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Ups & Downs on the Amalfi Coast

Updated: Sep 12, 2023



There’s a lot to say about nine days with five family members in such a stunning and storied spot as the Amalfi Coast. In the interest of keeping this post short of biblical length, I’ve decided on a list format. My theme will be Ups & Downs, since the two towns we anchored ourselves in, Positano and Capri, are both truly vertical.


My wordy list-icle is organized into salient aspects and features peculiar to a trip to this part of Italy. I hope it will give some flavor of our own days there, together with useful suggestions for things to do, to don't, to consider. And in case you have trouble cracking the code, green text means go/good/thumbs up, red not so much. A combo means, of course, both ups and downs. Here we go.


Ups & Downs...


1) Getting around. The downside of visiting a place that's built upward is understanding how to get from here to there. In all my years traveling to Italy, I hadn't ever visited the Costa Amalfitana, so I was a little cowed by planning a trip for six to a region whose topography makes getting around a bit complicated. I had no sense of how things worked, how one moved from town to town and hotel to hotel, how one got luggage from place to place when accommodations could only be reached on foot. The happy news is everything ended up running pretty smoothly. If you've never been to this part of Italy, know that you can trust the system. Book your ferries in advance. Ask hotels to have someone meet you at the station or ferry to take your bags (at 18 euro per!), and someone will be there. Don't rent a car unless you truly enjoy road stress and parking panic; book a car service instead, preferably in advance. For shorter trips within the towns, you will be able to get a ride if you really need one, by car or taxi or cart. But you will also do a lot of walking -- and for every step downhill, there'll be the return step uphill.


2) The setting. The colors of the Coast are non-stop beguiling, partly because they're a rhapsody in blue. And there's pretty much a good view from anywhere you happen to be, so don't chew too many nails trying to figure out which hotel to book. I was afraid that by booking closer to the water I'd somehow be losing the view experience. That worry was wasted time.


3) Climbing these vertical towns over and over again--plus Vesuvius once in the heat (more on that anon)--is not for the faint or enlarged of heart. On the upside, I did come home to find that I'd lost weight.


4) The chairlift to Mount Solaro atop Anacapri is worth taking for the perspective from on high. Also entertaining and a little frightening is watching the lift attendants all but throw incompetent riders into the rapidly moving seats. (It reminded me a little of that department store scene in A Christmas Story where Santa's elves threw the kids down the slide with a big hohoho!)


5) Lemons. They're everywhere, they're delicious, and some are the size of your head. The ubiquitous limoncello you can keep. I remembered it being very lemony, but my memory deceived me. It's very vodka-y. However, a vibrant and refreshing lemon granita never came amiss. (Nor did the pomegranate and watermelon flavors.) Beware the brain freeze, however. It’s a doozy.



6) Aperol spritz? Si, per piacere. Another Aperol spritz? Si. Just keep 'em coming.

This spritz is about as refreshing as a cocktail can get. Keep walking, gin and tonic.


7) Beaches. Amalfi is a gorgeous seaside experience, However, if you want a true beach vacation built around swimming and fun in the surf, this is not the place for you. There are virtually no waves, little actual beach, and either uncomfortable stones or dark, dirty-looking sand. Little Ro did keep us amused in the water looking for bits of seaglass, however. There was glass in them there shallows, alright, and sifting for it got to be addictive.


Booking a beach in Positano can be very confusing. Local bloggers recommended the Fortillo beach -- and more particularly the Da Ferdinando or Da Adolfo sections-- over the crowded and touristy L’Incanto beach. I beg to differ. L’Incanto is easy to reach and has food and drink service at the umbrellas and plenty of nearby options for lunch. By contrast, the well-reviewed food at Da Ferdinando was in reality no more than acceptable and the sand was so dark it felt like a mud bath. Moreover, it was just as crowded as the other beaches, though ostensibly with Amalfi locals. (With all due respect, so what?)


On a related albeit tangential note: Beware the “influencers. After Rosie made me aware of them, I couldn’t stop seeing them as they pressed their gal pals or boyfriends into service snapping them in various poses. They were particularly conspicuous on the beach in their buns-kinis, where their minions snapped them from behind while they arched their backs and, as we say in documenting wildlife, “presented.” It was vulgar and beyond annoying yet hard to look away from.


8) Boat trip! We booked a private one and our four hours aboard were some of our favorite in Capri. It was delightful to stop in different spots and dive or jump into sapphire and turquoise water. We never made it to the Blue Grotto because the tide and wind were too high, but our captain said the color in the background here would be a kind of consolation prize.



9) Smart packing: Don’t bother packing high heels unless you were born after 1990 and plan to walk only a few yards to drinks or dinner. You’ll be sorry. And you’ll have wasted luggage space.

Pack a hat instead. A photo series starring mine amused us (“Darth Takes a Holiday”). But I didn’t burn even once, and that’s saying a lot for the likes of my skin under the relentless sun of southern Italy.

In fact, pack a lightweight nylon bag because you’ll probably do a lot of shopping. (It seemed everyone was wearing fashions from the local shops.) I bought four dresses, two hats, one pair of shoes, two beach cover-ups, and a boatload (literally, it’s docking sometime in November) of ceramics.


Jasper proved to be a world-class shopper!


10) Excursions: We took a short guided tour of Pompeii and then went on to Vesuvius. Even the kids enjoyed learning about what happened to Pompeii and seeing the often astonishingly well-preserved ruins. The photo at right below is a mummified victim of the eruption; at bottom left is a fresco that once announced a shop to be a kind of casino.


I noted in the intro that the ascent on foot to Vesuvius was pretty challenging in the heat and, in all seriousness, one of us had a little spell that was momentarily worrisome. Jasper pushed some family carcasses uphill at various points and even offered short-distance piggy-back rides. I wish I had a photo, but we were all too busy trying to breathe, and raising a hand to take a photo would have required too much aerobic output.


If you look closely at the top center of the photo below, you'll see the smoke currently emerging from the volcano.


We stopped for a late lunch at a pretty restaurant in Sorrento called Sorrentino. Zucchini is seldom the star of any plate but, for some of us, it really stole the show at this place. I’ll include the no-cook recipe in a separate post.


I love the picture of our waiter and me having a laugh, though the laugh was on me because he was convincing me to buy an olive oil-based wrinkle cream they made on the premises.

We also had a mini-tasting of wines with roots in the volcanic ash. I didn't dare buy the "Tears of the Christ" red. However, Sheila, the family church lady and Eucharistic minister, grabbed herself a couple of cases.



Our next jaunt, to nearby Ravello, proved to be a shopping bonanza. Here are some of the serving plates Sheil bought from Pascal Ceramiche d'Arte. I bought a set of Cubist-style dinner plates, each featuring a different animal. I'd show them here, but that's the shipment I mentioned earlier that will arrive in November. You can even furnish this wonderful artisanal workshop with pictures of your own pet(s) and they’ll custom-design your pieces.

The Ravello outing landed us at one of our favorite restaurants of the trip: Calajanara, high above the coastline. It's the kind of spot where you might strike up a conversation with Midwestern folks at nearby tables (as Rosie did), and the parking lot looks like it could accommodate a tour bus or two. In other words, the place might well be a "tourist trap," but we loved it. One of the things I’ve learned about Italy is that so-called tourist traps can deliver very good experiences.


Our last day-trip was to gritty and colorful Naples for a food tour, which was just okay. My vegan selections included the prized baba' al rum, which always leaves me cold. You can keep desserts that are

a) soaked in alcohol and b) excessively phallic.


Speaking of the phallic, the Neapolitan cornicello, the red curved pepper said to repulse negative energy, is ubiquitous. We were told that, to be effective, the cornicello must be red, must be handmade, and must be given (in other words, not bought for oneself. Extra protection if it’s given with a special Neapolitan chant).

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Hotel and Restaurant Ups & Downs

One note about restaurants: Menus were surprisingly repetitive, apparently cleaving to dishes traditional to the area. Often, what distinguished one meal from another was how deftly the dishes were executed or whether the spin they were given made them sing.


Positano*


Hotel Savoia: Ample rooms in an elegantly beachy style. The hotel is not at the top of the town, which makes it a little more convenient. And there are terrific views right outside.



Adamo ed Eva: Our first dinner on the Coast got us off to a fine start. Extra credit for the imaginative vegan dishes, below. Still more extra credit for being close to the hotel.


Le Tre Sorelle: The pizza was good, as was the people-watching for those of us facing outward. Without that latter, though, it would probably be a less-than-special evening in a crowded place.



Chez Black: This spot seems to be somewhat celebrated for, er, celebrities. Like Le Tre Sorelle, it's good for people watching, but probably only if you have a table out in front. (We didn't.) The food was fine but unremarkable.




Covo dei Saraceni: This hotel terrace restaurant overlooking the lido delivered terrific meals and a great view of the sea just outside. The desserts were over-the-top fabulous. It might well be another “tourist trap,” but we were happy to be ensnared.


Casa Mele: This place started and ended strong with appetizers that promised exciting things to come and desserts that capped the meal nicely. The main courses didn’t quite pull their weight. Overall, good if pretentious food and some great design choices.


In photos below: Jasper, who has joined me in an obsession with spicy arrabbiata, was served the dish in a fanciful ceramic volcano that, presumably, warned of the fiery experience to come. My vegan dish, two types of pasta in a zucchini sauce with what were supposed to be "sea mushrooms" (whatever those are) but looked like clams, got an A for effort but was just pretty good. The restaurant’s design inspired one of Rosie’s stylized photos.


*Note: We tried unsuccessfully to get into La Sponda in Le Sirenuse hotel. We were wait-listed for three days running. I wanted to get in there to try the Lemon Risotto with Capers recipe the chef had posted online. I figured if it was really good, I’d veganize it. I’m still going to try it at home, the sad facts that I have no Amalfitani lemons and no idea where I’ll find fresh verbena notwithstanding. Here’s the link in case you're interested:


Capri

How you gonna keep them over in Positano now that they’ve seen Capri?

I just want to mention here that they told us in Positano that everything in Capri would be three times the price. It wasn't. Seems it was a little case of bad-mouthing the competition, and I guess I understand why. I did love Positano...until we got to Capri.


Hotel Luna: Gorgeous grounds, central location, distinctive views, outstanding rooftop bar and pool. Also a spa. We liked this place so much, I'm giving it its own collage. One drawback: Those accustomed to heavy AC might need a fan.


Pulalli: Skip it. The kitchen tried some potentially interesting spins on traditional favorites, but the potential remained just that.


Panorama: One of the high points of our Capri dining experiences. Across-the-board great food in a pleasant outdoor setting with nice views.


Focacciera: a take-out spot at the Marina Grande. We carried our many focacce choices onto the boat, and they were all so very tasty.



La Capannina: Another dining highlight. Lovely atmosphere, service, and food. Note Steven Tyler photo- photo-bombing us. I've only included snaps of my vegan dishes: an unusual and highly appealing presentation of crudite; puree of legumes with Brussels sprouts; an outstanding and offbeat puttanesca; chocolate cake with chocolate swirl gelato.



Arrivederci, Capri! Rosie staged this photo at the crack of dawn in the Hotel Luna lobby as we prepared to depart for Rome. I think it's pretty cool, although I'm not sure what Sheila's doing with her head.


And arrivederci, Costa Amalfitana! We've enjoyed your ups and downs.



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reidy.jean
reidy.jean
Sep 13, 2023

Wow! Wow! Wow! I've always wanted to explore the Amalfi Coast. Now you've outlined a great itinerary for me. As always your photos are stunning and your post ... completely engaging! Brava!

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Kathryn Casey
Kathryn Casey
Sep 14, 2023
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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Jean, you're always such a booster, and I do very much appreciate it.. I confess I can't take credit for the photos. Most were shot by my sister Rosie. If you ever want to talk when you're planning a trip to points Italian, drop me a line.


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