Backpacking the Amalfi Coast. Ever since I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon, the colourful cliffs of the Amalfi Coast lured me to its shores. However, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I could afford a holiday in such a luxe region of Italy. But last summer, during high season, my boyfriend and I decided to test whether the Amalfi Coast could sustain budget travelers looking for a romantic get-a-way. While we definitely had to pay a bit more than the typical European budget holiday- we managed to stay in some gorgeous hotels, indulge in some of the finest cuisine and take in the splendors of the Amalfi Coasts’ limestone cliffs and blue waters, without breaking the bank. While Italy is an ideal summer vacation spot, the Amalfi Coast is truly a place for lovers. The entire time travelling, I felt as if I was on my honeymoon- even budget hotels were some of the most beautiful hotels rooms I had ever stayed in. And I was not alone- my boyfriend would often exclaim “I feel like I am in a movie”. This highly emotive region of hidden coves and sharply defined cliffs which plunge into the royal blue sea is a world that must be experienced first hand to fully understand its potent beauty.
Amalfi Coast Sections:
We decided that since we were already utilizing a travel day to fly from Canada to Italy that we would maximize our travel time and make our way directly down to the Amalfi Coast. We arrived in Rome and boarded the Leonardo Express airport train (trains run at 5 and 35 on the hour [11 Euros each way] and takes approximately half an hour) to Termini station (Rome’s central station), bought our tickets, grabbed a prosciutto and bocchini sandwich and a few bottles of Chianti while we waited for our train to Stazione Napoli Centrale located in Garibaldi Plaza (depending on what train you take- the Eurostar (luxe) vs. the Intercity Plus train (budget), travel time can take up to 2 hours. After a transatlantic flight and a bottle of Chianti, I quickly passed out on the train. When we arrived in Naples, this sweet old man who had been sitting next to us, traveling with his 3 rambunctious kids, led us to the ticket both for the Circumvensuviana Sorrento train (train to Sorrento takes about 75 minutes and costs around 3 Euros).
For all train schedules visit
We arrived in Sorrento at around 8 pm and the town was swarming with both Italian and international tourists, so much so, that the streets were closed off to cars so that people could meander the streets while they absentmindedly licked their gelatos.
Our Reasonably Priced Hotel in Sorrento
A short 5 minute stroll from the train station, we found our hotel, Hotel Plaza ( 90 Euro a night- call and negotiate), and we were pleasantly shocked by its modern decor. The hotel was decked out in white and the floors were so clean that you could practically eat off them. To top it off, we couldn’t have asked for a better location- the hotel was a mere 30 second walk to Piazza Tasso (Sorrento’s main Piazza). The hotel’s rooftop patio was the hotel’s Pièce de résistance with an infinity pool overlooking the city and the sea (perfect for sunset swims).
Cheap Eats in Sorrento
After settling into the hotel, we decided to grab a late night bite off the main square, at a beautiful alleyway Trattoria called La Basilica where we had probably the best meal of our trip. To start, we shared a delicious seafood salad and for our main, I had spatzle and scampi while my boyfriend had the most succulent pasta I have ever tasted- it was crab filled ravioli topped with zucchini sauce and each bite literally melted in my mouth. I don’t usually like zucchini but this sauce was the perfect blend of a fresh and creamy flavor. We topped off our meal with some tart Limoncello, which is a specialty of the region. The next night we headed to Saint Antonio, a reasonably priced restaurant known for the best pizza in the area. On our last night we had a romantic dinner at Da Giginos, set in a picturesque alleyway serving up excellent pizzas and gnocchi alla Sorrentina (which is regular gnocchi baked in an oven- mmmm). For the best gelato, try and find the small shop between Corso Italia and Via San Caesaro called Primavera where celebrities adorn the walls and the gelato is as distinct as the atmosphere.
Nightlife in Sorrento
If you are looking for something a little bit more than a relaxing get-a-way check out the Artis Domus for both live and disco music in the cellar of a historic villa that once belonged to a well-known Sorrentine poet.
Activities in Sorrento
We spent the next few days strolling the alleyways of Sorrento, enjoying seafood lunches by the ocean at Ristorante Taverna Azzura, trying on goofy hats, relishing in Sorrento’s cliffs on an open air bus tour (11 Euros departing from Piazza Tasso) sampling gelato and picking up souvenirs (such as the classic music box and handmade shoes). We also took a day trip to Pompei and Mount Vesuvius which is easily accessible from the Pompeii- Scavi Villa dei Misteri train station (catch the Circumvesuviana train from the Sorrento station).
Pompeii, a Roman town frozen under 2000 years of volcanic ash, offers one of Europe’s most interesting archaeological sites. Admission to the site costs 11.50 Euros. Local guides are abundant- practically from the moment you enter the site, you will be swarmed with offers for cheap multi – person tours. The guides will try and get a big group together, so you may need to wait a while for the guide to assemble your group. However, it should not cost you more than 10 Euros p/p. I highly recommend a guided tour, otherwise, walking the city of Pompeii is kinda useless as you won’t know what you are looking at or its historical significance. Either way- make sure you don’t miss the:
- the House of Menander- which includes an atrium, peristyle and baths;
- the Stabian baths- which is the most ancient structure in Pompeii; and
- the Brothel- with frescoes depicting erotic acts.
ii. Mt. Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius, the dangerous volcanic mountain which destroyed Pompeii is as dangerous today as it was 2000 years ago. Despite warnings, residents still live on the mountain due to the fertile soil and tourists flock to the crater park to witness its grandeur. The easiest way to visit Vesuvius is to grab a bus from Ercolano-Scavi station to the Crater Park (the total trip lasts about an hour and costs apprx. 10 Euros or 16.50 including crater admission). Visit Vesuvio Express for more information. After a long filled, sweaty day of touring Pompeii and Mt. Veusivus we took the train back to Sorrento for one final night.
Tip: Try and pick a day where it is not super hot as walking around the ruins and volcano can be exhausting even on a cool day.
Sadly, Sorrento gets a bad rap, it is considered an uber touristy Italian destination filled with package holiday goers and English styled pubs. While the city it chaotic, there is an unmistakable charm to Sorrento that is distinct from the rest of the Amalfi coast. The city offers straddling cliffs providing an unobstructed view of the Bay of Naples, quaint alleyways filled with colourful storefronts selling anything from life size Pinocchio dolls to packaged spices to Limoncello shops and fantastic restaurants, making Sorrento an undeniably beautiful vacation spot. Just don’t spend too long here as there are dozens of beautiful spots along the coast. Once you have perused the city’s streets, visited some cliff side points and had a dip in the water, its time to move on to the true Amalfi Coast.
Getting to the Amalfi Coast
After 3 days of adapting to the Mediterranean lifestyle we hopped on a SITA coach bus (6 Euros for hop on hop off pass valid for 24 hours) and headed towards the town of Amalfi. While we debated renting a car, I was relived we didn’t after I saw the jagged cliffs, tight roads and sharp turns. We visited the Amalfi Coast during July, which is also the region’s high season and battling the roads narrow streets would have been terrifying. Therefore, unless you are an experienced European driver I would suggest sticking to public transportation.
For a schedule of the Amalfi Coast bus line company visit SITA’s website: http://www.sitabus.it/wps/portal/OrariCampania
Amalfi, the most famous of all of Amalfi’s cities, is a tiny, sleepy town where tourists flock to visit Piazza del Duomo, and its landmark cathedral, the city’s ceramic shops and its hidden alleyways.
Our Reasonably Priced Hotel in Amalfi
Upon arriving, it took us about 20 minutes to find our hotel (even though the main street only takes about 5 minutes to walk) finding your hotel can be confusing as most hotels are off the main road through small alleyways and up a myriad of staircases. Eventually, after walking up and down the main road we finally found our way to the Residence del Duca. While our last hotel was very modern, this family – run hotel embodied an old Italian charm with its plush royal blue headboard, its tiny bathroom with multicolored tiles and its antique furniture. The hotel included a simple, yet traditional Italian breakfast of melon, salami, cheese and freshly brewed cappuccinos served on a tiny balcony overlooking the adjacent balconies and the ocean. My boyfriend and I especially loved watching the old man on one of the neighboring balconies talk to his many plants. He would get really into it, with typical Italian emotion- flailing his hands up in their year, pacing back and forth and yelling as loud as he could to make sure the plants heard him.
Activities in Amalfi- Private boat tour
While in Amalfi, we rented a 4 seater rubber boat at the pier (originally they want 200 Euros for 2 hours but we managed to bargain them down to 120 Euros for the afternoon including gas). It was probably the best day of our trip. We got to see the entire Amalfi Coast, took swimming breaks at our leisure and explored small coves and hidden beaches. While this may seem pricey, if you have the money and the time, I highly recommend this splurge.
Cheap Eats in Amalfi
That night we went out for dinner and opted for the set 3 course menu which was entirely too much food and mediocre at best. I ordered what I thought was going to be grilled octopus. What I ended up getting was several eight legged octopus fetuses in tomato sauce. When I bite the head off, brains oozed out. I told our waiter that while everything tasted great, the octopus did not taste good. He looked at me as if I just told him his mother died and screamed “everyone eats this” and stormed off in a huff. While I was a bit taken back by his reaction, I realized then that not only is food their livelihood but that they treat it like it’s a work of art, so I understood his frustration, but it was still shocking as you would rarely get that reaction in a North American restaurant. To avoid this unpleasant gastronomic experience head to Trattoria San Giuseppe for the best pizza in Amalfi or A Sciulia for the best lemon granita.
After spending 2 nights in Amalfi we boarded a ferry to. It was absolutely beautiful arriving into Positano by sea- in fact, it was even more beautiful than the movies make it out to be.
In Positano the steeply stacked buildings look as if they are piled upon each other and the pink and terracotta colours make this town’s landscape unforgettable.
Our reasonably priced Accommodation in Positano
Our hotel, Hotel Ville Delle Palme was a long, sweaty walk uphill through windy street paths plus a bus ride up the mountain. Our hotel was one of the more expensive hotels on our trip (90/ 100 Euros with or without terrace) and probably the shabbiest. While it was cute hotel, there was no fan and the room seemed dated. We upgraded to a terrace room for an extra 10 Euros which was definitely not worth it. We weren’t in the room long enough to enjoy the terrace and there wasn’t much a of view. You are better off paying less and having a small top floor balcony with a view of the ocean. Since Positano is the one of the most expensive towns in the Amalfi coast we stayed here for only 1 night to minimize costs.
Activities in Positano
We spent the day in Positano at the nearby Fornillo beach which is a small, relaxed, rocky beach with colourful lawn chairs and cute ocean side restaurants. To get to the beach, we had to walk down 330 stairs and rewarded ourselves with a nice cold Heineken once we got to our destination. While the beach was not the most beautiful (in fact, none of the beaches in the Amalfi Coast are worth writing home about), the surroundings are amazingly picturesque. The beach is nestled in between a cove with what looks like a castle built into the mountains on the right and the city of Positano and its fishing boats on the left.
The next day we took a bus up to the start of the 12 km Walk of the Gods Hike (a beautiful 5- 6 hour hike linking Positano to Praiano) to try out a local Trattoria (I believe it was called Dona Rosa) before heading to Capri. To get to either the hike or the resto, take the bus that goes to Montepersuto. Once you get there, walk down the stairs and at the bottom turn left and keep walking for about 5 minutes until you see a sign for a Trattoria. We learned about this fantastic restaurant with some of the best views of Positano and the Amalfi Coast from a English couple who spent their summers in Positano. Not only does this restaurant’s menu change daily (so there is always something new and interesting), but they use some of the freshest and tastiest ingredients in the Amalfi Coast. Make sure you try their antipasto platter.
Cheap Eats in Positano
For dinner, on our first and only night in Positano, we indulged in a delicious roadside dinner at Saraceno d’oro (sister restaurant of Hotel Ville Delle Palme) where I sampled ricotta stuffed pasta and my boyfriend had the fillet minion.
Nightlife in Positano
Later that evening we headed to Music on the Rocks, a high energy nightclub set in a cavern which spins house and techno music. FYI on weeknights this cavern houses resident pianist Claudio Fiori and has much more laidback feel and crowd.
Later that afternoon, we grabbed our bags and headed to the pier to catch the 6 pm ferry to Capri.
Capri, a celebrity playpen, is the most fashionable of all the Amalfi coasts. It is an interesting mix of luxury hotels, cute cafes and designer boutiques. The island is divided by its two main centres, Capri town and the uphill town of Anacapri. While prices across the entire island are high Capri town offers no budget accommodation options except for Pension Guarracino (apprx. s/d 70/90).
Our Reasonably Priced Accommodation in Capri
Upon arriving in Capri, we realized that the buses to Anacapri ran only every 40 minutes and were jammed packed so we hopped in a 20 Euro open air cab to our hotel in Anacapri. We booked a room at B&B Monte Solaro (110 Euros with breakfast included), while the steep climb up to the hotel with out packs on was brutal, the hotel had magnificent views of the ocean, a gracious host, Constanzo, and a small infinity pool perfect for cooling down after a long day of sightseeing.
Activities in Capri
We tried to visit the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), known for its eternal blue light, but the tides were too high and it was unsafe for boats to enter. So we opted for a 2 hour boat tour around the island and a visit to I Faraglioni (the famous 2 jagged rock formations jutting of the sea) and a chairlift up to Mount Solaro which has a spectacular views of I Faragiloni.
Cheap Eats in Capri
After the traditional site-seeing activities, we headed into downtown Capri to window shop and enjoy some overpriced cuisine. If you want to reduce your costs, stay and eat in Anacapri and head to downtown Capri town for sightseeing activities only. For a modestly priced restaurant in Anacapri, check out Il Solitario, hidden down a narrow alleyway, set in a garden like terrace with hanging vines shading its customers. Make sure you try the Sorrento gnocchi and the fresh fish of the day.
Nightlife in Capri
For a taste of Capri’s nightlife, check out the island’s premier nightclub- Taverna Anema e Core whichattracts a chic yet fun loving club and is redolent of la dolce vita of yesteryear. If you want to keep the party going- check out Number Two, a local, celebrity hotspot where the party only starts going at 2 pm.
Capri, is surprisingly easy to get around. Buses run to and from Anacapri and Capri- you just need to be willing to wait as they are small, fill up fast and usually run every half an hour.
From Capri, we caught the ferry to Naples, got out of the city almost as fast as we came in (but had a quick pizza bite at “Port Alba” possibly the oldest Pizzeria in the world- founded in 1738) and headed back to Termini station in Rome. We didn’t book our accommodation in Rome, as most places near the Trevi fountain/ Spanish Steps were ridiculously expensive so we were hoping to snatch a last minute deal at the train station. When you arrive in Termini, head to the tourist booking counter and right beside it there is a last minute hotel booth. You can get great deals on hotels (almost 50% off the retail price) plus a small 3 Euro booking fee.
Rome, is an epic city filled with a rich history, magnificent sites and reasonably priced Italian restaurants. The last time I was in Rome, I was 19 backpacking with a girlfriend and all we really cared about was shopping and pub crawls (Rome has a fantastic pub crawl suitable for college aged students. if you are interested- one starts at the Spanish steps and the other one starts at the Colosseum. They each costs about 25 Euros for a few free drinks, a pizza dinner and admission to several clubs and bars). However, when I revisited this city with my boyfriend, I really wanted to take in the rich splendor that the city had to offer. Starting with being right in the middle of the action.
Our Reasonably Priced Accommodation in Rome
When I was in Rome almost 10 years before, we stayed near the central train station (where most budget accommodation is situated); however, not only is this part of the city super sketchy at nightfall, but there isn’t much to do around the area as all sites are a bus ride away. Instead, we opted for a moderately priced hotel called Residenza Antica Roma (with the last minute discount, our room came to 90 Euros) that had a real Italian flair with colourfully wall-papered walls, tiny yet comfortable rooms and each floor had a different colour scheme. The hotel was 2 minutes from the Trevi fountain/ Spanish steps/ Via Veneto (Rome’s famous shopping street) and Barbarini Metro Station which made it very convenient for getting around. For a more backpacker friendly scene- stay at the famous Alessandro Palace Hostel which offers an on-site bar and backpacker friendly rates (prices starting from 25 Euros).
Activities in Rome
Our visit to Rome lasted only 2 days but in that time we visited all the hot spots:
- we were overwhelmed at the grandeur of Vatican City;
- dined in the Piazza that houses the Pantheon;
- marveled at the ancient glories fought and witnessed at the Colosseum and Rome Forum;
- threw pennies into the Trevi Fountain (make sure you also visit the fountain at night to see it all lit up),
- perused the designer shops on Via Veneto ending up at Piazza del Popolo;
- tested our fate at the Aventine ,
- pored over the art collection of Galleria Borghese; and
- sipped on Chianti while watching the passersby on the Spanish Steps.
Cheap Eats in Rome
While there is a huge market for overpriced, stuffy restaurants, Rome also has tons of budget eating options- you just need to know where to look. Generally you can find pasta and pizzas from anywhere between 5-10 Euros. Wine, as in most areas of Italy, is cheaper than water. Also, beware of the price of pop- once while in a small cafeteria- we ordered two cokes and when the bill came, we were shocked to see that our drinks totaled over $9 U.S. For a delicious meal on a tight budget head to Navona Notte, just off Piazza Novana, for tasty pizzas, mouth watering four cheese gnocchi and friendly service. Just around the corner is a local italien eatery called Da francesco serving up delicious, abundant portions and a loud friendly atmosphere. A full meal and a glass of wine should set up back max 15 Euro (go early as this place fills up early). We stumbled upon Ristorante Due Colonne while touring around the Colosseum. This traditional eatery prides itself on fresh ingredients and high quality food. If you are staying in the Vatican/ St. Angel area head to Motecarlo, just off Piazaa Chiesa Nuova for a local experience where to vibe is loud, the food is great and the prices are just right. And for what some say is the best pizza in Rome check out the Baffetto Pizzaeri for a lively family restaurant with mediocre service.
Italy, particularly the Amalfi Coast is truly the definition of La Dolce Vita- from the food and wine to the stunning scenery and friendly people a trip to Italy is truly a piece of the good life.