A few weeks ago I was transported to, what felt like, another planet. My journey began in Naples and ended in Rome. The in-between was the best part; the Amalfi Coast. I had heard about the Amalfi Coast, but never really thought about going there until my family decided to plan a hiking trip through one of those organized tour groups. This one happened to be VBT (Vermont Bicycle Touring). I have never been a fan of “organized” trips, but this one changed my mind. This was, by far, the best way to see the coast! (unless, of course, you want to hire private cars/boats for everyhing). I’ve weeded through my pictures and have decided to post them here along with some commentary. Sorry for some repeats from Facebook. Let’s get started……
I’ll spare you the details about our lost luggage (we got them back after 2 days)… So, we arrived in Naples!
Naples struck me as pretty “gritty” — quite possibly the Brooklyn of Italy. We didn’t get to explore Naples very much, but I was okay with that. We were lucky enough to stay by the water in a nice port area near the Castel dell ‘Ovo… We stayed at the Hotel Santa Lucia in an area called “Chiaia”….
We just strolled around the area for the rest of the afternoon and took some pictures of the small port and tried some local pizza, pasta, wine, and veggies.
One of the cool things about starting in Naples was that we got to see Vesuvius for the first time. This made me even more curious about our upcoming tour of the ruins of Pompeii. I kept envisioning the locals running from the hot lava, only to be encapsulated by it — literally.
Here’s a local Napoletana enjoying the sun! She’s got the right idea!
Here’s a local fisherman, or longshoreman… or…. plumber?
This is Castel dell ‘Ovo. The current castle was built in the 15th century. The name comes from the legend that the Roman poet Virgil buried an egg on the site for protection.
My first Italian “selfie” in front of Vesuvius
Some of the streets in this area of Naples were very steep and gave me a small preview of the “switch-backs” that were to come along the Amalfi Coast.
After our half a day and night in Naples we geared up and got ready for our hiking tour meeting and the transfer to Pompeii. We had a private bus and our guides provided so much information about history, culture, and other little tidbits — they were also quite humorous!
We arrived in Pompeii and we were greeted by a local who gave us a private tour of the ruins of Pompeii. I was a little turned off at first becuase the ruins just seemed too touristy. I was hoping to get to get a private tour of some untouched ruins in an area where civilization no longer existed — NOPE! People galore! My mom and I also got scolded by the Italian bathroom attendant — I still to this day don’t know what we did wrong. So, the tour ended up being fantastic despite all the people, I felt like our group had the ruins to ourselves at times. I really learned a lot; more than I expected. For example — the ancient Romans really liked to express themselves with phallic shapes and symbols. They also used graffiti to mark their territory and exploit their sexual conquests.
Below is a mosaic that was unearthed in Pompeii.
These are some unearthed clay pots – hard to believe that the volcano erupted in 79 AD and that these pots are even older.
Here’s a plastered cast of the exact position this dog was in when the lava from Vesuvius ended his/her life.
And here is a plastered cast of a human that had an unfortunate ending.
We toured a bath house and aquaduct while in Pompeii; below is a photo of some of the wall docorations. Once again, hard to believe this was built prior to 79 AD.
Below is a fountain in the bath house – it has names of local politicians around the edges of it. Even back then they paid to have their name on things!
I loved this statue – it’s a 2nd century BC statue of Faunus (Bacchus). It’s amazing that they were able to unearth this; it was re-discovered in 1830 during an excavation.
Here’s an example of some of the phallic art found all over Pompeii. Big egos in Pompeii!
At the end of the tour we got a good view of Vesuvius. It’s crazy that the lava came from that volcano and destroyed villages on its path.
This table was owned by Julius Caesar’s assassin.
This might be a little morbid, but here are plastered casts of people in their final moments. They were overwhelmed by gases and lava.
As we were exiting the ruins, we literally stumbled upon these stray dogs. There were 5-6 of them just having an afternoon siesta. We learned that they are actually spoiled and have free reign of the ruins.
After our 3 hour tour of Pompeii we got back in the private bus and headed to Sorrento — it took about 45 minutes. This journey took us through the longest tunnel I have ever been in! It wasn’t for someone who doesn’t like tunnels but I managed just fine. As we arrived in Sorrento, we pulled into our fabulous hotel; Grand Hotel Cocumella. The hotel was an old cloister/monestary. Here’s some interesting history of the hotel: “The history of the Grand Hotel Cocumella began in 1597, when the Jesuits built a cloister in a rural area with orchards and citrus grove sloping seaward. According to legend the gods had given custody of the secret garden to the nymph Colomeide that to all those who would have entered into that magical place, she would have given the gift of “silence.” In 1777 the building changed hands and it was converted into an hotel, becoming the most ancient destination of recreation and rest of the Sorrento peninsula.
The Grand Hotel Cocumella retains all the charm that for centuries has seduced travellers around the world. The important work of restoration by the architect Nino Del Papa enhanced the splendor that suits the myth of the ancient residence, appreciated over the years by guests such as Joachim Murat, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the Duke of Wellington, Hans Christian Andersen , Alberto Moravia. These are only some of the big names on the ancient guestbook, still accurately preserved.”
The hotel is built high up on the cliff’s of Sorrento and to get to the beach you either have to take steps down or take an elevator that is built into the stone cliffs. I had never seen anything like this. We opted to take the stairs one day and we basically walked through and down into a cave that dropped you into the Tyrrhenian Sea or the Gulf of Naples. This wasn’t like going to the beach in the US or the Caribbean. This was basically, okay here’s a cliff, here’s the water, do as you please. There was a small black sand beach area, but I opted for the sun deck that was pretty much at the end of a tiny stone-laden boardwalk. I’d take that over a sandy mess anyday. The views were spectacular!
The view from my hotel room was breathtaking. I had a little balcony and this was the view to the left…. the view to the right was an old church that’s attached to the monastery.
Our first full day in Sorrento was spent exploring the Sorrento Peninsula. We drove to Sant’Agata dei Due Golfi and hiked a trail called Alta via dei Monti Lattari; it’s a path that winds upwards into a beautiful chestnut forest. This trail led to one of the most amazing views I’d ever seen. The Malacoccola trail led us to a view of the entire Gulf of Salerno. We could see the Gulf of Salerno and the Gulf of Sorrento at the same time. It was unbelievable.
After these pictures of us on top of the trail were taken, we had to climb down steep rocks. Looking down to the left was not pleasant — if someone has vertigo, I wouldn’t recommend it! On our hike down we passed through some farms and villages. This donkey was one of the highlights!
We continued our hike and ended up in Torca, where our shuttle bus met us and drove us to our lunch stop; a family-owned organic farm! I told one of our guides that in the States this would be called “Farm to Table” — he’d never heard that term before and he was happy to learn it! In Italy they call it “0 Kilometers,” which also makes sense. These types of farms that serve their home grown food is called Agriturismo; agricultural tourism. The name of the farm is Fattoria Terranova. They served us so much food! I couldn’t keep up. I’ve never been a fan of eggplant, but I made myself try it here, and I’m now a fan. Not sure if I’ll eat it in the US, but I’ll definitely eat it again in Italy. We also got a Mozzarella making demo and then ate the fresh made result! Eating here was definitely quite the Italian experience.
Throughout the trip I was fixated on all of the Catholic symbolism found throughout Italy. I’ll be posting some of my “Mary Collection.” Every village we went through had shrines like this.
Italy is strewn with flowers that I’d never seen before. Here’s a Passion Flower.
After lunch we had a short walk back to our bus. We then had the option of going on another hike or going back to Sorrento for some pool or beach time. I opted for the pool/beach time.
We did a little bit of walking to and from the town center of Sorrento, but we didn’t get to explore it as much as we would have liked to. The streets of Sorrento are covered with Jasmine and some purple flowers (I don’t know what they’re called). The sunset is supposed to be quite a scene from a particular part of the town, but we didn’t get to see it.
The next morning we took a boat from Sorrento to Capri. This boat was kinda packed, so we didn’t get a good seat, but I’m not complaining. Capri was a little different than what I expected. I think I just envisioned everything being less crowded! Capri was very crowded, but very beautiful. The island is home to about 5,000 people, but during the day that number doubles thanks to tourism. There are 2 parts to the island; Capri and Anacapri. We stayed on the Capri side. We arrived and took the funicular to a higher elevation. If you’re not familiar with a Funicular; check this out: Capri Funicular. There are barely any roads on Capri, so no one has a car. You’re basically walking on narrow and steep streets. It makes you realize a few things 1) how out of shape you might be 2) that older people in Italy are strong and they don’t let things bother them. So, woman or man up!
After we rode the funicular up to the top we got off and began our hike along the narrow footpaths. Our destination was Villa Jovis; built by Emperor Tiberius in the 3rd century as a strategic point where he could dominate and control the opposite coast. As we approached Villa Jovis, we noticed a HUGE statue, but we weren’t able to tell what it was until we got closer. Once again, it’s Mary!
People believe that the Isle of Capri gets its name from the Latin word Capreae (goat). Needless to say, I was extatic when we stumbled upon some wild goats. Being a Capricorn, this was right up my alley!
After our hike up to Villa Jovis, we strolled back down and had lunch at a small local pizza/sandwich shop. Children’s art decorated the outside walls.
After our hike we had a couple of hours to stroll around Capri on our own. Debra, one of our guides, mentioned that there was a perfume shop on the island that makes perfume from the flowers found on the island. The name of the store is Carthusia. Apparently, in 1380, the father prior of the Carthusian Monastery of St. James, caught unaware by the news of the arrival of Queen Joan of Anjou on Capri, picked a boquet of the most beautiful flowers on the island; these remained in the same water for 3 days and, as he went to throw them away, the prior noticed that it had acquired a mysterious frangrance unkonw to him. So he turned to the friar versed in alchemy, who traced the origin of the scent to the “Garofilium Silvestre Caprese.” That waster was the first perfume of Capri. History relates that in 1948 the Prior of the Charterhouse found the old perfume formulae and, upon obtaining permission from the Pope, revealed them to a chemist from Piemonte in the North of Italy, and thus created the smallest perfume laboratory in the world, calling it “Carthusia”, i.e. “Charterhouse”. In case you’re interested, here’s the link to Carthusia.
I am a perfume enthusiast, so stopping at this local store made my day. I walked to the store with fellow travelers, Patt and Jim. We started smelling what they had to offer and I wasn’t having much luck. An older Italian lady was sitting in a chair next to the counter; she seemed to be waiting for her daughter to finish her purchase. As I was smelling the perfumes, she seemed to want to give her opinion on what I was spraying. She didn’t speak one lick of English! The coolest part of this story — she ended up picking out the perfume for me. She handed me what she liked, had me try it, smelled my arm, and BOOM; decision made! She was such a cute lady. After I made my purchase and left I asked Patt and Jim if we could go back because I wanted to get my picture taken with the woman that helped me; something to remember her by. She seemed to be excited that I wanted my picture taken with her. She was so cute!
Our time in Capri was too short. On my next visit I’d like to stay overnight there and walk around more. It’s pretty crowded with tourists, but it’s definitely not to be missed. We did not go to the famous Blue Grotto. We had heard that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be and takes time.
Our next adventure put us on a boat from Capri to the Amalfi Coast! This boat was smaller and we were able to get good seats with amazing views of the coastline.
I believe we were on the boat for about 1.5 hours; cruising the Amalfi Coast. The views were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We passed quite a few little towns on the water – Positano and Praiano were the major ones and we docked in Amalfi. We got a sneak preview of Positano, which is where we ended before we set off to Rome.
Once we arrived in Amalfi, our private bus took us to a small village called Ravello. We stayed in a hotel called Villa Fraulo. The scenic views were unreal and the hotel was pretty nice as well. Ravello is known for its association with music. German compser, Richard Wagner, was inspired here to create music for the scene in Klingsor’s magic garden in his oper Parsifal.
For our first day in Ravello, my mom and I decided to skip the hike and explore the village of Ravello. We visited the church, stores, and took in the local views. We also sat by the pool, but it was a tad too cold to get in.
Ravello is known for it’s ceramics. There are quite a few stores to shop at, but apparently this one is THE ONE. We purchased a few items.
In the afternoon we went to lunch at another Agriturismo; a family run trattoria. We had traditional Neopolitan dishes – pizza and tons of veggies. Then, we traced vineyard-laden terraces to the Valley of the Ferriere, a magnificent nature reserve in the Valley of the Mills.
We walked down a trail covered in moss and ferns and our trip leaders showed us calcara, large pits where lime was made by burning huge blocks of limestone for days. We also saw spandituri, or paper-hangers, buildings now in ruins but once used to dry paper. As we reached Amalfi, we stopped at the Museu della Carta, a unjique museum housed in an ancient paper mill, where we learned how paper was made from rags. During the 15th century, Amalfi’s paper was so prized that many foreign authors demanded to be published in Naples just so they could use the coveted material. I honestly could have done without this tour, but some might find it interesting.
We then strolled around Amalfi and visited the Duomo and relaxed with some gelato.
The following day we took our shuttle to Agerola, Italy’s dairy capital, where we gradually descended on foot along a scenic stretch between Biscotto Caves and Nocelle known as the “Path of the Gods” for its heavenly views.
We continued walking to Montepertuso, where, according to legend, the Madonna was challenged by the devil to punch a hole in a towering moutain (pertuso means “hole” in Neapolitan dialect). The views from there were amazing. From Montepertuso, we took a shuttle to our next destination, Positano, built as a nativity scene set on the side of a mountain. We climbed down over 3 Thousand steps to get down to that village! I forget the exact number, but my legs were shaking!
The hotel we stayed at in Positano may have been the best. We stayed at Hotel Palazzo Murat. It was very close to the beach and the scenery surrounding it looked almost fake.
For our last day along the Amalfi Coast, we took our shuttle up 2,000 feet to the town of Santa Maria del Castello, where many hillside trails converge from the sourrounding Lattari Mountains, or as our guides called them “the Milky Mountains.” We walked through a chestnut forest and saw mules working hard carrying the tree trunks down from the forest. On our way to Santa Maria, we stopped in Ticciano to view a private Italian home. The family also makes homemade Limoncello! I made sure to make that purchase! They also had chickens and roosters.
And now for the view from this wonderful spot. I was so nervous standing here because I felt like one wrong step and I’d be a goner!
And then my dad made me pose close to the edge.
At the end of this hike we had a lunch that was prepared by the woman whose house we visited — the lady with the copper pots and roosters. It was AMAZING! We had eggplant parmesan, a potato salad, and a tomato salad. We setup the picnic outside of an old church.
After lunch we headed back down to Positano to enjoy our last evening there.
Sadly, our stay on the Amalfi Coast had to end; we were transported to Rome via private shuttle. I believe the ride was a little over 3 hours. We were on our own in Rome – no guides. This is the kind of travel I’m accustomed to, but once left in Rome we really missed our guides. I enjoyed Rome from a historical viewpoint, but that’s about it. I could’ve stayed in Amalfi the whole time. Enjoy the below pictures of Rome!