Almafi Coast (Sorrento, Amalfi, Nocello, Pompeii)

How we ditched the crowds and actually found what you see on Instagram! 

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Our guide introduced us to a "mountain lion" along the narrow Path of the Gods on a steep cliff, hundreds of meters above the sea, but that was less scary than the crowds in Positano! The appeal of the Amalfi Coast is undeniable, the quaint villages settled into cliffs high above the beautiful Mediterranean, stony black pocket beaches with boats plying the harbor, and flower decked balcony cafes perched over stone cliffs. Unfortunately, because of the huge crowds of tourists, it's hard to enjoy the "charm" of the small towns that are on everyone's radar.  We had a few experiences of looking around and feeling like the place didn't look anything like it's Instagram photos!  Luckily, we discovered a few ways to get around the crowds and enjoy the gorgeous views and warm local people.   

Use a Really Good Travel Agent

Our driver in Sorrento, Evo, in addition to patient, expert driving on the challenging Amalfi Coast Roads, he made our trip engaging and fun, he rolled with whatever changes we made on the fly and kept us comfortable all day!

Our driver in Sorrento, Evo, in addition to patient, expert driving on the challenging Amalfi Coast Roads, he made our trip engaging and fun, he rolled with whatever changes we made on the fly and kept us comfortable all day!

We had heard from friends that Matteo at Fuoritinerio was expert at planning Italian itineraries for guests.  We communicated with him regarding our wishes, and he provided us with expert guiding, engaging private drivers and an itinerary that matched our interests. Choosing  an agent with excellent contacts and knowledge of the area made a huge difference on our trip. It allowed us to get off the beaten path, to change our itinerary on the fly when conditions (such as crowds of people or our interests) changed. We were also able to meet guides, drivers and their local friends, which gave us more local flavor than a bus tour or wandering around by ourselves might have. 

Go Off Season

High on the cliffs, families have terraced the land where they have grown their own olives, grapes and lemons for generations. Some of the harvesting seasons are later in the fall and make for interesting photos and the opportunity for shoulder season food touring. 

High on the cliffs, families have terraced the land where they have grown their own olives, grapes and lemons for generations. Some of the harvesting seasons are later in the fall and make for interesting photos and the opportunity for shoulder season food touring. 

Our cruise along the Amalfi Coast on Azamara Quest included stops in Sorrento and Amalfi.  We traveled in early October and thought this would be the low season. Although the crowds we encountered didn't come close to peak July crowds, we still shared our visit with lots of other tourists. Quite a few of our guides said if you don't mind the cooler weather, November and March and April (outside of Easter week) can be enjoyable times to visit with fewer crowds.  

Get off the Beaten Path

Although the Path of the Gods has been discovered by tourists, this network of old paths that connect hillside villages together are an excellent way to get out of the coastal villages when they become overwhelmed by tour buses. 

Although the Path of the Gods has been discovered by tourists, this network of old paths that connect hillside villages together are an excellent way to get out of the coastal villages when they become overwhelmed by tour buses. 

During our 2 days on the Amalfi coast we were driven along the whole coast from Sorrento to Amalfi, visited Pompeii, the ancient Roman archaeological site, wandered around Positano and spent an afternoon on the beach in Almalfi.  We weren't alone very often! But we also found fewer people when we climbed the Path of the Gods high above the Amalfi coast, enjoyed a wine tasting lunch at a local vineyard, and visited the tiny town of Nocello, high above the coast. 

 

Trip Report:

Day 1 Sorrento

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Our ship anchored in Sorrento, this is a base for larger cruise ships to explore the Amalfi coast.  Sorrento is also very accessible with air, ferry, train and bus connections from other parts of Italy, it's a convenient and less expensive place to find lodging. Our driver, Evo, picked us up promptly and drove us about an hour away to Pompeii. we were lucky to have Evo as our driver, he engaged with us sharing humorous stories from his life and answering our questions about life for the residents of the Amalfi Coast. 

Pompeii

Under the shadow of Vesuvius, a still active volcano, famous for an eruption during Roman times that destroyed the entire village of Pompeii which wasn't discovered until the end of the 19th century. 

Under the shadow of Vesuvius, a still active volcano, famous for an eruption during Roman times that destroyed the entire village of Pompeii which wasn't discovered until the end of the 19th century. 

Pompeii is one of those places where there are crowds because of the uniqueness of the place. Everyone wants to go because there is something worth seeing!  We decided that a privately guided tour was one way to avoid the crowds on the beaten path.  Our Guide Lorenzo, was very well informed and was able to bring us to places where he could interpret what we were seeing, while avoiding the huge crush of crowds.  Lorenzo was very respectful of the fact that the modern day excavation of Pompeii is more than an open air museum; it's also the burial site of thousands of actual people who died in a horrible natural disaster.  That their lives and town were entombed for thousands of years, and provides us with so much information about the Roman era, is the gift they left behind. 

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A Few Tips for Visiting Pompeii

  • Get advance tickets if possible, to avoid the ticket line. Check larger bags before getting in line at the entrance.
  • Go early, it's cooler and quieter in the morning. 
  • It can be very hot, because of all the stone and it's location away from the coast, expect it to be far warmer than surrounding areas.  Bring lots of water, hat, lightweight long sleeve cover up, and sun screen.
  • Because of the crowds, back packs aren't allowed, even large purses might be required to be checked.  Try to carry the things you need on your person, or in a very small tote bag you can wear under arm.
  • Most of the guides use a small book that has photos of the ruins and an overleaf with an illustration of what the buildings would have looked like intact and during Roman times. If you are taking a self guided tour, you can purchase one of these books for 12-16 Euro from the vendors outside of Pompeii.  It's a very useful way to see Pompeii as  "before and after"
  • Most of the artifacts, mosaics, and entombed bodies you'll see at Pompeii are recreations of what was excavated.  To see the actual artifacts and learn more about Pompeii, its a good idea to include a visit to the Archaeology Museum in Naples
  •  
The Basilica. The photos below (click to expand) entrance sign, Dancing Faun at the House of Faun, "cross walk" stones, a Roman bath, which used geothermal water

The Basilica. The photos below (click to expand) entrance sign, Dancing Faun at the House of Faun, "cross walk" stones, a Roman bath, which used geothermal water

The outer walls were developed with buildings because at the time of the eruption, 79AD, things were peaceful enough for people to live and work outside the city walls. 

The outer walls were developed with buildings because at the time of the eruption, 79AD, things were peaceful enough for people to live and work outside the city walls. 

A Roman take out food restaurant; food was cooked in the ovens and served from the pots in the counter.  People would come in, fill their dishes and leave the shop with their food. 

A Roman take out food restaurant; food was cooked in the ovens and served from the pots in the counter.  People would come in, fill their dishes and leave the shop with their food. 

Detail of marble carvings on columns were perfectly preserved. 

Detail of marble carvings on columns were perfectly preserved. 

A "road" in Pompeii...it's fun to see the "ruts" in the stone worn by the carts and carriages preserved since the first century AD. 

A "road" in Pompeii...it's fun to see the "ruts" in the stone worn by the carts and carriages preserved since the first century AD. 

Positano

Follow the winding road along the coast and you will find yourself above the town of Positano. You just won't find yourself alone!

Follow the winding road along the coast and you will find yourself above the town of Positano. You just won't find yourself alone!

After our tour of Pompeii, our driver returned to drive us from Pompeii back to the Amalfi coast.  Along the way, we stopped at the Sorrentino Wine Estate, where we enjoyed a multi course lunch paired with wines made from the famed Lacryma Christi grapes. The legend holds that as Satan fell from heaven (to the not so great place where he ended up!) he was hanging onto a piece of heaven, which fell to earth and became the Amalfi Coast!  Christ cried tears that created the vines where best grapes grew (thus Lcryma Christi!)  After lunch we traveled along the narrow, winding roads to Positano

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Shops in Positano offer famous Amalfi Coast pottery, shoes, linens and the usual tourist trinkets.

One of the best ways to enjoy Positano is to skip the crowds wending their way down the hill on the narrow roads and duck into one of the many cafes perched on the cliffs and enjoy the views while sipping Limoncello, a liqueur made from local lemons. 

One of the best ways to enjoy Positano is to skip the crowds wending their way down the hill on the narrow roads and duck into one of the many cafes perched on the cliffs and enjoy the views while sipping Limoncello, a liqueur made from local lemons. 

Santa Maria Assunta in Positano

Santa Maria Assunta in Positano

Positano and the Santa Maria Assunta on the left

Positano and the Santa Maria Assunta on the left

The beach and Mediterranean Sorrento

The beach and Mediterranean Sorrento

After our visit to Positano, we returned to Sorrento with our driver.  Having driven out and back along the Amalafi Coast, we were very thankful to have a professional driver.  The roads are narrow and winding, they are filled with enormous tour buses, as well as selfie stick toting pedestrians distracted by the views. Add to this local middle age women zipping around cars on scooters at high speeds to get where they need to go and cars parked on every available shoulder (and a few that aren't technically "available") and you can see why we were thankful we weren't the ones doing the driving!  I could try to describe what driving the Amalfi Coast is like, but a video tells the story better! 

 

Day 2 Amalfi and the Path of the Gods

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The following day, Our ship sailed from Sorrento into the town of Amalfi.  We had big plans for the day...hiking the Path of the Gods with a guide provided by Matteo from Fuoritineiro.

See our post: Path of the Gods

After our hike on the Path of the Gods, we returned to Amalfi.  Rather than brave the tourist hordes in the cutesy shops and narrow lanes, we headed for the small pocket beach lined with visiting tourists (most from places who think temperatures in the mid 70's F (20 C) is warm enough for a swim!) and dark vocanic sands. 

You can rent a chair and have use of a changing facility/rest room, or just spread your towel in the "free" section.  You won't be alone, but can enjoy people watching the interesting international crowd and see the ferries making their way to Sorrento, Naples and the island of Capri

You can rent a chair and have use of a changing facility/rest room, or just spread your towel in the "free" section.  You won't be alone, but can enjoy people watching the interesting international crowd and see the ferries making their way to Sorrento, Naples and the island of Capri

How Malta Celebrated Our Wedding Anniversary

Valletta

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Malta was a unique and beautiful place to spend the day of our wedding anniversary, but we were really surprised when they really went all out to help us celebrate with cannon fire! 

We visited Malta as part of our Azamara Quest Cruise to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  One of those big ones with a "0" in it! Malta is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Sailing into the harbor is a scenic experience itself, and our ship came in around noon, which gave us plenty of daylight to enjoy the dramatic lighthouses, St Elmo Fortress and beautiful city from the deck of the ship.  

Mouth of Valetta Harbor

Mouth of Valetta Harbor

Fort St Elmo

Fort St Elmo

Yachts in the Grand Harbour

Yachts in the Grand Harbour

Map from the Malta Expeience

Home of the Hospitaller Order of St John Knights, it's full of history and culture. After searching online for privately guided tours, we contacted Joan of Touring Malta for a half day tour, but she was already booked for a multi day trip and recommended we book through her brothers company. Chris Sheridan was responsive by email and we arranged a half day tour to start mid afternoon, when we arrived in Malta.  Our guide Flora met us promptly at the pier and driver Charlie, stopped to pick us up at the entrance of the port. 

We began our tour in the "Old City" of Valletta on Republic Street.  We were joined by throngs of tourists and sightseeing groups. 

Republic St in Valletta

Republic St in Valletta

What impressed us about Malta over the other old cities we had visited as part of our 10 day cruise, was that it was not just a museum to the past, but mix of old walls, and buildings and modern stores and buildings. 

New buildings and old horse carts demonstrate the mix of old and new in Valletta.

New buildings and old horse carts demonstrate the mix of old and new in Valletta.

Another mix of new and old- a Piano designed modern Parliament building and examples of the Baroque Maltese balconies.  (click an photo to expand)

The Knights of St John were known as Hospitallers because they ran hospitals for knights from the 16th - 18th century. The Knights in Malta were organized in Langues, based on their homelands and language.  The Knights were noblemen sent from their home area to defend and expand the Church.  Their families were wealthy nobles, so each Langue had an elaborate palace, called an Auberge.  Many of these still stand today, and can be seen from the street. Most are now private buildings with no public interior access. 

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Cathedral Of St John Malta

The Cathedral Clock Tower was behind scaffolding when we visited...much of Valletta was under construction while we visited because Valletta has been designated as Europe's Cultural Capital for 2018. It cost 10 Euro to visit the cathedral, which includes an audio tour.  You must dress modestly, with shoulders and knees covered to visit. Photography is allowed, except for in the room with the Caravaggio Beheading of St John painting, where no photography is allowed.    https://www.stjohnscocathedral.com/

 

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The spectacular gold nave of the Cathedral of St John. Below, details of art in the Cathedral. (Click on any image to expand)

The spectacular gold nave of the Cathedral of St John. Below, details of art in the Cathedral. (Click on any image to expand)

Grand Masters of the Knights of St John commissioned funerary monuments to be placed in the church upon their deaths.  Many of these were elaborate combinations of sculpture, mosaic, and frescoes made of the most expensive marbles by some of the top artists of the time.  And gold, lots and lots and LOTS of gold! The nave is surrounded by chapels representing the regions where the knights originated from.  The Knights were housed in Langues around Malta that were largely organized around the native language of the knights.

Detail of one of the funerary monuments

Detail of one of the funerary monuments

Republic Square

...Queen Victoria! Well, the British did leave their mark from the time Malta was part of the British Empire, Her Majesty presides outside the building that was once the repository of records for the Order of St John, but today it's a casino. 

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St Georges Square in Malta

The guards switch places, several times a day, but to see the real spectacle of the changing of the guard, the last Friday of the month, there is a parade and the whole guard is changed for the month.  More info about that here .

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Barraka Gardens and Saluting Battery

For the next part of our tour, we walked from the city center to the Barraka Gardens on the Grand Harbour. In early October, there was not a lot blooming to see, but we were just in time to enjoy the Saluting Battery, where twice a day, cannons are fired.  But because we were visiting on the day of our anniversary, we liked to think that they were firing the cannons at the exact moment our wedding ceremony started (EST) We like to pretend the Salute was for US!

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Cannon fire marks the exact moment of our Wedding Anniversary...coincidence? I don't like to think so!

Mdina

The last part of our Malta tour involved driving to the Old City of Mdina.  While Valletta is a modern city mixed with the old, Mdina has been preserved as the original city of Malta, from ancient times to medieval times.  Guests visiting are actually requested to be quiet when visiting to maintain reverence in an area still filled with monasteries and convents. 

Entrance to Mdina

Entrance to Mdina

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Maltese balconies in Mdina

Maltese balconies in Mdina

Post and Video By K.Klofft

Photos by J Klofft