A Tourist or a Traveler : Two Ways to Visit the Amalfi Coast

“I would like to stay in Sorrento.”

“Positano !”

“I want to take a bus trip to Pompeii !”

“Rent a car and drive around !”

“Guided tour to Capri !”

Over the last 20 years of travel planning, we’ve heard all of these comments from well-meaning travelers who wish to visit Italy’s magnificent Amalfi peninsula.

Consult Insider’s Italy and we will discourage every one of these suggestions. One of the reasons travelers turn to us is exactly this : to prevent errors that would lead to significant disappointment, wasted time and wasted money.

There are many ways to visit — and to not visit — the Amalfi coast.

The first thing to know is that, especially between June and September, this is a very fragile area which has been —  and continues to be — touristically overexploited.  To begin to understand the Amalfi coast, do not set your base in the towns that have most suffered at the hands of irresponsible tourism — Sorrento and Positano.  Please avoid cities where the presence of huge crowds diminishes the meaning of monuments; tour buses emit huge amounts of air pollution; and small businesses lose out to tourist traps selling Chinese goods.

Instead, let us tell you where to stay such that you can experience a location that has soul and character as well as history.

All of our hotels are chosen using the usual Insider’s criteria — a very special hotel (four or five stars) where we book with owners and managers —  and where we chose rooms by number.  All hotels are historic ones.  All have superb dining rooms.  All offer thoughtful, professional service — with that special warmth that is a characteristic of the Italian south.

The second thing to know is that the coastline — where nearly all tourism masses — is just one portion of the remarkable “Divina Costiera”.  By turning your back to one of the most interesting parts of the entire peninsula — its interior — you are missing the most exquisite part of the area.

Ancient paths and steps — some well over 1000 years in age —  link villages, farms, lemon groves, churches, vineyards and monasteries.  While in midsummer the coastline can seem overcrowded, just 15 minutes away and you are in the foothills of the wild Latari mountains, with vineyards, woods, chestnut groves — and some of the most unforgettable views in Italy.

Nathan Louis has just gathered here, during a walk, a basket of chestnuts.

The Travel Plans we write for you will guide you to some of these locations, but Insider’s Italy travelers are all the more fortunate in a precious resource, Giocondo.  Here he picks “ficchi tardivi” (late season figs that stay on the tree till December). Until you have tried one of these purple fruits, warm from months of sunshine, you have not eaten a fig.

We have worked out a program of Walks that he leads — some an hour in length and easy, some twice that long, others up to a full day.   These Walks – which are multi-layered in their focus  –  take you into a culture which is remote but here is still surprisingly alive.

Nathan Louis and Isabel set out on one here.

All of these Walks are tailor-made and are flat or challenging, as you prefer. They are glorious all year round.

Until you have taken an Insider’s Italy/Giocondo Walk, you do not have real perspective on the landscape or sea-coast of this peninsula.

The views unfold again and again and again.

Your fellow walkers are not Americans in shorts.  They are locals.  And occasionally sheep, often mules.

Of course — from May through October — Insider’s Italy travelers swim in lovely seawater pools.

And in the sea.

And dine at a remarkable trattoria, accessible only by walking path and boat.

The fisherman (below) and his brother are the cooks.

And this is their fishing boat.  Our lunch was in it at dawn.

The clientele is all local.   The food is lusty and flavorful. The menu defines what Slow Food is about.

Of course we will introduce you to one of the most charismatic winemakers in the Italian south — Alfonso — whose wines (organic) are of a remarkable character, interest and intensity.

It is hard to overstate the pleasure of drinking wines with Alfonso overlooking this view.

Or the thrill (because this is the word) of being in his vineyards, some of which are more than 100 years old.

Many vines are trained in the ancient style and have enormous trunks. The grapes, which are organic, are picked in late September and through mid-October.

Near Alfonso lives Maria.  We want you to have the pleasure of eating Maria’s fresh mozzarella or ricotta — warm, just made.

Also not on the sea is the best pastry store on the Amalfi coast.  It will be nearly impossible to find on your own because it is not on the tourist track.  Here traditional local pastries are being prepared for the store window.

Insider’s Italy travelers call the highlight of a trip a cooking class with Cristina. This remarkable woman produces her own olive oil and wines, her own salumi and bread.  She makes jams, tomato sauce, jars her own fresh tuna, prepares her own liquors (three types.) Her organic vegetable garden is like Eden all year round.  From her home kitchen she offers private cooking classes — with a made to order theme — which always revolve around seasonal produce.  The class starts with picking ingredients from the garden.  It ends with fruit from her orchard.

She is warm, intuitive, and barely requires a translator, as watching and cooking with her imparts a lesson that does not require spoken language.

Seeing our children prepare gnocchi — delicate little clouds, and surprisingly easy once Cristina had taught us — was one of the highlights of our trip.  A class with her is something we know that many of you will want to do.

We so look forward to sharing the Insider’s Italy Amalfi Coast with you… this autumn, winter and all next year.


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