September 6-9, 2017
If you only have three days to spend on the Amalfi Coast, I recommend staying in Sorrento as it is a very good central location for seeing the area. Having said that, if you are looking for rest and relaxation on the coast, three days is not enough time. I recommend staying at least week midway along the Amalfi Coast so that you can avoid the crowds and visit the popular towns in the evening when the masses have gone home for the day. I thought I was going in the off season during September, and compared to August, apparently I was, but it certainly felt otherwise. This is what I learned during my time in Sorrento and on the Amalfi Coast.
HOW TO GET TO SORRENTO
It’s likely easiest to fly into Naples to eliminate two train rides, but the airline pricing from the USA encouraged me to fly to Rome. From Rome, it takes three train rides to get to Sorrento, but it is the most affordable route. The first is the Leonardo Express train, a non-stop service between the airport (FCO) and Roma Termini (the main station). The train departs every half hour from 6:23 to 23:23, and the trip takes 32 min.
Once at Roma Termini, purchase a ticket at one of the many kiosks (self-explanatory) to Napoli Centrale. There are a few train options. I used trainitalia. The high speed train takes 1.25 hours. The ticket prices vary based on car class are lower if purchased in advance online. Second class is perfectly comfortable. The reserved seat and car number are printed on the ticket. The train can be very full depending of the time and date of travel. I chose to wait until I arrived to purchase my ticket just in case my flight was delayed, and rode a somewhat empty train to Napoli on Wednesday, but my return train on Sunday was completely full. I felt lucky to get a ticket on same day travel.
At Napoli Centrale, go downstairs to Napoli Garibaldi (same station, different name). Catch the Circumvesuviana train for a few euros. This train was not air conditioned and was standing room only for most of the ride. I had considered not taking it due to all the cautions I read about being pick-pocketed, but I didn’t have a problem, and never felt threatened. I’d just say be aware like any savvy traveler. This train also leaves every half-hour and takes between 45mins-1.25 hours depending on if it is “directo” or “directisimo”. See the train schedule here: http://www.sorrentoinsider.com/en/naples-to-sorrento-train-schedule
Should the cramped and hot quarters be unappealing, a ferry service is available, but that required an extra step for me…a taxi ride from the station to the port and then the high-speed ferry. This is a helpful website for ferry travel: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/how-to-get-from-naples-to-sorrento.html
PLACES TO VISIT IN SORRENTO
On my first day in Italy, although exhausted, I forced myself to tour around. For some reason, I expected a quiet coast like Cinque Terre. This was not the case! Of all the places I’ve been, I was most scared to step into the crosswalk in Sorrento especially after noticing virtually every car had a scrape on its front or back fender. Pedestrians regularly had to play chicken with vehicles, though the drivers did stop.
I stayed at Relais Villa Angiolina which was conveniently (and I suppose when I was entirely exhausted inconveniently) located a short distance UP the hill from the old town of Sorrento. The hotel is like a quiet oasis in the middle of the hectic city and features a lovely garden. My room was fine, nothing too exciting, though I was surprised to find gel packets for “intimate hygiene” along with the shampoo! I enjoyed a nice breakfast everyday on my patio which was included in the price of the hotel, and the staff was simply wonderful.
On Wednesday, both hungry and tired, I followed the map to the main street which led me to Piazza Tasso, named for poet Torquato Tasso. The traffic zips around the Statua di S. Antonino as tourists order food and drinks at one of the handful of “bars” lining the street. The meals at these places are over priced and not the greatest, a perfect tourist trap, but if kept me from wandering aimlessly while jetlagged on no sleep! I got the shrimp special at Fauno Bar, and I think there was a reason why it was a “special”, but at least I got a free Limoncello at the end of the meal. In addition, the service was fast and friendly.
After lunch, I wandered around some more to get the lay of the land. I strolled by Piazza S. Antonino complete with a strange statue as I continued along Via V Veneto to Piazza Della Vittoria where I enjoyed lovely views of the sea before I turned left up Via T Tasso and poked my head into Chiesa di San Paolo, a lovely catholic church on the way back to the hotel for a short rest.
I mustered up the energy to go out for dinner later. I weaved around the mobs of people shopping on Via San Cesareo, bounced around a few side streets and finally settled on Ristorante Sorrento. The prosciutto wrapped melon was ok. The pasta main course was excellent. The service, once again, was fast!
The next morning, I planned a tour along the Amalfi Coast and the pick up location was at Hotel Antiche Mura. I gave myself some time extra time to find the hotel and slowly picked my way down Corso Italia while checking out the Duomo e Campanile, an 11th century cathedral with a lovely three story clock tower.
Upon arrival at Hotel Aniche Mura, I found it sitting atop a gorge where the ruins of Il Vallone dei Mulini stood below. It was quite an amazing scene in my opinion. Of course I like mills and old buildings and wanted to get down there to see it up close. I asked the way, but there wasn’t one. I could just admire it from above.
After my tour along the Amalfi Coast, we returned to Sorrento in a massive down pour! I donned my raincoat and rushed down the shopping street, now almost vacant from tourists as they had taken cover from the rain. I had seen a restaurant that looked popular the previous day and was aiming for dinner there, but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was, so now that I was completely drenched as I came upon a top 10 restaurant according to TripAdvisor, Ristorante Fuoro.
Chilled to the bone, I ordered mushroom soup for an appetizer. Since the Amalfi Coast is know for its fish and lemon, I tried this for the main course. Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of the soup and when my second bite of fish included four bones, I started picking at it. Despite scraping my fork across the filet, I still ended up with two more bites of bone. This just about did me in…as a child I would have stopped at the second bite! Based on the restaurant’s ranking, I must have ordered wrong!
The next day took me on a boat ride tour to Capri and afterward I decided to explore some more nooks and crannies in Sorrento. The more time I spent in the town, the more I liked it. Tonight I walked to Marina Grande via the Porta Romana, a cool old arch. I ate at The Five Sisters Restaurant, where according to the sign, Sofia Loren recently dined. I went with pasta and clams caught by the local fishermen. The meal was fantastic! The people next to me loved theirs as well. In addition, the pricing was more reasonable, though it was cash only. I was surprised to see it got panned on TripAdvisor, as it was the best meal I had the whole trip. In addition, I got to enjoy a wonderful sunset.
view on my walk
My Rick Steve’s info claimed the best gelato around was at Davide il Gelato. There is also Gelateria David, so it’s best to know the difference. While I prefer chocolate, the gelateria is known for its fruit flavors, so that is what I tried. It was quite tasty. I walked off dessert by walking down the countless steps to Marina Piccola.
My final day on the Amalfi Coast was in Pompeii. After visiting the ruins, I returned to Sorrento and found three more places to explore. With the exception of seeing Bagni della Regina Giovanna, a secluded swimming hole, I feel like I really covered the city.
I wandered to the other side of town to visit I Giardini di Cataldo. It was cool to see the vats of Limoncello, but other than that I didn’t see the draw to make it the #12 place to go in Sorrento. After visiting the lemon garden, I walked to Chiesa e Chiostro di S Francesco. I had visited the night before, but it was very dark, so I wanted to see the church again. This time I happened upon an Italian wedding. How cool is that?!? I assume the priest announced, “I pronounce you husband and wife” as everyone clapped, but then he kept talking and when the ceremony ended just a minute or two later, the crowd began trickling out, but the bride and groom stayed near the front of the church with their family. That was different from what I’m used to seeing!
Finally I had dinner at Gigino, a restaurant in the old town district whose patio was always full. This time I ordered pizza since Napoli is known for it. The atmosphere was nice and the pizza was good. I’d go back, but I liked the Marina Grande area better. Overall, Sorrento was a great town!
DAY TRIPS FROM SORRENTO
My first day trip from Sorrento was along the Amalfi Coast. I used Mondo Guide, which is associated with Rick Steves. They used two small vans that held seven people each to take us to Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. The pick up location was at Hotel Aniche Mura. They were timely and professional. If only the family I was paired with was too. The family included two adults who lived in the area, two who lived in Panama City, and two who lived in Florida. They were late for departure and then the local gentleman proceeded to conduct business calls, one of which was on speaker phone through out the car ride, which wasn’t terribly enjoyable to hear.
Vincenzo was our driver. When we first began the tour, the winding road which followed the coastline of the Salerno Gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea, didn’t seem to hard to drive ourselves. The traffic wasn’t too bad, there were scenic view pullouts along the way. In addition, Vincenzo could point things while driving. Once we arrived in Positano, our first visit, that changed! Boy was I glad I had paid for a driver. Due to the limited and expensive parking, cars were parked along the narrow road for at least a mile!
Fortunately for us, Vincenzo brought us right to town, parked by the gas station, and then pointed us to the pedestrian only shopping area. Fancy shops lined the slim corridors that veered in a variety of directions downhill toward the rocky beach. Tourists browsed the shops while I squeezed between them in search of a more peaceful area. Surprisingly, after reaching the beach, I found a path to the right (or west) with a sign indicating a hotel. Being lazy, I almost didn’t take it as it slanted upward, and since all I had done for the previous week was climb up and down mountains, going up another incline didn’t appeal to me. Just walking down all the stairs to the beach was enough!
Anyway, we had an hour in the town, and I covered the shopping area and church in less than a half hour, so what else was I going to do? Off I went. I only passed a few visitors as I meandered along the coastal trail which eventually led to another beach guarded by an old fortress, now private, so I couldn’t go near it. The walk provided lovely views and due to the cloudy, cool weather, the beach was empty, so it was a very tranquil place.
Soon I returned to the gas station, met the group, and Vincenzo steered us through some small towns to our next stop, Amalfi. Along the way, we contended with huge buses that hardly had room to pass each other as they inched forward and backwards to pass without scraping sides. Cars had to move out of the way by reversing or going around. At times, there were also traffic stops. I’d hate to see this place in the summer, as a weekday in September was busy enough!
In Amalfi, Vincenzo parked down by the water, we crossed the main highway and entered the old town. One of the first things that comes into view is the Amalfi Cathedral. There was an entrance fee and pictures weren’t allowed, so I boycotted going inside. I don’t mind an entrance fee, though it seems a little sketch for churches to do this, but if I can’t even take a picture for a memory after I paid, I don’t see the point! I carried on to the Museo della Carta on the outskirts of town. I had to shimmy between window shopping tourists and cars zipping by on the tight road.
the main shopping street in Amalfi
I over heard a couple say, “You know that lawyer in Chicago that filed the lawsuit for the bus running over someone’s foot, he’d make a fortune here!” It was true. I’m amazed more people aren’t struck by moving vehicles. So the paper museum was ranked in the top five things to do in Amalfi by TripAdvisor. I paid four Euro, walked through a library and into a room filled with some old paper making equipment before exiting around the back to see a water trough and completed the tour in about four minutes. I was shocked to find this was ranked in the top five things to do in Amalfi. I suppose it was a testament to the size of this small town…there is not a whole lot to do!