The Amalfi Coast will draw you in, but Naples, Pompeii, and Capri are not to be missed.
Go for this: Driving along the coastline through Amalfi, Positano and Ravello
But try this: Exploring Naples and experiencing the rich history of this gritty, but glorious city
Favorite hotel: Bellevue Syrene (Sorrento), Belmond Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Favorite guest experience: Staying at Don Alfonso in Sant’Agata sui due Golfi and cooking with Chef Ernesto in his 2-Michelin starred kitchen
Foods: Pizza Margherita, mozzarella, sfogliatelle
Wine: Tenuta San Francesco’s hundreds year-old vines produce Tintore; Aglianico and Falanghina
Best time to visit: April-October
Five Days on the Amalfi Coast
I visited the Amalfi Coast many years ago as a low-budget student and returned this summer to rediscover it as a discerning traveler. The indelible images, flavors and scents affixed in my mind as a result of my first trip, were not the result of being caught up in the glamor of it all. Rather, my second trip confirmed that what I had experienced years ago was, indeed, very real.
I began my journey in the glorious and gritty city of Naples, former capital of the Bourbon Kingdom’s Italian territories for hundreds of years. My objective: to sample the street food for which Naples is admired the world over. In the neighborhood between Piazza Plebiscito (where the former kings lived), Via Chiaia and Galleria Umberto, I started with a breakfast of sfogliatelle and cappuccino at Gran Caffe Gambrinus, the stately café that calls itself the salon for the intelligentsia.
I walked off my breakfast with a tour of the attractions of the area, including the San Carlo Theater and Royal Palace. Afterwards, I paid homage to Pizzeria Brandi, where, in 1889 the Pizza Margherita was invented for the Queen of Italy (who was visiting the city) as a tribute to the tricolor of the relatively young kingdom (sauce: red; mozzarella: white; basil: green). The rest of the day got lost in a rapid succession of culinary delights as follows: fried pizza at Zia Esterina Sorbillo, fried everything and anything at Passione di Sofi, gelato at Mennella, and more pastries at Leopoldo. I topped off my day with a true Neapolitan pizza at Umberto on Via Alabardieri, and walked down the street to the lovely Palazzo Alabardieri where I stayed.
My second day was spent in the elegant city of Sorrento, an ideal jumping off point to the Amalfi Coast with an excellent range of restaurants and a pedestrian area with enticing shops. I stayed at Hotel Mediterraneo, in the Sant’Agnello area, whose owner, Pietro Monti, runs a charming boutique hotel with well-appointed rooms. The rooftop Sky Bar is well worth a visit with exceptional views of the Bay of Naples. A sunset cocktail here is a must. In the evening I met with Maria Teresa Cioffi who runs Bougainvillea, a combined gelato and pizza studio where you can learn how to make these national culinary treasures. She tempted, wooed and seduced me with her family’s incredible delights and will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Positano was the next stop on my list. Strolling through the stunning streets and gazing at the dramatic scenery on the coast, the words of John Steinbeck came to mind. Of Positano, he wrote, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” How right he was.
In the midday I headed to the tiny coastal town of Praiano, one of the most authentic spots in the region. I stopped in and marveled at a lovely sun-splashed hotel, Casa Angelina, where I felt like I had been invited to stay at the home of a famous contemporary architect. Before heading back to Positano, I made my way to Conca dei Marini, where Monastero Santa Rosa sits high above the mountains. Before being converted to a world-class hotel featuring the region's finest pools and spas, the location served as a monastery during the 17th century. If you find yourself here, be sure to try a sfogliatella di Santa Rosa, a typical
pastry of the region crowned by a cherry whose creation is credited to the 17th century nuns who resided in the monastery.
Exhausted from my travels, I went back to Positano to my incredible hotel. One of my best discoveries this trip, Villa Franca is a swanky, but approachable, all-white boutique hotel that exudes Amaliftano hospitality. It just seems real in a very surreal place. And it’s exactly what I needed to recharge for my next day.
The piece de resistance of the Amalfi Coast is by far Ravello. Off the beaten path, the city is home to a thriving arts scene, ancient history, and breathtaking panoramas—even by Italian standards. I took in all this beauty from the Belmond Hotel Caruso where I sipped locally-inspired cocktails in a Medieval contemplation room with exhilarating views of the coastline that can be seen through sweeping gothic arches. Want to disappear from the world and be pampered? Ravello is your refuge.
I saved wine tasting for my last day. Tenuta San Francesco lies over the mountains in Tramonti, 17 kms from Ravello. Its grapevines are hundreds of years old with rootstocks that look like olive tree trunks. I was treated to a delicious lunch made by Signora De Palma, and tasted the family’s wine lineup, including their luscious award-winning E Iss red, made from the regional Tintore varietal. Pictures of the family with Justin Timberlake and other stars show how sought after this humble winery is for an authentic experience.
Before calling it a trip, I made one last stop—and I am ever so glad I did because it turned out to be my new favorite place. Sant’Agata sui due Golfi sits atop a mountain overlooking the two gulfs, Naples and Salerno (it’s the only town offering views of both coasts). I stayed at Don Alfonso, an 8-room, upscale Relais & Chateaux inn and two Michelin-starred restaurant. Run by the Iaccarino Family, I had the pleasure to spend some time with Livia and her son, Chef Ernesto, who is in command of the kitchen and the cooking school. It was a fitting end to an exceptional journey as Don Alfonso captures all that is wondrous about the Sorrentine peninsula and Amalfi Coast: warm hospitality, a thousand-year old food tradition epitomized in an exceptional tasting menu, physical beauty, splendid sunshine and lush gardens.
I’m beginning to think five days wasn’t enough.