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Marcy's Italy trip report: Rome, Naples, and DRIVING the Amalfi Coast

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Sep 15th, 2004, 07:52 AM
  #21
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Day 4: Exploring the Amalfi coast by car
We started our day with breakfast on the terrace-- I don't think I'd ever get tired of this view! Positano looks beautiful from the terrace in the morning light. Breakfast includes fabulous fresh-squeezed blood-orange juice, coffee, and a nice buffet selection: pastries, cheese, and fresh fruit.

We decided to walk down to check out Praiano's beach before leaving for the day -- more than 200 steps down! (and more importantly, back up!) Our legs will definitely be in good shape by the time we leave Praiano! The beach area is tiny, only a paved area-- no sand, but you can rent a lounge chair and an umbrella for the day. There is a restaurant there that we decide we should check out for dinner.

Then back up the 200+ steps to the hotel, and however-many more to the road (maybe 100?), and off we went to see more of the coast.

Positano looks so close from our hotel, but it takes a lot longer to get there than you'd think, because of all the winding around the road does. Positano was PACKED with people, cars, and tour buses. We parked the car at the first parking garage we saw and began winding our way down the road to the main part of town, stopping in little shops on the way.

My overwhelming impression was that I was VERY glad to have stayed in Praiano instead of Positano. It's true that there are a lot more shops, restaurants, and water activities in Positano, so if that's what you're looking for it would be a good place to stay, but I just thought it was too congested and touristy, and I much preferred the peace and serenity of Praiano.

We found a GREAT spot for a relaxing lunch in Positano-- Lo Guarracino. If you're standing on the beach it's to the left up the steps past the Covo di Saraceni and down the walk a little way-- really tucked away from all the hustle and bustle, with a nice terrace/porch overlooking the water. Fabulous view!

We had a nice lunch of linguine misto mare, penne all'arabiata, and salad, with beer, wine , coffee, and limoncello, for 40€

After spending some time shopping in Positano, we got in the car and headed out along the coast towards Sorrento.

The section of coast west of Positano is the most GORGEOUS drive; unspoiled, rocky, and dramatic, with impressive cliffs and rock formations! The road is less crowded there, and there are lots of places to stop and admire the view and take pictures.

Parking was easy in Sorrento in a nice lot right by the historic center of town. We strolled around the old town, got gelato, and then we saw it!!-- The Tabacchi from the webcam!! I felt like I knew the place already, after looking at the webcam so many times. So of course we stood there and waved, but then realized it wasn't as satisfying if no one we knew could see us, so I got out the cellphone and called DLN-- my friend from here at Fodors who lives near us.

So here we were standing in front of the Tabacchi, talking on the cellphone, waving, and practically jumping up and down, while DLN watched us on the webcam! I'm sure people thought we were crazy! (I don't think many people there are even aware of the webcam.)

After making total fools of ourselves, we did some serious shopping-- stocked up on Limoncello to take home, as well as melon liqueur, chocolates filled with limoncello, and lemon soaps.

We stopped for a drink at the Bellevue Syrene hotel on their terrace overlooking the sea-- nice view over the water, and of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius.

That night we had dinner back in Praiano, at the little restaurant on the beach, La Gavitella-- down all those 200 + steps again! (trickier in the dark!)

We had a wonderful dinner of the freshest seafood imaginable. We had the catch of the day, which really was just that: a few hours before, it had been swimming just a short way from where we were now sitting! The fish was served whole-- head, tail, fins and all-- with a sauce of tomatoes olives, and capers, and it was wonderful!

I was amazed at how many people were at this restaurant considering how inaccessible it is! There is no road-- you can only get there by going down all those steps, or by boat. (Later we saw a sign in Positano advertising the restaurant-- apparently they provide boat service for people coming from Positano.)

They did not accept credit cards, so we were so glad we had enough cash. There was no way I was going to go all the way up those steps again to go to the ATM!

After dragging ourselves up the steps to the hotel one more time, we really felt like we had worked off some of our dinner!
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Sep 15th, 2004, 12:33 PM
  #22
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Marcy: I'm really enjoying reading your detailed postings. For the benefit of fellow Fodorites, you might consider mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of renting a car along the Amalfi Drive versus relying on the SITA bus service between Sorrento and Amalfi. I think that your experience in this regard would be useful to share. Thanks.
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Sep 15th, 2004, 02:21 PM
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Thanks, GAC.
I don't know whether I know enough about the bus service to compare the two, but I'll try:

The SITA bus service seemed to be very good, and buses run frequently all up and down the coast. You buy the tickets at the Tabacchi, and they're very reasonable-- 1€ to go from Praiano to Positano.

There was also a little orange bus that went from Praiano to Positano, and I don't know where else.

We only rode the SITA bus once, and it was full, so we had to stand in the aisle. Going around those bends in the road trying to hold on really gave us an upper-body workout!

A couple of obvious advantages of taking the buses are: not having the cost of renting a car, and not having to hassle with and pay for parking. Parking is in short supply along the road, and the parking lots can be expensive. (It cost us 20€ to park for about 4 hours in Positano-- other places were not as much.)

And of course, there are a lot of people who just don't feel comfortable driving on narrow, winding roads, so the buses are a good alternative.

We definitely would have wanted to take the bus to go out to dinner and have anything to drink. Or you can just stick with restaurants within walking distance, which is what we did.

Unfortunately, the buses don't run too late at night, so sometimes you can get stuck having to take a taxi back, which is expensive.

We really enjoyed the freedom of having our own car, and being able to come and go as we pleased, and not to have to work around bus schedules.

We liked being able to stop if we saw something interesting along the way, and to be able to pull over when we wanted, to enjoy the view. We could take different routes if we wanted, and explore the little side roads.

And my husband just gets a sort of macho thrill out of driving a car with manual transmission around all the curvy roads!
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Sep 15th, 2004, 06:06 PM
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Reading about that road to the concert told me that I would rely on busses should my travels take me to the Amalfi Coast. I wonder if any one died on the way home in the dark!

Chocolates with limoncello? Be still my heart!

I actually have two trips to Italy this year (Eat your hearts out!). I had and elderhostel cruise to Sicily and the Amalfi Islands (on a sailboat!!!)scheduled for spring (now moved to May-June due to a Seattle Washington swap that arrived recently on my computer) and got a home exchange in Rome for Christmas. I won't be doing the Amalfi Coast, but I should have some interesting stories.

The Romans do not own a car, so we will just be using public transportation in Rome. If we go to Florence, we will take the train. Both of us have been to Italy before, but you can't possibly get enough of it!
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Sep 15th, 2004, 07:16 PM
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Day 5: Amalfi and Ravello
Another gorgeous day in Praiano! (although quite hot) After a nice breakfast on the terrace and a vicious game of ping-pong on the patio, we took off in the car toward Amalfi. We found a paid parking area --you go to the nearest Tabacchi and buy a card for each hour you're planning to park, and they scratch off the time that you've paid for, then you leave the cards on the dashboard of the car.

Our first stop in Amalfi was the Duomo, approached by an impressive huge stairway leading up to the front of the church. Unfortunately there were boards and scaffolding covering part of the front of the church, but it was still beautiful.

The church is gorgeous inside-- lots of marble inlays, carved gold woodwork on the ceiling.

The cloister is unique-- very Moorish in style, and the old basilica next to the church dates from the first century (around 900 A.D.)

As we came out of the church, a wedding was just starting. (11:30 A.M. on a Monday seemed like a strange time)

The proprietor of our hotel had recommended that we go to the Pasticceria Andrea Pansa right next to the church for pastries, so we stopped there, and had a wonderful Sfogliatella Santa Rosa, a Delizia (fantastic!), and coffee at lovely lace-tableclothed tables on the piazza in front of a somewhat formal, old-fashioned tearoom. Our silverware was brought to us wrapped in organdy and tied with a ribbon, and there was a lace doily on the little tray with the bill.

By the time we were finishing our pastries, the wedding was ending, and we and lots of other tourists watched as the wedding party descended the grand stairway from the cathedral, and were greeted by a flag and drum corps in medieval costumes (doublets and tights), who did a wonderful routine of swinging their colorful flags all around, throwing them way up in the air and catching them, and passing the flags back and forth to the beat of the drums. It was beautiful!

The whole square was packed with people watching this amazing spectacle.

The leader of the corps then got the groom to join them, and it was obvious that he was a member of the group, because he didn't miss a step-- swinging the flags and throwing them up and catching them. Then there were lots of hugs and kisses all around, and the groom was all choked up with emotion as the corps wished him and his bride well.

How lucky we were to be witness to such a magical moment!

When the ceremony was over, we walked around Amalfi for awhile, then went back to the car to drive up to Ravello.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 05:36 AM
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topping for brenden, who asked what to do in Praiano.
 
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Sep 16th, 2004, 09:24 AM
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The winding road up to Ravello has lot's of hairpin turns and is only one lane in places. We were witness to a couple of standoffs, where cars in front of us came head-to-head with a car coming the other way, and one of them had to back up to a wider area in the road to let the other one pass. Tour buses make it particularly tricky!

There's a nice large parking lot just below Ravello's main square, so we found parking without any problem.

Ravello has such a nice peaceful feeling after the crowds of Amalfi below. It's perched high above the coast, and the views are stunning and surreal, both of the ocean and of the terraced hillsides across the valley.

We had lunch at Cumpa Cosimo, a place that has gotten a lot of hype. It's a large but cozy, bustling place, and the proprietor, Netta Bottone, was definitely working the crowd. She makes a point of interacting personally with everyone who comes in, and there's no doubt who's the "boss" there.

I had the pasta sampler plate that I'd heard so much about, and was disappointed with it-- it was pretty bland and unexciting.

John had the veal with lemon sauce, which was much better, and we shared a plate of grilled vegetables and salad suggested by the owner.

At the end of our meal, she came to our table and asked if we liked figs, and proceeded to bring us fresh ones straight from her garden. Luscious! I told her how much I liked them, and she brought us more to take home!
Lunch was 37€ with a wine, water, coffee, and limoncello.

We spent the afternoon wandering around exploring Ravello.
We loved the gardens at Villa Rufolo, and took lots of pictures.
The stage where they hold outdoor concerts is there-- What a great setting! The stage is set up so that the view from the seats is looking out over the sea, and the stage appears to be practically hanging out over the edge.

I'd love to go to a concert there, but unfortunately there weren't any during our visit.

We browsed in the ceramics shops and other little shops, enjoying the relatively sleepy feeling of the town.

We definitely could see ourselves staying in Ravello on a future trip, so we went into a couple of hotels to check them out-- the Palazzo Sasso looked incredible (but very expensive), and the Hotel Palumbo also looked very nice. Maybe for a special anniversary?

The problem with staying in Ravello is that lovely as it is, there's only so much to do there, and to get to anywhere else along the coast you'd have to be going up and down that winding road all the time.
Still, I'd consider a stay of a few days.

That evening, back in Praiano, we enjoyed our usual Prosecco at the terrace bar to watch the sunset. I just never got tired of that gorgeous view!

Dinner that night was at La Strada, a restaurant just a short walk down the road from our hotel. The stairway up to the rooftop tables is carved out of the side of the mountain, and the wine cellar is actually a little cave.

We had a nice dinner, although the service was not particularly warm and fuzzy: mixed grilled vegetable antipasto, gnocchi with tomato sauce and cheese, pizza with pancetta and onions (Ira's recommendation-- excellent!), and an arugula and tomato salad. 57€ with wine, water, coffee, and limoncello.

Next... A boat trip along the coast with Salvatore!

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Sep 16th, 2004, 09:29 AM
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What a wonderful trip report! We are leaving on the 22nd for Almafi Coast and based in Positano. You have put such great insight into your trip I won't feel quite the stranger! Thank you
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Sep 16th, 2004, 09:31 AM
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You're welcome!
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Sep 16th, 2004, 10:28 AM
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marcy, you are doing such a terrific job with this report.

My husband feels the same way about driving around those hairpin curves...he MUST drive when in Italy.

Your terrace in Praino sounds wonderful.

Thanks for bringing back such fond memories. Such a great way to spend my lunch hour...daydreaming of Italy!
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Sep 16th, 2004, 11:05 AM
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Hi Marcy_

You said in your post you were trying to make this more of a "let's not break the bank" trip. How did that turn out with the hotels?

Did you stay in a little 2 star wishing you were someplace grander? Did you have your expectations set so you didn't mind your hotel choices at all? Was it somewhere in between?

The reason I'm asking is for my long term planning. In the last few years I've spent several months in Europe. I can count on one hand the number of times I've stayed at a 4* hotel. I've stayed in a 3* probably less than a dozen times. I've done this to keep costs lower so I can go more.

If I start staying in nicer hotels in the next few years, will I be able to go back if necessary? That's why I'm asking if you were able to "go back" and have an enjoyable time.

Thanks
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Sep 16th, 2004, 11:16 AM
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Marcy,
I am so glad you enjoyed Naples. It is definitely worth another, longer, visit. Plus, you've made me very hungry.

Great report.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 04:47 PM
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Thanks to all of you for your kind words.

David,
Overall we were very pleased with our hotels, and didn't regret our choices. I DO think that it's possible to stay in 3 or 4 or 5* hotels and then still be happy to "go back" to a 2*. (Heck, I can be happy wilderness camping, without a toilet or a shower for days at a time)

I'm sure that part of it is tailoring your expectations to what you're paying for a place, and being satisfied with the value for the money.

At Le Sirene, in Praiano, for example-- a 2*, I never found myself wishing for something "grander"-- I wouldn't have minded having a slightly more comfortable mattress, walls a little more soundproofed, a bathtub, and maybe a ceiling fan-- but for 100€ a night, it was a great deal.

I think sometimes I've chosen 3 or 4* hotels because they're safe choices-- you know for sure they're going to have a certain level of comfort and amenities, and 2* places are more of a gamble. That's where this forum is so wonderful-- you can get first-hand accounts that take a lot of the guess-work out of the selection process.

I do still enjoy staying in luxurious surroundings and being pampered sometimes (who wouldn't!), but we found on this trip that we don't have to have that to enjoy ourselves.

So why not live it up every now and then if you want, David? I don't think it will spoil you for the simpler places.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 04:59 PM
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Thanks for your wonderful report! And thanks for posting Netta's name (from Cumpo Cosimo) -- I couldn't remember her name from our recent visit and wanted it for my notes. It was fun watching her in action during our lunch, and she really took care of us.
 
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Sep 16th, 2004, 05:53 PM
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Thanks Marcy! That's what I kinda figured, but it never hurts to get another opinion.

I just need to practice crackin' open the wallet a bit more now and again. Not too much though. I'd hate to get used to spoiling myself.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 07:00 PM
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Come on, David, you're worth it!
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Sep 16th, 2004, 07:10 PM
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Thanks Marcy. Like I need a crowd cheering me on.

One of my favorite quotes:

"I so rarely indulge myself."
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Sep 16th, 2004, 07:44 PM
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Marcy, have no fear! We're meeting up with David in Paris and will try our best to steer him to a really good luncheon...thanks for all those great restaurant recommendations you passed on to me!
 
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Sep 16th, 2004, 08:00 PM
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Marcy,

Great trip report! Thanks for taking the time!
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Sep 19th, 2004, 02:12 PM
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The next day was one of the highlights of our trip: a boat trip along the coast.

We had booked our boat trip online ahead of time, thanks to the recommendations of Surfergirl,
( http://www.gennaroesalvatore.it )
but you can just go to their booth on the beach in Positano to book a trip with them.

It was 70€ per person, including lunch and drinks-- WELL worth it!

We took the SITA bus to Positano from Praiano (1€ apiece - buy tickets at a Tabacchi) The bus was full when we got on, so we had to stand, and that made for a bit of a wild ride, trying to hang on going around all the curves in the road. This was our only experience on a SITA bus, and I imagine it's fine if you have a seat, but I'll have to say I didn't enjoy it.

We met our group on the beach in Positano ( 8 people, plus Salvatore- our delightful captain, and his assistant Gloria, who is originally from the US)

It was the most relaxing and enjoyable day; stopping to swim and snorkel in beautiful coves, hearing Salvatore's and Gloria's stories about all the places we passed along the coast, swimming under a springwater waterfall, and an incredible lunch at the Ristorante Da Teresa, on a small beach just past Amalfi.

At the restaurant, Salvatore decided he wanted to make Sangria, so he got a big bowl and mixed red and white wine and added lots of luscious fresh fruit, chopped into pieces. Then he kept our glasses filled... and filled,,, and filled!

The food just kept coming too! Antipasto of grilled vegetables, fried zucchini and other vegeatables, fabulous calamari, then pasta.

After lunch they brought all kinds of liqueurs to the table: limoncello, an orange-anise flavored one, a fennel liqueur, and grappa.

By the end of the lunch, everyone was in a jovial mood (I wonder why?!) and felt like old friends.

We swam for a while off the little beach, then headed back along the coast, dropping a couple of fishing lines along the way and catching a few nice-sized fish.

It was a mellow group on the return trip, after a day of sunshine, saltwater, good food and drink, and good company. The group that had started the day as strangers ended the trip exchanging warm goodbyes and email addresses.

They dropped John and me off at the beach at Praiano, so all we had to do was climb the 200 steps back to the hotel. By this time we were starting to get used to them!

That evening we sadly watched our last sunset from our terrace (until we return again, which I'm sure we will)

Dinner was at La Brace, a casual little pizzeria/ restaurant a short walk from the hotel: Eggplant parmigiana, salad, and pasta -- simple and good.

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