Help us make the best of the Amalfi Coast.
December 26, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Traveling to the Amalfi Coast in Italy in March with my girlfriend and her family (6 total people). Need some help.

Looking for some guidance regarding:

— Transportation. (Best ways to get around for short day trips. For instance, should we rent cars, use public trains, buses, boats, etc?)
— Points of interest. (Most seem interested in making a day trip to Pompeii — beyond that, what else?)
— Food. (Where? Yelp is useless in Italy.)
— Lodging (looking to rent a place with at least 3 bedrooms)
posted by scooterdman to Travel & Transportation around Italy (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I thought that Herculaneum was more interesting than Pompeii. There were almost no other tourists there when I went, which gave it a very different feel.
posted by belladonna at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been there a couple of times. It's a great place for a holiday.

Transportation - there's a fairly good train service that will get you to many of the major towns along the coast - useful for day trips to Pompeii, Herculaneum (Ercolano station) etc. I would not recommend car/moped hire. The roads are pretty treacherous and the drivers are insane. You won't see a car that hasn't been dented in several places. If you do decide to go down the hire route, make sure you take out the extra insurance to cover accidental damage - you won't regret it. Bus tours are fine if you feel the need for a bit of hand-holding, but using the normal trains and buses is much cheaper.

Points of Interest - Don't miss Herculaneum. It's much smaller than Pompeii, but the state of preservation is incredible. Ercolano, the modern town in which it lies, isn't terribly nice. I wouldn't want to stay there for the evening. But definitely go to Herculaneum.

Positano looks wonderful when approached by sea, although like many of the coastal towns, it's very touristy. But I like touristy. Sorrento is good for a wander about, and is a decent place to catch a boat to Positano or Capri. Capri is worth a visit; if you want a good long walk in relative peace, head up to the Villa Jovis (palace of the emperor Tiberius). The view out over the sea is great.

Food... I prefer to just wander about and see what looks good. 'Il Buco' in Sorrento was pretty good I think.

Lodging... I've only stayed at the Settimo Cielo in Sorrento, built into the cliff on the way out of town to the west. Fairly cheap, very clean, and the staff were all friendly and accommodating. Plus the views down to the harbour were amazing. I'd stay there again happily. Getting several rooms in close proximity in March is something that I'm sure would be possible.
posted by pipeski at 12:34 PM on December 26, 2012

We stayed in Ravello for a week. A car did make it handy to get to Pompeii / Naples, but otherwise is a big pain - parking is tough. Recommended to us was to walk down and bus back up. This worked out well. It wasn't that cheap, but you would not want to walk up that hill. The little towns at sea level are charming and I agree the idea of walking around and seeing what appeals.

On a separate trip, I had a great visit to Ischia. I felt the people on Capri were more into ripping off tourists. Beware credit card surcharges.
posted by sagwalla at 2:30 PM on December 26, 2012

Paestum, Paestum, Paestum. And did I mention Paestum?
posted by cyndigo at 10:17 PM on December 26, 2012

Points of Interest/Food:
Consider a cooking lesson with Mama Agata. She lives in the most beautiful spot in the world, in the midst of lemon groves on the side of a mountain. The class is fantastic, the food divine. She and her fellow chefs are charming. I loved it.
posted by annabellee at 5:13 AM on December 27, 2012

I would also recommend against driving in Italy, but I'm a bit of a scaredy cat. There is fairly good public transport in the region.

The boat ride between spots on the Amalfi coast and Sorrento is not to be missed. I would say the same of the bus ride through the hills from Sorrento to Amalfi, but it is not for the faint of heart. If you ever wanted to see two buses pass each other on a narrow, winding mountain road with no real barriers, this is your chance. Buy tickets in advance and validate them in the machine on the bus.

The Circumvesuviana is a local service train that will get you from Sorrento to Naples, stopping in Pompeii, Ercolano, and other really nice places in between. At the Castellamare di Stabia stop you can take a cable car up to the top of Monte Faito. Amazing views on the way up and across the valley once you get up there. There's a small cafe a short walk from the cable car stop at the top.
Another of my favourite places in the area is Vico Equense (also a stop on the Circumvesuviana). This is a small town that's not too touristy but has plenty of places to eat and drink. I think it has the best views across the Bay of Naples.

I should mention that most of the places in this area are very hilly or downright mountainous and one should expect a lot of walking up-hill. Fortunately, March shouldn't be too hot and hopefully not too crowded.

If you're looking for a day of shopping or something a bit more cosmopolitan, I'd suggest Salerno over Naples. Salerno is quieter and a little less gritty, for lack of a better term. It's quite easy to get to from Amalfi - I think we took a boat.

I can also support pretty much all of the other suggestions here:
Herculaneum is fantastic, especially in comparison to Pompeii. (Don't get me wrong, Pompeii is amazing, but Herc is more charming. Memail for detailed opinions of each) For even more ancient history, head down to Paestum. It has Roman and Greek ruins and a museum, all of which are usually pretty quiet. We always stop for a long lunch at the Simposium restaurant, which is just past the ancient site in the shadow of a Greek temple. Make sure you try the sparkling red wine.

Ravello, Positano, Sorrento are all worth a visit. I've stayed in Atrani, which is tiny but beautiful and it made a good central base of operations.

Food - try to find places that DO NOT have a tourist menu. That's the worst possible option because it's expensive for what you get and it won't be very nice. Just about anywhere else you go is going to be good. This is the only place in the world I'll eat shellfish.

I can't really help much with lodging because I've always stayed in either camp sites or small double room BnB's. However, there are lots of websites with info about renting apartments, villas, etc. Here's just one to start with. You should be able to find a good deal somewhere, especially if you're travelling off-season.
Good luck!
posted by Eumachia L F at 5:35 AM on December 27, 2012

Transportation: Definitely rent a car unless everybody on the trip is an intrepid mass transit lover who also digs long walks. I've been all over Italy on wonky local buses, but it's definitely not for everyone. A car also might be more economical, and it'll definitely open up the number of things it's possible to do in a day and how rested everyone feels.

Points of Interest: Was going to say the beaches, but in March that won't be as fun. Positano is definitely worth a stroll, though. I loved Ravello, a hillside town with stately villas and gardens, a lot more than I thought I would (frankly it sounded boring in the guidebook). There are ruins from the pre-Roman Greek colonial period at Paestum. I hated Capri town but loved hiking to Tiberius' villa at the top of the island. There are also some pretty cathedrals (especially at Amalfi), and it would be a crime not to spend a day in Naples, for the pizza and the archaeology museum if nothing else.

Food: everywhere. Seriously, Italy is not one of those places you can overthink with Yelp and guidebooks and such. To be honest, I thought most of the Highly Recommended restaurants I ate in were so-so, but still remember the hole in the wall taverna near the house we rented in Positano, picking up buffalo mozzarella at a tiny latteria, and the amazing produce everywhere. Just relax and eat!

Lodging: can't comment as I didn't book it either time I was in the area.
posted by Sara C. at 7:22 PM on December 28, 2012

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