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Touring the Amalfi Coast
BY STEVEN B. STERN FRIDAY JULY 9, 2010 12:30:25 PM STEVENSTERNTRAVEL 
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COSTIERA AMALFITANA (AMALFI COAST)---BELLISSIMO

 

 

 

            Arguably, the renowned stretch of coastland south of Naples between Sorrento and Salerno, doted with charming, picturesque villages clinging to cliffs is the most beautiful, panoramic region of Italy.  The roadway, commonly known as the “Amalfi Drive”, is surrounded by steep, rugged mountain cliffs that rise 2,300 feet and then drop dramatically into the deep, blue Mediterranean, creating mesmerizing views from both the land and the sea. As you proceed along the winding road, you will see small fishing villages scattered in clusters upon the front face of the mountains. Lavish villas, gilded church domes and small shops climb up the mountains from the waters edge.  The buildings in all of these villages, surrounded by diligently maintained gardens and terraces, are separated by narrow pebbled streets with endless steps. Lemon trees, grape and olive vines and a plethora of flowers provide a fragrance which adds to the charm of this area. 

The most popular vacation destinations are the towns of Amalfi,  Positano,  Ravello and Sorrento, as well as, the chic offshore island of Capri. .

            All of the towns are accessible by car or public buses that run regularly. All but Ravello are connected by a regular ferry service, possibly the more scenic and less arduous way to go. Driving along the Amalfi coastline, negotiating the narrow winding roads, avoiding oncoming traffic, is a stimulating experience, but not for the faint of heart.

The nearest airport would be Naples; however, trains run from Rome to Naples and from Naples to Sorrento. The recommended route for visiting each of these destinations would be either to fly into Naples or into Rome followed by a train to Naples (2 hours from Rome). From Naples, take the hydrofoil to Capri (45 minutes to an hour). From Capri take another hydrofoil to Amalfi (45 minutes). Rent a car in Amalfi and drive up to Ravello. From Ravello drive to Positano and Sorrento. From Sorrento drive to the Rome airport and return the car.

            From the middle of June through the middle of September, the region swarms with tourists. If avoiding crowds is a consideration, late May to early June and mid-September would be your better choices.

 

            The enchanting island of Capri was formed by limestone rock and is quite small, being no more than 10 miles around its perimeter. The mountainous peaks drop gently down to a series of rolling hills with two plateaus, which in turn drop down to the sea in the form of steep jagged cliffs indented with small caves and ravines offering unforgettable panoramas. The populated areas, Capri Town and Anacapri, abound with lively colors from numerous flowers, citrus and olive trees. In addition to the picturesque villages,  with white-washed homes and villas, sophisticated shops and lavish hotels,  visitors to Capri can explore ancient ruins from the Roman era, including the Villa Jovis, the splendid ruin of the estate from which Tiberius ruled the empire  in the early first century.

Your hydrofoil will dock at Marina Grande, a scenic harbor lined with small restaurants and souvenir shops. You must then go to the kiosk in order to purchase a ticket to take the short, panoramic ride up the funicular railway to the main square of Capri Town. As you step into the main square, you will find a colorful assortment of tourists sitting at outdoor cafes watching still more colorful tourists pass by.

From this square, if you continue on the main drag flanked with designer shops, you will pass by the Grand Hotel Quisisana, and some ways thereafter, the Hotels Scalinatella and Punta Tragara, and end your walk at the observation point where tourists take photos of the famous Faraglioni Rocks, the unique duo of rock formations that rise out of the sea off the coast of the Island.

 Off the main square, a short bus ride will take you up to Anacapri, the town at the top of the Island offering additional hotels, shops, restaurants and incredible views down to Capri Town and out across the sea. From Anacapri, you can take a 12-minute chairlift ride to the top of Monte Solaro for even more spectacular vistas.

A popular trip is the boat ride from Marina Grande that takes you to view the famous Blue Grotto. Once you arrive, you must board a smaller boat to navigate inside of the tiny grotto where you spend a few minutes enjoying the azure color of the water and its silvery reflections.

The most luxurious and comfortable hotels are the triumvirate owned by the Morgano family: Grand Hotel Quisisana,  La Scalinatella, and Casa Morgano.  Grand Hotel Qusisana is a lavish European-style grand hotel frequented by dignitaries, movie stars, wealthy Europeans and the rich and famous.  Sitting out by the pool with an aperitif in the late morning, followed by lunch at the chic indoor/outdoor restaurant by the pool is de rigueur; as is, evening cocktails on the patio fronting the hotel, the best spot in Capri for people watching. The buffet breakfast and the romantic dinner in the main restaurant are two of the best dining experiences on the Island. After dinner, romantic live music emanates from the bar, perfect for after-dinner coffees or liqueurs and listening or dancing.  148 elegantly furnished guest accommodations are spread around the hotel offering top comfort and many amenities. Other facilities include a posh gym and health club, tennis courts and alternative dining venues. Friendly, Gianfranco Morgano reigns over this chic establishment which has been in his family for several generations.

Gianfranco’s two brothers operate La Scalinatella and Casa Morgano. These properties are a bit down the road with breathtaking vistas down to the sea. La Scalinatella is a charming, 30-unit, boutique hotel with more modern, but equally lavish accommodations, as well as, a more intimate pool and restaurant area, perfect for romantic couples.

Other recommended hotels include La Luna, a comfortable hotel with  a pool, tennis, and a health club set on a cliff overlooking the Faraglioni Rocks and Marina Piccolo; and Hotel Punta Tragara which is also set on a cliff directly above the look-out point for the aforementioned Rocks and offers two pools, a gym and two restaurants.

There are numerous Italian restaurants with indoor and terrace settings lining the main walkways, La Campannina being the most well known.  

 

 

 

 

From Capri, you can take the 30- to 50-minute hydrofoil ride to Sorrento, Positano or Amalfi.  Amalfi or Sorrento would be the best places to rent a car.

 

Amalfi is a peaceful and picturesque seaside fishing village and resort town that has the most vibrant, typical Italian atmosphere, an ideal climate, breathless views and unique natural beauty. Its harbor is flanked by narrow, not too desirable public beaches. Better beaches are located in the nearby villages of Minori and Maiori. A short walk into town reveals numerous shops, small restaurants and a magnificent 11th century Duomo.

            In Amalfi, the most ambient and exqusite establishment is Hotel Santa Caterina, which emanates from the top of a hill with a panoramic view of the village of Amalfi, down through a cliff to the sea. Originally built by Giuseppe Gambardella in 1880 and rebuilt by his son Crescenzo in 1904, it has remained in the family over the decades with frequent renovations and lavish additions. Today this 50-room boutique establishment is owned and managed by the most gracious and hospitable Giuisi and Nini Gambardelli and their children. The rooms and suites spread throughout the property. An elevator navigates through the rocky cliff down to the beach club, gym, pool and luncheon restaurant by the sea. This is a lovely spot to sun, swim, imbibe or dine in a lemon grove on fresh-from-the oven pizzas, pastas, salads and grilled offerings. Gourmet dinners are featured in the glass-enclosed restaurant off the lobby offering the best views of Amalfi.

  Another first class hotel overlooking the town is the 43-unit Luna Convento occuping a 13th century cloister, rebuilt in 1975 which houses a fine restaurant and a swimming pool.

 

 

From Amalfi, you can drive or take a bus up four miles of wickedly curving road to Ravello, one of the most attractive destinations on the Amalfi coast.  This settlement with a population of 2,000 perches high above Amalfi overlooking the Mediterranean.   Ravello is famous for its views and its two panoramic gardens, Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo, both open to the public and the sites for classical music concerts. Well worth a visit is the Duomo dating back to the 11th century and St. Francesco Cloister and the nearby museum.

The most herald and elegant property here is the Hotel Palazzo Sasso, considered one of the finest establishments in Italy. Occupying a 12th century Italian villa perched high on a cliff, 1,000 feet above the Mediterranean, it opened as a new hotel in 1997. Rossellinis, its main dining room, has received two stars from the Michelin Guide. All 36 rooms and eight suites enjoy ocean views and share a floral pool.

Another exceptional property is Hotel Caruso, set in an 11th century palazzo also perched on a hilltop 1,150 feet above sea level with panoramic views of the Amalfi coast. Most of the 18 rooms and 36 suites have balconies or terraces. The hotel is owned and operated by Orient Express. Still another top boutique hotel is Hotel Palumbo which occupies a 12th century palatial palace.  Here there are 20 rooms with antiques and modern comforts, a swimming pool and a panoramic restaurant with its own winery. This is an excellent choice for lunch.  If he is available, the proprietor will serve you wine from the hotel’s own vineyard and escort you on a tour.

 

From Ravello, you would descend back down to Amalfi and take the 45-minute to one-hour drive (depending on traffic) to the fabled town of Positano, the setting for numerous Hollywood and European movies. Commencing at the beginning of the 20th century, Positano flourished as a fishing settlement. By the end of the century it was best known as a popular, chic resort famous for its hotels and boutiques.  The main path starts from the highway and winds down a cliff by stairways lined with boutiques, small shops, and restaurants .At sea level are several alfresco restaurants, a dark gravelly beach and an ornate Duomo.  Like Amalfi, the town can be thoroughly explored in a few hours. However, luxuriating in one of the many hotels surrounding the commercial center is one of the main attractions.

Visitors to Positano seeking an elegant, luxurious, yet charming resort/hotel with the very best views of the village will prefer the one-of-a-kind, Il San Pietro. Located about a mile from the main area of town, it is possibly the most romantic resort/hotel you will ever experience. Similar to Santa Caterina, the hotel descends in layers down a cliff to the sea with an elevator that cuts through the rocks.  The elegant main lobby and indoor terrace restaurant, both on the main level are adorned with flowers and elegant furnishings.  The romantic 60 rooms and suites are set on many levels above and below the lobby and all enjoy views out to the sea and/or to the town of Positano. Immediately near the lobby area is a small gym and spa, a pool and a scenic outdoor garden perfect for before-dinner cocktails while watching the sun set over the twinkling lights of Positano.  At sea level is a casual restaurant/bar, swimming area.  Dining and service are among the best. The restaurant boasts a Michelin star. The hotel has been in the Cinque family since it opened its doors in 1970. Today Vito and Carlo Cinque, grandnephews of the visionary who carved this property out of a rocky cliff, manage the hotel. Under the capable stewardship of Vito, many additions and renovations have taken place. Visitors uniformly herald Il San Pietro as the most romantic resort in the world.

Hotel Le Sirenuse is also considered one of the best luxury hotels here with a great panorama. All 63 units have terraces overlooking the village. On property are a nice pool area and a fine restaurant with some outdoor dining. The biggest drawback is that the hotel sits proximate to the road and walkway down to the village with its noisy pedestrian traffic.

 

 

From Positano, it is only a 30-minute drive to Sorrento which is a medium-size city situated on a plain overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.  Many find this a good home base for exploration of Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. The town is filled with many cafes, restaurants, tourist shops and hotels. It is also a vast residential community.

The  most famous and elegant hotel here is Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, built between 1834 and 1882 on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples, surrounded by semi-tropical gardens filled with orange and lemon trees.  Three elevators will take guests down to the harbor to sun bathe and swim.  All 105 units are elegantly and comfortably appointed.  Facilities include a gym, a large outdoor pool, two restaurants, and an outdoor sauna.

Another highly rated establishment is Cocumella which was carved out of a 16th century Jesuit monastery. The 50 units are updated but decorated in 16th century style.  Summer concerts are given in the baroque chapel and the hotel has its own boat offering coastal cruises to its guests.  Also on premises are a pool, tennis court, gym and spa. The hotel’s restaurant, Scintilla, and Restaurant Don Alfonso are the most highly acclaimed eateries in the city.

From Sorrento, your best bet is to drive back to Rome or the airport at Fumicino and leave off your car.

 

Those looking for a totally romantic, thoroughly scenic sojourn will love this part of the world. 

 

Truly Bellisimo.

 

 

By Steven B. Stern, author of “Stern’s Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World” Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation.” And “The indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases”.  www.stevensterntravel.com

 

IF YOU GO:

POSITANO:

 

Il San Pietro:

www.ilsanpietro.it

(39) 089811798

 

Le Sirenuse:

www.sirenuse.it

(39) 089811798

 

 

SORRENTO:

 

Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria:

www.exvitt.it

(39) 0818777111

 

 

 

For general information on all of the towns and villages on the Amalfi coast, go to www.Italyheaven.co.uk/amalficoast.html

 

CAPRI:

 

Grand Hotel Quisisana:

[email protected]

tel. (39) 0818370788

 

Hotel Scalinatella:

www.scalinatella.com

tel. (39) 0818378291

 

AMALFI:

 

Hotel Santa Catrrina:

www.hotelsantacaterina.it

(39) 089871012

           

RAVELLO:

Hotel Caruso:

www.hotelcaruso.com

(39) 089858801

 

Hotel Palazzo Sasso:

www.palazzosasso.com

(39) 089818181

 

 

 

 
 
     
 
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