Italy Road Trip – Amalfi Coast like a Local

A Seagull with Mount Vesuvius on the Background

Previously, I shared the first two parts of our Italy Road Trip diary. The first part was all about the Eternal City – Rome – and the second post was about visiting the ancient city of Pompeii.  This post suggests an itinerary for Italy’s famous Amalfi coast that helps to avoids the tourist hordes.

The most crowds visit Amalfi coast in summer, and in July and August restaurants and hotels are filled to capacity. Knowing where and when to go, is key to getting the most from this coast. From the research I have done, the best months for visiting are May, September and October. Then the heat subsides and the temperatures are more pleasant in the mid-20s (75-80F). Another advantage is that along the cliff-hugging roads the aromas of basil, sage and citrus are not overpowered by tourist buses’ exhaust.  We visited the Amalfi Coast in the first weeks of October and were able to enjoy pleasantly warm temperatures as well as some beach time.

Day 1. We woke up at our beautiful Hotel Le Axidie on the Sorrento Coast. The 4-star hotel has a private beach and a beautiful breakfast terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples and the Mount Vesuvius. The morning was spent visiting Pompeii (read about it here). In the late afternoon we headed to Naples on the Circumvesuviana train line (about 40 minute ride from Pompeii).

Most Amalfi visitors bypass grimy Naples. Don’t. It’s home to some of Italy’s best food, with value that’s hard to beat. Naples, of course, has the best pizza you will find anywhere and delicious pastries (cannoli and sfofliatella – ricotta-stuffed, crispy, sweet bun).

The first impression is shocking and you immediately realize why some call Naples Italy’s most polluted, grittiest, and crime-ridden city. As you exit the train station, you are shocked by the views of garbage everywhere on the streets. Be especially careful when crossing the streets – the red lights are discretionally and motor scooters fly by even on “pedestrian” streets. I have never seen so many people strolling, just chilling around and drinking beer on the street. It’s a no brainer because a third of the city is unemployed. Pickpocketing is also a problem in Naples, so leave you valuables locked in your hotel safe.

Naples fried Pizza

Deep Fried Pizza at Pizzeria I Decumani. A Pizza is folded in half and then deep fried

Despite a shocking “in your face” first impression, Naples has one of the best Archeological museums in Europe. But walking through a core of the city is in itself a sightseeing (a sight of children being raised on the dirty streets can makes you feel amazed and sorry at the same time). But as it got darker, the city woke up to life. The restaurants in Italy usually open at 7-7:30 for dinner, so after having some of the best pizza I ever had at Pizzeria I Decumani followed by some canolli and sfofliatella the city seemed not so shocking anymore. As an alternative, you can take a ferry back to Sorrento (30 minutes ride) and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Bay of Naples.

Beginning of the Path of the Gods Hike

Beginning of the Path of the Gods Hike

Day 2. Most tourists visit Amalfi Coast by bus. But is the best way to see Amalfi coast is to actually walk it. “Sentiero delgi Dei” or “Path of the Gods” is an easy hike on the top of the famous cliffs of the Amalfi coast. There is not too much altitude gain as the trail leads mostly up and down rewarding its visitors with the stunning views. To get there we avoided the congested Amalfi coast road and approached the parking for the hike via SS366 road. The parking was located near a village of Bomerano and was clearly marked on the local tourist maps available at most hotels and visitor centers.  This site has also some helpful info on the hiking options. The direction of our hike was from East to West (Bomerano to Nocelle, about 10 km round trip) but there are many other options that include taking stairs all the way up from coastal Positano, going down to the coast, or reaching the hike by a public bus.  After the hike soak your feet on the beach and fuel up with some tasty local pasta and limoncello.

View of the Amalfi Coast from the Path of the Gods Hike

View of the Amalfi Coast from the Path of the Gods Hike

Day 3. Explore Amalfi coast by boat or make a Capri run. We personally didn’t go to Capri because all the reviews I read said that it was the biggest tourist trap but for many explorers a visit to the island of Capri is a must. To reach the Amalfi coast by boat, there are private boat tours available as well as the “public transportation” – high-speed ferries  connect Sorrento with the destinations on the Amalifi coast. You can come back the same way (on the boat) or take the bus.

The town of Amalfi bursts with tourists and is probably the most visited. The steps of the Amalfi Cathedral—a hybrid of Arab, Norman and Romanesque architecture is an ideal spot to polish yet another gelato. The town’s abundant gelaterias feature unusual flavors like ricotta, gingerbread and sour cherry, but the best is simply lemon, orange or fig sorbet- all local favorites.

The town of Ravello used to be the relaxing in contrast to Amalfi’s tourist madness, but recent years have seen increasing crowds. Head there to take another glimpse of an amazing view of the Amalfi coast, which sounds even better when it is coupled with a view (try Ristorante Da Salvatore).

View Down the Sorrento Coast

View of the Sorrento Coast

Day 4. Leave a day to explore Sorrento – a gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Although it has no major world-class sites, it’s perfect for strolling and eating your way around it. Try everything lemon – there is a beautiful Lemon Grove Garden – a small park with organic lemon and orange orchard.  There is a tasting stand with samples of free limoncello, liqueurs made from basil, mandarins or fennel. In town, try lemon or orange sorbet at Gelateria Primavera – a local favorite that claims to make gelato for the pope. End your perfect day on the beach followed by an amazing dinner.

View of the Sorrento Coast

View of the Sorrento Coast

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