Category

Where We’ve Been

Day Trip to Capri

Despite all of my months of preparation, our visit to the island of Capri did not go as planned! This island is so gorgeous, and there’s so much to explore, but visitors are at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions. We loved our day on the island of Capri, but we definitely had to roll with the punches on this one.

The only way to access Capri is by ferry. The ferry from Positano to Capri runs throughout the day, and our plan was to catch the earliest ferry out the next morning so we could maximize our time spent there. We woke up to find that all ferries to the island were cancelled! How can they shut down all transportation to and from the island?!? Due to the high winds and rough sea conditions, it was too dangerous for the ferry to cross. That’s ok. We decided to have a beach day in Positano, and then try again the next morning.

Type A Tidbit:

For this exact reason, don’t buy your ferry tickets ahead of time. It doesn’t save you any money, and since the ferry tickets are sold for a specific date and time, you run the risk of losing your money altogether. It’s best to wake up and assess the sea conditions that day before buying your tickets at the kiosk right next to the pier.

When we woke up the next day, our hotel concierge called the pier and found out that the ferry was operating! Hallelujah! Unfortunately, the high waves around the island still made it too dangerous for anyone to visit the ONE thing we really wanted to do there: the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a tiny cave that you can take a rowboat in. Once inside, the sun illuminates the water to the brightest, most captivating shade of blue. We did get to see incredibly clear, bluish-green water, but I’m afraid it still couldn’t compare to the Blue Grotto. We were told that any time there is a strong wind from the west, the Blue Grotto is too dangerous to enter. We checked the forecast, and it was going to be closed everyday that we were in the area. So now that the Blue Grotto was out of the picture, we had to come up with something else to fill our morning with!

I’m so glad I had come across Capri Relax Boats in some articles I’d been reading before we left. They were the best! They’re located near the ferry pier, so we walked straight there to ask them if there was any way we could still get to the Blue Grotto. Unfortunately, there wasn’t, but we asked about other boating excursions that were available. They offered a private tour around the island that sounded too good to be true. For only about $200 we got a boat just to ourselves complete with a knowledgeable skipper! Our skipper was fantastic! He pointed out landmarks of the island, navigated our boat through caves, took our picture several times, and drove us straight through the famous Faraglioni rocks (you might recognize it from perfume commercials?). Not to mention, he had snacks and complimentary prosecco. I mean, is an Italian boat ride even complete without prosecco?

Type A Tidbit:

Ask your skipper to stop so you can jump out and swim! The water was much too cold for us, but he did offer to anchor the boat for a while.

Legend says that you must kiss you sweetheart while you pass through the Faraglioni arch… you’ll be blessed with a lifetime of happiness together!

After our boat ride, we rode the Funicular from the port to the hilltop town of Anacapri. The Funicular is similar to a railway on a hill. Everyone sits in little cars, and it slowly creeps up the hill until you’re at the very top. The view from Anacapri was breathtaking, so we decided this would be the perfect opportunity for lunch!

There’s a few things you can’t miss in Capri: caprese salad made with homegrown tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, fresh seafood, and the flourless chocolate cake known as torta caprese. Our restaurant, Ristorante Al Capri, was perfect for a quick lunch! After eating, we headed to find a cab that could take us to the chairlift up the mountain. The cabs in Capri are so fun because they’re all open air convertibles!

The line at the chairlift was long, but it moved really quickly. Unfortunately, we couldn’t buy tickets for any of our activities in Capri ahead of time because we weren’t sure what day we would be able to take the ferry across. It worked out ok, but we did have to stand in line a few times. The Mount Solaro chairlift is a smooth ride to the top, but once you’re at the top, there’s really nothing to do besides take pictures and take in the view. It is a good opportunity to see the Faraglioni rocks from high up though! We rode the chairlift back down, but there is the option to hike down. We had too many other things to do so we took the quickest way to the bottom.

We visited Villa San Michelle and toured the gardens. The villa was built around the turn of the 20th century, and it overlooks Capri and the harbor. The gardens are so well-kept, and we enjoyed the peacefulness. They do charge a small fee to enter, but it’s a place you must visit. Our pictures don’t do it justice.

After the villa, we took an open air cab to the marina to do some quick souvenir shopping and grab some gelato before taking the ferry back to Positano. Our time in Capri was a little rushed, but still somehow relaxing. I know there are many things we didn’t get to do because of the time constraints of the ferry schedule, but we already know we have to go back to see the Blue Grotto!

Where to Eat in Positano, Italy

There are two things you absolutely have to eat in Positano. Well, it’s more like two categories of things you absolutely have to eat. Anything lemon and anything seafood. Being a cliffside fishing village, you can only imagine how fresh the seafood is. And if anyone knows how to prepare the local catch, it’s the chefs in Positano. Finish your dinner up with a shot of limoncello made from the locally grown lemons, and you’ll have yourself the perfect Amalfi Coast meal.

Our time in Positano was spent on the beach and eating in world class restaurants so I have several recommendations. Like I’ve said before, it’s hard to go wrong here, but it never hurts to be pointed in the right direction!

One thing that’s important to remember about Positano is that there are stairs EVERYWHERE. It’s kind of like the boardgame Chutes and Ladders except without the chutes. If you’re walking somewhere, you can bet there’s a flight of stairs involved. So when you’re planning your evening outfits, make sure you’re wearing flats (or the new pair of handmade sandals you just bought!). I say all of that to say that each restaurant featured in this post is within walking distance of your hotel if you’re staying in town. I definitely recommend walking (especially at night). It’s such a treat to window shop along the winding streets, hear the shop owners closing up for the night, and smell the wisteria blooming overhead on the trellises.

Il Capitano

Il Capitano is the total package. The food was spectacular, the wait staff was courteous, and the view was to die for. There are candles and flowers everywhere which just adds to the romantic atmosphere! We wanted our first night in Positano to be memorable, and I can’t think of a better place to relax and take in the city from above.

To start, we ordered a tempura battered shrimp that was served with an orange dipping sauce. I’d never had anything like that, and the citrus flavor really sent this dish over the top. My entree was thinly sliced shrimp that was under a mountain of fresh pasta… I couldn’t even find the shrimp at first! They definitely get points for presentation! Matt had mussels and gnocchi that was so flavorful! If you read our last post on Positano, then you’ll remember I mentioned the best non chocolate dessert I’ve ever had. Of course, it was all about lemons! It reminded me of a sophisticated twinkie. They called it a lemon tart, but it was more like a cream filled lemon cake with the most perfect lemon glaze/icing. Oh, and don’t forget to order limoncello to finish off your dinner!

Buca di Bacco

It’s crazy how hungry you can get just lying on the beach! Luckily, Buca di Bacco is just steps away from Spiaggia Grande (the main beach in Positano). We took a break from the sun, and headed upstairs for some fantastic traditional Italian food. We had fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella, eggplant parmesan with a side of spaghetti, and seafood risotto. All fantastic!

La Sponda at Le Sirenuse

I was thrilled when I scored reservations at the Michelin-starred La Sponda restaurant! I was even more thrilled when they called asking if they could move our reservation time due to a conflict in the schedule. I was hesitant at first, but because of our trouble, they offered us the best table in the house! Of course I agreed! I couldn’t wait to see this restaurant in person because it’s lit by over 400 tiny candles and ivy grows all over the walls. Our table was right in front of a huge picture window that overlooked the roof of the church and the ocean. The food was served in small portions (we expected that), but for what they lacked in size they made up for in flavor. We shared a shrimp and cauliflower soup, and for our main course I ordered a lemon risotto with zucchini and baby squid. Matt loved his braised beef with vegetables and potato/anchovy side dish. At the end of our meal, they brought out complimentary dessert candies and limoncello. I love when restaurants surprise me with little extras!

I realize I am highly unqualified to have an opinion on this, but compared to our other Michelin-starred experiences, I feel like this restaurant was gorgeous and the staff was amazing, but the menu wasn’t really anything that special. We can get lemon risotto and braised beef a hundred other places. Just my opinion, so don’t shoot the messenger. You should try it for yourself because we still had a wonderful meal here!

Champagne Bar at Le Sirenuse Hotel

Before our dinner at La Sponda, I knew I wanted to visit the hotel’s upscale outdoor terrace. We arrived early enough to enjoy a drink and watch the sunset. Unlike the restaurant, I felt that the atmosphere here was friendly and comfortable while at the same time being fancy and beautiful. There’s a seafood appetizer menu, but we stuck to the extensive cocktail menu. I was boring and went with an expensive glass of white wine, and Matt ordered the “Positano Cocktail” made with vodka and (of course) lemon syrup. I could have sat out here all evening, but our dinner reservations were calling! Even though hardly anyone can afford to stay at the hotel, everyone should stop in for a drink at the Champagne Bar!

Le Tre Sorelle

Right on the beach, Le Tre Sorelle is a fun seafood restaurant with a great view of the waves. The fried calamari was hot and crispy, and the white wine was chilled perfectly. I had a shellfish pasta while Matt tried something a little different and went with a baked red fish. It wasn’t his favorite dish, but that’s probably because it wasn’t lasagna!

Chez Black

Next door to Le Tre Sorelle, Chez Black offers the same view of the beach. We enjoyed our food more at Chez Black, but we would go back to Le Tre Sorelle again. Matt had a pizza with ham, basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. I stuck to an old favorite and ordered eggplant parmesan with a side of pesto linguini. The portion sizes here were huge, and we were uncomfortably full at the end of dinner. We couldn’t let that good food go to waste though!

With so many amazing choices, how do you pick a favorite? When doing my research at home, I really thought La Sponda would be the hands-down winner. Maybe I talked it up in my head, but I’d say that was probably our third place winner. We both agreed Il Capitano was the best place we ate in Positano. It could have been just the overall magic of it being our first night in Positano, but I’m convinced it was the lemon cake.

For more information about Positano, check out last week’s post! Next week, we’ll get on a ferry and go to the island of Capri for the day!

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!