One of my all-time favorite trips was to Italy’s Amalfi Coast a couple of years ago with my husband. As far as my “perfect trip” criteria of history, culture, food, and beach, this trip checked all four boxes. It was a romantic and active trip with no shortage of great food to eat and amazing scenery to see! As a base for exploring the coast, we chose Positano for its charm and smaller size, and loved climbing the stairs and walking the steep grades of this town.. hey, all the more reason to fuel ourselves with gelato, right? So in no particular order, my top 10 of not-to-miss things while visiting the Amalfi Coast:
1) Mamma Agata’s Cooking School – Situated in a private home hugging the cliffside in Ravello, Mamma and her bubbly English-speaking daughter Chiara lead a small group (we had around 10 people) through a cooking demonstration following by, of course, feasting on our finished product! Wine and local liquor, limoncello, flowed freely as we enjoyed getting to know other guests (including several American honeymooners!) Bonus points for the amazing location- amazing food and scenery together.. this experience is definitely worth the money!!
2) Villa Cimbrone Gardens – A hotel and elaborate spanse of gardens, this property is about a 15 minute walk from Ravello’s main bus stop. The peaceful rose and statue-filled gardens are worth a stroll through, and fun fact about the hotel (via Conde Nast): the main villa (now a hotel) was the love nest of Greta Garbo and conductor Leopold Stokowski in the 1930s. Keep in mind that Ravello is very high up, not on a beach at all, but its picturesque views of the sea and coastline are what make it so popular. Also, during the summer, Villa Rufulo hosts outdoor concerts in its gardens.
3) Exploring Positano – I love Conde Nast’s description of Positano: “Achingly picturesque, with its tumble of pastel-hued houses ranged in stepped ranks like spectators in an amphitheater, the town specializes in promenaders’ activities—shopping, eating, sipping, boat-hopping, and, especially, people-watching.” Could not have said it better myself. Bring extra memory chips for your camera because it is impossible to stop clicking here. Follow the main road through the town for shopping (hand-painted ceramics and popular here), great little restaurants, and of course, beautiful vistas of the town itself built into the hillside. Try my friend’s (see #6) ceramics shop- family-owned, hand-painted, great quality, and they ship to the US! Maria Grazia Ceramics, Via Pasitea, 8
4) Blue Grotto Capri – We took a day trip by boat over to Capri, and our boat (as many do) stopped at the entrance of the famed Blue Grotto, when you must enter the small cave entrance via a small boat. A cash payment is required on the spot in Euros to enter, but once you do, the water and cave walls are bathed in an electric blue shade which seems to glow from beneath! So cool, and not to be missed.
5) Anacapri/chairlift – Whether you are day-tripping to Capri or staying overnight, you must go to the town of Anacapri. Situated west of the busier Capri Town, it has a small square on which you have have a light lunch or glass of wine (check, check) before catching the chairlift up to the top of Mount Solaro. The views of Capri Town and looking back all the way to the Amalfi Coast itself are just stunning! I loved Capri, and next time would love to stay overnight. There are many day-trippers that visit, crowding the piazzas and cafes at midday, and I think that at night, especially if staying at one of the several luxury properties, would be a lovely time to be on Capri.
6) Da Adolfo Restaurant – Just around the coastline from Positano’s main harbor, this super casual little restaurant is reachable only by boat (they will pick you up in Positano and whisk you over via motorboat.. takes maybe 10-15 minutes). Featuring fresh seafood and picnic tables under an awning, this is the perfect place to laze away an afternoon eating and sipping local wine.. there are even a few beach beds on the small rocky shore should you need a quick nap before returning to Positano. We found this restaurant by accident while there, but I have since seen it in several publications, so perhaps it is growing in popularity.. As a side note we met the nicest local couple here.. we heard each other speaking English and it turns out she was from Texas, too, and we went to the same college! She met and married an Italian and they live in Positano, running his family’s ceramics shop. They said they always go to Da Adolfo, and the locals just love it there.
7) Pompeii and Vesuvius – To get the “history” portion of my vacation requirement in, we hired a private driver for the day and visited the ruins at Pompeii and also went up to the top of Mt. Vesuvius. A driver is very recommended for this.. they can take you as far as vehicles can go at the top of Vesuvius, and from there, it is about a 30 minute walk to the very top, where the views inside the caldera, and of Pompeii below are totally worth it.. I still get chills writing this. Be warned, though- it is freezing cold up there at that altitude! Even if it is warm and 80 below, it can be in the 40s at the top of Vesuvius, so bring a jacket, or be like me.. and be a sucker at the top, forced to purchase from the vendors hawking “I love Italia” sweatshirts (I must not be the first visitor to go to the top unprepared!) Another hint: If combining the Amalfi Coast with another Italian destination, say, Rome, have your private driver do this tour on the way to Napoli Centrale train station, as these sites are right next to Naples (which is about 1 1/2 hours drive from Positano).
8) Limoncello – This liquor deserves its own mention. Per Delicious Italy, “A comparative study by the Dept. of Chemical and Food Engineering at the University of Salerno demonstrated that the peel of the Amalfi Coast lemon also has a superior aromatic potency than any other and an elevated number of oil glands.” These Amalfi Coast lemons are iconic and also produce delicious limoncello, most often enjoyed as a digestif after dinner, and brought out complimentary post-meal in some restaurants. Don’t be fooled by the super huge, oversized lemons at souvenir stores, however.. these are called “tourist lemons” and it is the still the smaller and sweeter ones used to make the liquor. 🙂
9) Sentiero Degli Dei – The “Path of the Gods” is a stunning hike which traces the outline of the Amalfi Coast, beginning in the tiny hilltop town of Agerola, and ending up all the way back down in Positano. We took a bus there, via the town of Amalfi and switched out to a local bus to arrive at Agerola (ask the driver to let you off at the Bomerano stop). Upon exiting the bus at the stop in Agerola, we arrived at a very sleepy little square where we found a small shop open to stock up on water and sandwiches. Luckily, the trail is mostly downhill, and it took us a good three hours to get all the way back down into Positano. It is mostly well-marked, and a great way to experience the coastline.. however, probably not so great if you have a fear of heights. There are very few guardrails!
10) Le Sirenuse and Il San Pietro – These are Positano’s two finest hotels, and worth a visit. If you aren’t staying in them, at least go have a drink on the terrace. The terrace of Le Sirenuse (right in town) has some of the most postcard-perfect views of the town (see: bring extra camera memory cards) and is worth a cocktail, if not dinner in their restaurant, La Sponda. Il San Pietro is about 5 minutes outside of Positano, but can be reached easily by taxi. (If you stay there, they run a complimentary shuttle into town). Their terrace is HUGE and a lovely place to have a cocktail before dinner. Tip: If you are you just visiting for a pre-dinner cocktail and want to eat nearby, walk up the winding road about 100-200 yards from Il San Pietro to find a delicious pizza place, La Taverna del Leone.