Travel Guide for Positano

I could move here. Like, pack up my things tomorrow and move here. Positano is my dream town: gorgeous weather, near the ocean, laid back atmosphere, INCREDIBLE food, interesting people, and THAT VIEW!!! The cliffside town of Positano is what inspired our trip to Italy in the first place. I saw a picture of all of the colorful buildings scaling the cliffs, and I knew I had to see it for myself. Could a place that perfect really exist? Yes, yes it does.

Getting to Positano

Do this carefully… very carefully. There’s only one road in and out of Positano and it’s dangerously winding and narrow. It reminded me a lot of when we drove the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur a few summers ago. The road is set high up on the cliffs so the views of the ocean are stunning. I can absolutely say that you need to hire a driver to get here. I can’t imagine having to navigate that tiny, crowded highway for myself. Combine the tourist congestion during the busy season with the huge city buses (that aren’t even supposed to use this road!), and you get some traffic nightmares. Once, our driver had to throw our car in reverse to avoid being sideswiped in a curve by one of the buses!

Type A Tidbit:

Take some anti-nausea medicine if you’re prone to motion sickness!

Let your driver know that you’re interested in taking some photos. There isn’t a shoulder on the road, but our driver knew of a few places that we could pull over.

Where to Stay

Knowing how popular and ritzy the Amalfi Coast is, I just knew we would be shelling out a lot of money for a hotel. That wasn’t the case at all! We stayed at the family-run Hotel California, and it was wonderful! This hotel was featured in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun… remember the balcony scene?? That was filmed here! The hotel lobby opens onto a picturesque terrace with ivy growing overhead and lemon trees in flower pots. We ate our complimentary breakfast here every morning, and I fell in love with their croissants! Our room was nothing too fancy, but it did feature TWO separate balconies that we watched the sunrise from. If you’re familiar with Positano, our hotel was located across the street and three buildings up from the famous (and famously expensive) Le Sirenuse hotel. We enjoyed the same view as the residents at Le Sirenuse but we saved hundreds of dollars a night! The following pictures were taken either on the balcony or from our bedroom window.

 

What to Do

The beautiful thing about Positano is that no schedule of events is needed. I know, I know… so unlike me to not have an itinerary. But the atmosphere is so laid back, and there really aren’t any attractions that you have to beat the crowds to. Don’t look at your watch, and just enjoy the warm sun and fresh ocean breeze. Having said that, here are our suggestions for how to spend your limited time.

Go to the Beach

And not just any beach. I recommend paying $12 per person for the colorful chairs on Spiaggia Grande. That’s the main beach right in the center of town. A small fence separates the private section from the public section. While the public section is free, it’s more crowded, doesn’t come with chairs, and is closer to the boat dock. We spent an entire day reading and lounging on the beach. Oh, and they do allow alcohol on the beach so go buy a bottle of white wine for the afternoon!

Type A Tidbit

Get as far away from the boat dock as possible. The exhaust fumes gave us such a headache! The ferry idles until all passengers are unloaded and then loaded again, and the smell was just too much.

Do Some Shopping!

Positano is famous for their custom leather sandals, and it’s not hard to find a sandal shop. Go in, pick out your design, and they’ll fit the sandal to your foot. I bought one pair, and loved them so much that we went back the next night too. I ended up with two pair and they were about $75 a piece. Even Matt couldn’t resist a pair!

Another souvenir worth purchasing is hand painted ceramics. Whether you’re looking for platters, tiles, or a complete set of dishes, you can find it all! Examples of the ceramics are all over town. Tobacco stores and hotels use tiles as signs for their shops, and restaurants serve on hand painted plates! I really wanted to buy a hand painted serving platter, but I couldn’t make myself spend that much money. Oh well, next time!

Try Limoncello

If there’s one food you must have in Positano, it’s lemons! Lemons are everywhere! We had a lemon dessert that was the best non-chocolate dessert I’ve had in a long time (but more on that next week). Positano also famously makes their own limoncello. Limoncello is a lemon infused liqueur that is meant to be drank at the end of a meal to aid with digestion! Don’t forget to buy a bottle to take back home!

Type A Tidbit

While the limoncello is brought out in a shot glass, it is NOT meant to be taken as a shot! Sip it slowly as you would an after dinner drink.

Enjoy the View!

Take your time in Positano and don’t rush from attraction to attraction. Savor the food, watch the waves, and catch your breath. The scenery is out of a picture book, and I never grew tired of the view.

Positano was the first place in Italy that we both agreed we wanted to come back to. Venice was our favorite up until this point, but Positano stole our hearts. I still dream about drinking a limoncello slushie on that beach!

Next week we’ll cover where to eat in Positano… and we have some GOOD ONES!!!

Private Tour of Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town, near the city of Naples, that got destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. I kept asking myself what could be so interesting about seeing a bunch of archaeological ruins? Surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the most fascinating places we visited! We hired a private tour guide for Pompeii, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Without her, we would have just been wandering around this huge excavation site without knowing anything we were looking at. There are acres and acres of ruins to explore, and our guide did a fantastic job of pointing us towards the most interesting and famous sites.

Getting There

We left Montepulciano very early in the morning because we still had to turn our rental car in. Can you believe we made it all the way to the airport in Rome (one of the busiest in the world AND two and a half hours away!) without any wrong turns?? We came such a long way in our rental-car-in-a-foreign-country saga! After dropping off the rental car at the airport, we then had to take a train from the airport to the train station. The train shuttle from the airport is called the Leonardo Expressway, and you can buy tickets right there on the platform. The shuttle is only a thirty minute ride. Once we arrived at Termini (Rome’s main train station), we boarded another train for Naples. Termini is one of the busiest and most crowded places, and we couldn’t find the bathroom… so we had to use the bathroom on the train! Yuck! When we arrived in Naples, our driver met us at the end of our platform and helped with our luggage. Now we could finally relax… no more trains or rental cars! Our driver was so friendly and got us to Pompeii safely and on time.

Type A Tidbit

It’s extremely important to validate your ticket before boarding your train in Italy. The validation process is so simple… just find a validation machine on your train’s platform (they kind of look like parking meters). Then, insert your ticket into the machine so it can be stamped with the time and date. It reminds me so much of punching a time clock at work! Once your ticket is stamped with the date and time, you’re free to board the train. Tickets aren’t checked as you board so theoretically someone could buy one ticket and ride and ride and ride without ever having to pay for another ticket. That’s why you have to validate it. By stamping the date and time on the ticket, the train conductor knows exactly when you purchased the ticket. If you’re caught by the conductor without a validated ticket, there’s a hefty fine involved! The conductor doesn’t always check tickets, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Where to Eat

After dropping us off, our driver gave us a recommendation for lunch before parking in the lot to wait for us to get done with our tour. There aren’t a lot of choices for places to eat at Pompeii, so I’m glad he pointed us in the right direction. The food was good (not great), but the prices were reasonable and the staff was friendly. And our driver was right, out of all the places to eat in Pompeii, this was the best one.

Tour of Pompeii

Our tour guide waited for us to finish lunch before leading us to the nearest restroom and ticket counter. As we walked into the ruins, she gave us a quick history of the town before the eruption occurred. She brought a book with her that had pictures of what the city most likely looked like before it was covered with 20 feet of volcanic ash. The craziest thing she told us was that Pompeii used to be a fishing village. She even pointed out the docks where boats used to be kept. The reason I found this so fascinating is because Pompeii is now 1.25 miles from the ocean! This just shows how much this eruption changed the entire landscape.

Type A Tidbit

Use the bathroom before you enter Pompeii… there aren’t any restrooms available in the ruins!

There’s no shade in Pompeii so plan ahead and bring your own bottled water and an umbrella if you prefer. It gets very hot!

Fun facts about Pompeii:

About ¾ of the 165 acres have been excavated, but many of these areas are off-limits to the public. Sometimes new sites are randomly opened or closed so every trip to Pompeii could be a different experience.

During excavations, items were so well preserved that archaeologists found fruits and vegetables. That’s how they know what time of year the eruption occurred.

The people of Pompeii were pretty sophisticated for their time. Pipes for plumbing have been found, but despite their plumbing attempt, water and raw sewage still spilled over into the streets. Stepping stones were created so that people could cross the street without wading through the sewage. The stones were tall enough to be above the water line, but low enough so that wagons could pass over them.

Over time, wagon wheels cut into the stone streets and created grooves. This is where modern day engineers got the idea for our railroad system.

Erotic art was discovered all over Pompeii. Brothels were a huge part of their economy and they celebrated the gods of sex and fertility by carving erotic images into the sides of their buildings. The pictures also served as “street signs” or “advertisements” for the brothels.

Because the eruption happened so quickly and with no warning, people (and animals) didn’t have time to escape. Everyone perished under the 20 feet of ash that rained down on the city. Archaeologists made plaster molds of holes they found in the ash that had turned to rock. When the plaster dried, they were left with a cast of what had created the hole. Often times, it was where a person had perished. These molds were on display. In the one pictured below, this person has their hands over their nose trying to breathe while being suffocated by the ash. It was so sad to see this part of the ruins!

I never would have known any of those things without our tour guide! She offered to take our picture several times throughout the ruins, and she always pointed out the best photo opportunities. Our tour was so much fun, but I couldn’t help feeling a little eerie as Mount Vesuvius still loomed over us in the distance. It’s a little scary to know that it’s still active and could erupt at any time! The last eruption was in 1944, and it’s been quiet ever since… let’s hope it stays that way!

After our tour, we met back up with our driver to continue our trip to Positano. He stopped several times along the way so we could take pictures! The road was extremely windy and narrow so I made sure to take some car sickness medicine before we left. All I could think about was how I was so glad we didn’t have that rental car anymore! Next week’s post will be about our time on the Amalfi Coast. It was by far my favorite and most relaxing and serene time we spent in Italy! It’s hard to describe, but it was almost magical when we got our first glimpse of Positano.

Day Trip to Assisi

We finished up our day trips in Tuscany by driving the short distance from Montepulciano to Assisi. We could see the town long before we reached it because it’s a walled off city sitting on top of a hill. It really gives you a glimpse of what cities were like during the Middle Ages!

Assisi is the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi, and we couldn’t wait to see the huge church and monastery named after him. The church consists of two levels: the lower Basilica with the tomb of Saint Francis and the upper Basilica. Both were beautiful and had video kiosks that told different stories about Saint Francis. We saw several monks dressed in their brown robes, but I felt too embarrassed to take their picture!

After our tour of the Basilica, we walked up and down a lot of hills to get to our lunch spot. Wear comfy shoes because we did a lot of climbing and walking! Le Terrazzo di Properzio was the perfect spot for lunch because of the view! We were able to sit outside on the shaded terrace, and the weather was perfect. Matt and I shared a bread and cheese platter and we each followed it with pasta dishes of course!

After lunch, we bought some souvenirs and made our way back to Montepulciano. All in all, we enjoyed our time in Assisi, but I wouldn’t say that this city is a “must-do.” If you have the time, then it’s worth the visit, but if you can’t make it, then I don’t think you would be missing too much. If you’re having to choose between day trips, then definitely make Siena the priority!

Next week’s post will cover our private tour through Pompeii… so much more interesting than I thought it would be!

Thermal Springs in Tuscany

Tuscany has many naturally occurring hot springs across the region. Most are now part of a spa center, but there are a few that are absolutely free to the public. Looking at the map, we realized that one of the thermal baths would be on our way home from Siena. We left Siena mid-afternoon so we could enjoy an hour or two at Bagni San Filippo. With the help of our GPS and many road signs pointing the way, we didn’t even get lost! We were starting to get the hang of this rental-car-in-Italy thing.

Bagni San Filipo wasn’t hard to find once we saw the sign. You’ll probably see the lines of cars before you see the sign. Park your car on the side of the road and don’t forget to grab your towel! From the road, there’s a nice trail so you can hike down the side of the hill.

When we reached the bottom, I was surprised to see how many people were there. Some were laying out on their towels, while others were in the natural pools. The water in the pools was a little cooler than bath tub water, but it was still relaxing. We had plenty of empty pools to choose from so we found one near the top. Always get near the top of the hill because the water runs down the hill and cools off as it goes. So the pools at the top are warmer than the pools at the bottom of the hill.

Legend has it that the water has healing powers due to all of the minerals in it. There are some massive formations of calcium deposits along the trail, and the largest one is known as the “White Whale.” Even if you don’t plan on lazing away in the hot spring pools, hiking the trail is such a beautiful way to spend an afternoon outdoors. And since the water is always warm, you can go any time of year!

A Day in Siena

When we were planning our trip, Matt didn’t really have a preference for what we did or where we went. The only place he said he really wanted to see was the “striped church” in Siena. Since Siena was only about an hour drive from Montepulciano, we knew we’d be able to drive there just for the day. Of course, we got lost. Several times.

Type A Tidbit:

Italy has very strange rules about where cars can and cannot go in cities. In fact, drivers are fined for violating the “no driving zones.” The zones are marked by street signs, but it’s very easy to miss (especially if you’re lost!). The safest bet is to park in a parking garage or parking lot outside of the city walls and then walk in. When using your GPS, enter your end destination as “Siena parking garage” or “Siena parking lot” so you can drive straight there and avoid any fines.

Matt definitely knew what he was talking about when he said he wanted to see the Siena Cathedral! It was the most beautiful church we saw in Italy by far. The outside might not be as impressive as the Duomo in Florence, but the inside was extraordinary. The church gets its nickname, the “striped church,” from the different colored marble that decorates the columns. While we were there, we also visited the baptistry, museum, crypt, and climbed to the top of the tower for a panoramic view.

The night before we were going to Siena, Matt read online that Saint Catherine’s head and her thumb were on display there at Dominica Church. I mean, what?!? He got so excited about the possibility of seeing a human head in a box, that I redid our entire itinerary last minute and squeezed in enough time for us to visit the church. And, he was right. Saint Catherine’s head and thumb were each in their own glass case for everyone to see. Even though this seems so barbaric to me, it’s actually quite common across Italy. While most items are more discreetly displayed, it’s not unusual to see corpses covered in wax. We asked one of our tour guides about this, and he said most of the churches have either a body, a body part, or an ancient relic that puts them on the map. This serves as a type of tourism, if you will. People will travel to a city to pay their respects to Saint Matthew’s remains or to see a piece of Jesus’ manger. It worked for us… we had no plans of visiting Dominica Church until we found out part of Saint Catherine was there! Oh, and sorry, pictures were strictly forbidden.

Type A Tidbit:

Whenever we travel, I always try to be conscious of the photography rules. Most places won’t allow flash, and other places won’t allow photography at all. Try to be respectful of their rules. It’s part of being a good tourist!

After we recovered from the sight of the remains of Saint Catherine, we headed to lunch at Antica Osteria da Divo. I read that this restaurant was literally carved out of the soft volcanic rock that Siena is built on. There are even little cafe-like rooms that you can have lunch in! Not to mention, the food was much more refined than I was anticipating. I had a fantastic, creamy risotto, and Matt ordered fresh pappardelle pasta with a wild boar ragu.

Needing to walk off all of our food, we headed in the direction of the main square, Piazza del Campo. Siena is famous for their horse races, and the piazza is where the races are held. The piazza is shaped like a seashell to better accommodate the races. Many souvenir shops and cafes can be found around the piazza as well as locals enjoying the afternoon sun.

Type A Tidbit:

Siena is a very hilly town! If something looks close on the map, remember to account for all of the hills you’ll be climbing! Wear comfortable shoes, and taxis are available if you need one.

Since navigating through Tuscany had proven to be so difficult for us, we wanted to head back to Montepulciano before it got dark! Siena would be a great town to stay in if you don’t have a lot of time in Tuscany. It’s definitely worth a day trip for the church alone… and the thumb!