As a teenager I lived in a 1980s former display home in Brisbane. We were middle class. Most nights we ate meat and three veg. We watched Channel Nine a lot. I went to a state school. I played netball on Saturdays. Our annual family holidays were lengthy road trips during the height of Summer with windows partially wound down as we rattled along the length of the Newell Highway to visit family in Melbourne. Oh, for a life less ordinary.
So God knows how and why, at some juncture in my teens, I developed a full-blown fixation with visiting the Amalfi Coast. For the life of me I can’t recall what inspired my ‘Amalfi Mania’ and my romantic obsession with that slip of the Italian coastline, but I figure it must have been an old movie or a documentary on the box. How else would an unworldly teenager from the western suburbs of Brissie dream up a future that included visiting somewhere as sophisticated and cultured and so far away? Heck – New Zealand was as far as my overseas travel had extended – and that was to visit the other half of the family! In spite of my ordinary existence, at around age 15, I vowed categorically that I would visit the divine Amalfi Coast someday. Truth be told, if you had given me a map of Italy at the time I actually don’t think I could have shown you where it was on ‘the boot’, all I knew was that it looked magnificent and I would get there … some day.
Fast-forward 25 years to him and me in the back of a taxi.
No – not like that.
We were exhausted following a 34 hour, 16,000 kilometre international odyssey that had involved one car, two aeroplanes, one snail-train and a one fast train and, as we waved Arrivederci to the train station at Naples, he got a second wind:
“Happy 40th babe!” he cheered. “We’re almost there! Now, remind me why you wanted to come here – halfway around the world – to celebrate.”
He had a point. Why were we here? Were the motivations for my enduring ‘Amalfi Mania’ the same now as when I first dreamed them up a quarter of a century ago as a spiral permed teen with an awkward baby giraffe like gait? Back then it was definitely all about the scenery, the pizza, the sea, the architecture, the climate, the beach, the colours, the lifestyle and a vision of me riding on the back of a Vespa wearing a scarf and eating gelato in one hand and holding on to some Italian spunkrat with the other.
“So?” he asked, waiting for an answer.
And then the taxi turned onto the Amalfi Coast Road; that infamously narrow and car-sickening bendy stretch of bitumen, which seems to cling on for dear life to the edges of the craggy cliffs. We looked out the window at the colorful village buildings carefully stacked on top of each other, at the fruit orchards hanging from trellises wherever there was space to squeeze them, at the roadside stalls with strands of dried chilis and lemon refreshments for sale and at the azure sea decorated with boats. The answer to his question was laid bare and he didn’t push me for my response for he could see it all too.
We lodged at the beautiful, family run Hotel Margherita in the small village of Praiano, perfectly placed on the coast halfway between the towns of Amalfi and Positano. Our virgin stay was less than a week and we have vowed to return and stay for a month next time. If you are taking a short trip to the Amalfi Coast sometime soon – lucky you! I have put together a Four Day Amalfi Coast Itinerary to help you with your planning. I hope you enjoy the Amalfi Coast half as much as we did.
Day 1 – Positano
Make sure you see daybreak from your room’s private terrace at least once during your stay at Hotel Margherita. Watching the sun rise like a well ripened clementine peeling back the last layers of darkness from the night to slowly reveal the village rooftops below is mesmerising. Even he, who is not an early riser, got out of bed for this one.
Enjoy a bountiful breakfast in the hotel dining room – a spread of Italian pastries and sweets made in-house as well as other continental style offerings, omelettes cooked to order and of course some wonderful Italian coffee.
Mid morning, take the local bus to Positano from right outside the hotel on the opposite side of the road. You can purchase bus tickets at the Hotel Margherita reception. In Summer it can get hot and crowded on the bus so be patient. The journey is about 20 minutes and Positano is the final stop. Walk downhill towards the beach, taking time to do some shopping and pick up a souvenir or two from the boutiques and market stalls. Linen shops abound as well as other resort style fashion stores. Make sure you grab some limoncello to take home too!
For lunch I can highly recommend taking a meandering walk through the shady laneways and terraces of Positano; passing quiet inns, colourful planter boxes and delightful religious grottos on the way to Ristorante Caffe Positano on Via Pasitea. With one of the most spectacular views in Positano, the restaurant sits up high overlooking Positano Beach. The restaurant is open from 8am to midnight and specialises in seafood; caught fresh daily and prepared in local style dishes served with Italian wines. Buon Appetito!
After lunch, make your way down to the beach or Spiaggia and rent some sun lounges and a beach umbrella for a few hours. The beaches are pebbly so make sure you keep your shoes on! Take a walk out on the jetty and of course dip your toes in the sea. The best part is the seawater is much saltier than in Australia so it’s a cinch to float for as long as you can bare – even for a sinker like me! If Positano Beach is a bit crowded try Fornillo Beach, a 10 minute walk towards the right when looking out to sea. There are lounges and umbrellas for hire there too.
In the late afternoon enjoy a traditional Italian Spritz or Negroni with the crowds at Buca di Bacco overlooking the suntanned set. When hunger bites, take a short taxi ride to C’era Una Volta on Via Guglielmo Marconi for a well-priced, home-style Italian dinner with hospitality. A word of warning – the meals are grand – so take care not to over order as we did. I can recommend the whole fish and definitely the pizzas. There is indoor dining available but ask to sit on the outdoor terrace for the ambience.
Day 2 – Boat Cruise to Amalfi or Capri
For a wonderful view looking back to the Amalfi coastline I recommend you take a full day boat cruise with Gennaro e Salvatore hire boats. We took the 7 hour Amalfi Coast trip which was recommended by a friend and it did not disappoint. Next time we’re going to do their Capri trip! The price for the day trip includes drinks on board (soft and alcoholic), snacks, towels, lunch and your guide for the day.
You can jump on board the boat, which seats around 12, at Positano beach or at La Praia beach – just a short stroll downhill from Hotel Margherita. The morning includes several stops to swim in caves and grottos as you head past the homes of the Italian rich and famous towards Amalfi. For lunch you stop at a seaside restaurant for an absolute feast served with generous amounts of local wine. After lunch, full and a bit sleepy, you take a slow return trip basking on the boat’s bow in the sun, stopping for a final few swims before disembarking at the Positano jetty. You probably won’t be too hungry at this stage so I would suggest snacking on a pizza for dinner or taking the public bus back to Praiano and enjoying a later meal at the Hotel’s Campania style restaurant M’ama.
Day 3 – Walk The Path of the Gods
To work off the indulgences form the day before walk the famed Path of the Gods from Praiano. The Hotel staff will give you simple directions to join the path nearby. Leave early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat. The Hotel staff were happy for us to take a little picnic of breakfast snacks from the dining room too. They even made us a takeaway coffee and gave us bottled water! The walk includes a lot of steps in the initial stages, but anyone with moderate fitness can easily manage. Make sure you wear your usual walking shoes as the path is rocky in parts. The path takes you past fig and grape groves, trellises of chunky and heavy lemons and peaceful private gardens. There are plenty of places to sit and take a rest and admire the breathtaking views looking down on the coast. Finish your walk at Nocelle from where you can take a local bus down to Positano, otherwise you can keep walking down the road to Positano.
Take a well-earned swim in the sea before changing into fresh clothes in the public toilets at the beach before enjoying a well deserved lunch. Chez Black is a great beachside restaurant specialising in spaghetti with sea urchins, seafood and octopus pasta, fish soup and pizzas among other traditional dishes. The service here is really great and the clientele is a mix of tourists and glitz.
Day 4 – Ravello and Amalfi
Hotel Margherita staff will show you were to catch the local bus from Praiano to the Amalfi interchange where you can swap to the Ravello bus. The uphill climb from Amalfi to Ravello is slow and scenic and the temperature it is much cooler up on the mountain. Ravello is centred around a large square and it is a delightful place to shop for souvenirs, take a coffee and enjoy the lush surrounds and views. Take a short walk to Villa Cimbrone and spend the rest of the morning walking among its gardens and sculptures. Return to Amalfi and climb the steps to the beautiful ninth century Cathedral of St Andrew. Afterwards try lunch at Trattoria Dei Cartari on Piazza dello Spirito Santo away from the madding crowds. The dishes here are reasonably priced and you can order little carafes of wine – just right for a lunchtime treat. I can recommend the Provolone Salad with Artichokes for a light option and the delicate Pasta Carbonara. There are plenty of gelato shops in Amalfi too for a spot of dessert
That night, for your final dinner, try Ristorante Il Pirata. It’s a 20 minute walk from Hotel Margherita down to the restaurant but the Hotel staff will gladly take you if you make a prior arrangement. The restaurant sits right next to the sea and you can hear the water lapping against the rocks as you enjoy fresh local seafood. We ordered a whole fish that was presented and expertly filleted at our table. Such a wonderful performance! Il Pirata is also an ideal spot to enjoy lunch or an afternoon drink to take in the water view and fishermen admiring their haul.
I hope this short stay itinerary has given you some ideas for your Amalfi Coast visit. My only tip would be, if you can stay longer – make sure you do!