My first visit to the Amalfi Coast was more than twenty years ago on a bus tour of senior citizens where I was their token granddaughter. It was a busy bus tour of Italy over ten days with Globus Tours. We were scheduled to stay overnight in Sorrento but the hotel was full so we were moved to Le Agravi, a luxury hotel with amazing apricot croissants and a view that made me imagine my future wedding (little did I know) along the Amalfi Drive in Positano. The windy roads along the Amalfi Drive felt scary (I didn’t see guardrails from my bus window, just a very steep drop below to the water). We had a woman in her late 50’s at the time (a young one on this tour) who was afraid of heights and all of the twists and turns of the road coupled with the views made her scream in fear for the entire ride. This was my first encounter with the Amalfi Coast and the famed Amalfi Drive. Quite memorable.
The Amalfi Coast Tour with Marcello of See Sorrento
Many years later I would revisit the Amalfi Coast on a day tour from Naples, the cruise stop, with new friends from the repositioning cruise. I met Marco and Marcello that late November day. November is quite late in the tourist season so we lucked out that there weren’t many tourists on the drive that day which made it easy to stay on schedule. It also helped that no one on the tour (ten of us) wanted to shop as many shops were closed. We would again start on the Amalfi Drive in the same place that the tour bus had so many years before.
This time, our luxury van felt a bit safer on the twists and turns (I still didn’t see guard rails in some places, just small stone walls) and no one was yelling at the top of their lungs. Although the group found my story pretty funny. We would stop at various lookout locations along the Amalfi Coast to enjoy the beautiful coastline, admire the homes perched along the cliffs and view the water below. It was a day of in and out of the van and we coasted through the many little towns along the way. We would lunch later in the day at the top of a village sitting outside on the balcony enjoying the foods, wine, new friends and serenity of the gorgeous view.
So it seemed fitting that on my sabbatical, I’d revisit the Amalfi Coast, after my visits to Naples, Capri and Sorrento. I started with a bus of senior citizens, then a van full of cruise folks and now I met Marcello to take me back to the viewpoints on my own photo tour of the Amalfi Coast (the Positano fruit stand is still there!).
The Views of the Amalfi Coast
The views in over twenty years hadn’t changed much however the cruise ships discovered the coast with a day in the port of Naples. The little villages are now full of white sneakered cruise tourists looking for souvenirs (rarely locally made) and pizza. I think they are missing the best part of the Amalfi Coast – the views and the villages.
The Amalfi Coast is made up of a collection of villages built into the cliffs both above and below the street level. You will see many steps from the road walking up or down so be prepared to do steps if you find a flat to stay. Once on the two lane road it’s a bit of follow the leader as you are at the mercy of the traffic ahead of you and delays at many tunnels if there is a bus vs. bus situation as only one wins out. If you are on a cruise stop in Naples, do opt for a private guide tour like See Sorrento (with Marcello) to get the best value from your day.
The Five Star Pit Stop along The Amalfi Coast
During the drive, I had one bathroom stop at the fancy five star hotel, Hotel Santa Caterina (which has hosted celebrities, dignitaries and political figures) – I had to pretend to be interested in the hotel to ask for a brochure and then ask where the bathroom was (if only the Italians would just let me use the bathroom instead of the pretense or requirement to buy something). I then asked if I can take a photo or two (lamenting my good camera left in the van). Generally the main part of the hotel is at street level then the rooms, pool and beach are located below. This is the fancy, five star view of the Amalfi Coast.
Views Along the Amalfi Drive
For the rest of the time, we followed the slow traffic on the two lane road that snakes up and down the cliffs and through the village’s practically scraping people and buildings along the way (it’s a tight squeeze in a few places). The road is not for the faint of heart in my opinion and I’m happy I had Marcello to drive it so I could just enjoy being a passenger with my camera. I was on my own photo safari and Marcello was easily able to accommodate my requests to stop for this or that photo. When he saw a place to park along the side of the road (a rarity) he would stop and we would get out to explore the area. I saw the ropes that were in use between villages up on the hills to transfer goods, saw the roadside Nativity displays in the villages and looked down at what seemed like a hidden beach. It was this flexibility to stop and explore that a private guide affords you.
Ravello – Villa Rufolo Amalfi Coast Views
In Ravello, I had an hour to explore and Marcello told me to go to Villa Rufolo, an 11th century villa. The entrance fee was €5.00. Walking through the serene gardens to the villa and then beyond to the Amalfi Coast view was really relaxing. It wasn’t as crowded as the town square was with tourists in the church, at the cafes and sitting around waiting for their pickup to return to the ships. I had time to sit on benches and look at trees and views that many literary folks had done eons before me. Relaxing in beauty and history isn’t the worst way to spend the day.
Amalfi Coast Village Lunch Stop
When I ready to leave, I texted Marcello to pick me up and we explored the villages away from the coast before revisiting that lovely café at the top of the town I had enjoyed years before with my new cruise friends. This time rather than drive to the entrance, we parked like locals at the bottom and walked up through the village. I think Marcello figured I needed a workout pre/post lunch given the many food and drink samples there would be.
Walking up the steps (there were many steps) we passed homes with lemon trees in their gardens and the smell of flowers growing all around. The small lanes were lined with homes and the stone path continued upward until we reached the restaurant. A bit of a huff and puff was rewarded with a view, some red wine, Italian pasta, bread and desserts.
Saying Ciao! (for now) to the Amalfi Coast
Our day on the Amalfi Coast and Amalfi Drive was sadly over as we made our way back through the town going down the stairs back to the road (some towns have thousands of steps from the main road to the top, thankfully this wasn’t one of them). We joined the caravan of cars, vans, busses, and vespas back on the famous two lane road to snake back into Sorrento. It was my last view of the coast that seduced me in my 20’s and continues to call me back with each visit to Italy.