We spent three wonderful weeks savoring the Amalfi Coast with two nights each at Ravello, Praiano and Positano, followed by Sorrento, Sicily and Stromboli. You really can’t experience or appreciate the charm of each town as a day tripper.
What was our No. 1 highlight? Read on!
No. 10: Ferries
They are popular, fun and fast, and mostly on time, offering wonderful views.
- Most have outdoor seating that’s exciting and windy; some open those areas up only when the boat sets sail.
- For the Aeolian islands, book ahead: we didn’t and had to wait 90 minutes for the next ferry, which turned out to be the last one!
No. 9: Mussels and gelato
Our two favorite foods, in plentiful supply.
Tip: when the menu says seafood, they mean mussels and maybe clams. Nothing else.
No. 8: Being driven
We had planned to drive ourselves, then wisely decided not to. Imagine being in the middle of Fast & Furious on narrow, curvy roads crowded with motorcycles, vans, buses, bikes, pedestrians. Who has the right of way? “Whoever is faster,” said one driver.
Tip: Take your Bonine!
No. 7: Capri
We got to the Sorrento port for the 8:05 ferry, and returned eight hours later, three of which were spent in lines. It took an hour to get into the blue grotto (each rowboat holds only four and the cave holds only 3-4 boats, and an hour to get on the bus to Anacapri (they’re small and apparently take long breaks regardless of the lines).
On the plus side: There was no line to go up the delightful chairlift to Mount Solaro at Anacapri for fabulous views (it was hazy at first, but the clouds parted quickly).
Tips for the blue grotto:
- Be prepared for a long wait and lot of swells as boats come and go.
- No need to worry about getting wet going into the cave.
No. 6: Ravello
This is an idyllic mountain town, with a sweet square, two gorgeous villas, many shops and restaurants, views of Minori and Amalfi from certain angles, and not many tourists, especially at night.
Tip: The path to Villa Cimbrone splits past the town, so you can make a loop.
No. 5: Volcanic adventures
We saw not one, not two, not three but four volcanoes, including two of the most active in the world: Etna on Sicily, and Stromboli on one of the Aeolian isles.
We took the steep hike to the top of Vesuvius, near Naples. But weather prevented summiting of the other two as planned.
While in Taormina, I got to about 2/3rds of the way up Etna with a small group and marveled at the diversity of habitat (lava, flowers, birch, pines). Tour guide Tony was passionate about his mountain, and shared an amazing picture from a year ago, when the volcano spewed for a while (see below!).
We spent two nights on Stromboli, where I went to the highest unguided point of the volcano twice in one day (the first with sandals) but saw only steam. We did catch a few very quick bursts of lava on the night boat ride. (Our 4th volcano was the island of Vulcano, where the ferry made a stop.)
- For Vesuvius: go with a tour company because they can park very close to the path.
- For Stromboli: you can hike quite a ways past the observatory without a guide and, depending on the clouds, get a nice lava show (so I’m told).
No. 4: Taormina, Sicily
This captivating Sicilian city has remarkable views of Etna and the sea, lively streets and beaches, and the prettiest amphitheater I’ve ever seen aside from Rome’s Coliseum.
Tip: You can walk from Castelmola down to Isola Bella in about three hours…
No. 3: Positano
We debated staying here: too pricey, too crowded, too touristy. It’s best seen from the sea, right?
Positano is enchanting! We loved the beauty from every angle, the energy at the sea, the artistry of craft boutiques, the melding of history, tourists and locals, the bursts of vibrant color and pungent jasmine.
Tip: The further up you go, the less touristy it is.
No. 2: Path of the Gods hike
This spectacular 3.5 mile hike from Bomerano to Nocelle took us two hours and 25 minutes with many photo stops to admire the mountains, vineyards, Praiano, the sea, then Positano. It’s challenging especially near the end, with steep awkward steps and dirt. Though there was fog on the peaks above, the weather was great (no worries about wind or cold though we packed rain jackets).
I did a lot of research needlessly: signage is great throughout the route. I never came across clear markers in Praiano nor Positano to connect to the path. Instead we paid $150 for a driver to drop us off and pick us up.
Tip: Pay for the private transfer both ways and save yourself nearly three hours.
And the No. 1 highlight of three weeks in southern Italy:
Wandering the hills above Amalfi and stumbling across Ravello in its mountain glory
I went to Amalfi twice to hike. The second time, someone pointed me toward Scala. I hit the square at Minuta, followed a mule lemon convoy up to the street, and there was Ravello, sparkling against the mountain, with the sea far below. I could make out the town square we enjoyed, and the Villa Cimbrone commanding the cliff edge. Breathtaking.
Tip: From Amalfi, you can get to Pontone in 45 minutes. From there you have signs to Scala, Torre de Ziro and Valle delle Ferriere.