I’d be curious to know if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t care about visiting or re-visiting the Amalfi coast?! It’s got be on everyone’s top 10 wanderlist because the gods of beauty, pleasure and laughter all got together on that little piece of heaven on earth. Our trip a little while back was something special that I never got to write about. These are a few of my favourite things.
The Amalfi coast is best approached via Napoli, whether arriving by train from Rome and beyond, or landing near the Vesuvio. Just make sure to book a window seat. The region has several landmarks and it’s a tricky decision when it comes to choosing a base. Capri, located in the distance of Napoli’s bay could be visited for the day but I think it’s better to keep it for a trip of its own. Sorrento, with its graphic beach clubs makes a photogenic first stop going South on the coast. Positano comes next with its picture-perfect white houses dotting the hills. Then, it’s Amalfi, a larger town with a proper harbour and imposing aristocratic houses. And high up, Ravello, standing proud and discreet over the cliffs. Of course, to lounge by the water, one would prefer the heat of the summer. However, the region is a dream destination all year long with the blues of the sky merging gently with the colours of the sea at any point of time. May June and September would be my favourite months if I had to choose.
A bit for everyone
For the epicurian, the region is filled with outstanding places of delight. From the little trattoria hidden away in villages to the fancier alternatives of Positano, the mamas and papas in the kitchens need only to extend an arm to collect the freshest produce in the country. First-crush olive oils, bright organic lemons, juicy red tomatoes paired with melting burrata, meals are a feast from breakfast until late at night. The sea provides an added source of culinary pleasures, whether you like your fish seared, in carpaccio or perhaps marinated with olives and capers.
For the sun seeker, the multitude of little bays takes the art of farniente to an extreme. Hiring a skipper for a day, hopping from beach to islets, is a wonderful way to discover the photogenic coastline. For the culturist, there is an abundance of festivals during the spring and summer months, culminating with the world-renowned Ravello music festival. Under Apollo’s guidance, the sky and the sounds seem to merge in a magical tune in this little town perched high up above the coast. And for the shopper at heart, the streets of Positano offer a concentration of wonderful artisan works.
Yet, for a region so famous the world over, it is remarkable how many pockets of quiet and discreet charm one can still enjoy. Scents of orange blossoms mixed with pine trees, a shoemaker offering his services seated on a stool in front of his shop window. A widow dressed in the customary black, hanging the bed sheets to dry under the sun. Hikes in the surrounding forests of the island provide another perspective, with vistas high above the deep blues of the sea.Soaking in gently the dolce vita is the way to go to appreciate this treasure given to all of us by the Roman gods.
Rooms with a view
Two nights in Sorrento. We stopped at La Minervetta, a hotel I will never forget. As if invited to the home of someone with a certain eye for beauty, someone with a taste for good things, someone that you want to become friend with right away. The rooms have a view that is more than a view. It’s a painting, it’s a love story, it’s so many emotions in one window. They open onto the bay of Napoli with the intimidating Vesuvio in the background. When I walked in, I thought I would seat in that Arne Jacobsen chair forever.
Two nights in Amalfi. The grande dame of luxury is the Santa Caterina Hotel, much loved by Americans in June. I’d go there again for the incredible pool, carved out in the cliff, but I wouldn’t go again for the rooms or the service, a little outdated and a little too formal.
Maybe it was a mistake not to sleep in Positano. It’s so famous that I was worried of the crowds, but Positano is Positano. I would perhaps have chosen the Villa Tre Ville for old-school luxury, or Villa Gabrisa recommended in this guide by my friend who is an unconditional lover of Positano.
And for the cheapest and the cutest, Lo Scoglio da Tommaso would be a reason on its own to go back to that part of the world. Located in Marina del Cantone, at the tip of the peninsula, it is the closest point to Capri from the Amalfi coast.
Three meals, like it’s the last days of Pompei
In Italy, we eat well pretty much anywhere (except in Rome maybe). These are three meals that I could have had over and over.
Lunch like a local who knows at Da Adolfo . Arrive in style after being picked up in the harbor of Positano by the restaurant’s own boat – but know that if you miss it, you can always take a taxi boat. Or swim?! For this little gem of a restaurant is hidden away on the 5th beach of Positano and only those in the know will remember to book a table ahead. Feet in the sand, lively communal tables, house wine poured generously, Adolfo (or his offsprings, as he sadly passed away a few years ago) serves some of the most authentic and freshest fish on this part of the coast.
Dinner with mama, high up in Ravello, at Trattoria Da Cumpa Cosimo (+39 089 857156). Mama Netta oversees the kitchen while her husband greets you by the door and her children serve you with a smile. This is family business at its best. The restaurant has been in the hands of Netta’s family for more than 75 of its 300-plus years, and Netta has been cooking for more than 60 of those years. Typical Ravellan dishes together with special off-menu pasta dishes, complete with homemade gelati or cheesecake like no other. Old-fashioned just the way we like it.
Carved out in the rocks at Conca del Sogno, near Sorrento. Pasta with frutti di mare, a nice bottle of chilled white wine, and conversations about love, love, love:) On the fancy side with white table clothes and waiters all around, the way Italians do it best. We were dropped and picked up by boat, because if you’re going to do it, do it in style, Italian style.
The festival of classical music in Ravello, under the stars. It takes place every summer: book ahead . It is one of the oldest and most renowned festival in Italy. It has given the name City of Music to this enchanting town perched above the Amalfi coast. Classical music star Marta Argerich (I would fly anywhere in the world to listen to her play Bach) and artist Francesco Clemente were a few of the prestigious names dotting the agenda in recent years.
The Lobster and Martini Bar in Ravello, at the Palazzo Avino Hotel is wonderful for aperitivo. Once an aristocratic residence dating as far back as the 12th century, the Avino offers another set of incredible views. The resident mixologist uses herbs and seasonal fruits to create exotic versions of martinis, together with classic cocktails. The hotel also owns an impressive art collection that can be admired from the lobby.
The little shop of leather sandals chez Safari, in Positano, is the best place to bring back a pair that will never go out of fashion. It is located just above Positano’s main beach. From the basic models (either classic thongs or the spider’s web design) to the more sophisticated beaded versions, you can even custom make your own pair with a little bit of notice.
Good to Know
Rent a convertible car in Napoli airport but know that the roads are narrow, windy and don’t drink and drive (!). Alternatively, hire a driver with Positano Taxi Service Sergio and Ottavio will surely look after you, to go from town to town, as you won’t need a car once you are based somewhere. And remember that the traffic can be horrendous because there is only one road along the coast.
Hire a boat and a skipper with Mama Mia Sorrento Boat to explore all the pretty bays that you can only reach by the sea. Pricey, but priceless.
And save some for next time, because it is the kind of place we all hope to go back to one day.