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Europe / Italy & Greece

Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Amalfi Coast and Capri

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Positano Sea ViewNo destination in Italy is more famous for its natural beauty and charm than the Amalfi Coast. From Positano’s confetti-colored facades to Capri’s sapphire seas, the region is 360 degrees of perfection.It’s no surprise that the Amalfi Coast has been drawing celebrities and other elite vacationers since the days of Humphrey Bogart and Brigitte Bardot.

However, the area’s richest beauty and most memorable experiences aren’t to be found in the region’s decadent hotels nor its five-star restaurants, but rather among the tapestry of hardworking fishermen, merchants and families who make up the fabric of this Mediterranean idyll.

On the Amalfi coast, living like a local is the best way to experience la dolce vita, and for a fraction of the cost.

Live like a Local: B&Bs and Vacation Apartments

During the height of summer, you can count on guided tours and cruise ship passengers to invade the hotels in popular destinations such as Sorrento, Capri, and Positano, which can result in a less than optimal experience. But only 10 or 20 minutes away from the mayhem you’ll find family-run inns and rental apartments with big-time views and quiet small-town charm.

Skip the hectic center of Sorrento and go straight to Villa Maresca B&B in the Sorrentine suburb of Piano di Sorrento. For €40 per person per night in high season, Maria Maresca and her family will welcome you into their home, which is surrounded by lush citrus orchards and fragrant hydrangeas. Rooms are clean and spacious with big patios for easy al fresco dining.

Maria’s generosity will win you over, as will her homegrown tomatoes, freshly-squeezed lemonade and super-sized homemade breakfasts. A scenic 10-minute walk from Maria’s house, plus a quick bus ride, will land you in the center of Sorrento where you can join the tourist circus in progress.

On the island of Capri you’ll find the highest prices of the entire Amalfi Coast, so it’d be wise for your wallet to avoid accommodations there altogether. Instead, stay among the native Caprese in the community of Anacapri, about 1000 feet above sea level and just a couple of miles from the vastly more touristy town of Capri.

Amalfi sunriseIl Tramonto, meaning “sunset” in Italian, is one of the cheapest B&Bs on the island at a nightly rate of €55 per person in high season. And, as the name suggests, this place boasts major sunset panoramas. Expect proprietor Luciana and her sister to be on call at all times with spontaneous offerings of espresso and helpful information about Capri. Don’t expect to see many other Americans at Il Tramonto. Their website is only in Italian – which is always a good indicator that you’ll have an authentic Italian experience.

For longer stays on the Amalfi Coast, vacation rentals are a good route to take. From self-catering apartments to entire villas, Amalfi Coast Rental has a good selection at competitive prices. A good portion of their accommodations are in the fishing village of Praiano, halfway between Positano and Amalfi and an ideal location for exploring the entire coast. The Idillio Apartment in Praiano can accommodate up to five guests and has two balconies, an upgraded kitchen and sea views to die for. The Saturday-to-Saturday weekly rate during high season is a steal at €650.

Eating Like a Local: Simplicity is Key

Sticking to a culinary budget is essential for a low-cost Amalfitana experience. Restaurants are notoriously over-priced in this region and have been known to charge upwards of €10 for one gelato. High prices mean locals stay away, and tourists move in.

But the locals need to eat too, so how do they chow down? Let’s start with breakfast. It’s often as simple as a croissant, freshly baked and filled with cream or Nutella, and a short but strong Caffè Kimbo espresso.

When lunch rolls around, don’t miss the best daylight hours by dining indoors. Instead pack yourself a picnic and bask in the glorious Amalfi sun.

Start with a foil-wrapped panino with regional Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, mortadella or speck. Fresh fruit is also essential and abundant, especially peaches. They’re gigantic, juicy and unbelievably tasty. Pop a large bottle of sparkling water and your refreshing lunch on-the-go is complete.

Pepperoni pizzaDinner should be devoted to the local delicacies of the Campania region: pizza, and pesce (fish). Octopus, prawns, calamari and clams are plucked from the sea daily and are as good in a light summer salad as they are tossed over linguini.

Pizza is the region’s other big culinary contender, and it’s no surprise why: a couple of hours south of the Amalfi coast is Paestum, the breeding ground for Buffalo Mozzarella, and nearby Napoli is the pizza-making capital of the world. You won’t find New York-style slices, but go ahead and order a whole pie for yourself. The crust is so thin that you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll polish it off.

Family-owned Pizzeria Aumn Aumn in Anacapri is a solid bet at only €5-€7 a pie. And La Ripetta in Piano di Sorrento gets the vote for the best pizza-eating view at a fair price. Request a table on the terrace, go at sunset and keep an eye out for dolphins, which are frequently seen frolicking in the distance.

Insider Tip: Most Italians consume pizza with beer, not wine. For a more authentic experience, you should, too.

While pizza dinners will keep the tab down, another budget saving tip is to stock up on essentials at the weekly food markets. Every town’s got them, and each one is more vibrant than the next.

Everything from freshly-caught fish to assorted varieties of olives to crusty Italian bread can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of eating out. Plus, the raucous vendors and pushy Italian shoppers will give you a taste of true Southern Italian charm.

Getting Around like a Local

Coastal amalfiTransportation along the coast and around Capri is tricky, to say the least. Hairpin turns, death-defying cliffs and narrow roads are fun for adrenaline junkies, but not for your average tourist. Leave car and scooter rentals to experienced drivers and opt for buses.

With any bus ride in Italy there is some off-the-brochure etiquette that’s essential for a smooth ride, but this is especially true on Amalfi Coast buses. Always purchase tickets from tabacchi shops, marked with a big “T.” Pre-purchasing is cheaper and less stressful.

Stamp your ticket in the orange machine before the bus goes into motion, to avoid fines. Always give up your seat to women or older riders. Travel light – avoid bringing large suitcases on small buses. And never look down, unless you enjoy nausea.

For stops between Positano and Praiano, opt for the orange Flavio Gioia urban bus line. It costs less and makes more stops. For longer jaunts, like from Positano to Amalfi, use the larger Sita coach buses. On Capri, there is only one bus line, and it’s orange.

Tanning Like a Local

Amalfi coast sunbathersOne of the best ways to soak up local culture involves little more than grabbing a skimpy bikini, some tanning oil and a bright sunny day. Southern Italians are serious sunbathers and don’t waste their time or money on fancy beach clubs where lounge chairs cost €20-€30 a day. Some of the most picturesque beaches in the area are very cheap, if not free.

Tanning in Positano is easy. There is a large free beach in the heart of the city with calm warm water. In Anacapri, Il Faro beach has a grotto-like swimming hole with wavy surf that’s carved out of jagged rocks. Cliff-jumping is welcome here, and nature hikes around the lighthouse are recommended.

One of the best free beaches on the Amalfi Coast is La Praia in Praiano. The beach is dotted with fishing nets and brightly-colored boats, and the turquoise water is some of the cleanest on the coast. The Flavio Gioia and Sita buses both stop here.

Avoid Amalfi’s city beaches. They attract a large teenage crowd and get very noisy.

With any beach you visit, it’s wise to invest in a thick beach blanket or mat for sunbathing. Sand is hard to come by and these rocky beaches can be a real pain in the butt … literally.

Shopping like a Local

Jewelry windowShopping like a local doesn’t mean maxing out your credit card in fancy boutiques. That’s left up to tourists. Instead, be a savvy shopper, and you’ll get the most out of Amalfi coast shopping.

In Positano, that means scooping up something white, flowy, or linen – or a combination of the three. Marilù specializes in local bohemian fashion and has three locations in Positano with good sales.

Along Via del Duomo in Amalfi, mass-produced trinket shops churn out lemon-flavored goodies, ceramic magnets and “fuggedaboutit” bumper stickers, none of which are worth a second glance.

But off the main drag are a couple of shops that sell hand-made paper goods such as high quality journals, stationery and antique sketches. Definitely worth a browse.

Partying like a Local: Le Discotece

When darkness falls on the Amalfi Coast, it’s the discotece that light the night skies. In Piano di Sorrento, not far from Villa Maresca B&B, is La Lisca, a beach and sporting club by day and disco by night. Its open-air bar and poolside dance floor are oh-so-Italian.

For more al fresco dancing try Blue Mare club in Sorrento. You may need to splurge on a taxi ride to its remote cliff-top location, but the sound of the sea crashing on the shore will be music to your ears. A live Italian band alternates with a house DJ.

The most easily accessible disco is L’Africana at La Praia beach in Praiano. The cavernous club is an oldie but a goody, dating back to the 1960s.

Get there by bus or by complimentary shuttle boat, and if you stay late enough you’ll be right on time for some early morning sunbathing at La Praia!

By Courtney Scott for PeterGreenberg.com. Check out Courtney’s Web site at www.abroadrview.blogspot.com

If you’re traveling to the Amalfi Coast, don’t miss the nearby town of Maratea, Italy.

And if your trip will take you elsewhere in Italy, check out our guides to Venice, Rome, Florence and Parma.

For more destination ideas, check out the rest of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide series:


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