The Amalfi Coast is a beautiful section of coastline on Italy’s western shore one providence south of Rome. Its steep hill produces great views pretty much anywhere you stay. We chose to stay in this region for the solo-anniversary portion of our trip based on several recommendations we had heard. It was better than I imagined.
Day 1: Arrival
Positano was the first destination on our Italy tour. It took a 12-hour flight, two trains, and two boats to get there but it was well worth it. We left the US around 3:30 PM and didn’t arrive until noon the following day which was hard to wrap my mind around. We had to quickly figure out how to get to Salerno before the last ferry of the day. Because of this, we moved through Rome without really having a chance to take anything in. On the high-speed train we saw some of the countryside but you are often in tunnels or gullies where you can’t see anything. Honestly, the only thing that stood out to my jet-lagged mind was how many small farms there were. I knew Italy had a strong agrarian history but I didn’t expect to see so many farms as our plane approached and as the train passed the countryside.
It wasn’t until we got to the ferry and had bought our tickets that I was able to take in my surroundings. Salerno was our main transportation hub into the region and the views of the countryside from the docks were beautiful with the ruins of a castle looming up on one of the hillsides. We boarded the ferry and took a seat on the top deck which offered us more amazing views as we headed west along the coast. Our ferry wasn’t a direct route so we hopped around the coastline and switched to another boat for the final leg to Positano.
We pulled up shortly after the sun had set so the light sky was turning back from red to blue. We stashed our stuff in the hotel room and ran off for dinner. On the way back to the hotel we stopped in a pastry shop and tried their cannolis. I am a sucker for a good cannoli and it became one of our go-to spots whenever we had a craving.
Day 2: Explore Positano
On our second day, we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. There were lots of fresh breads, cheeses, croissants, and even small desserts. They had honey served from an actual honeycomb. I also took advantage of the hotel’s coffee service and enjoyed starting off the day with an Italian cappuccino. While our initial room didn’t have a view at all, the hotel upgraded us to an ocean view for free. We were very excited when we stepped out onto the balcony. It was better than I could have hoped. We spent the majority of the day checking out the town. There are narrow, one-way streets that wind their way up the hillside but they are easy to walk along as we checked out different shops and the views. Down along the coast are some beaches, restaurants, and an old church which we walked through.
In the evening we went to a nice restaurant uphill from our hotel for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. The restaurant had a great view overlooking the water. Because it was relatively early, the restaurant was almost empty and we got a table right by the window. We split up our entrees into a three-course meal and enjoyed sharing each delicious course together. The portions were more modest than American food so we had room left over to grab another cannoli on our way back to the hotel.
Day 3: “Path of the Gods” Hike
Now that we were settled into Positano, we decided to venture out on a hike. We heard that the “Path of the Gods” was highly recommended so we asked the reception desk at our hotel the best way to get to the trail since the trailhead was a town over. She recommended starting in nearby Praiano and hiking up to the middle of the trail. That sounded like a simple enough plan so we bought our bus tickets at the local tabacchi (convenience store), hopped on the bus to Praiano, and got off at the “Hotel Smeraldo” stop. We found the stairs up to a church. Unfortunately, we soon saw another sign indicating that the connection with the trail was 1.5 hours away. Indeed. It took an hour and a half of steep uphill to reach the 1,500 ft elevation of the trail and we had already gone through most of our water.
But the hike was a lot of fun. On the way up, I was able to see many European Robins which were singing loudly in the olive groves. We made a friend who was also unprepared for the steep start to the hike. Just before reaching the main trail, we passed a small chapel high up on the hill. It seems like quite a hike for a church but is surely an inspiring place to worship. As we traveled along the ridge, we could see the Mediterranean Sea out to our left. For the most part, the trail was open but occasionally it would bend around valleys into the cool forest before coming out over the sea. Thankfully, it was mostly downhill after we joined the main trail so we were able to enjoy the views without being too exhausted.
We reached the end of the trail in Nochelle we and bought more water at a small restaurant and decided to hike the remaining part back to Positano rather than taking the bus. At times it was beautiful, but it was probably a mistake. It took us another hour of downhill steps leaving our legs shaky and us exhausted. Still, we got some great pictures and saw more of the life of the people who live in Positano, trimming olive trees and raising sheep.
When we got back to Positano we grabbed our bathing suits, some gelato, and hit the beach. Most of the beaches are private and you need to rent a chair, but we found a small section down a trail to the west of the ferry port where we could freely use the beach. It was our first time actually touching the Mediterranean Sea and the cold water was refreshing. Even though the shore was rocky with various sizes of smooth rocks, swimming around with no weight on my legs was great. We were glad we were able to take that time to relax.
After our swim, we grabbed a bite to eat, picked up our baggage from the hotel, and caught a ferry to Amalfi. From there we got bus tickets up to Rovello were we would spend the night.
Day 4: Ravello
We took a chance to rest the first morning in Ravello. It is a small town up on the hillsides near Amalfi. We stayed on the west side of town which has great views of the water and walked into town through a short tunnel. The main square only has an old church and a few cafe/stores directly around it but one side is open to the valley offering great views of the hills. Much of the town is accessible via a few allies that are lined with small shops. Like much of the Amalfi coast, there were many ceramic shops offering painted ceramic dishes and decorations.
Ravello is most well known for its large villas which were owned by wealthy families. This wealth also supported many different types of the arts and today the town frequently hosts concerts looking out over the beautiful coastline. We were able to visit the Villa Rufalo and the Villa Cimbrone. The first boasted a tall tower with 360-degree views. You can also walk along the terrace that looks out to the coast and garden beds of flowers. We thought this was a wonderful view until we reached the Villa Cimbrone. The villa has an enormous garden which takes up a large part of the town. At the end of the garden is a terrace on the edge of the cliffs called the “Terrazza dell’Infinito” or “The Infinite Terrace”. While we were visiting there was a wedding starting with ornate table settings. We later spoke to one of the guests who said that the couple paid for all the transportation and housing for their guests and estimated it cost at least half a million.
We finished our day in Ravello with a nice dinner. Since we were there during the off season, a lot of the restaurants weren’t open till later. We actually arrived 10 minutes before the restaurant opened and waited with a few people as the air outside got colder. But it ended up being a great meal with some creatively presented food.
Day 5: Capri and Salerno
We made a point to wake up early on our last day in Ravello to catch the sunrise. Because the town is up above the coast, the views were fantastic. The internet had gone out at the hotel so we had to guess what time the sun would rise, but it ended working out just fine. We were able to get a great view of the sun coming up over the ridge. I can’t think of a better way to have ended our time in Ravello. We had a nice breakfast at the hotel and caught the bus to Amalfi.
We had originally planned on hanging out in the town of Amalfi before heading to hour hotel in Salerno, however we had been hoping to see Capri too. When we got off the bus in Amalfi, we made a last-minute decision to head to Capri. We got on the ferry and headed west, passing Positano again, and off to the Island of Capri.
Our time in Capri was a bit chaotic since we didn’t have a set plan but everything worked out fine. Just off the dock we were able to store our luggage for a few hours so we could explore. From the port we got on a bus to Anacapri. The bus was packed to the brim and quickly climbed the windy road up the hill, passing trucks and the taxi convertibles with mere inches to spare as many of the tourists gasped. We were glad to hop off when we got to the base of the Mount Solaro lift.
There are a lot of tours available to see the caves in Capri, but I would highly recommend going up Mount Solaro if you’re are short on time. The views from the top are incredible. The views of the Island are great and we were able to see both Naples and the south side of Solerno. There is a trail that takes you up to the top but the single-person lift is fun and quick.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long in Capri because we had to catch the last ferry to Salerno which stops at most of the towns along the coast. Even with the high-speed ferry, it took us more than two hours to get to Salerno. We ended up at a different dock than I expected so we had a short walk to our hotel. We still didn’t have a phone plan so we had to stop at a cafe to contact the hotel to figure out where the door was but we were eventually able to arrive in time.
After we settled in, we went out to get some authentic Italian pizza. It was actually the first time our waiter didn’t understand English but we knew enough to order. I really liked the feel of Salerno. The street our hotel was on was pedestrians only and had a lot of shops along it. Along the coast was a park so you could enjoy the views. It all felt very comfortable.
Day 6: Pompeii
After arranging a tour the night before, we got up early in the morning and headed to the train station to go to Pompeii. In about an hour we had arrived at the station in Pompeii. We were quickly accosted by one of the tour companies that has an office at the train station. Thankfully they didn’t bother us too much about packages because we already had a tour arranged but we paid for them to drive us the short way to the entrance. We weren’t exactly sure where our tour guide would be since we arrived early. Eventually we saw someone with the name of the tour company and were handed our headset and told they were waiting for the rest of the group. The rest of the group turned out to be a German-speaking group coming from Rome on a large bus.
We had heard mixed things about the tours of Pompeii. The site is ginormous and so no one can see all the sites in a reasonable length tour. You really need a tour guide to get an appreciation of all the things you are viewing. Our guide taught us about the gladiators who lived near the site’s entrance and how people were in the theater when Mount Vesuvius erupted. However I wonder how much more we could have learned with a guide who didn’t have to repeat herself in both English and German.
Our guide taught us that Pompeii was a thriving merchant city with a port where the entrance is now. It is amazing to look out from Pompeii and see how much further away the sea is since Vesuvius dropped tons of rock and ash on the area. As we walked around the streets we saw houses, bakeries, bathhouses, brothels, and temples. In some places, you can still see the original facades of buildings but most of the mosaics have been moved to the museum in Naples.
I was impressed by the engineering involved in the buildings. The streets were all sloped so that the overflow from the flowing fountains would wash away the waste of the city. On the street corners, there would be large stones in the street to act as a cross-walk while still allowing the wheels of chariots to pass through. The bathhouse had double paneled walls to allow the steam to circulate and lead pipes to carry the water. In order to build their structures, the Romans used a combination of cement, brick, and stone facade to reduce to cost of construction. To avoid the noise of the busy streets, most residences would face the inner courtyard while the streets were lined with stores.
In the main square of Pompeii were both municipal buildings and temples. Since its excavation, Pompeii has served as the location for outdoor art exhibits and many of the statues that are visible are actually from those events rather than being original. One of the few existing statues is the Faun from the House of the Faun but we never made it to that site. We did however visit the house with mosaic floors. The number of small, black and white tiles in this large house was impressive and each room had a different pattern.
Overall I’m glad we visited Pompeii but the tour could definitely been better. It takes a good tour guide to make the walls of the build come alive. Our tour guide ended past the no-return area so we weren’t able to see anything else without buying another ticket. From the exit, we decided to walk back to the train station and I’m glad we did. The modern town of Pompeii is cute and has lots of restaurants.
After we arrived in Salerno, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and a quick bite to eat. At a pre-made sandwich/pizza shop we ordered a spaghetti frattata which is like a pasta pie before taking the high-speed train up to Rome.