An edited version of this post can be found on ciao.citalia.com/blog
After wolfing down a sleepy breakfast on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Capodimonte, watching the first pinky whispers of sunrise over the bay of Sorrento, the girls and I were outside of the hotel at 7.30am sharp for the Amalfi Coast drive excursion pick-up.
Fuzzy 📷 by Em
But of course this is Italy.
And expecting the bus to turn up on time is ridiculously British of me, as the relaxed la dolce vita lifestyle runs through veins of most Italians. However, we didn’t have to wait for too long before a huge coach came rumbling round the corner.
Securing seats on the right hand side of the coach – opposite to the driver’s side – was a tip recommended to us by Sorrento’s Citalia Concierge Nico as the best spot for views. Our coach scooped up the remaining passengers from a point within Sorrento town and then battled its way through the morning rush hour to start the climb up to the coast lined road. The on-board mic crackled and the Italian accented voice of our chaperone, Sasa a 3rd generation tour-guide, introduced himself plus the man with nerves of steel at the helm of coach.
I was under no illusions that an Amalfi Coast drive would be void of sheer drops, narrow snaking roads and what would seem as white-knuckle near misses with local traffic (umm, please see the above Mr Clarkson quote.) Thankfully today’s drive along the Amalfi Coast was done by a chap who navigates this iconic stretch of road day in, day out as his job.
📷 by Em – ‘cuse the dodgy pics, they were snapped on a crappy phone through a moving coach window.
Emerging from the town, with a beautiful clear sunny day unfolding over the glittering Tyrrhenian Sea, Sasa pointed out the first point of interest. Li Galli islands (also known as La Sirenuse or Dolphin Island due to its resemblance in shape to everyone’s favourite sea mammal) sits in a prime position on the Amalfi coast and is one of the most exclusively expensive resorts in the Mediterranean.
A collection of three sumptuously luxurious villas, these islands are only accessible to the smallest niche of clientèle as its technically not available on the open rental market. Although reportedly spending a week on Dolphin Island will set you back around €130,000 in the summer months, but it’s all very hush-hush.
Veering round a corner the first houses of Positano came into view. Known as the vertical city, with buildings stacked closely to one another and cascading up the mountain in a real life game of Tetris, this picture-perfect town is a Mecca for tourists visiting the Amalfi Coast and it’s so clear to see why. From the confines of the coach, my face was smushed up against the glass, gawking at the small but jaw-droppingly beautiful hotels, restaurants and houses. Every structure was centred around giving inhabitants panoramic views of the sea and the town (a phenomenal feature in itself) to look out over.
📷 by Em
The coach slowed its pace right down to manoeuvre the marginally wider streets of the higher up roads, allowing for more time to nose at flower-filled patios jutting out on platforms set up for alfresco dining, infinity pools that must feel like paddling in the sky and higgildy-piggildly skinny stairs blending into the slight cracks between buildings for more pedestrian friendly routes of getting around.
The lower half of Positano in the summer months purely serves the tourist trade, with 70% of residents renting out their houses and living in the upper regions of the mountain. Everyday life in this stunning vertical city is not without challenges either, it’s easier to get from A to B on foot or a zippy Vespa, which is not always ideal if you’re loaded up with masses of shopping or have to replace a washing machine… for that you’ll need a working donkey. Yep, Sasa confirmed that in the 21st Century, the locals of Positano still use donkeys to transport large goods up and down roads that are too small for a van to get through.
Leaving the pastel pops of Positiano colour behind, we continued along the windy road that lead to our first stop off – Amalfi town. Sasa had a piece of knowledge or historical titbit to tell about every village we drove through, like pointing out tiny model nativity scenes set into the cliff sides that are lit up at night and plays Christmas music every day of the year.
📷 by Em – Left to right: The silhouette of the Madonna in the rocks on the Amalfi coastal road; An example of the Saracen influence in the local architecture.
Or ‘Africana Famous Club’ a popular nightclub in Praiano that resides in a cave practically at sea level (complete with a dock so you can safely moor the family yacht while you party it up). For roughly half an hour looking out the right hand side window of the bus (which I can confirm are THE best seats to be in if you’re doing this trip from Sorrento) was a parade of spectacular blue sea, beautiful buildings and scenic ravines lining the road.
Descending into the outer regions of Amalfi town, a sense of glamour was apparent already. The hotels were bigger, the natural rustic charms of quaint resorts we had passed through was discretely replaced with a more polished veneer, the Vespa’s and dusty beaten up Fiat 500s were long gone. Parking next to the marina, Sasa gave the group strict instructions on what time the coach would be leaving Amalfi town that afternoon. This was now a designated free time of the tour, so you could wander round the town at your leisure. However, Sasa had arranged a boat trip for those that wanted it (at an extra cost, around €12 which was cheaper than buying tickets direct from the harbour kiosk) and as it was a gorgeously warm sunny day, the majority of us opted to take advantage.
I cannot recommend enough seeing Amalfi by boat.
📷 by Em
Especially if the sun is out.
Not only did the boat take us right up to the rock formation that looks like two elephants kissing.
📷 by Em – Mwah 😘 !
Sasa also gave a star- studded running commentary of which massive villa belonged to which celebrity and which famous person stayed where amongst the line-up of exclusive hotels that dotted the shore line. It was like gossip crack as we pressed our guide for more and more information.
📷 by Em – Left to right: That little yellow turret is the part of the Romeo & Juliet honeymoon suite at the Hotel Santa Caterina. Brad and Ange stayed here after they got married (RIP Brangelina); Sophia Loren’s gaff, complete with private funicular that goes too and from her personal beach area.
📷 by Em – That big natural arch is fondly known by locals as ‘The Hellmouth’ .
📷 by Em – Roger Moore’s villa (RIP 😭)
📷 by Em – Lots of these fortresses line the Amalfi Coast. They are either Norman or Saracen. You can tell them apart because Norman fortresses have square tops and Saracen’s have round ones.
📷 by Em
After cruising the length of the waters from the edge of Amalfi where we drove in, up past Minori and back again, we disembarked to explore the town. Before parting, Sasa warned our group that eating at a table in Amalfi would be expensive, especially if you decided to stop for a gelato or cappuccino within the main square as many restaurants implement an extortionate cover charge if you sit down. He even made us learn a handy Italian phrase at the end of his lecture “quanto costa” – how much.
📷 by Em
Picking our way through the cobbled lanes in search of cake and coffee that didn’t cost the earth (the main street running through Amalfi’s heart is not pedestrianised, so keeping any eye out for cars and bikes is so important) , we browsed tiny shops selling touristy knick-knacks and local crafts.
📷 by Em
Settling on a side street trattoria tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the centre we enjoyed our own slice of la dolce vita, watching the world go by.
📷 by Em – The first laws of the sea were written in Amalfi and they like to claim that they invented the modern compass too. But this has been disproven.
Back on the coach well in time for the scheduled departure, Sasa came back over the tinny mic again to let us know the next stop would be in Ravello, where we would be having lunch at the Hotel Giordano, just outside of the main town.
Gorging on more spectacular coastal views while eating delicious fresh pasta, washed down with cold, crisp, locally made wine, lunch was a relaxing drawn-out affair. Before we knew it we were back on the coach again after a short walk to where it was parked (narrow roads a-plenty up in Ravello) and made the short trip to the centre.
Being now thoroughly smitten with all things Amalfi Coast related, I was expecting the same pretty sights of the sea and surrounding hillsides as we approached central Ravello.
I was wrong.
It was that and much much more.
📷 by Em – My pics of Ravello are pants, best bet is to go see the beauty for yourselves.
The views on offer in Ravello are so breath-taking that no words can possibly do it justice and I’m not even going to bother to try. Seeing this secret treasure of a town for yourself is a must to understand how stunning it is. Not only has this tiny patch of heaven- on- earth hosted a deluge of the rich and renowned (Jackie Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Richard Wagner to name but a few) it’s provided endless inspiration for artists, musicians and writers throughout the ages. Ravello has a history of capturing hearts and it can certainly add mine to the list.
📷 by Em – Sasa with his jolly red umbrella outside of the Villa Rufolo.
Wandering round the piazza and passing the Villa Rufolo, we walked to a café at the edge of the square for another coffee and soak up even more of the other-worldly landscape. Clutching frothy cappuccinos the girls and I kept grinning at each other, continuously expressing our awe and amazement that a place like this could be real.
Late afternoon eventually rolled around which signalled the end of excursion. Back on the coach again and settled in our seats, a sated silence fell over our group as the most peacefully dozed for the hour and bit return drive to our starting points in Sorrento.
I plugged in my headphones, closed my eyes and mentally replayed the last eight hours.
What a tour.
And when can I go back?
Nearly two weeks ago I did go back on my own, nine months later from this trip, and was lucky enough to share the Amalfi Coast drive all over again with my bestest pal D.
We love you 🇮🇹