Memories of Amalfi

When the time came for our first wedding anniversary, we wanted to celebrate it by going away somewhere special and exotic for a week ! We looked at the options of the Caribbean, South-East Asia and Greece, but everything was very expensive.

By stroke of luck, the BA Sale was on whilst we were doing our research so we managed to book a week off in the Amalfi coast– which is well known for being one of the most romantic places in the world.

Our flight from London to Naples was fairly uneventful. But it was the long and arduous journey from Naples to Amalfi which was something we had not factored in. We decided to use public transport (good for budget, not good for comfort) and took a bus from Naples to Salerno and then transferred to another bus to Amalfi. However, due to the irregular frequency, the entire journey took us almost three hours to get from airport to our hotel, which was a bit of a waste of a day.

Train options are also there and perhaps faster, but I would recommend if you are willing to splash out some cash, then most hotels would be happy to organise a taxi service for about 120 euros per person each way. It is expensive but if money is not an issue then this is a much better and recommended way to reach Amalfi.

Tip #1: Another very important thing to factor in is that the roads in Amalfi are treacherous mountain roads- narrow with hairpin bends at frequent intervals. Traffic often comes to a standstill at narrow junctions and drivers brake suddenly. If you, like me, happen to suffer from motion sickness, then please don’t forget to take your travel sickness pills with you. The road trips can be stomach churning-ly twisty which I learnt the hard way during my stay here.

Our hotel of choice was the Hotel Marina Riviera. This is a sister hotel to Santa Caterina which is one of the top hotels in Amalfi. The TripAdvisor reviews for Marina Riviera were excellent and I must say, they are absolutely true. We had a fantastic stay overall. The staff were just lovely, the interiors exquisitely designed and the breakfast buffet bar was sumptuous, with a good range of local food as well as continental choices.

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Interiors of Marina Riviera

From the moment we checked in, staff at the Marina Riviera were very friendly; special mention to Lucia (one of the hotel managers) who helped us with all the daily restaurant reservations and tours during our stay in the hotel.

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Lazy evenings at the Marina Riviera terrace

It was also the little details that made it quite a memorable stay for us – the daily turn down service with delicious amaretti biscuits left in our rooms each night, the lovely complimentary snacks with our evening cocktails, the little notes left in the room informing us of the next day temperatures so we could plan our day and genuine overall care from the staff.

To top it all, upon arrival we also got upgraded to a Deluxe Room (which comes with a balcony and sea views) and a complimentary bottle of prosecco. We were both quite exhausted from our journey so this was hugely appreciated.

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Lunch at our balcony

We decided to rest and order room service to go with our prosecco! Husband and I ordered the Linguine al Pesto (linguine pasta with pesto) and Tagliolini al limone(creamy lemon sauce spaghetti). The freshly cooked pasta was delicious, the weather was gently warming up, the prosecco was relaxing us; it was the perfect start to a holiday!

DAY ONE EVENING

For our first evening, we decided to walk around the Amalfi old town area to get our bearings. First stop was Duomo di Amalfi or Amalfi Cathedral. It was closed when we arrived so we had a casual stroll in the market and square instead, slowly taking the sights and smells in. I would highly recommend visiting the Cathedral when in Amalfi.

First of many stops was the local gelateria, followed by glasses of crisp and fresh prosecco Valdo at the local café bar.

For dinner, we decided to stay close by. On our first evening we went to Ristorante Silver Moon. Judging by its location in the main area of Amalfi , we thought it would be a tourist trap, with bad food and exorbitant prices. However the food turned out to be unexpectedly delicious!

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View from Stella Maris

Husband ordered a margherita pizza as a nod to the start of his Italian gastro adventure. It was simple, delicious and perfectly executed  washed down with copious amounts of the local white wine (Amalfi produces lemons so many wines are sourced from neighbouring town Ravello).

I ordered the omelette as I wasn’t feeling quite as adventurous. Nevertheless it was delicious and paired well with the wine. The restaurant staff were extremely friendly and funny, and it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance to go back as I would highly recommend this place.

As our first evening in Amalfi drew to a close, I looked forward to my next seven days in this gorgeous area.

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Our first evening in Amalfi

Amalfi coast comprises of a series of little coastal towns and communes starting from Salerno, Vietri sul Mare (first one on the Lattari mountains), Cetara (lovely fishing village), Maiori, Minori, Atrani, Amalfi, Praiano, Positano and Sorrento. Ravello is also a lovely village, not on the sea coast but higher up in the mountains and offers great views of the entire coastline.

For the course of our trip, we stayed in the village of Amalfi itself and decided to explore a couple of nearby towns.

Amalfi was an important 11th Century maritime republic, and today besides being a top romantic destination,  is also famous for its production of lemons. Every now and then you can glance up to the houses on the hills and spot the lemon terraces.

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Lemon plant

(We originally thought of visiting Capri as part of the trip, but we fell in love with Amalfi so much that decided that Capri will have to be another time & another trip so we could give Amalfi our full time, love and attention).

DAY TWO

Our first full day began with a delicious breakfast at the hotel terrace followed by a lazy lounge by the pool. The temperatures were soaring north of 22 degrees so it would have been criminal not to.

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Breakfast with a view
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Wish every breakfast was like this- Ham omelette, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, salami and local bread!

Refreshed from our lazy morning, we walked through the main Piazza to have a good look at local produce , people watching and a spot of shopping before ending up in a lovely restaurant for some beers in the sun – Ristorante Lo Smeraldino. Their pizzas looked like they knew what they were doing and they had a gorgeous terrace with views out. Lunch is definitely recommended here!

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View from Lo Smeraldino

Back in the hotel, we spent a few more hours lounging by the pool followed by cocktails by the Hotel’s poolside bar.

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Hotel pool at Marina Riviera
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Limóncello and Aperol Spritz

It was our first and only Saturday night in Amalfi so we decided to be prudent and book in advance. Our hotel manager (Lucia to the rescue, again!) helped us get a last minute reservation at the always heavily booked up Ristorante Marina Grande– voted the number two restaurant in Amalfi as per Tripadvisor.

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Entrance to Marina Grande

For our meal, I ordered the seared scallops, sweet peppers, pancetta with fried mozzarella bread as a starter. Portions were small and were wolfed down immediately. Husband ordered the slow cooked cod fish with sweet peas and red onion.

For our mains, Husband went for the risotto with clams while mine was a version of the famous seafood spaghetti alle vongole with broccoli.

Tip #2- When ordering in restaurants in Amalfi, if you are not very hungry, always order the secondi piatti (second course) on its own or combine the antipasti with primi piatti (first course). If you are very hungry, then only go for the primi and secondi together as the portions are larger than the antipasti and you can get full quite quickly. The secondi courses are generally a restaurant’s signature dish where they get to display their culinary skills, whilst most primi dishes are classic pizzas and pastas like Paccheri (local pasta) . Most of the time, you will get to see different versions of the same dish in different restaurants.

DAY THREE – POSITANO

Today we decided to visit Positano – renowned for being a honeymooners’ paradise! Unfortunately the weather did not play ball so my pictures do not do justice to how beautiful and photogenic this place is, but more information and inspiration can be found here.

We spent the afternoon navigating the various steps and levels within the main town (compared to Positano, Amalfi is a lot flatter to get around!)

Lunch was at Casa e Bottega (voted the number one restaurant in Positano as per TripAdvisor). It is not part of the main square which probably helps because it does not feel overwhelmed with tourists (the likes of us!). It’s a quirky little joint, designed somewhere between an interior design shop and an health food café. I really liked their fresh, clean and contemporary look inside – in shades of white and green which was unlike any traditional Italian restaurant or café I had seen so far.

For lunch, I chose the spinach, spelt and chickpea soup with mozzarella which was gluten free, absolutely tasty and wholesome!

Positano is definitely the most picturesque of the all the towns in Amalfi and is a fashion mecca known for its linen products as well as colourful ceramic pottery.

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Colourful ceramics on the streets of Positano

Dinner that night was back at Amalfi, at a lovely restaurant called Stella Maris. Though not as highly rated on TripAdvisor, I found their food exceptionally lovely, which goes to show you cannot always judge a restaurant by its popularity ratings. Sometimes you have to take a risk and find out for yourself. Fortunately, our risk paid off and I had the most amazing Trofie pasta with zucchini and shrimps which was extra comforting with a glass of light-bodied Chianti on its side.

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Trofie with zucchini and shrimps

Husband had the Spaghetti alle Vongole which was not only stunning on a plate, but tasted delicious!.

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DAY FOUR – RAVELLO

We decide to swap the coastal towns for the picturesque Ravello, based on a friend’s recommendation. It is a 20 minute bus ride from Amalfi, but located higher up on the mountains which affords itself glorious views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Amalfi coast. It is called the Pearl of Amalfi and hosts a music festival every year.

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Streets of Ravello

Unfortunately for us, it was a grey and cold day much to our dismay. So to lift our sprits we stopped at Mimi Pizzeria for a pizza and a glass of wine , hoping that the weather would improve.

At Ravello, we decided to explore the famous Villa Cimbrone. It’s a splendid villa with acres of luscious green spaces, fountains, sculptures and follies. If you have time at hand, please do stop by and take a moment to appreciate the breath-taking views from its open terraces or grab a drink at the café bar. Below are some of the my photos from the villa to give you a glimpse.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring Ravello and finding little gems like this cozy wine bar called Enotavola Palazzo della Mara, a unique wine bar and restaurant space under arches and full of vintage furniture. Highly recommended!

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We stayed for a couple of rounds whilst the heavens decided to open the floodgates!

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Shop selling hats in Ravello

Ravello is fast becoming a destination in its own right and enjoys some really luxurious hotels and restaurant options for the elite.

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Hotel Villa Cimbrone

Back in Amalfi for the evening, dinner was a last minute choice at L’abside. It’s another highly rated restaurant in Amalfi .Unfortunately our spirits were dampened (literally) with the all day wet weather so we didn’t enjoy our dinner that evening. No particular fault of the restaurant, but that evening was definitely a low point for us.

DAY FIVE – POMPEII

Pompeii has long occupied a special place in my heart ever since I studied about volcanoes in school and learned about the tragedy itself.

It is one of the most important archaeological sites ever and gives us a fascinating and detailed insight into ancient Roman life. It is still an active volcano even though the last eruption was in 1944. There are currently 2000 inhabitants in Pompeii spread over sixty hectares (equivalent to the size of 60 football fields). It was conquered by the Greeks in 600 BC and then the Romans arrived. The famous eruption that we know from history was in 24th August 79AD so about two thousand years ago.

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(A bit of background on Pompeii…)

Pompeii was traditionally a very important commercial town, important in the region for trading. In those times they also produced a lot of olive oil, wine and the ancient fermented fish juice called garum. Romans disliked rubbish and would tend to re-use everything. They used to eat a lot of fish and store all the leftovers in containers. It sounds disgusting but even nowadays a version of this is used for flavouring pasta dishes and is known to be the predecessor of Colatura di Alici (anchovy juice!). The wines are also well known in this region due to the volcanic nature of the soil which makes it rich in minerals and imparts its distinct flavour.

Pompeii is a huge site and it’s hard to cover it all in one go. Also, a lot of these sites are under restoration and maintenance so not accessible to public, but you can still cover a decent stretch by foot which includes houses, the forum, gymnasiums, laundry and brothels! I would recommend wearing comfy shoes!

A similar site is Herculaneum which was also destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But while residents of Pompeii died of the ash and acid rain, Herculaneum residents died of the molten lava. While in Naples, you can get combined reduced price tickets to visit both sites. It is indeed fascinating and tragic at the same time.  For many centuries Herculaneum remained uncovered and was thought that the residents had fled the scene, but an excavation carried out in 1982 uncovered 300 corpses near the pier. Story has it that these people were trying to escape via the sea but the boats couldn’t move fast enough against the wind. Thousands died that day.

Pompeii was discovered buried under ten metres of ash. The Roman Emperor sent experts to evaluate the damage the day after the eruption. They reported that everything was destroyed and nothing was left and Pompeii was forgotten by history for many years .

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Mount Vesuvius

Our  next few hours were spent exploring the archaeological sites of Pompeii. It was quite astonishing to see the level of detail that Romans went into the architecture and urban planning of the city. Some of those ideas are still used in the modern day city.

By afternoon, we were back from Pompeii to Amalfi. We only booked a half day tour through Sunland Tours.  You do have the option of combining Pompeii with a hike to Mount Vesuvius for a full day tour but we decided to skip that.

Lunch was an Amalfi street food specialily- Cuoppo D’ Amalfi which is a local delicacy of fried fish, shrimps, calamari and squid rings in a brown paper cone. Absolutely heavenly, cheap as chips and very filling plus freshly made! Definitely worth a try if you are a fish and seafood lover like me!

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Fried fish in a cone!

The dinner venue that evening was Da Gemma. I have been looking forward to this one  a lot as I had read some really good reviews of the place. As usual, we booked in advance and they gave us a nice table outside overlooking the main Piazza del Duomo.

Tip #3 – A key thing to note here is that restaurants in Amalfi tend to be closed on Tuesdays so best to factor that in when planning your itinerary.

Having learnt from the previous food experiences in Amalfi,  we decided to go do the Primi and Secondi options.

For my Primi course,  I chose the Scialatielli pasta with clams, peas, small onions and baked tomatoes (which was removed for me as I don’t like cooked tomatoes).

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Scialatielli pasta with clams, peas and onions

Husband had the Mezzi Paccheri del pastificio “Vicedomini” alla Genovese di Nonna Gemma- which is basically large tube shaped local pasta (Paccheri) with Genovese Sauce (an onion and meat sauce braised  very slowly for several hours. Nonna Gemma’s famous dish)

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Local dish made with Paccheri

For our Secondi, we both had lamb cooked two ways with paired nicely with another lovely local red wine from Ravello .We had read glorious reviews for the lamb and it did not disappoint. It was perhaps one of the top two lamb dishes I have ever tried in my life and I will give credit to the Da Gemma chefs.

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Lamb cooked three ways

Overall our dinner at Da Gemma was one of the best we had at Amalfi to date and I would highly recommend this place for anyone staying or doing a brief stopover.

DAY SIX AND SEVEN

We walked to the neighbouring town of Atrani.

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Postcard view of Atrani

The sun was shining brightly and the weather was perfect to casually explore the main square and church of this town.

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Atrani

We enjoyed the last stretch of our holiday mainly relaxing, but I wish to mention two exceptional restaurants we tried for the evenings that is worth checking out when you are next here.

HOTEL LUNA CONVENTO TORRE SARACENA

My husband and I had a fantastic meal here. Not only was the food fresh and staff amazing and friendly (special mention to Gabriele who looked after us all evening and was extremely gracious and attentive ) but the views were breath-taking. It was truly one of the most romantic restaurants  I have ever been to. They should be more highly rated amongst restaurants of Amalfi. A true gem of a place!

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Ristorante Torre Saracena

I had the Turban Seabass and grilled prawns while Husband has the Amberjack fillets with capers, olives and potatoes.

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Turban seabass and prawns
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Amberjack fillets

To me, it was one of the most romantic restaurants I have been to simply as it is an open air fort tower cantilevered over the sea. For a similar experience, I recommend the highly rated Ristorante Torre Normanna, though we didn’t get a chance to visit this time.

EOLO

For our last meal in Amalfi, we went to the hotel’s own restaurant – Eolo.

Voted number three from all restaurants in Amalfi on Trip Advisor, we were fortunate to get a further 10% discount due to being guests of Hotel Marina Riviera. The restaurant Eolo is just two seconds away from the hotel.

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Dinner with a view

We dined on some gorgeous seafood risotto followed by mixed fried seafood platter and cod.

It’s quite a small restaurant- only 12 covers so we were glad they gave us a prime spot  by the balcony with gorgeous views of the Amalfi coast.

It was a magical night and an emotional one, as we were leaving Amalfi the next day. It was a truly befitting end to an amazing holiday.

Musings

Amalfi has been an eye opener, not only because of the views but it really takes you away from the everyday monotony of daily life into something that is so beautiful and special that your heart cries. Watching the landscape of the entire coast really made me thank the universe for creating  such a stunning place. I hope we can return soon!

 

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