It’s a bucket list item for many. The Amalfi Coast conjures up images of romance, glamour, beauty and luxury. It’s the holiday playground of the rich and famous – Instagram’s celebrity staple feed for the months of July and August.
We’d seen the photos – celebrities frolicking from massive yachts, swimming pools and rooftop bars – and rarely with another person in frame.
Imagine our surprise when we travel in late May – to avoid the northern summer ‘holiday season’ – and find some ten million others had the same idea (only barely exaggerating, it’s around five million that visit each year). There’s a reason why celebrities appear in photos without another person in near sight – they’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to stay where the rest of us can’t afford.
Even with what feels like every person in Europe, Australia and the US on the Amalfi with us for the week, there’s no denying that the coastline is one of the most spectacular in the world, dotted with 13 pretty villages, only a few kilometres apart.
And that’s just where the adventure begins.
Get there by train, bus, ferry and car
When it comes to travel, I’m a researcher. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Life is simply too short to be messing around trying to figure out where I’m staying and in which direction.
And despite the thorough research on the journey from Rome from Salerno, it is still a mess on the day. The train to Salerno is easy. Book your Train Tickets here, leaving from the Termini Central.
The highly informative forum on Trip Advisor told us we simply exit the Salerno train station and catch the Sita bus to Positano. It couldn’t be easier.
Except we arrive on a Sunday so there’s only three buses on that day and one of them – due at 2.00pm – doesn’t arrive until 3.15pm, by which time more people have arrived by train and it’s a classic (insert expletive) fight to get on the bus. (Tip: travel with backpacks to ensure you don’t have to load luggage in a compartment, thereby ensuring you get on a bus). Check the Sita bus timetable here.
The Italian experience starts immediately because we are literally packed onto the bus like a local can of sardines. It may only be a 30km stretch but it’s a one hour ride around hair raising roads, some 300 plus metres above sea level to reach Amalfi (with no discernibly appropriate bus-going-over-the-edge barrier to protect us).
We arrive in Amalfi and decide it may be quicker – and less crowded – to go by ferry to Positano. We purchase a ticket across the road from the tourist information shop and board from the wharf right out front. Arriving into Positano by ferry is a happy (but highly recommended) accident. The view of this village literally clinging to the cliff face is breathtaking.
Depending on the location of your accommodation, you might be like us and have to climb 500 stairs (actually it was 531) so we ride by taxi for the last leg (and pay an arm and a leg for the five-minutes of air conditioned seating pleasure).
Irrespective of where you are staying, try to make the most of the transport options available – it will provide you with a full appreciation of the coastline and villages.
For accommodation, our preference is to book through Airbnb, and Positano offers a wealth of great options to suit all budgets. We stayed at Clem’s perched high on the hilltop overlooking Positano and highly recommended. (Below is a view from our terrace).
Arguably, the prettiest and most famous of the Amalfi Coast villages, and our home for the week; it’s a candy coloured delight with a pebble beachfront and steep, narrow streets lined with boutiques and cafes.
- Hiring a yellow and white striped umbrella and chair and relaxing for the day. Positano offers a flat, protected beach.
- Exploring the cobble stone lane ways with souveneir, clothes and jewellery stores. The bakery at the main town bus stop is a must. Also take a few moments to visit the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta which features a majolica-tiled dome and a 13th-century Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary.
- Wandering around the hillside pathway from the ferry wharf to the secluded cove, somewhat oddly flying two or three Australian flags. This is a quieter beach with cheaper and more relaxed bars. For the Aussie visitors, enjoy a drink at Da Ferdinando. His bar is adorned with Australian flags and paraphernalia thanks to a love for Australia and good Aussie friends.
- Enjoying a drink – specifically La Dolce Vita – at Franco’s on the hill before wandering a few steps further up to Bruno’s for dinner. Make sure to book an outside street table to enjoy the commanding view.
- Hiring a canoe or kayak. The water is flat and perfect for paddle boarding also.
- Taking a walking tour – there are a range of hiking tracks that traverse the entire length of the coast, and will have you even higher above sea level. The Sentiero degli Dei hiking trail links Positano to other coastal towns.
Pompeii remains one of the most fascinating historical sites we’ve ever visited and you’d literally have rocks in your head (pun intended) if you miss the opportunity to go when so close (only 30kms from Positano).
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Pompeii was an ancient Roman town near Naples that was mostly destroyed and buried under four to six metres of volcanic ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The eruption killed all 11,000 inhabitants and destroyed the city.
The site was lost for about 1,500 years, and since 1748, has been slowly revealed through ongoing excavation. A tour of the site demonstrates that so many of the modern conveniences we enjoy today derive from systems invented and implemented at that time – you’ll see the city’s complex water and heating systems, an amphitheatre, gym and a port.
To get there from Positano:
- Catch the Sita bus from Positano to Sorrento (a 20-minute ride). The bus leaves from the top level roadway connecting all Amalfi villages (so you may need to ask directions). The bus arrives at the train station where you can catch the Circumvesuviana directly to the entrance of Pompeii (about 30 minutes from Sorrento).
- Hire a private driver for the day. Options include here, here and here.
Hire a Boat
This is without doubt, our favourite experience of the Amalfi Coast.
Boats can be hired from the promenade and wharf area of Positano beach. Boats are typically hired for a four-hour duration with additional costs for each hour past this timeframe.
We packed the usual for a day on the water – lunch, beers, towels, water and sunscreen.
The boat allows you to see the full coastline within four hours, pulling into grottos, caves and private beaches. We moored to swim, sunbake and eat lunch in a private area. It was a magical, relaxed and serene way to spend a quiet day away from the crowds.
Our boat hire for four hours with a canopy was 90 Euros.
We were utterly seduced by Capri. This pristine, luxury-branded island is not normally our cup of tea, but because it makes no secret of what it is – a playground for the rich and famous (or those pretending for a few days) – we completely bought into the hype.
Capri and Positano are connected in the summer by a number of ferries which usually depart in the morning from Positano and return in the afternoon, with the trip taking around 40 minutes. During the other months, you must first arrive in Sorrento and from there, catch the ferry to Capri.
Arriving into the wharf area by ferry is on a par with Positano – yellow, pink and blue hued colonial buildings overlook equally interesting boats moored in front. You can either wander the promenade here, enjoying lunch and a water view, or join the crowds heading upwards on the Funicular.
Once you disembark from the ride, you’re in the heart of the Capri village. Here, you can people-watch as you enjoy a drink or lunch in the main square, or explore the myriad of cobblestone streets boasting more designer brands than Kim Kardashian’s closet.
We chose the latter, somehow weaving our way further and further upwards and following a sign we just happened to spy on a fence advertising a restaurant or two.
We walked for around thirty minutes before we arrived at the end of the path to La Grottelle, an outdoor restaurant canopied with vines and spectacularly perched on the cliff edge with a view across the blue expanse of ocean to Positano.
We dined on stuffed capsicum and eggplant parmigiana with a side serve of salad and fries, and bubbles. Whilst the food and service is outstanding, it is the view that commands all attention.
Dine at D’Adolfo
Many Australians know Maggie Tabberer, a fashion, publishing and media/television personality. Her daughter, Amanda, whilst less known, did produce a stunning hard-covered book called ‘My Amalfi Coast’ about five years ago, which details her 18 years living in Positano and specifically working in her then-husband’s family’s restaurant. She has a website offering accommodation and tips for your time on the Coast.
We’d been watching the small fishing boat with the D’Adolfo sign ferrying people from the wharf for a few days when the connection finally dawned on me. A quick look at Google confirmed my hunch that this was indeed the restaurant so beautifully featured in the book.
Their own boat will do regular transfers from the wharf to the restaurant (every twenty minutes or so) from around noon. It is rare to score a seat on the boat without a reservation. It is also recommended to reserve a sun bed to relax with a drink either before or after lunch as it has its own secluded beach.
Whilst we were unable to secure a reservation whilst we were there, we did boat past during our day on the water and it looked like the perfect spot to enjoy a relaxed, casual seafood meal. See Trip Advisor reviews here for more information.
However you choose to spend your time on the coast, you won’t be disappointed.