Rome, Capri and Amalfi Coast Adventure (Long!)

Blog Post created by msannmcd on Jun 4, 2018

My husband and I had been planning this vacation with 2 other couples for 10 months. We did a lot of advance planning and investigation prior to the trip. One couple is retired and goes to Europe for extended travel every other year. The other couple were sort of typical American tourists that probably would have done well on an organized tour hitting all the requisite sights. My husband had never been to Europe but is half Italian so this was a sort of homecoming trip for him and I wanted to go back to where I had been over 30 years ago while in the service.  So there were different interests but by having planning meetings in advance we were able to work out who was doing what when and with whom. We purchased tours in advance and ordered transport in advance which made for a pretty seamless experience. I was actually shocked that everything went as planned! Not a single hiccup.


We all too the Alitalia redeye from Boston. Prebooked NCC for a van pickup and Riccardo was waiting for us, as informed by email the day before we left. We spent the first 3 nights at the Gran Flora on points. We got a room on the first floor over the hotel awning. No upgrade. I was concerned about traffic noise at first but it really wasn’t a problem. We got into our room early and were able to change and then walk the 10 minutes over to our friends hotel, Modigliani, which was closer to the Piazza Barberini. Then we were off. We hit Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Victor Emmanuel Monument,  including the roof deck (worth the 10 euro), the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona which literally brought tears to my eyes. It’s a magical place.  By now we’d worked up an appetite and looked at the menus on the piazza and found them high priced and uninspired. We walked out and found a great little spot – La Piccola Cuccagna – and it was delicious and well priced.


The next 2 days we spent with the American Tourists by day doing the Vatican and St Peters one day and the Colosseum and Forum the next day on pre-booked tours. I had been there before many years ago and was a little shocked at just how overrun with tourists it had become. That said, I finally got to see the Sistine after it’s restoration so it was worth battling the hords and masses to get to it. After the Vatican we walked over to Trestaver to meet our friends who had been at the Jewish Synogogue and Trestavere. On a recommendation we found our way to Villa Della Scala and found a little place for apertivo – 5 euro for a drink and a plate of prosciutto, cheese and tomatoes. Afterwords, we meandered around a bit more before our dinner reservation at Spirito De Vino. This was more of a fine dining event but a family run operation with Mama cooking in the kitchen and father and son running the dining room. Food was excellent but my favorite part was the wine cellar where when you got to the bottom the walls were older than the colosseum.

Speaking of the Colosseum we had booked the underground tour and it was well worth it. Skip the line alone made it advisable but having some shade was even more important. Plus you get to see the underworkings of the place and how they got gladiators and livestock in and out. Our tour guide was an archeological student and had some interesting information. Somehow we had to do the Forum tour first and while the guide was very good I was disappointed not to get up the Palantine Hill, to the actual sight of Julius Cesar’s cremation or the inside of the Senate. But as my husband said you can’t do everything.


That night we met up and went to a great little restaurant  off Piazza Barberini called Il Giardini di Albino that our friends had been to at their last stay in Rome. Great antipasti with roasted vegetables that were to die for. My husband had the rabbit and I had the branzino and it was economical and delicious. We drank house wine pretty much everywhere and it was great.


The next day our friends left on a 7:30 train to Naples to do Pompeii and then pizza in Naples before the ferry over to Capri. We opted for a more leisurely day and started with an hour stroll through Borghese Gardens. Lots of people out running or walking their dogs. There was the Piazza di Siena horse show being held there which made for some road closures but interesting viewing. After we finally got to fully enjoy the breakfast buffet out on the terrace of the Gran Flora. The views there rivaled the ones from the top of the Victor Emmanuel.  Food was top notch.


We checked out on time and headed to the Termini and caught our pre purchased 11:53 AM train to Naples. It was pretty quiet in our car. An hour later we were in Naples and caught a taxi to Molo Beverelo where we easily purchased 2 tickets for the 2 PM ferry. Don’t forget to purchase tickets for your luggage as well! It was an easy crossing and we took a right off the end of the crowded pier at Marina Grande and headed up the hill to the meeting point for our hotels shuttle. We stayed at Capri Wine Hotel run by Raffaele and Elena Coppola. It’s a delightful place! Great views over Marina Grande but an awesome garden with fruit trees and vegetable patches. We meandered up to the Capri Garden for a limoncello spritz and some fried eggplant meatballs that were excellent. Capri has a network of walking paths that can be confusing but we were off Lo Palazzo and we had a couple different ways to get there off the main road. Truly the worst part was walking the 100 yards or so on the road because it was narrow and traffic was always busy. But I would stay there again! Great breakfast buffet served in an outdoor patio with eggs made to order.


That night we went to the Piazetta under the clocktower for Apertivo. It was fun until the clocktower went a little crazy and no conversation could be held. Then we meandered down to the Ristorante Verginiello without a reservation and did manage to get a table for 6. We had an exceptional meal. I ordered the grilled squid which was a bit chewy but had excellent flavor. The Caprese salad did not disappoint. Now we are drinking the Campania region wines – Falanghina for white and Aglianico for red and both were great.


We had one full day on Capri and diverging interests. They were focused on the blue grotto and heard mornings were better so the 4 of them booked a 9:30 boat for the 3 hour island tour that included an hour stop at the blue grotto. We opted to hike to Villa Jovis in the morning and do a 2 hour boat tour in the afternoon skipping the blue grotto. Seeing Capri from above and below was awesome. You do need to be in decent shape to hike the vertical up though. There were restrooms at the Villa Jovis ticket area and it was 8 euro to do a self guided tour of the palace where Tiberious spent the last 10 years of his rule. As for the boats, it was 160/170 euro for 2 hours.


We heard the sunsets at Lido del Faro restaurant down by the El Faro lighthouse were great and we booked dinner before our trip. It was a gorgeous place – beach club by day with a couple separate tiki bars and this one formal restaurant. The sunset was nice even though clouds had formed but made for an enjoyable dinner companion. Food was very good as was the wine. Are you seeing a theme here?


We had all packed and checked out of our respective accomodations before meeting under the clocktower for some window shopping and a walk down to the Gardens of Augustus. Our hotels let us leave our luggage until our departures. Walking the high end shops and seeing photo’s of celebrities who had been there was fun. The gardens of Augustus though were really gorgeous and the views of the faraglioni were spectacular. Sadly the Via Krupp was closed due to falling rocks. Great photo spot though!


We went back to Verginiello for lunch as it was off the beaten path and delicious. We sat by the windows with excellent water views and had eggplant, antipasto with buffalo mozzarella, and fried calamari and zucchini. More wine! This made for an easy crossing by ferry to Positano. Again, we just bought our tickets at the pier and boarded the 3:00 PM ferry.

Positano. What can I say. It really is a beautiful spot. Words and photo’s don’t do it justice. We used the porter service off the dock and paid 10 euro a bag to have it delivered to our hotel, Albergo California, and tipped to make sure they didn’t take a header on the way. We walked up (get used to it!) and were there in 10 minutes time. The bags showed up not 5 minutes later. We had 3 rooms in the new wing. Ours was on the end of the first floor with a double balcony. Theirs was on the second floor and one couple got the Marcello balcony from the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. Clean large rooms. Family run. Maria the daughter showed me the room where the Marcello and Frances scene was filmed as well. Funniest thing was one night after we had returned from dinner to hear some girls pulling their luggage up the street and yelling “Marcello!”. Good for a laugh.


We had made reservations at Da Vincenzo that night. Now here is where our lack of knowledge hurt us a little. We walked down to the beach to go up to the hotel. Big mistake! The road that wound around was the better option. We literally hiked up over 200 stairs and 3 different staircases. At least the restaurant was worth it. Delicious and delightful. More wine please!


The next day all 6 of us took a car booked by the hotel (Positano Taxi I believe) up to Ravello where the plan was to hike down to Atrani and then walk to Amalfi. Ravello was gorgeous and not quite as overrun with people as the Capri and Positano. Gorgeous views and pretty piazza with the church as it’s focal point. We walked 10 minutes to the information center to get the map and learn how to find our way down. There were 2 villas that both cost 8 euro to tour. We opted for the Villa Cimbrone and what a great place. Gorgeous gardens and views. We spent a good hour there before we embarked on the 1400 stairs down to Atrani. We took our time but by the end our legs were jello. That said, I’m glad we did it! Then we at a well deserved lunch of pannini’s, salad and beer at the Umberto Piazza. It was an easy 10 minute walk to Amalfi where some shopped while others ordered limincello spritz while waiting for the ferry back to Positano.

That night we found our way to the local delicatessen and purchased eggplant and prosciutto sandwiches and a few bottles of wine. All 6 of us dined on our balcony and enjoyed the stellar view that I just never got sick of. The next day our paths diverged. The other 4 did a beach day at Adolfo Beach Club that you get to by water taxi. Thanks to @profchiara we had booked Guermar Tours car service to take us to Pompeii and a winery. The night before Guilio emailed that Daniele would be our driver. When he met us he took us to the railing and pointed out the island we had been viewing. It’s called Li Galli island. He told us the story of the sirens causing sailors to crash upon her rocks and that Nureyev had lived there and built the 2 villas. It is now owned by a rich Sorrentine names Johnny Russo who rents them out for 50K a weekend and 95K a week. Great start to our day!


We had been offered a private guided 2 hour tour for 130 euro but opted to self guide. I had watched the online you tube videos and knew what I wanted to see. Also, I head about our friends tour and this reinforced my desire to go where we primarily wanted which was the Villa dei Misteri. It was a little over an hour drive to the Porto main gate. We bought our tickets for 15 euro each. We went in around 9:30 AM and the forum area was not too overrun yet. We found the road to take us down to the Villa after looking at the artifacts in the forum. The Villa dei Misteri was a hike but so worth it. The colors on the walls were amazing. It had one room with black walls and gold that was pretty impressive. The walk back was pretty as well. I had hoped to get over to the amphitheater but the crowds had built causing it to be a bit frenetic. We found the Cave Canem (beware of the dog) but skipped the long queues at lupanar (brothel) and instead found a pretty empty bascillica that is the only 2 story structure still standing in Pompeii. We went out through the visitor bookstore and saw some other artifacts and skulls on display. It was a fast 2 ½ hours! But I was happy to be leaving to head to a winery for tastings and a lunch.


Our driver Daniele had suggested a winery in Pompeii and then a stop at an olive oil manufacturer instead of spending 45 minutes driving to the Sorrentino Vineyard on Vesuvius. We took his recommendation and ended up at Bosco de’Medici winery. They do have more vinyards on Vesuvius but this location was lovely. The tasting menus were at 30, 60 and 90 euro. The 30 euro was all we needed and was delicious (antipasto, pasta and desert). The 5 wines were great. A spumante, 2 whites and 2 reds. I finally tasted the Lacryma Christi, or tears of Christ, red wine and it didn’t disappoint. We also go some limincello that they make there with our dessert. Delicious! Next we headed to the agricultural hills of Sorrento to Frantoio Gargiulio Olive Oil where they’ve been making olive oil since 1849. We toured the building where they used to make the olive oil before they modernized. It was interesting and informative. Plus I saw the biggest ever rosemary plant! They grow bamboo for hitting the trees to get the olives down without damaging the tree. They have 24 hours after the olives come down to press them. They work round the cloud during the season. Then we hit the tasting rooms. Their olive oil is distinct because the intermingle the lemon and orange trees in the groves. We purchased our fair share plus a little limoncello. The ride back to Positano was beautiful and Daniele told us how the Amalfi coastal road took 12 years to build and was started in 1768. It is gorgeous with amazing views.

We met up with our friends and did the last night all 6 of us were together at Buca di Bacco on the Spiagga Grande beach.  I had been hoping to try the squid ink pasta. It was not on the menu but the waiter checked and the kitchen had the ink sac and cuttlefish to make it for me. Several had the pasta di Mari and we shared eggplant and grilled octopus to start. Very good all around! After we ventured into Franco’s for a nightcap next to the hotel Sireneuse. Delightful way to end the day under the full moon.


The next day one couple headed up to Florence. The four of us took the ferry to Sorrento and explored the markets. I had great memories of visiting here in the 80s and purchasing inlaid wood. We found the shops and markets here much more reasonable in price than in the other towns on the Amalfi coast. We again went to the information office and got maps and hit a few churches. On a recommendation we went to Tavern Allegra for lunch and it did not disappoint. We ate a fried seafood platter to share and then we ate eggplant pizza. The ferry back was nice as we skirted Li Galli Island and we got to see the villas up close.


Our vacation was rapidly coming to a close. We packed in the late afternoon and then spent time on the balcony enjoying the view. We picked up a few things at the deli and a bottle of Lacryma Christi and had a low key last night. We were up and checked out by 7:30 and the 4 of us were on our way to the Naples airport, again by Guermar who gave us Rafaele as a driver. Our friends were renting a car and heading to Matera and then Puglia before flying to Corfu and finally Athens. We dropped them first and then went to the terminal. We had sky priority tickets but still stood in line for 27 minutes to do the bag drop! Also, our return flight from Rome had a plane change and we lost our premium economy seats (the A300 didn’t have that service) but we got the exit row seats 32 A and C and it was a big help. The flight to Rome was full and we both had second row aisle seats. It’s only a 40 minute flight. Our bags were checked all the way through to Boston but we had to go through passport control before getting to our terminal. We had lunch in the airport and then it was time to board the plane home.


We did download the Mobil Pass app to my phone and while on the tarmac at Logan I filled out the forms and received approvals. When we walked into the terminal there were lines for the Global Pass Kiosks and a HUGE line for everyone else. We walked right into the Mobil Pass line and were out in less than 5 minutes. We got through faster than Global Entry folks! Highly recommended.


Waiting for luggage was the longest part. We then went out and met our ride home. I was very happy to be sleeping in my own bed again. The Gran Flora had the most comfortable bed the others I found rather too hard.


Overall, a great vacation. If you decide to go, I recommend trying to learn a little Italian. It helped as we would ask our waiters name and where they were from and mostly they appreciated it. Anyway, I’ll do my best to post pictures later. If there’s something you’d like to see just ask and I’ll do my best to provide them. Ciao!