The speedboat pulled up alongside our “typical” fishing boat. We’d stopped in a small bay and this boat was taking us to the restaurant and beach club on shore.
As it skimmed across the crystal-clear, bluer-than-blue water (around many boats – small and very big!) towards shore, I couldn’t help but think we’d landed in a parallel universe. A glamorous, global universe where long, waterfront lunches reign supreme. Kind of my dream universe really.
On shore, tables inside and out were filled with groups of people sharing incredibly delicious food. We joined the throng of sun-kissed and kaftan-clad Australians, Americans, Italians and other Europeans sipping on cocktails and Rose.
Our front row outside table came with a view over the bay to the grottos and some supremely good people watching. It was all very next level – but not surprisingly so. Italy’s Amalfi Coast had proved to be next level to us at every (hairpin) turn.
From the moment we had our first glimpse of Positano, with its iconic, colourful, Baroque houses hugging the steep hillside and the sapphire blue sea below, our collective jaws dropped wide open and rarely shut during our short stay in this region.
This post is far from a definitive travel guide for the Amalfi Coast. Instead I’m sharing nine things you can’t miss on a short stay while in the region. We travelled late June. It was busy but not as busy as July and August are. Your list may very well differ (and I’d love you to share your can’t miss list in the comments below to help out others travelling to Amalfi).
A note on how we like to travel
Our annual leave is limited, so we need our holidays to recharge. We are not sightseeing list tickers. We don’t have an urgent need to see everything and anything a region has to offer.
For us, it’s about looking at the time we have in a particular city or region and breaking down that time into manageable chunks of activity, while still building in holiday and rest time – and breathing space just to experience everything around us.
We are travelling with our 11-year-old son so, while he’s at a great age for travel, we still need to factor in fun things for him and not just make it an adult-centric escape.
We also put a priority on seeking out fabulous food experiences because that’s something we all also like to do at home – from shopping at the local supermarket to self cater our breakfast to fancy restaurants and bars.
To maximise our time at a destination – and because we’re travelling as a group of three – we’ll book drivers for transfers from airports and use local taxi drivers when it suits. This extra expense gives us more time to enjoy our stay.
We tend to book some tours and experiences in advance (and dinners if it’s a high-demand venue) but resist booking out the whole time to give us a chance to change it up should we discover something we’d like to enjoy once we’re there.
On this trip, we had four nights, with three, long daylight summer days on the ground. We had only booked one thing before arriving – our boating day trip. Over dinner on our first night we mapped out a loose plan for the other two days and evenings.
9 things you can’t miss on a short stay on Italy’s Amalfi Coast
1. Luma Charter: If I had to tell you one thing you shouldn’t miss, it would be a day out with Luca or Gennaro on one of their private boats. Getting the perspective of this amazing coastline from the water is mind-blowing, not to mention having your own personal tour guide who will find you private swimming spots so picturesque that your eyes will struggle to take it all in, pour you (many) glasses of prosecco and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. I found this small company via Instagram and was taken in by the style of the boat we’d be spending the day on. It appealed so much more than getting on a large boat filled with hundreds of others. It was also wonderful to have the day fit around us, to be able to “make swim” by just jumping off the boat. Yes, this 50-year-old woman jumped off a boat! Cost was 500 Euro for about eight hours, including eco taxi pick up and drop off to Marina di Praia.
2. Conca Del Sogno: Just when we thought our Luma Charter experience couldn’t get any better, Gennaro pulled up anchor at this mind-blowing waterfront restaurant and beach club just outside of Nerano. You can access it via a path from Nerano but why walk when you can arrive by boat? The owners are friends of Luca and Gennaro and this scored us a front-row view. If you check out their Instagram feed you’ll see that Noel Gallagher was a recent guest. NEXT LEVEL. It was a busy, vibrant Saturday afternoon crowd with service handled extremely well. Loved the sense of theatre of it all, especially when one of the waiters created cocktails of lemon sorbet, vodka and prosecco for a whole table – at their table. The whisking of the vodka in the sorbet, the spraying of the prosecco into the flutes … it was a spectacle and I wanted in. The menu (and all along the Amalfi Coast) has an emphasis on seafood and we tucked into some of the best here, washed down with a chilled Rose. With starters, mains (and one side), dessert, drinks and coffee, the total bill was 183 Euro for the three of us. We’d pay much more than that for similar location and restaurant in Australia. Want to experience this magical location for longer? You can also book accommodation here.
3. Gavitella Beach: We decided to spend day one close to our temporary home, well 700 steps close to home. Going down? Not so bad. A little shaky on the legs but still, not so bad. Going up? SWEATY MESS. Half way down is a fabulous café/bar – Café Mirante – that is worth the stop both ways. On the way down, coffee; on the way back; lemon granita … or something stronger might be needed. The effort is worth it though. A small rocky cove beach, a fabulous restaurant – Cala Gavitella Beach Club – and a serious relaxing lounge situation made me a very happy girl. You can hire lounges from two areas (One Fire Beach has the orange umbrellas, music pumping and a bar; Gavitella, the blue lounges and a more chilled feel). It’s better value and you have more of a chance of a prime position at Gavitella. We paid 20 Euro for two lounges and one umbrella for the day and trotted up to the restaurant for lunch – and a Spritz, of course. There are spots on the rocky beach and a cement ramp for people to sit without paying a cent. Lots of locals did just that.
4. Positano Beach: This was a completely different beach experience, but a fabulous experience all the same. The low cloud that can keep people off the beach worked to our advantage. Australians know to get up and get on the beach early and don’t let a little thing like grey skies get in our way. We scored (paid for) three front row lounge spots with umbrellas (17.50 Euro each) and did not regret that move for one minute. As soon as the sun burned away the cloud, the beach filled up. This is a small black pebble beach. It’s literally impossible to walk in and out of this water without resembling an uncoordinated hippo sinking into the stones. OK, the Italians, who are used to it, still look glamorous. Me, not so. Looking back at the buildings of Positano from the water is something else. The rows and rows of umbrellas are a sight to behold. And downing a Spritz and caprese salad with that waterfront view topped off a very good day.
5. Franco’s Bar, Positano: This was another Instagram find through a work colleague of Mr SY’s. This former carpark (next to exclusive hotel, Le Sirenuse) is now a very cool bar. VERY COOL. Lots of Aussie voices to be heard so word has definitely got around. We got chatting to some fab people, including a famous Australian cricketer. I was oblivious who this was but Mr SY wasn’t, playing it cool and chatting normally regardless. Tripadvisor will tell you the drinks are over-priced. I’ll tell you, they are massive, not watered down and so worth it for the view and the experience. This is not a food destination but they will give you a bowl of green olives and popcorn to accompany your drinks. My new fave: La Dolce Vita (gin, lime and pomegranate juice and prosecco) – yes, I’ll be concocting this one at home, don’t you worry about that!
6. Il Pirata restaurant, Praiano: My friend Annie had her wedding celebration lunch here and told me we just had to go. And I’m so glad I’m obedient. This restaurant is tucked around the cliff at Marina di Praia, looking past fishing boats south towards Amalfi. Book ahead online – during busy times you’re unlikely to turn up and immediately get a table – but it’s so worth it. The food was incredible – fresh and exciting using the fabulous product from this region. And the outlook perfect for the changing of colours at sunset. This is also a bar and beach club if you’re wanting to spend the day here under an umbrella. There are a number of restaurants at the Marina and the beach is a small rocky cove but beautiful all the same. It’s easier to access (no steps – just a ramp) than Gavitella.
7. Casa Angelina Lifestyle: I’ve got a special super power for sniffing out boutique accommodation options and locking them in as a future goal when re-visiting a region. This particular hotel caught my attention because just above Gavitella Beach there were some white terraced suites – euedesea suites – jutting out of the grey rock face. The screamed exclusive. A quick Google back at our accommodation revealed they are part of the Casa Angelina Lifestyle hotel 200 steps back up the cliff. I had to check out my future accommodation further, so for our last night, we reserved a table with a sunset view at the hotel’s Marrakech bar. Let’s just say it was love at first sight at the row upon row of “chopped” white cushions in the lobby lounge. If you’re travelling sans kids and want to experience luxury at Praiano, this is your hotel.
8. Sample the local produce: One word. LEMONS. Lemons the size of small rockmelons. I kid you not. The region is known for its lemons – hello, Limoncello and lemon granita – but it’s not until you see them close up, growing on trees in people’s terraced, market garden backyards, that you understand the extent of it. The superior fresh produce situation doesn’t stop there either. The tomatoes were the best I’ve ever tasted, the peaches, nectarines, cherries … all delicious and locally grown. A bowl from our host greeted us on arrival and we also stocked up at the local supermarket. Breakfasts on the balcony of cherry tomatoes, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and eggs were totally delicious and an inexpensive way to sample all the things.
9. Check out the Praiano “street art”: Back in the ’90s, the Italian-style of brightly coloured and painted ceramics were all the rage in Australia. You paid big dollars for these on-trend platters and crockery. Turns out it’s not a trend but a tradition of this region that lives on in restaurants and homes as everyday dinnerware. The lemon motif is strong (sorry pineapple, the original décor fruit is lemon). We also loved that on the public walls in Praiano, everywhere you turned there were pieces of ceramic street art attached to stone or stucco walls. Heading towards the beach, it was a fish and octopus theme; heading up to our apartment, we spotted whimsical figures that proved helpful markers for directing us home in the dark.
Where to stay
On a rainy Sunday in January, I started down the rabbit hole that is Airbnb after ruling out hotels as an accommodation option (for price at this time of year and space). Intensive Google-ing led me to the coastal village of Praiano, 15 minutes south of its famous, glitzier big sister, Positano. Praiano is broken into two parts – one side faces toward Amalfi; the other across to Positano. The Positano side also has the most hours of direct sun of any spot on the Amalfi Coast (because of the way the headland is positioned) – and the best sunset views.
Once I’d narrowed down Praiano, I went searching for a two-bedroom apartment with views and landed pretty quickly on Casa Le Agavi. It was just over $300 a night for this time of year and had a picture postcard view to Positano that worked to instantly make us forget just how far we’d travelled to see it. The sunsets were out of this world, as was the view directly down to the main square, church and sea. Casa Le Agavi is newly appointed, with two bathrooms, sizeable kitchen, free wi-fi and two balconies – one off the living room; one off the main bedroom. We were greeted by Maria (who lives next door) and Giuseppe (our host). Maria even had a bowl of fresh fruit and vegetables for us – all grown in her home garden further up the terrace.
The only downside to staying at Casa Le Agavi is the stairs. From the nearest street it’s 80 steps down. We did this somehow with our luggage and massive jetlag. Maybe the jetlag helped! Mr SY (legend) did three trips with one suitcase each when it was time to leave. I knew this when booking this apartment but if you are not up for a minimum of 80 (30cm deep) stairs, then this is not the apartment for you. It would also be a tricky location if travelling with small children. To reach the main square below, it’s about 300 steps down (and up!!). My legs and butt have never been so worked.
Looking for next level hotel accommodation option in Praiano? Check out Casa Angelina Lifestyle. It’s now on our bucket list!
The nearest airport to the Amalfi Coast is Naples. Buses connect from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. We flew into Rome and opted to book a private driver for our trip to and from our destination – Praiano. After 24-hours of travel, I can tell you that seeing my name on a sign at the airport was like heaven. The drive is about three and a half hours, depending on traffic.
In Praiano, we booked the fabulous local “eco” taxi driver – Paulo. Eco equals electric golf buggy. I laughed when he first pulled up as I’d spent half and hour doing my hair for dinner. Could have just dried itself on the trip to Positano! (You can book Paulo by phone 00393663573000) It’s an interesting experience competing with big busses on the winding roads while you’re in an open-air buggy but, as he said, “it’s not my first day on the job”. Expect to pay 15 Euro for a pick up and drop off in Praiano; 30 Euro for one-way to Positano.
We also used the local and Sita buses to travel during the day to Positano and back. A one-way ticket between Praiano and Positano will cost 1 Euro on the local bus; 1.30 Euro on the Sita bus. Local bus tickets can be bought on board but Sita bus tickets need to be bought at convenience shops. Both bus lines will be super crowded but are an economical way to get around.
Get your walking and stair-climbing game on. You will earn that Aperol Spritz and plate of pasta. You don’t get the beauty of those steep cliffs without some pain in getting around and exploring each village. The steps we did each day left us breathless – I’m not sure how I would have coped had I not been training all year (thank-you Body Smart for forcing all those interval stair training sessions on us each week!). There are no official pathways next to the road either, so it’s really not small-child or stroller friendly. You basically compete for road space with Vespas, cars and buses.
We’ll be back
One thing I know for sure. We will be back. We barely scratched the surface of what this region has to offer. Every which way you turned the Amalfi Coast WAS next level. It stole a piece of our hearts and I can’t wait to return.
So tell me … have you visiting the Amalfi Coast? Where did you stay and what is on your must-see/do list?
What to pack
Travelling to this area in the warmer months? Check out this post and get my tips on how pack for any destination from my e-book, Confessions of a Reformed Over Packer.
Confessions of a Reformed Over-Packer e-book.
Nikki Parkinson from Styling You’s latest e-book, Confessions of a Reformed Over-Packer (How to Plan For Your Next Escape), has you sorted on the dreaded “what to pack” question for your next trip.
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