a special trip to our hotel to make sure I had the best.....SERVICE!!! I think I mentioned I am eating that apricot jam right now. That along with Nona Pina's from Antico were the BEST!
I had been to Positano before, but the rest of my family had not. They enjoyed the hustle and bustle and wide array of shops and eating. They had arranged for side trips to Pompeii and Pastreum and we took a side trip to Ravello. All thru car services and well worth it! We made a return visit to Antico Francischiello da Peppino for a cooking class with my mom, dad and sister. Again, Francesco arranged for our transportation and we throughly enjoyed our experience again here. You can email Francesco from the website and he is prompt with reply and will meet your every request. He couldn't have made us feel more like family. It was great for me to get 2 cooking lessons in...both different, but the best experience of the trip for me! We had chef hats, aprons, and Antonio, who picked us up, translated from the chefs. We learned pasta, fish and lemon delight...all while we overlooked the sea...what a view...I could work here for free! My dad sat outside and joined us for lunch when we finished. Nona Pina showed us how to make her delicious apricot jam and gave us a nice taste and a jar to take home with more homemade cookies!! We lunched overlooking the sea with another delightful meal of fish, antipasta, and more dessert!! Antonio picked a great local white wine. It is a total family affair here that is exactly what you would imagine in a restaurant that has been in the family for years. We went down to see Antonio's mother's local trattoria that was a little more rustic. American's really don't know about this place, but I wish we had the time and stomach's to taste another meal here where you could reach out and touch the sea. Again, another time. We had already scheduled another night to come back with the entire family..yes, that would make it 3 times in 7 days! Some of the restaurants we picked in Positano were Da Vincenzo (very good!!), Lo Guarracinno (another fodors' pick that didn't disppoint...great pizza in a quiet corner by the sea), Buci da Buci (great fish and such, by the beach as well), Chez Black (ate here for lunch and liked it so much we came down for dinner...try the focchocia...just pizza dough, olive oil, and salt with cherry tomatoes..on the house...compliments of the owner). We took a day trip to Capri..lots of shopping and a great lunch at Da Giorgio (overlooks the sea). In Ravello we visited both gardens here (Rufulo, and Cimbrone) and got a lemon sorbetto that was another favorite in the local square. Also the gelato from Covo and Buci were hits in Positano. We ate dinner one night in our rooms buying fresh cheeses, bread, fruit and wine...perfect! Again, we went back to Antico in a bus. It took about 45 minutes, but Francesco didn't disappoint the 3rd time. The rest of the family loved our choice. Francesco outdid himself with numerous antipastas...including fried zuchinni blossoms, and a savory pillow I'll call it, filled with ricotta, eggplant..the list went on. The fishes and pastas were loved by everyone. My nephew crowned it his favorite of the trip! Of course when the dessert tower came around...we couldn't resist...I had a lemon mousse cake that I need to email Francesco to get the recipe!! I mentioned Nona Pina gave us a jar of that apricot jam to remember her by...we could never forget!
We were sad to end the trip, but will have treasured memories for a lifetime. We had a great driver who took us back to Naples. Italians just open their hearts to Americans...Our driver wanted us to see his garden and give us a tour of the best of Naples...again, another reason to return and that we will!
I told you guys I am a food lover...hope you enjoyed the thread and thanks again for all the help!! Just read this somewhere...A tavola non si invecchia (at the table one doesn't grow old)!!! Ciao Ciao
lisaannmack is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 12:33 PM
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Nice trip--thanks for sharing !
Have you ever considered paragraphs and spaces for readability--this one stressed my old eyes.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 12:44 PM
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Thanks Bob..I pressed submit before I saw how it looked...live and learn! You always have great suggestions for Italy that I enjoy reading about.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:04 PM
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Wow, what a gift to your parents and your family!!!

I returned last week from a trip which included Sorrento and part of Amalfi Coast and was surprised and delighted by how much we loved it!!!!!We did a much lower budget version but it was nevertheless fantastico!!!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2011, 02:57 PM
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It is heartening to read a review so full of positive experiences. I'm sure that is as much due to your positive attitude as to the places you went and the people you encountered. It sounds like you had a wonderful time, and created a magical experience for your parents.
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Old Jul 4th, 2011, 03:54 AM
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What a wonderful gift you gave to your parents! I certainly agree with Frog, above, that the success of your trip had much to do with your positive attitude and enthusiasm.

Curious: Were the other guests at Don Alfonso--both the relais and the restaurant--mostly English speaking? Sounds as if I have to put this on my list for the future!

Many thanks, and congrats to your parents!!
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Old Jul 4th, 2011, 07:34 AM
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Thanks ekscrunchy! I would say the guests were mostly italian at the restaurant and as far as the relais, Fortunato told us since 9/11 there are less Americans, more British, European and Australians. Italy seems to bring out my positive attitude...ended our trip in Paris with my sister & brother in law who live there....totally different experience and attitude
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