The Amalfi Coast removes you from reality. Despite the tourists and traffic that can plague the area during the summer months, it is able to retain its rustic charm that gives off the aura of living a simpler life.
We took the famous Sita bus from Sorrento to Positano, an apparently not-to-miss experience as the giant vehicle weaves its way along dangerously narrow roads overlooking a vertical drop. It is a miracle that these buses do not hit anything or anyone when making sharp turns at a rapid rate while carrying 85+ passengers on board. If you can get over the fact that you are on a roller coaster ride, there are some excellent photo opportunities on the drive. (As a side note, Ryan and I decided to park our car in Sorrento instead of driving throughout the Amalfi Coast, strictly for reason that it is very difficult to find parking around the peninsula).
Views from the Sita bus
Positano was the chosen destination for one night. We stayed at the Hotel Villa Franca, a quaint building that boasts excellent cliff views. The interior had a modern feel with furniture and decorations in shades of blue that emanated a soothing effect. The rooftop pool is rumored to have the best view in Positano, and it did not disappoint. Our room was a bit on the small side, but the balcony was the redeeming factor. The cover photo for this article was the view from our room. The key to Positano’s charm is that the buildings have remained in their original style. Despite the “glamorous” reputation of the Amalfi Coast, the setting is surprisingly simple, forgoing the gaudiness and ultra- modernity that often characterizes renowned seaside destinations.
Unfortunately, I spent the majority of our one day in Positano with an awful stomach virus that limited my mobility. We walked around the town quite a bit, but I was unable to hold down lunch, and thus missed an exploration of the beaches and hidden alcoves. A fair warning to visitors: be prepared to climb! As you can see, the town was built on a cliff, which means you have to walk up and down endless flights of stairs when traveling throughout the village. It is not uncommon to see narrow stair-ways over a mile long that are still used by the locals. There was a shuttle offered from our hotel around Positano, but walking allowed you to appreciate lesser known spots, as well as imagine what it was like to live here centuries ago.
Luckily, my symptoms were starting to subside by dinner time and we decided to try the seafood and lobster bar at the Sirenuse Hotel. We ideally would have liked to go to their main dining restaurant, but the setting in the seafood bar was just as divine: romantic, dimly-lit, with a trendy vibe. The food, however, was quite disappointing. We ordered our server’s recommendation, starting with a calamari over rice, and a salmon burger and fish and chips for our main. The fact that the food had an American flair should have been a red flag. The appetizer only had a small piece of calamari that fell limply on a heavy fried rice cake, the batter in the fish and chips was sub-par, and the salmon burger lacked flavor. It was an expensive meal too, so we were disappointed, to say the least.
Despite our short trip, I would highly recommend visiting Positano. It is one of those places that lives up to its global reputation while taking you back to a simpler time.
We took a taxi to Ravello, our next destination on the Amalfi Coast. Unlike Positano, Ravello is situated high up in the mountains overlooking the water. It is the culture destination along the Amalfi Coast, famously known for the Ravello Music Festival that brings in renowned musicians throughout the spring and summer.
We stayed at the Palazzo Avino, a gorgeous pink-exterior modern hotel on top of a hill, it’s backyard a layered estate of lounge chairs, restaurants, and pools. The service was immaculate, as well as the common areas that were adorned in a style of glamorous chairs, bars, and tables. This was the epitome of a luxury hotel, so admittedly it did lack the charm that is inherent to more rustic accommodations in the mountains.
Upon arrival, our concierge indicated that there were tickets left for the last night of the Ravello Music Festival starring Italian violinist Uto Ughi. We gladly purchased tickets which were surprisingly reasonable in price.
That day we took some time to relax by the pool to take in the mixture of mountain and sea air. After a few hours, we decided to do some exploring in town. The main piazza was only a seven minute walk from the hotel, and it was buzzing with tourists. The piazza is flanked by two short rows of shops and a church in the front.
We went to see the Villa Cimbrone, a massive garden/castle that was occupied by various wealthy families dating back to the 1300’s. The garden paths meanders across over many acres, a mixture between manicured and natural gardening styles. In some areas, it felt as if you are waking through woods, and other moments it felt like a French botanical garden. At different points in the trails there would be breathtaking views of the sea. It was certainly one of my favorite sites on the Amalfi Coast!
That night we got dressed up for the concert and headed to a casual local favorite for dinner- Cumpa’ Cosimo. The restaurant is owned and run by an elderly lady who has been cooking the same recipes for decades. We opted for the pasta sampler as an appetizer. There were about five different types of pasta with varying shapes, sauces, and texture. I enjoyed the meat filled rolled pasta and the cheese lasagna-type noodle. For our mains, I had a tender branzino and Ryan had lamb chops which were slightly chewy. Overall our meal was good, but not great.
We quickly made our way to the concert venue, which was held in the other famous garden in Ravello, Villa Rufolo. Now, this venue was spectacular and the photos do not do it justice. You had the last glimmer of sunlight highlighting the cliff and sea under the clear, overhanging stage. Even better, we had third row seats! The feature tonight was the violinist Uto Ughi with the Filarmonici di Roma playing music from Boccherini, Beethoven, Paganini, Sarasate, and Boch. The first thing I noticed was how candid Ughi was on stage. Instead of speaking formally about each piece, he spoke interactively with the audience as if he was having a conversation. was talking to them interactively, with members of the audience speaking back. It was a very familial attitude despite the formality of the orchestra. The music lasted about an hour and a half, where we listened to the harmonies that fit the picturesque view.
The following day we decided to rent a scooter so we could explore some of the smaller destinations along the coast. As I mentioned earlier, we strongly recommend this mode of transport since driving a car is a headache, but with a scooter, you can pass all cars in traffic on the left.
Our first stop was Conca dei Marina, a small village only a few miles from Ravello. It is known as a destination for the wealthy with its castle-like structures and grotto near the water. We only saw a glimpse of the town in the photos below.
We then stopped in a little town called Marina di Furore. You take steps down from the road to a little alcove of a town surrounded by cliffs. We had a brief stop for water while we gazed at the fishing boats dotted along the small coast. On a sunnier day, we were sure the sun chairs would have been packed.
We stopped briefly in Amalfi for gelato, a bustling port town with some notable architecture. It is definitely the largest and most lively along the coast, plus it is a launching point for the nearby islands.
After Amalfi, we drove down the road to Atrani, which had one of the most unique and stunning architectural constructs as the towns road was built into a mountain.
Our scooter trip ended with a break at the Palazzo Avino’s beach club, which was in a separate town close to the shore. The beach club was a Quaint house with multiple levels leading down the cliff including a pool and sunchair on the rocks over the ocean.
Before heading to dinner, we did an official visit to the gardens of Villa Rufolo, where we had seen the concert the previous night. Although spectacular at night, we were able to admire its beauty more fully in the light of day.
Our last night in Ravello we booked our second Michelin Star restaurant of the trip, Rossellini’s,which also happened to be in the hotel. Upon arriving, we didn’t think the setting could be any more romantic with candlelit views of the ocean and guitar players serenading a mixture of Italian and modern classics. The immaculate service matched the near perfect setting. Unfortunately, that is all the good things I have to say. The food, albeit beautiful, was disappointingly flavorless. Every time we had a bite, we felt like the food was missing a key flavor profile that would have elevated it to Michelin Star status. I actually would have preferred a traditional meal at half the price. Although there were a few decent dishes, such as the lobster and fish main course, most plates were less than par. Despite the mediocre meal, we did make the best of the evening by enjoying the service and ambiance.
The next morning we would head off to the last portion of our trip in the islands of Ischia and Capri.