“Can you pull over here?”
Two minutes later, “Stop up ahead.”
Not long after that, camera at the ready, “Try to drive really slowly through this town.”
Later that evening on a different road, “Mom look at that, it’s so beautif – you can’t look, eyes on the road!”
I’m not proud of it, but for a lot of scaredy cat reasons I haven’t driven since we moved here. Leaving my husband as the driver, and me with navigation and photography duties. This arrangement usually works pretty well on most trips, but this wasn’t just any trip. We were approaching Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, a place where the views were so beautiful they shouldn’t exist in real life. Turning me from pleasant road companion into director of cinematography. But my mania was justified. This is a place where mountain cliffs rise out of a shimmering teal water, lemon groves and flowers scale the landscape, and fruit tinted houses are precariously perched on mountain ledges.
My mother and I had just gotten back from our little Paris trip a few nights earlier and used the following day to relax around the neighborhood and run errands. After a quick look at a beautiful weekend forecast and news of a city wide protest over something or rather, the three of us decided to ditch town and drive south to the Amalfi for the weekend. We tried to book something in Positano but quickly found that it was for the most part booked and what was available was overpriced and unpleasant looking. We ended up booking Hotel Delfino in the small adorable town of Massa Lubrense.
Unlike most hotels that hug the highway, this one meanders away from the road so the only sounds are birds and waves. Though the rooms could use a little updating, you don’t come here for the decor, you book this hotel for the view. This is why you come to the Amalfi Coast.
Pay the extra euros for the sea view, it’s worth it.
May was a chilly month, and so we were excited for the forecasted seventy degree weather. But the ocean breeze was so cold I had to put a scarf on, a jacket would have been nice too. That didn’t stop us from lounging in the chases all bundled up in front of the view like vacationing snowmen. We sipped wine and studied the cliffs and island of Capri, which was right in front of us. This lasted for a few glorious hours.
Eventually we had to eat, and though the hotel restaurant looked nice, they also required formal attire, which wasn’t happening, so we made plans to go see Positano after all and stay for dinner.
I have been told that a drive along the Amalfi coast takes courage. Both for the driver and the passenger. As a passenger I have experienced far scarier roads, like Independence Pass in Colorado, I actually screamed on that drive and I don’t scream except when I think I’m about to die. I didn’t scream on this drive, but I could see how some people might, especially if they were taking it by bus which would feel much more precarious. The way it was described I expected sheer cliff drops, no rails, and bodies of less cautious drivers floating in the ocean. But there was some distance between the road and the cliff edge, and there was always either a short wall or guardrail, so overall I felt safe. From a driving perspective my husband/driver found it to be a fun challenge. Fair warning though, the road follows the jagged edge of the coast so it can be a bit of stomach turner. But who cares about a few cramps when you have views like these.
Positano looks very different when seeing it from the top. The town is actually wider than it appears on photos, and the top part is much more modern than the charming Positano you see on tv. If it wasn’t for the signs we would have questioned if we were there yet. From the main highway you exit onto a one way road that zig-zags back and forth lower and lower. Parking is towards the top of the town, so don’t expect to find any near the beach. We lucked out and found street parking about three tiers down. During peak season, I would imagine parking to be near impossible and I would stress making sure you reserve a hotel with parking and make sure they know you are coming with a car.
On our walk down to the city center, we found ourselves quietly disappointed. The first stretch of our walk was made of touristy shops, business fronts for guided tours, and restaurants that sat right on the main road with cars passing close enough to touch from your table. We didn’t fray our nerves on the highway just to dine in a place that had all the charm of a parking lot so we pressed on. Thankfully, further down, Positano suddenly regained it’s reputation.
This was the Positano everyone wouldn’t shut up about, and it was spectacular. The whole town is structured like a hanging garden with flowering vines cascading down sun bleached buildings. We considered walking all the way down to the beach, which still wasn’t close, but we came across a terrace at a restaurant called Il Capitano that was too good to pass up.
This was why we drove to Positano. There aren’t many places in the world where you have dinner with a view like this.
We ate sea food and drank good wine while we watched the town light up and dusk turn into night.
Half of the next day was spent laying out and worshipping the view again until check-out. All vacations should allow time for nothing except looking at something pretty while sitting still. We debated spending the afternoon in Sorrento or another small town, but in the end we decided to be cultured and see Herculaneum.
Herculaneum is an excavation of a Roman town that was destroyed during the same volcano blast that buried Pompeii. My mother and I had seen Pompeii before, and it’s something everyone should see, but it’s huge and needs at least a day. Herculaneum is way more manageable as a side trip, but getting there isn’t that easy since it’s buried within a questionable neighborhood in Naples (or maybe all neighborhoods in Naples look like this, I haven’t found a nice one yet.) There are also few signs unless you are right next to it. So if you don’t have complete confidence in your GPS or map reading, you definitely need to join a tour or else you may never find it. There is also a parking garage onsite, I do not recommend parking on the street.
We thought we would have lunch when we got there because it’s Naples and despite its faults, the food is legendary. But once we got there we only found a pizza place that was next to the parking lot. It didn’t look like much so we kept our hopes in check and prepared to be ripped off.
Then I felt like a jerk, because the opposite happened, we had the best pizza we have had in Italy so far, for a very reasonable price.
My first reaction should have been joy, but instead it was annoyance. Why couldn’t we get pizza like this in our neighborhood. Rome, I love you, but your precious pizza rustica sucks. I’ve tried to get a taste for Roman pizza, but this shack in nowhere Naples was so much better than any pizza I’ve had since we moved here. I just don’t understand how the Romans, who are only two hours north of Naples, can have such a thin and bland pizza when they are clearly aware that it can be made better, and stubbornly argue that their version is an improvement. Come to Naples to eat pizza.
Finally, we made it to Herculaneum, and descended into the site, which is now below ground level. Walking the streets of something like this is always surreal. You’re walking on cobbled streets and ducking under doorways that were part of an ancient Roman’s life two thousand years ago. You see the tiles they stepped on and the artwork they commissioned, the tables they worked at, and the atriums where they greeted their guests.
At the same time, it’s easy to view these places as a bunch of roofless stone rooms that look nearly identical. But I’ve found to appreciate ruins, you can’t just look at what they are now, but appreciate what they witnessed and the miracle that they still exist to tell the story of those who lived in and built them.
It was a hot day, especially in the ruins because they were too low to catch the breeze from the bay. We were ready to leave when we found out the site museum was closed, so we ended our trip there and loaded back into the car to head back home. This time I tucked away my camera and reverted to my role as laid back navigator.
This is not our last trip to the Amalfi, but possibly our last trip until the tourist season dies down a little. (We’re lazy bookers and the good places are either gone or over-priced last minute.) If you get the chance never turn down an opportunity to see this area, even if it’s only for a short time. Our trip was only a day and half and look at all we got to see.