Tag Archives: valley of the dragons

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