We went to Italy earlier this month and visited the Amalfi Coast and Rome. Having visited the Abruzzo region a few years ago, I continue to be amazed at how different Italy is from region to region. They are almost like separate, tiny countries. It was a great trip – we lucked out with the weather, all our extensive train, plane, bus and boat journeys went pretty smoothly, and we got to see so many breathtaking things. The only complaint we had is a classic one – not enough time there. Below are some photos from the trip, as well as some notes and suggestions that we hope will be useful to future travelers :)
Our first impression was that this is an amazingly beautiful area that’s been completely overrun by tourism. That being said, there are still ways to enjoy it less like a tourist and more like a visitor, and it’s honestly so breathtaking that it’s very worth the visit.
We stayed in Vettica, a quiet village right next to Amalfi, in a tiny Airbnb with a big terrace overlooking the cliffs and the sea. For us, it was the best of both worlds. We saw close to no tourists in Vettica, and instead got to see how people lead their lives in such an amazing setting. We watched locals going to church, to the market, feeding their cats, and being completely unaffected by the copious amounts of stairs in their cliffside neighborhoods (we were out of breath every time). Yet Amalfi was close enough (still a 45 minute walk or a stressful bus ride, but totally doable) that we had access to the boats and buses that shuttle people to Capri, Positano, and other beautiful places on the coast. It was really nice to have some distance from Amalfi, because it’s incredibly crowded with tour groups on any given day, but you have to go through it to get pretty much anywhere on the coast.
Once we got to Capri, we were wishing that we could spend the night there. There’s so much to do and it’s so incredibly beautiful. Take the chairlift up to Monte Solaro, the highest peak, to see the insane panorama that opens up. Walk around both Capri and Anacapri. Capri is better for partying and Anacapri – for quiet walks on tiny streets. Visit the Church of San Michele in Anacapri to see the intricate, hand-painted floor. Eat torta caprese and caprese sandwiches in the spirit of true tourism :)
A complete must is a visit to the Villa San Michele, a villa built by Axel Munthe, the Swedish physician and author. Munthe was a collector of classical artifacts, so the whole villa is tastefully decorated by objects from the antiquity, some of which were found right on site during the construction of the villa. There is a lush garden, a breathtaking panorama of the island and the sea, and every inch of the place is pristine and photogenic.
Although Positano is an incredibly beautiful town with stunning architecture, we concluded that we would have been better off having a second day in Capri instead of coming here. The reason: it is swamped with tourists and touristy shops in a way that feels quite forced and concentrated (Capri, though also very touristy, had a more spread out feel). Maybe we went to the wrong places? If you have more than four days on the Amalfi coast, which is all we had, we would still recommend coming here. It also largely depends on your goals for your travels, of course :)
We went here mainly because the host of our favorite Russian travel show visited the town in one of the episodes, and it looked totally breathtaking. Ravello is a town very high in the mountains, and the bus ride up took us on some of the tightest serpentines we’ve ever seen. The views from the top are the pay off, and the air feels different – very much like the freshest mountain air.
Another beautiful villa to visit is the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, full of ancient structures, fountains, sculptures, a beautiful garden and yet another breathtaking panorama.
We were surprised to learn that the region is actually not known for its food, and finding a good, authentic meal isn’t easy because large amounts of tourists equal large amounts of tourist trap restaurants. It is Italy however, where even bad food is decent. We did manage to find some gems, but Rome really took the prize over Amalfi in the culinary department. Here are a few favorites:
A charming, small restaurant in the town neighboring Vettica, with home-cooked food and a super charming owner (Nino!) that greets you at the door and is easy to understand even when you don’t speak a word of Italian. Go for the fresh-made pasta.
A restaurant at a bed and breakfast in Vettica with good pizza. We went for the zucchini and squash blossom one and were pleasantly surprised at how solid and tasty it was.
An outdoor restaurant right on the beach in Positano, with a really fun atmosphere and tasty dishes.
When visiting Ravello, lunch presented itself as a problem, because we didn’t research anything beforehand. We wandered off the central square and into this restaurant, and ended up having a pretty solid meal with very nice service.
Went here when visiting Capri to try the mandatory torta caprese. It was very good, and so were the little frozen ricotta shortbread cookies.
We are so completely in love with Rome. We only had three days there, which is nothing! It was hard to cover everything we wanted, but we tried our best. We stayed in a really cool Airbnb near Campo de Fiori, which is a centrally located square that’s busy at all times of the day. Luckily, our actual location was on a very quiet, narrow street, so it was the best of both worlds. We visited the main historic sites (the Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon etc.), as well as the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere, Testaccio and Monti. Below are some favorites.
The obvious: the Forum, the Colosseum, Ponte Sant’Angelo, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon. Even though the Pantheon was incredibly crowded, it was still super impressive. This inscription on Raphael’s burial is still in my mind: ‘Here lies Raphael, by whom nature herself feared to be outdone while he lived, and when he died, feared that she herself would die.‘ Wow.
Churches: Santa Maria del Popolo, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria in Trastevere, it’s endless really :)
A really fun place that serves Roman-style thin crust pizza and more, crowded with locals at any given time. They casually line each new customer’s table with white paper in place of a tablecloth, and write out the check on the paper at the end of the meal, from memory. The service is fast and efficient. We liked the super thin-crusted pizza (endless topping options), the pesto pasta and mushroom pasta, and of course, the arancini (fried rice balls served as an app).
If you’ve ever watched any food & travel shows about Rome, chances are Roscioli was featured as a mecca for everything delicious in the center of the city. Roscioli has a whole cluster of eateries right near Campo de Fiori: a deli/restaurant, a cafe with a coffee counter and bite-sized pastries, a bakery, and a full-on pizza restaurant called Emma.
The coffee at the cafe is excellent. At the bakery, get any of the delicious by-the-slice pizzas that they are putting out all day, as well as the bread. We liked the bread so much, we smuggled a loaf home in our luggage. If you go to Emma, definitely try the pizza, since it’s the specialty there, and apparently a whole lot of effort went into developing the pizza dough recipe. If you go to the restaurant/deli, Katie Parla has some great advice on navigating the menu there.
If you find yourself in the Jewish Ghetto in the morning or afternoon, stop in here for a slice of their delicious, thin and crispy pizza rossa.
A fun dinner place with neat decor and a more modern, deconstructed take on Roman classics.
If you go to the Colosseum, you might as well stop here for lunch, as it’s about a 10 minute walk away. They focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and we really loved every pasta dish we ordered here. (Thank you Pauline for the recommendation!)
We really enjoyed sitting at an outside table here with a cappuccino and a cornetti (both very good), watching the morning world go by. Go here on your way to the Pantheon and/or Piazza Navona, both are super close. Don’t miss the church Sant’Eustachio that’s right there, with a beautifully sculpted deer head on the facade.
If you are in the mood to visit a serious deli, check out Volpetti in Testaccio. They carry an overwhelming amount of cheeses, meats, olives, marinated veggies, pizza by the slice, and fried snacks. They are also able to vacuum wrap anything you buy, so that you can put the stuff in your luggage with little fear of it being taken away at the airport.
Another really interesting delicatessen that carries really unusual cheeses and meats. If you are anything like us and gift food as travel gifts to your omnivore friends, this place is great.