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tengohambre Jan 9th, 2009 06:28 PM

Sicily or the Amalfi Coast?
We are trying to narrow down our destinations for an August family trip. Two adults and two pre teens, in search of: great food, nice beaches, medium sized towns, some historical sites, lots of atmosphere and general relaxing. Looking for 4 star hotels. We would likely rent a car in either destination, and spend a few days in Rome first.

In Sicily we are thinking of staying in Taormina and/or Siracusa/Ortigia. Yet, reading these boards, Taormina gets very mixed reviews, I'm not sure I want hundreds of steps and we do like to be a bit out of the traditional tourist mix. Restaurants geared to the tourist trade do not appeal to us. Does that make Ortigia a better spot? Yet, it doesn't seem many hotels there have pools (a must with the kids) and I'm not sure if there are beaches near Ortigia. (There is a Grand Hotel on Ortigia that seems nice, if old.) Any place else in Sicily you suggest? The Aeolian Islands seem a bit far out and too quiet.

For Amalfi we are focusing on Sorrento or Ravello. Sorrento seems to have the best hotels for us, price wise and with a pool. Yet, is Sorrento a smallish very crowded city or, is it very pretty with great wandering and great food? Are there nearby beaches? Ravello looks nice but the hotels seem to be very scattered and no real beaches, I think. Are either Ravello or Sorrento good bases for day trips and the like? Thanks for your help.

Gwendolynn Jan 9th, 2009 06:47 PM

We've stayed at the Grand Hotel in Siracusa a few years back. It was nice, but nothing special... I don't recall if it had a pool. August will be a pistol heat-wise no matter where you are. Friends went to Italy last August and said.... Never Again!

With teenagers Sorrento is probably the best choice. It is convenient to travel to other sites. If it were two adults... Ravello!

On Sicily Mondello..near Palermo is evidently the beach place for the summer. But you'd have to travel to see many of the most interesting sites.

tengohambre Jan 9th, 2009 07:06 PM

Thank you for that info. Sorrento is certainly "easier" I think.

On that score: is it advisable to have a car in Sorrento for day trips? Or, is it easier to take trains to other nearby towns?

thursdaysd Jan 9th, 2009 09:24 PM

Sorrento is a convenient base for day trips, but not a good place if you want a beach.

I loved Sicily, which has great food, medium sized (and smaller) towns, and very good historical sites. Doubt there are any hotels on Ortigia with a pool - maybe in the new part of Siracusa. Taormina was too touristy for me in April, so can't imagine what it would be like in August. You might try Cefalu for a beach, although I don't know whether it has any four star hotels.

zeppole Jan 10th, 2009 11:01 AM

Might I be so bold as to suggest that you rethink this trip? You actually want several contradictory things, and you are going to places in August that are going to be excruciatingly hot and crowded.

To knock away some obvious ones: Ravello is not a good base for day trips, and it is not a "medium-sized" town. It is a 30 minute bus ride to a beach (and perhaps more).

Touring historical sites in Sicily or near Amalfi (like Pompeii) is pretty awful in August. Ortygia is a very small place, with few luxury hotels, and it is not easy to get on and off the little land spit it is on to go touristing on the mainland.

Four star hotels on the Italian coast, with a few exceptions, are located in places where the restaurants cater to the tourist trade. A place like Sorrento, near the water, is wall-to-wall package tours.

By the way, Mondello is a truly awful dirty beach, and about the only reason most people go to Sicily is to enjoy its plethora of historic sights. If you mainly want the beach and 4 star hotels most of all, you needn't go all the way to Sicily.

If you must go in August -- and you probably must -- what do you really want most? Do you want to get away from tourist crowds to the greatest extent? Do you want some historical sights to tour even if the weather is in 100s? Do you want a medium-sized town?

The town of Amalfi in the Amalfi coast will be a zoo in August, but it probably has the most of what you want, although if you plan to include a trip to Pompeii, go as early in the morning as you possibly can on the coolest day you've got.

Another possibility would be for you to check out the Savoy Beach Hotel in Salerno. From there you can take ferries to other Amalfi destinations, including Capri and Positano, you can visit Paestum, and Pompeii, and seaside fortresses, you will be in the heart of some of the greatest food in Campania, plus the greatest ceramic making -- and you'll be off the tourist track. If you want, you can even head over to an Aeolian island (like Stromboli) or the Sicilian mainland (Cefalu?) for a few days, but you'd probably have more fun sinking into this little-known but beautiful area, and enjoying the company of vacationing Italians. You might even consider renting a small house with a pool instead of going to a hotel.

It won't have the ritz and glitz of Taormina and the core of Amalfi, but you'll survive.

Should you end up in the heart of the Amalfi, like Sorrento, or the town of Amalfi, don't rent a car.

nytraveler Jan 10th, 2009 11:09 AM

Beaches on the Amalfi coast are, by and large, pebbles not sand - and not very pleasant. One goes for the cute towns, visits to Pompeii and Capri and drive down the coast - and gets a hotel with a good pool. Definitely not a place to go to the beach.

(Many euroepan beaches are pebbles and rarely meet the quality of FL or Carib beaches. Frankly, even the beaches on Long Island/Hamptons are much better than most in europe.)

zeppole Jan 10th, 2009 11:30 AM

Italians would be really amazed to learn that one doesn't go to the Amalfi coast to enjoy the beaches or swimming in the sea, and that it's superior to swim in a pool. Well, maybe someday this quaint people will learn.

Anyway, many Americans do in fact have a horror of Italian pebble beaches and fail to note that beach/water shoes are sold everywhere on the coast -- so get a pool if you want.

tengohambre Jan 10th, 2009 11:49 AM

Thank you. Your feedback is much appreciated. I have done a bunch more reading today and it does seem what I want is contradictory: good beaches, not packed towns (at least not packed with package tours) and some historical sites, all in August.

I think Sorrento may simply be way too tourist packed for us. (Yet, does that mean Taormina would be too?) And the driving around the Amalfi coast seems it would be very stressful. Likely its easier to drive even in Sicily, with all the comments I've read about it.

As for beaches, we have been to Europe and I know we won't find the pristine beaches we sometimes visit, and we are Ok with some smaller grainy beaches, though pebbles and the like isn't what we really want. We are Ok spending time in a pool but, would also really want a beach. I think I see there are some Ok beaches outside Taormina, or maybe not far form Siracusa/Ortigia? I can get a room at the Grand in Ortigia, which looks good, Ortigia seems to have lots of great restaurants and some sights, but it doesn't have a pool, but it might have a shuttle bus to a nearby beach.

We had looked a bit at Sardinia and maybe we should focus our attention back there? On the east coast preferably? Any hotel recommendations? I know the Cali di Volpe area is way out of our price range and not sure its what we are looking for anyway.

I will look at the Savoy Beach hotel, it sounds like a good option. Alternatively, we had looked a bit around the Puglia area and I will look again there too.

One more thing: can you rent an automatic in Italy or they are very hard to come across? I remember years ago renting one in Nice and driving into Italy but I've never rented one in Italy. Thanks.

ekscrunchy Jan 10th, 2009 12:11 PM

As far as I know, some of the best beaches in Sicily are on the southern coast, near Agrigento---in Sciacca; there are many hotels with pools there...but I agree that it will be very hot..

I disagree vehemently with the comments that the beaches on the Amalfi coast are not nice! And I have been to lots of the world's beaches in my lifetime! They don't have the fine sand of Long Island, or southern Thailand, but scenically, they rank high up there! I thought the prettiest stretches of coast where around Conca dei Marini and east of Amalfi. The custom is to use chairs, rather than lie on towels..and bring your rubber shoes!

Yes, do look again at the Salerno area, and also at Maratea..

Is Spain out of the question?

ekscrunchy Jan 10th, 2009 12:14 PM

Oh..I got so wrapped up in defending the Amalfi beaches that I forgot to post this pic of southern Sicily:

zeppole Jan 10th, 2009 02:08 PM


I've never been to Sardegna but I think it sounds great, and you can ferry there from Rome, which might be fun. Go to Ostia Antica before you leave Rome and -- hey, you're done with your historic sites!

In August, you're going to have do some research not to get caught in a tourist nightmare. But any place by the sea is just going to be jammed. The trick is to find some town Italians enjoy, not some sterile tourist trap.

I'm also going to toss this out, too, for what it's worth:

Il Pelicano, in Porto Ercole (on the Maremma coast of Tuscany), reachable by train from Rome to Orbetello, plus a taxi. Pricey!

If that's too pricey, you can check to see if there are other hotels that might appeal to you in either Porto Ercole or Porto Santo Stefano, a few miles away.

zeppole Jan 10th, 2009 02:20 PM

On second thought, scratch those suggestions. Il Pelicano has a no-kids policy in summer, and I don't think the rest of the surroundings have suitable hotels.

I'm really afraid you'll be miserable in Sicily and will not get anything of what you want -- which would be a shame, because Italy is filled with nice seaside towns (including in Liguria), so I can't advise to go all the way to hot Sicily and end up with an inadequate hotel and beach.

tengohambre Jan 10th, 2009 03:27 PM

Il Pelicano was also crazy expensive, I checked, particularly for what it seemed to offer.

I am looking a bit further down the Amalfi coast now, near Campania, but there aren't many hotels there for us.

Sicily still seems appealing, if we can find the right spot.

bobthenavigator Jan 10th, 2009 04:06 PM

Your trip sounds great except for one fallacy---August. That is what I would change if you can.

ekscrunchy Jan 10th, 2009 04:43 PM

What about Ischia? There are many beaches and lots of good hotels--here is a recent related thread that contains lots of information; you could do day trips to Naples, Pompeii, etc:;tid=35175108

Try to go in the first part of August, if possible.

tengohambre Jan 10th, 2009 04:49 PM

Thank you Skrunchy.

I emailed a few hotels in Ischia but haven't heard back. Odd. Other hotels responded within 12 hours mostly. I will try again.

I do see that August is not only the most packed but, to add insult to injury, the highest price. Some areas do have rates fall for the last week or so of August and we may be able to gear ourselves to that. Maybe end of July, but doubtful.

dutyfree Jan 10th, 2009 05:25 PM

I love Sicily but NEVER in August.Rome and surrounding areas are horrible in August to visit.In my personal opinion-Ortigia is wonderful but pre teens won't get it.
Some of our friends went to Sicily last year the last week of July and first of August for vacation.Hubs and I kept saying how hot it was going to be but they said "no problem". They came home and said "never again".They were miserable and certainly did not seem to enjoy the culture,food and experience of Sicily especially without A/C in their hotel room.

Do you have to go in August?Could you go somewhere else instead of Italy? Let us know.

tengohambre Jan 10th, 2009 07:06 PM

Well, in not Italy . . .

How about Cataluna, Spain, and drive north into France, towards Nice? We were in Barcelona a year ago or so, in August, and drove north past Pals and some other towns and liked it. We loved BCN and would return there. I think this time we could just keep driving, past Perpignan, and then to the French Riviera? Yes, crowded there too but, not as hot? And, more options hotel wise? Has anyone done this trip?

Greece? But we prefer Italian food.
We looked at Bodrum, Turkish coast, but that too seems packed and we would probably enjoy Italy more.

annw Jan 10th, 2009 08:26 PM

What great advice you are getting; zeppole in particular is a gold mine!

Take their word for the heat! Pompeii was as dry and dusty as I've ever been in my life. (Love it, but--eek, the heat of high summer--if you go, get a guide at Pompeii, IMO).

We stayed at the Luna Convento in Amalfi and timed out trip to avoid August but we got very early September and still very hot! This is a nice hotel a short walk along the Amalfi Coast road (a narrow path for pedestrians) into Amalfi which is a pleasant town with a nice passegiata early evenings. We didn't use the beach but for walking along, but the LC has a stunning pool carved out of rock right on the sea, above it. (Pool not heated, BTW).

If I were planning this trip (and I have traveled with youngsters) and had to go in August I would head north to get away from the scorching heat. If you really want the south I like Z's suggestion of Salerno.

zeppole Jan 10th, 2009 09:02 PM

If I went to Catalonia, I would drive to San Sebastian through France. It's much nicer than the long haul to Nice, and with your pre-teens you could stop along the way in some caves and other French sights in the foothills of the Pyrenees. But the entire drive from the Costa Brava to San Sebastian is only about six hours if you do it without stopping.

Were it me, I would just go to San Sebastian -- but I'd like to live there! Some Catalonian beach towns I like are Calella da Palafrugell and Cadaques, but I don't know about four star hotels there -- although I know they abound on the Costa Brava in other places, many within driving distance of Pals.

In San Sebastian, the hotel Londres would be my 4 star pick. It's the one that's on the beach.

If you want to go to Nice, which has great weather, plus someplace else, I would either begin or end in the Italian Riviera. It's only about a 2 hour Genova, and then beyond that another hour to the best of the fishing villages and beaches. (Your family might really like Sestri Levante, with its two sandy beaches and pedestrianized town with lots of easy going life, mostly Italian familes, great octopus and other treats).

Another possibility is Menton, right at the French-Italian border, which means with a car you could visit nearby dramatic Italian hill towns like Apricale and others

the earthquake ruined town of Bussana Vecchia, now inhabited as an artist's colony

and the French seaside hilltown of Eze

Some people like nearby Menton, but i don't know it very well

One thing I would check before booking August on a Catalonia beach is whether the high winds come in August. I just don't know which month they are, but they fierce. Really fierce. But maybe they're not in summer. I just don't know.

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