We began our Italian adventures on the remote Adriatic coast of southern Italy, in the small town of Otranto, just outside of Lecce. The area is rugged and quiet, but the waters are still warm and turquoise blue, the beaches are still sandy, and the pizza and pasta are still delicious, which makes it a great escape from busy tourist action if you’re someone who prefers to relax in peace.
The region also provides a nice slice of authentic Italy – the locals here speak very little English. We were lucky enough to meet family here (thank you Andrea!), and it was a great place to reunite. We wined and dined in the quaint towns of Otranto and Lecce, we swam and sunbathed, and we even went horseback riding – a unique way to explore the rugged coast. Why not?
Things were off to an excellent start, but we were eager to see the more well known parts of Italy as well, so we took off to the Amalfi Coast! We stayed for two nights in Vietri Sul Mare, a tiny town on the end of the Amalfi Coast just outside of Solerno. This was a choice made for practical reasons – the limited availability of a last minute booking and a reasonable price – but it turned out to be a total win. This adorable cliffside village has a great beach, charming streets and restaurants, and is known for its beautiful ceramics. Colorful tiles and pottery are found on the streets, walls, and sidewalks, and in every shop window.
From Vietri Sul Mare, we explored the tragic and fascinating sites of Pompei, and we also spent an evening in the beautiful village of Positano. The narrow roads and impressively steep cliffs of the Amalfi coast meant that these trips did require some bold and skillful driving, so be warned. Many tourists prefer to opt for busses or taxis, but driving worked out just fine for us and the roads of the Amalfi Coast are certainly some of the most scenic in the world.
Pompei is a village that was preserved in ash after the explosion of nearby volcano Mount Vesuvius. It is easily explored from the nearby towns, so there is no need to stay in Pompei proper if you want to visit the ruins. We spent only a few hours in Pompei, and that was plenty of time for us. Almost as memorable as the ruins themselves were the authentic Neapolitan style pizzas we stopped for at a street side cafe. Pizza, pasta, and wine were not getting old…
Then it was dinner and drinks in beautiful Positano, a town which represents some of the best of what the Amalfi Coast has to offer. Fabulous restaurants and boutique hotels are all painted in beachy pastels and tucked into the steep Positano hillsides in a manner that is somehow quaint and chaotic at the same time. The village runs right down to the docks and sandy beaches. Stay here or in one of the other nearby towns if you can, and if you can’t, it’s worth the day trip from Solerno, Sorrento, or Pompei, just to see what the Amalfi Coast is all about.
Up next (drumroll please)… CAPRI! We felt like we couldn’t miss it, so we decided to splurge and head to the luxurious nearby island of Capri for two magical nights. The ferry ride from Solerno to Capri alone was worthwhile – the seaside views of the Amalfi coastal villages are simply breathtaking.
We stayed in Anacapri, the slightly smaller and quieter village on the west side of the island. Capri proper is a bit busier, more touristy, and closer to the main marina, but also slightly pricier, and we were happy to be on the quieter side of things.
On our first day, we walked down to the “Blue Grotto”, a large cave in the seawall, in which the water turns a bright tropical blue when the light pours in from underneath. Only boats are allowed inside the cavern during the day, but once the boats stop running (around 4 or 5pm), you can dive in a swim, which is not only the more fun option but also much cheaper (free). Later, we enjoyed an evening of wine and snacks at La Zagara, a lively wine bar in Anacapri. Much of the island’s business consists of tourists who come in only for the day, so the evenings are relatively quiet. Because of this, things tend to close down a bit earlier than they do in many other parts of Italy, but if you look hard enough, you can probably still find some late night fun.
We spent much of the next day walking the island, a great way to get excellent views and a little exercise. We visited the village of Capri itself and then walked up to Villa Jovis, where we thoroughly enjoyed lunch with a view: a caprese sandwich made fresh by a nearby deli, a bag of meaty, buttery, local olives, and a cold, crisp beer – what more do you need in life? We enjoyed another sunset stroll that evening to cap things off and before we knew it, we were back on the ferry, basking in more Amalfi views and perfect weather as we sailed toward Naples.
We’d heard that Naples is not really a place you need to linger, so we marched right on through and hopped on a surprisingly affordable train to Rome where we stayed for two magical nights. Rome was absolutely incredible, and staying for two nights was our only regret. There is so much to take in that the city certainly deserves at least three or four.
We stayed near Campo de Fiori which turned out to be a great location, and while it might not be realistic for everyone, we walked from there to all of the sights including the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Altare della Patria, and the Colosseum.
It was a lot of walking and line waiting, making it feel like a bit of a marathon, but it was worth every step. We also stopped by Parco Savello (aka the Orange Garden), which provides a great view of the city and an ideal place to watch the sunset.
Saint Peter’s Basilica was the real highlight for us, and it’s free if you’re not intimated by the line outside. Beware – people will try to sell you “tickets” that you do not need, although if you’re in a rush, you can buy a ticket that will get you into a shorter line. We’ve gotten into the habit of downloading travel podcasts such as Rick Steve’s Audio Guides and Tours, which provide great entertainment during long lines and also deepen the experience of many tourist sites.
Last but not least, the food in Rome was just incredible. We particularly enjoyed our meals at Old Bear, Hosteria Romanesca, and Primero Cafe (we recommend a pizza and caprese salad), but it seems like there is good food around every corner. The market in Campo de Fiori is also worth a stop, whether it’s to pick up some fresh produce or just to watch the hustle and bustle from one of the neighboring cafes.
Two nights in Rome was all to quick, but before we knew it, we were on a train to Florence, watching the vineyards and villas of Tuscany roll by. If you have questions for us about our travels, we’d love to hear from you! Comment on the blog or find us on Instagram @theadventuregoeson