How we ditched the crowds and actually found what you see on Instagram!
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
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
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
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.
Day 1 Sorrento
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 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.
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
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
Shops in Positano offer famous Amalfi Coast pottery, shoes, linens and the usual tourist trinkets.
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
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.
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.