When I imagined Italy – I always thought of the colorful houses built into the cliffside, cobblestone pathways leading down to beaches with crystal clear water, hot summer days, fresh pasta and of course, getting addicted to that sweet, delicious gelato. Nowhere embodies all of these Italian aspects quite like the Amalfi Coast – so I was very excited to begin my journey through Italy here. Using Sorrento as a base I was able to travel not only around the peninsula but also to the mystical island of Capri.
We took the overnight ferry, booked through AFerry, from Dubrovnik to Bari. To save some money we decided the ‘on deck’ option – and far from being out on the elements as we crossed the Adriatic there was a bar, restaurant and stacks of seats. Getting on early, we were able to find a corner couch and sleep most the night through – a better nights sleep than some hostels.
Getting off the ferry at 8 am – we were a bit concerned as we weren’t able to find out about buses to get to Naples (aka Napoli) online. Waiting in the customs line in the heat – tempers were wearing thin but we made it through and headed to the information point adjacent the exit to find out the Marino bus stops out front. Jumping on – they charged us 27 euro each for purchasing our ticket on the bus instead of the usual 10 euro from the ticket point.
Aside: For those wanting to get from Bari Port to Naples after the ferry there are a few options. You can take the line 20 bus (1.5 euro, pay on the bus) departing from the front of the port to the train station and then either a train or a bus. Check out seat61.com for information on booking trains in Italy – I used Italiarail and had the processing fee refunded using the information from seat61. Trains can be expensive – so a cheap alternative is to take the above mentioned bus. After taking the local bus, walk across to the Marino ticket station and buy a ticket for 10 euro. The bus then stops across the road from the ticket point. Check the times (say from Bari to Napoli) and map locations (click the magnifying glass) at the Marino website.
Before our trip we were interested in checking out Naples but heard from many that we should not – the city is no longer a place for tourists. Passing through the city – we saw that many of the buildings were dilapidated and there were numerous shanty towns – we were glad we weren’t staying there. Instead, we chose to stay in Sorrento on the Amalfi coast – just an hour away on the Circumvesuviana line. The train was hot and there was no air con but the destination was truly well worth it.
We dropped off our bags at the apartment and walked down towards Mariana Grande. On the way, we passed a plantation of lemon trees used for making one of Sorrento’s most famous products – Limoncello. We tried some of the lemon liqueur – definitely only for those with a sweet tooth. Walking down to the marina we found an incredible view point showing off the vast view of cliffs stretching on for miles.
Sitting down on the water for dinner at Trattoria Da Emilia, surrounded by the multi-colored terrace houses, hearing the buskers play the accordion and eating the freshest fish and pasta, this is what I always imagined Italy to be like.
Heading home we took a detour through the old town. The narrow cobble stone streets were packed with beautiful arts and crafts, from sandals to hand painted kitchenware. The atmosphere was great and the streets were packed with locals. It seemed like everyone had the same idea.
The next day we caught up on some sleep after our travel day and then went to check out what is known as the Queen’s private baths – Bagni Della Regina Giovanna. To get there we headed to the port and took the bus marked Capo Di Sorrento (1.5 euro each way) and got off at the last stop (bus times are in one of the photos in the tripadvisor link). Heading down to the end of the sidestreet sloping down the hill you will come to a gate – head left down the cobblestone pathway. After walking for a while you will find a dirt pathway. If you head to the left along the fence it will lead you around the gorge to the top of the ruins of a Roman Villa (though you won’t really appreciate it until you see it from the water) with a view down into the gorge. We hiked down for a swim and watched the locals jump off the cliffs. Take water shoes!
Sorrento is a popular port for trips to Naples, around the Amalfi coast and also to the island of Capri. We took advantage while we were there and took the ferry the next morning to the island without bothering to do much research. Getting to the island, we found the most popular activity was to take a boat trip around the island and to the Blue Grotto.
Starting the trip around the island, as the ferry approaches the land, you can see the soaring cliffs and seabirds… and that’s pretty much all you see for the next few hours. The highlight was the boat passing under the iconic Capri archway shaped rock.
Next was the Blue Grotto – the former private bath of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. A tiny opening in the cliff faces open into a chamber filled with water. The thing that makes this grotto so special is the blue glow that fills the chamber from the way the light refracts as it enters. Arriving to the entrance we waited in line with many boats as men in row boats ferry a few in at a time. When you get picked up you must go and pay a boat fee plus tax for a total of 13 euros before you duck your head and enter the cave. You can paddle around for about 5 minutes (no swimming allowed) as the men sing and then exit the chamber – at which point you will be told in an altogether too entitled manner you need to tip the boatmen for their services as well.
Honestly – skip the boat ride around the island and the blue grotto – it is just not worth it. Better off sitting on a deck on the ferry ride over to see the cliffs and use your time to really explore the island. If you really want to see a grotto there is an identical one in Amalfi that is cheaper and easier to get to.
Finishing our boat tour, we ended up back at the port. Most of the city can be reached by cable car for 1.5 euro. This one is worth it – getting to the top you get an incredible view over the island and of the the white houses speckled across the green hillside.
We stopped at a cafe at the top to have a drink and enjoy the view before exploring. The town is a major fashion location – with everything from Fendi to Ferragamo – it was amazing to see some of the talented collections. Heading on, we ended up at a garden which you can enter for one euro with spectacular views of the water, the cliffs and the iconic archway rock.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time while we were there but there are numerous hikes around the island and also to the other main village, Anacapri, which I would love to do if I had the chance to come back.
For our last day on the Amalfi Coast we wanted to see the other side – Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Taking the bus from Sorrento train station (a day pass is 8 euro), the bus wound its way around the cliffs and into the cliffside town of Positano. There were two stops in Positano – one at the very top of the cliffside, and one about halfway down. Choosing the top one, we jumped off and took some incredible photos of the view.
Hiking down the tiny twisting streets and stairs to the beach, there are endless hidden gems with cafes, crafts shops and gelato stands.
Making it down to the water – we wanted to get off the beaten tracks and head to the local beach. Heading along the water the Fornillo beach, we passed two old Saracen Towers which have been converted to houses (see the stunning photos here). We kept thinking to ourselves, how nice it must be to be able to hang out a fishing line from your back balcony. We laid out on the pebble beach for a while before heading back into town. We had planned to head to the mountainside village of Ravello to check out a restaurant recommended by a friend, Cumpa Cosimo, but didn’t have the time to spare – just another reason to come back. We settled for grabbing a bite on the hillside and enjoyed the view.
Waking up to head to Rome – the rain was torrential. We already had our train booked so had no choice but to run the the train station with our bags and get absolutely soaked to the skin, laughing all the way.
Next Stop: Pompeii and Rome