Tag Archives: 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Green & Sustainable Style Edit – August 2016

So I had every intention of making this month’s look channel a festival friendly vibe. But in the end I veered towards something a little bit more urban. (Think sipping something cold sitting on the steps at Camden Lock on a hot London evening without a care in the world.)  Regardless of where you wear this outfit (and yesterday I wore it for a casual evening out on my holiday here on the sunny East Coast of Canada) you will look and feel great.  I dabbed a little diluted Idaho Blue Spruce oil behind my ear and for me – that comforting smell really finished off the feeling of completing the outfit for me.

OLOL Style Edit August 2016

The key pieces in the look this month are this Absolutely Bear organic cotton Maple t-shirt which I love and which gets gazillions of compliments.  This t-shirt is designed by a husband and wife team back home in London and they’ve put a lot of thought and energy into the design, quality and material sourcing for this top.  Its really lightweight so it helps keep you cool and it looks great either worn on its own or layered with a pale strappy top underneath.  I chose to wear it on its own paired with this organic Monki denim skirt and a vintage ikat jacket to keep out the evening chill.  To accessorise I recommend checking out the shoes and bags at Fashion Conscience – either online or in their lovely boutique in East Dulwich (near the station).  I’ve opted for this large vegan tote (cheap at £39) and these (non-vegan, but fair trade) flat Chloe sandals.  I think they’re a really special little independent boutique and I always pop in on my way past.

You know, as much as I love minimalism and capsule wardrobes, I really love  jewellery.  This month I’ve dug through my own jewellery box and have paired two strands of Guatemalan turquoise beads I bought on honeymoon a few years ago at the market in Chichicastenango with an antique Chinese talisman which we had turned into a pendant.  I would really encourage you to look at the jewellery you have and get creative with it.  Find the stones you love and that really resonate with you, and which are either second hand or which have been ethically sourced.  I always wear my sterling bangle which was a present from my husband years ago, but if you don’t have a bangle and like the look, I’ve found this similar one available from eco fashion  retailer, Komodo.

Finally – because its the height of summer and I have a fair complexion – I’ve opted to finish of the daytime version of this outfit with a fabulous large brimmed hat.  These hats are from London based online retailer Plum and Ivory and are ethically sourced, fair trade and made in Madagascar.  They also conveniently fold up so you can pack them in your suitcase and travel with them easily.  And at less than £23 I thought they were pretty inexpensive!  (I just wish I had their lovely model, Sarah’s cheekbones!)

And now I’m going to return to my own summer holiday!  I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer and next week I’ve got a treat for you in the form of Dulwich yoga expert, Meredith Gunderson, sharing her yoga-inspired tips for keeping cool in summer.

Zero Waste Travel

One of the things I love about travel is the feeling of freedom and how you realise that you can actually live without most of the stuff you own.  But making sure you actually leave a small footprint behind you when you go home is even more important.  I’m sure there are other ways to travel zero waste by hiking cross country and camping, or staying at youth hostels with shared kitchens, etc.  But I’m in my 30’s and I have  a young child.  And I like to be comfortable.  So I’m going to share what works for us.

Where to Stay

When we first book a holiday, as soon as the flights are confirmed, we go onto the AirBnB website (click here to save £25 or $31 on your first booking), check out the reviews and rent an apartment in the location where we are planning to travel. In the past we have also used VRBO and Home Away websites as well.  We find this is the most comfortable, cost effective and low waste way for us to travel. By having our own private apartment we can pack light (taking one carry on suitcase each) and travel with a capsule wardrobe that we can wash every few days in the washing machine at the flat. Most Airbnb apartments provide washing powder but we bring a gentle and ecologically friendly one with us. We also shop at the local supermarket and farmer’s markets, buying organic, healthy foods in as low waste packaging as possible, and then cook our own healthy meals. We’ll usually go out for restaurant lunches during the day, but we sometimes also prepare packed lunches to take with us for day trips. We can afford to have the option to do that when we’re saving on the costs of expensive breakfasts and dinners by eating at the apartment.  Another way in which renting an apartment is more zero waste-friendly than staying in a hotel is because you will be able to use the recycling and composting services available to residents, rather than having to throw your apple cores or empty glass jars in the garbage knowing they will needlessly go to landfill.  You can also bring any composting or recycling waste you accumulate throughout the day back to the apartment (such as lunch leftovers or plastic water bottles in case you get caught out and are desperate for a drink – it happens) and put it in the correct bin.

This was our view from our alfresco dining table on our private balcony from our last holiday rental…not many restaurants can boast a view like this:

OLOL Zero Waste Travel Amalfi Italy

What to Pack

No matter how long the holiday, we allow ourselves one carry on suitcase each.  Not only is travelling light easier, but its cheaper too, as we can easily use public transport and can often walk to our apartment from the train station, avoiding taking taxis.  My toiletries kit is usually filled with reusable silicon GoToobs filled with my homemade toiletries or those dispensed from larger containers at home.  You may also note that I mention a mason jar.  Bear with me.  At home I use a separate glass water bottle and a glass coffee mug which I take with me everywhere I go.  But when I travel, my space is limited so a mason jar provides a universal solution.  You can fill it with water and its a water bottle.  Its heat resistant so you can pour tea or coffee into it, so its also your coffee mug.  It also makes a great snack jar for trail mix.  I pack one reusable shopping bag which folds down really tiny and a couple of the reusable produce bags, for buying fruits, breads, etc at the market.  A sandwich box might be useful here if you want to buy berries or cheeses.  The rest of the time you can use it for, you know, carrying around your sandwich.  And finally I take half a dozen organic cotton muslins which can multi task as napkins, handkerchiefs, for wrapping your sandwich up inside its sandwich box (instead of cling film) or for wrapping up baked goods bought at the market so to avoid having to take a paper or plastic bag.  Then you can clean them in the washing machine at your apartment and they dry quickly, ready to take out and use again.

Here’s an example of what my suitcase contents look like:

  • Capsule wardrobe (I won’t go into detail as obviously what I wear depends on the season and destination, but I keep it pretty simple.)
  • Toiletries kit (GoToobs filled with shampoo, homemade toothpaste, homemade deodorant, body lotion and homemade aftersun gel.  Eye cream.  Face oil.  Bamboo toothbrush.  Possibly sun protection cream, if required.  Razor.  Makeup bag.  My 10 ‘first aid’ essential oils kit.)
  • Mason jar
  • Sandwich box
  • Reusable shopping bag & produce bags
  • Clipper tea bags (because finding organic tea in unbleached bags is near impossible!)
  • 6 organic cotton muslin squares (yes, like the ones for your baby!)
  • iPad (for movies, emails and day trip planning)
  • Book (I can’t help it…I’m not a Kindle girl.  I love a good real book when I travel!)

Souvenirs

Its easy to get caught up while on holiday and buy loads of stuff you’ll wonder what to do with when you get home.  You don’t need to buy anything to bring home though.  Some people like to bring home their train tickets and flight stubs to glue into their journals.  My husband loves to buy the tackiest, most gaudy resin magnet he can find and that is his single souvenir from each trip.  I don’t entirely approve of this, as these horrible bits of resin will be probably languishing in a landfill long after we’re dead and gone.  (Surely no one will want to inherit them!)  But it brings him joy, so I have to have a somewhat balanced perspective when it comes to these things.  As for me, I make these ‘memory jars’ filled with sand, pebbles, shells and sea glass from each of our beach holidays.  I reuse the plastic ziplock bag they make you use at airport security to put your liquid toiletries in by using it to store collected beach treasures and a bit of sand or pebbles.  Then, when I get home I put the contents of the bag into an old glass jam jar and add a luggage tag noting the date and location of the holiday for the contents of each jar.  I keep them in my secretary desk and each time I open it, I smile, remembering how happy each holiday made me.

OLOL Memory Jars Zero Waste

Traveling with Children

Traveling with children can be actually really zero waste-friendly.  By staying in a rented apartment or house, rather than a hotel, you can continue to use your homemade wipes and cloth nappies because you can machine wash them as often as you need to.  Its much easier to prepare your child’s snacks and meals in a real kitchen with fresh ingredients from the market or supermarket, rather than constantly having to buy expensive packaged and potentially unhealthy snacks on-the-go.

I hope you find some of these tips useful in helping you to have a zero waste holiday…or at least to help you reduce some of the waste you might normally create when on holiday.  Being able to travel is a wonderful experience in life, but it is so important to keep our planet as clean and beautiful as we can so our children and grandchildren can experience it in the same way that we have.  What about you?  Do you have any great zero waste holiday tips to share with me in the comments below?