Tag Archives: family holiday

9 Hidden Treasures of Naples & The Amalfi Coast

A trip to Naples and the Amalfi Coast makes an exceptionally special holiday, either as a family vacation or as a romantic holiday – even as a honeymoon. And while you don’t see too many children around – particularly the Amalfi Coast towns – its also a very child friendly place to visit, so you shouldn’t hesitate to travel there with a child.

1. Naples

Naples itself is an absolute gem of a city, despite its rough reputation. We started our journey to the Amalfi Coast by flying into Naples and staying overnight there, allowing some time to explore the city. We stayed at one of the city’s elegant old seafront hotels which still served afternoon cocktails and our grand room had excellent views of Mt Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples.

IMG_3941

IMG_3946

IMG_3947

This city’s architecture is haunting in its faded grandeur and there’s no better way to get your bearings than to take one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off City Sightseeing bus tours which has routes that take you far further than you’d ever venture on your own and you can see some some of the grand, crumbling old villas and spectacular vistas up in the hills above Naples.

IMG_3975

IMG_3976

IMG_3978

IMG_3979

IMG_3981

IMG_3982

IMG_3985

IMG_3995

IMG_4002

Its actually quite hard to go wrong eating in Naples, we found, as nearly every small restaurant offered excellent homemade pizzas, pastas and seafood (we went shortly before I became vegan) and it was all very inexpensive. Just follow the locals. There is an element of roughness to Naples but in all honesty, we found it to be the best food we had on our trip and the people were so friendly.

2. Positano

We based ourselves in Atrani, just a few minutes walk from Amalfi which made an exceptional base for exploring the rest of the coastline via the frequent, reliable and cheap ferry services. Positano is spectacular, although much pricier than Atrani or Amalfi. The shopping in Positano is great too with lots of (tasteful) lemon-themed souvenirs and its also home to my favourite beachwear company, Antica Sartoria.

IMG_4028

IMG_4037

IMG_4038

IMG_4039

The beach is quite sharp and rocky so I recommend taking a pair of swim shoes with you to save your feet being shredded.

IMG_4041

IMG_4042

IMG_4043

Positano is definitely a great place for lounging around, people watching and enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two, while admiring the architecture and walking up winding streets to check out the beautiful ceramics and handicraft shops.

IMG_4047

IMG_4050

IMG_4060

3. Atrani

Our balcony had a spectacular view of the town – pretty much the same view as the cover of the Lonely Planet guide. We rented an apartment so we could keep our 15 month old daughter to her usual routines. Most of the restaurant food we tried was okay but felt like a bit of a letdown after the food in Naples, so we mostly cooked our own food in the apartment, shopping in the little local shop for our ingredients. The basil leaves (as shown below) looked nothing like the basil we buy here in the UK, but tasted amazing and the tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (my pre-vegan days) were both so simple and delicious, so we mostly lived on insalata Caprese and the local pasta, scialatelli. The central square in Atrani is quite peaceful and picturesque – we were there one evening as it was being set up for a wedding. All the locals in the apartments above the square hung out beautiful linens off their balconies to make the square look more wedding-ey and rose petals were strewn everywhere. We lingered for a bit to gawk at the wedding preparations as our daughter ate freshly cut up ripe red strawberries – the local cafe owner was always giving her little cups of these as a treat. As evening drew in, hundreds of little candles were placed everywhere on the ancient steps and as it looked like guests were arriving, we disappeared to our temporary home, far enough away to have a quiet night. While there is nothing specifically to “see” or “do” in Atrani, it is simply a beautiful and peaceful spot where we would happily return in future.

IMG_4133

IMG_4134

IMG_4146

IMG_4148

IMG_4152

4. Ravello

Ravello is a town with an unworldly feel about it – like a Hollywood imagining of Italy, its so perfect. Perched high in the mountains above Amalfi and Atrani, it is accessible by a terrifying bus ride which feels like it takes a ridiculously long time considering its only around 7 kilometres away. The winding mountain roads mean the journey is roughly half an hour, but is completely worth the effort. The beautiful unspoilt town is famous for its carved cameos, but there are many other artisan shops there as well, although you get the feeling much of the town really is there for tourists. We went on a Tuesday, which was market day. The market itself is fairly unremarkable – practical things for the locals to buy, a bit like a travelling Poundland – but there are also lots of food producers and we would have bought some fresh fruits and vegetables if we weren’t planning to hike back down to the coast. I think Ravello would be a beautiful place to stay for a night or two as the town is immaculate and the views from some of the small private resorts just outside the town are breathtaking.

IMG_4239

IMG_4193

IMG_4194

IMG_4195

IMG_4196

IMG_4197

IMG_4198

IMG_4202

IMG_4204

IMG_4205

IMG_4207

IMG_4208

IMG_4209

5. Valley of the Dragons (Valle del Dragone)

The Valley of the Dragons is an amazing walking route (perhaps more of a hike really) between Ravello, way up in the mountains all the way down to Atrani. We chose to walk down the valley rather than up, which I recommend you do, but the walk was simply spectacular. We packed our 15 month old daughter into the Ergobaby carrier and strapped her onto my husband’s back and after a morning walking around Ravello, we gently made our way down the path, through the splendid lemon groves (covered in black netting) where many of the famous Amalfi lemons are grown, and down into the labyrinth of ancient streets of Atrani. Take a simple picnic (a sandwich or protein bar and lots of water) with you if you can and stop somewhere under a lemon tree on your way down to enjoy the view. Although there are lovely stairs for the first part of the journey down the hill out of Ravello, most of the route is dusty and there aren’t really any designated picnic or resting spaces. But it’s fairly relaxed and you won’t see many people on your walk, so just take your time, enjoy the beauty of the place and stop where you need to. I’d recommend this only for hikers with good mobility as it is quite steep and fairly rough and rocky in places.

IMG_4210

IMG_4212

IMG_4213

IMG_4214

IMG_4216

IMG_4217

IMG_4218

IMG_4219

IMG_4222

IMG_4224

IMG_4226

IMG_4227

IMG_4228

IMG_4230

IMG_4232

IMG_4233

IMG_4236

IMG_4237

6. Amalfi

There are three things you must do in Amalfi.

You must rent a beach chair on one of the private club beaches along the waterfront. There is a public beach, but its not a very sandy beach, and it can get hot in summer, so I suggest spending the €10 to rent a beach chair and have access to clean loos, changing rooms and a waiter to bring drinks and snacks to you at your convenience.

IMG_3466.JPG

In the late afternoon, head up to the Piazza Duomo, near the fountain and head into pasticceria Andrea Pansa to buy a box of sfogliatelli. These heavenly pastries (again, so NOT vegan!) come in lemon and orange flavour and are a local specialty. We sometimes ate them in the square with a cup of coffee, but often would take a couple back to our apartment to have after dinner.

IMG_4137

IMG_4138

Finally, take the time to check out the beautiful Amalfi Cathedral (Duomo). It costs around €3 to go inside. I didn’t take photos because I don’t really like taking photographs inside churches, but the inside of the church and its garden is absolutely spectacular (showing that Amalfi was once an extremely wealthy town) and it’s worth putting aside around 45 min or for this visit.

7. Capri

You don’t absolutely have to go to Capri. But why not see the spectacle while you’re there? Its not part of the Amalfi Coast, rather Campania state, like Naples. The food is all horribly overpriced and not particularly outstanding. But there is a charming old Hollywood style glamour there, reminiscent of Monte Carlo, with a slight hedonistic atmosphere, so if you like that 1950’s glamour vibe (think big Sophia Loren hats) then make the time to go. Unlike the other destinations we travelled to along the coast, we plumped for a more expensive boat trip this time, but they took the time to go around the island and pause at the beauty spots for photographs, which we felt was worth it. You can just get a cheap ferry there, however, if your budget is limited. I’d recommend that if you are on a tighter budget that you also take a picnic lunch with you to eat on a park bench somewhere, as you’re going to spend around €10 on a cup of coffee, and restaurants are prohibitively expensive, although that being said, we did splurge on a nice lunch out.

The ferries arrive in at Marina Grande and there is a funicular which takes you up to Capri Town.

IMG_4125

I enjoyed seeing the local designer clothing shops which were utterly unique compared to the usual designer chains (which you can also find plenty of in the town).  The highest concentration of shops is along the Via Camerelle.

Our favourite part of our visit was actually getting away from the main part of the town and just wandering amongst the old streets with glamorous villas and gardens tucked in behind.

8. Salerno

Salerno isn’t strictly speaking on the Amalfi Coast but its easy and inexpensive to get there via ferry boat and I think makes for a fun change from the constant near-perfect imagery you experience in the Amalfi towns. Salerno is a bit gritty and not really so much focused on tourists, but it has a vibrant buzz and it feels like a real place where real people live.  As ever, take a ferry there. Once you get past the tired marina, you’re welcomed by a lovely seafront garden promenade.

IMG_4153

IMG_4154

IMG_4170

There are lots of lovely places to stop for delicious food, wine and gelato, and the city has a vibrant historic centre with crumbling old architecture, laundry hanging across alleyways, palm trees and all the lovely typical Southern Italy stuff you expect. Unfortunately we were there on a Sunday and the city really was quite closed for business, except for one outstanding seafood restaurant we found by accident in a square which we could probably never find again if we tried! (Actually I did write down the details in a journal somewhere which I have misplaced and when I find it, I’ll update this post with the address.)  You just rock up at a table and they bring you plate after plate after plate of food – no menu, no ordering.  I think the whole meal with wine came to no more than €45 for the two of us and our daughter just nibbled off our plates.

IMG_4158

IMG_4157

IMG_4156

IMG_4169

IMG_4168

IMG_4166

Make some time to visit the Norman built Salerno Cathedral dedicated to St Matteo, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful medieval church in Italy.

IMG_4159

IMG_4162

IMG_4163

IMG_4164

The church is guarded by these lions at the Porti dei Leoni at the grand 12th century entrance to the cathedral. I feel for the poor mama lion on the left!

9. Sorrento

Sorrento is the sunny, cheerful buzzy gateway to the Amalfi Coast. We stopped here for one night before heading back to our flight home from Naples. We arrived via the harbour to this glorious welcoming view.

IMG_4242

IMG_4260

We chose to make the steep, winding walk up the hill with our luggage (we are light packers) and our daughter’s stroller (what were we thinking?) but there is also a set of stairs taking you straight up to the town. And there were also taxis to take you up the hill too, obviously.

Once you get to the top, this lemon bright almost kitschy town awaits with lots of coffee shops, touristy alleys selling all things lemon-related you could imagine – tea towels, soap, limoncello, magnets. But there are also some artisan shops selling the beautiful marquetry music boxes for which Sorrento is so famous. We didn’t buy anything but really enjoyed the whole vibe of the town.

IMG_4252

IMG_4250

IMG_4248

We stayed at the Plaza Sorrento which has some eco-credentials (I have no idea what those were meant to be as it seemed fairly conventional to me) and it was very clean, comfortable and conveniently located with a lovely rooftop bar and pool with spectacular views. They also set up a lovely little cot for our daughter to sleep in. I think I’ll finish by saying that we ate a lot of gelato on that trip. A lot. Every. Single. Day. But this gelato below at Gelateria Zini was by far and away the best we had – all made by the owner and sold with passion by the owner who let us try lots of her amazing flavours.

IMG_4246

IMG_4245

So where next? We are off to Canada and then Europe again this summer to spend some time in France and Germany (and possibly Switzerland), but after that we are thinking somewhere a bit further afar. Depending on finances we might go on our current dream holiday to Costa Rica but have also been looking at some cheap Thailand Holiday Packages for 2018/2019. If you’d like to learn more about how we travel, check out our other articles for eco-friendly travel tips.

This post was a collaboration with Destination2.co.uk 

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.