Hear about travel to Naples and the Amalfi Coast in Italy as the Amateur Traveler talks to Beth Rubin from SelectItaly.com about how to plan a trip to this beautiful region.
“The very first time I touched down outside of the U.S. was going to Naples Italy and it was a revelation. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was on a study abroad trip so kind of done on the cheap. We landed at the Naples airport, They put us on a bus and took us down the Amalfi coast. As someone in their early 20s, this was like nothing I had seen before. It was spectacular. I think the first place in a country that you go to keeps a warm spot in your heart.”
We start in the city of Naples which can be challenging with its pickpockets, unscrupulous taxi drivers and more than occasional garbage strikes, but Beth highly recommends spending some time in the city. As if being the birthplace of pizza were not enough, make sure you see the Naples National Archaeological Museum with its treasures from nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum. She also recommends a stop at the Museo di Capodimonte for a look at some paintings of the old masters. For a more unusual tour, visit the Naples Underground.
Beth compares the archeological sites of Pompeii vs Herculaneum. “These two sites are widely different because Pompeii, obviously, everyone’s heard of it. It’s huge and it’s packed with tourists unless you go in April or March or November, but very interesting. There is a reason people go there. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is on the brink of being dropped off the list because they are not taking care of it well enough and they have so many tourists going in there. Herculaneum is like the polar opposite. It’s still very well preserved and it’s also very interesting.”
As we move down the coast Beth runs through some of the different towns. Sorento is a great home base. Positano is the place to see and be seen. Vietri Sul Mare is known for its ceramics. Amalfi has the most beautiful Duomo (church). The island of Capri has lemon groves and the Blue Grotto. But her vote for the most beautiful spot on in the area goes to the Villa Rulofo in Ravello.
Discover why Beth and many other tourists keep coming back to this beautiful coastline which still lies at the base of Mount Vesuvius.
Naples National Archaeological Museum
Museo di Capodimonte
Naples Underground Tour
Restaurant Da Paolino, Capri
Don Alfonso Restaurant, Sorento
Villa Rulofo in Ravello
Vietri sul Mare
I only recently came across your podcast after I began travelling for Ausdroid – somehow companies started inviting me to events in different countries, so I’m not complaining and your podcasts on the destinations I’ve travelled to have been outstanding in helping me to plan my days off.
Mickey on Memphis and Nashville:
Just read/saw the pics of your road trip to Memphis & Nashville last year. I also re-listened to the Memphis podcast as a refresher for things to do when a friend comes to visit in a few weeks. Much of it I haven’t done even though I’ve lived here 20+ years!
New to Memphis just last year is the Bass Pro Shop that took over the Pyramid, what had been our major arena. I think it’s the world’s largest BPS, has 2 restaurants and a hotel and an observation deck up top that’s supposed to offer beautiful views. It’s certainly had over 1M visitors and I think even over 2M so far, just since 4/29/15.
If/when you do get back to Nashville, let me know. I have a friend who works as a bartender at the Opry and another one who plays in one of the bands on the General Jackson showboat and I can put you in contact with them.
Even if you don’t stay there, stop by and visit the Opryland Hotel. Ever seen a hotel with a river running through it? It’s a sight to behold.
Opryland itself is no longer a thing. The theme park has been replaced by a shopping mall. The Opry House, Hotel, mall (Opry Mills) and the General Jackson are all right there together.
The Parthenon is interesting. They tried to replicate some of the stuff from the one in Athens, including a massive statue of Athena. Plus some copies of the Elgin Marbles, which I found interesting since I’d seen them in the British Museum and have visited the original temple remains.
Down on the riverfront is Fort Nashborough, site of the first settlement. Free admission, self-guided tour.
There’s a new minor-league baseball stadium for the AAA team, the Nashville Sounds. Last I heard they were an affiliate of the Brewers.
Downtown, Bridgestone Arena is the big venue (besides the football stadium) and is one of the busiest arenas in the country. Home of my Predators who are playing your Sharks starting tomorrow night!
Of course, the Country Music Hall of Fame is down there too and is really good. It’s not terribly far from the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Opry, but has since been renovated and expanded. Great acoustics there. Both of those attractions are near Lower Broadway where there are tons of little places to just pop in and listen to music and then move on to the next place.
Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 514. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about beautiful scenery, pizza, pickpockets, Roman ruins, and a historic volcano as we go to Naples and the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Chris: Today’s episode is brought to you by Select Italy. Select Italy can design custom itineraries and book a whole range of product services, including state-of-the-art tours, weddings, honeymoon trips, ticketing services for museum and musical events, in Italy. Visit SelectItaly.com to learn more.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more about our sponsor, Select Italy, later on, but first, actually, we’re going to hear a little more from them as we talk about Italy. I’d like to welcome to the show Beth Rubin, who is the sales manager at Select Italy and who is featured on the Travel and Leisure A-List for her expertise about Italy. Beth, welcome to the show.
Beth: Thanks, Chris.
Chris: And strangely enough, that’s what we’re going to talk about is Italy today.
Beth: Excellent. That works out well.
Chris: Otherwise, there’d be long awkward pauses that don’t work so well.
Beth: I can still provide a few. We’ll see how it goes.
Chris: Excellent. And what we’re talking about today is the southern part of Italy, down south of Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, where I have not been, but it is on my list, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this show. Why should I go south when I’m in Rome and go down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast?
Beth: You know, I have to say the very first time I ever went to Italy, the very first trip, and there’s been 25, 30 at least now, was to Naples. The very first place I touched down outside of the U.S. in my life was going to Naples, Italy, and it was a revelation. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. And I was on a study abroad trip, so kind of done on the cheap, but we landed at Naples airport, which is in itself a revelation. It’s very small, and there’s just a few runways. And they put us on a bus, and they took us along the Amalfi Coast.
And as someone in their early 20s, this was obviously like nothing I had ever seen before. I had never been to California. I still haven’t been to California, but I know they say that it’s just like the Highway 1 but a little more frightening. It was really cool.
Chris: We don’t have as many picturesque villages in Highway 1 in California, so it’s a little different in that fashion.
Beth: So, I mean, it was very cool. They picked us up, and they took us along what’s known as the Sorrentine Peninsula, which is sort of the top side of what the underbelly is known as the Amalfi Coast. So lot’s of people think, “Oh, I’m going to Sorrento, I’m going to the Amalfi Coast.” Sure, fair enough, but really that’s the Sorrentine Coast, and underneath, Positano, Praiano, Ravello, Amalfi, that’s the Amalfi Coast. So we just kind of did that bus ride along, and it was spectacular. And I think the first place in a country that you ever go to kind of keeps a warm spot in your heart, especially if it’s a good experience, and that’s exactly what I had. There’s so many things to see and do down there that one could certainly spend a week, if not more.
Chris: Now, one thing that I’ve always heard, and, again, I have been as far south as Rome, and they say that if you’re in Rome and you find it too chaotic, head north, and if you sort of revel in that part of it, then you should head south. And Naples has a reputation of being a little intense, and just a little edgy, keep an eye on your stuff sort of place.
Beth: Absolutely. All of these things are true. It’s definitely not for the timid. You should be a traveler. I wouldn’t go there as someone who, you know, goes to Mexico…I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it, because I focus on Italy, and Naples very specifically requires you to have your wits about you all the time. You always have to be alert when you’re walking around that city. Back in the day, like 10, 12 years ago, I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but five-star hotels, when you checked into those hotels in Naples, they would request you to hand over your wallet, or your watch, like Rolex and things like that, and they would give you a Swatch to wear while you were in town.
Chris: Oh my goodness, I have never heard of that.
Beth: Because, literally, they’re so good at what they do that they’ll ride by on a Vespa and rip the Rolex off your wrist, and you won’t even know it happened.
Chris: So this is a good place to not have your wallet in your back pocket, to have a money bag, and all the things that you should be doing anyway, but this is the place you do them for.
Beth: Yes, exactly. But it’s funny, because the people are so friendly and so warm, so this is just sort of the other side of it.
Chris: Well, let’s start with why we’re not skipping Naples then.
Beth: Okay. Let’s start with pizza, because everybody loves pizza. That’s an easy buy-in. Pizza is from Naples. That’s where it was invented. When Queen Margherita of Savoy came to visit, they made pizza Margherita for her and made it with red sauce…
Chris: I didn’t know that’s who it was named for. Okay.
Beth: Yes, red sauce, white cheese, and green basil for the colors of the Italian flag. So pizza is like a religion in Naples, and people are very devout to their pizzeria.
Chris: I was going to say, I’m sure if I asked you and what’s the best place to get pizza in Naples…
Beth: Oh, that’s not fair. There’s so many. Lots of people say Da Michele, Pizzeria Brandi. I mean, it would be hard to get a bad pizza in Naples, especially as an American, because we don’t know any better.
Chris: And when we say pizza, the closest style that we have in the U.S. to Naples pizza is New York style pizza. It’s a thin crust, floppy pizza with very fresh ingredients obviously.
Beth: Yeah, exactly. And you have to be fitted by the government as like a, they call it the Vero Pizza, the true pizza. So if you get one of those signs in your window, you’re the real deal. So, okay, food, always a great reason to go to Italy and a great reason to go to Naples for the pizza. But they also have great museums. They have the archeological museum, which has almost all of the relics that were taken out of Pompeii were brought to the Naples Archeological Museum, so you could spend hours there, and you’re going to see amazing things. And then other archeological finds as well, but I mean to get something like Pompeii and Herculaneum and put it under one roof is pretty spectacular.
Chris: And you say Pompeii and Herculaneum, so we’re on the Gulf of Naples, is that the right name, which is where Pompeii is, the very famous city, but not as many people have heard of Herculaneum.
Beth: Yes, and that’s the other city that was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. So that’s one of the things you can do, and you can visit that from Naples or from the coast, which I know we’ll talk about later. But these two sites are wildly different, because Pompeii obviously everyone’s heard of it, it’s huge, it’s a very big site, and it’s packed with tourists, unless you go in April, or March, or November. But you know June, July, August, September, very crowded, but very interesting. There’s a reason people go there. So they have that, but then they also have the option of going to Herculaneum, this other town.
Chris: Well, and before we get to Herculaneum, you say there’s a reason people go there. Let’s give them that reason then.
Beth: Okay, sure. There’s so many pieces to it. They have their old coliseum-type theater that’s pretty well-preserved. They have all these houses and shops, and well, everyone’s favorite part of Pompeii is the brothels. They have very interesting frescoes with explanations and pictures of the goods that they are offering. And so you can walk into the brothel and pick your number 2, or your number 13, and off you go in these tiny little rooms. And it’s very fascinating. The other big draw, aside from that at Pompeii, are the rooms that actually contain the bodies. And there’s only a few of them, but they’re…
Chris: Well, not so much the bodies.
Beth: Right, but like they’re preserved in ash. It’s almost sarcophagus.
Chris: Like almost the casting of the bodies, right?
Beth: Exactly, exactly, and they’re not just laying there, like you would see if you saw a tomb, but you can see them reaching out and trying to save their own lives in agony. So it’s very fascinating to see.
Chris: Well, and the whole city was buried in I don’t remember how much ash.
Beth: I don’t remember, either, but…
Chris: But I want to say at least six feet, enough so that you were in trouble.
Beth: Completely covered, and they didn’t find it for centuries.
Chris: Right. I mean, everyone knew it was there, because it was covered very well historically, but, right, completely gone. And then you moved us on to Herculaneum.
Beth: Okay, sorry, yes. So Herculaneum is the sister city, and it’s very well-preserved. I’m not sure why. I mean, it could be lack of interest compared to Pompeii. It could be just because they don’t get the number of tourists, so it’s very well-preserved. Going back to Pompeii for a second, I’m sure people have read in the news that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is becoming on the brink of being dropped off the list because they’re not taking care of it well enough and they’ve got so many tourists going in there.
So Herculaneum is like the polar opposite. It’s still very well-preserved, and it’s also very interesting. It doesn’t have sort of the depth of things that you’ll find in Pompeii, but it’s still a very interesting thing to visit and see, and the stuff that was taken out of there is also in the Naples Archeological Museum, just to tie that up with a bow.
Chris: Let’s take a break here and hear from our sponsor, who is Select Italy. Select Italy is the ultimate source for travel to Italy and offers a wide range of superior Italian travel products and services, including customized itineraries, state-of-the-art tours and packages, wedding, honeymoon trips, unique culinary classes, a complete pre-departure ticketing service for museums and musical events, private guided tours, yacht charters, transportation, hotel reservations, villa booking, and more.
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Before we get back to Naples and the museum, you mentioned the time of year that you would go. What is the best time of year to go to this region?
Beth: Well, you know, there’s many different ways to look at this. If you’re going as a site seer, and you want to see things like Pompeii and other sites, then it’s better to go September, October, April.
Chris: In that shoulder season.
Beth: Yes, and, well, it’s not priced as shoulder season, unfortunately, but it’s, of course, calm as a shoulder season. But then if you’re wanting to go to the coast to hang out on the beach and then take in the sun and all that good stuff, see and be seen, then July and August are the absolute height of high season. Basically, at this point, just for your reference and for the listeners’ reference, Positano hotels are pretty much entirely sold out for the months of May and June. Gone. Done.
Chris: And we are recording this in April.
Beth: Yes, and they’ve been gone for about a month. So it’s really hard. Basically, you’re looking to pick up canceled rooms at this point if you want to go to Positano this coming summer.
Chris: And in part, Positano, because that’s the place to see and be seen, you mentioned going to the beach. Okay. It’s not just that there’s a nice beach there, but that’s where…
Beth: And the beach isn’t that great, you know. They’re awful beaches. It’s not like white sand that you’re going to find in the Caribbean or anything like that. It’s a different type of beach scene.
Chris: Right, and actually, as a question for you, if I’m someone who goes to Hawaii or to the Caribbean, does Italy have a nice beach?
Beth: Yes, Sardinia.
Chris: Okay. Interesting. We actually have an episode coming up on Sardinia, so a little teaser there apparently. But not on the mainland?
Beth: There’s little bits.
Chris: You don’t go to Italy for that kind of beach experience. Okay.
Chris: Great. That’s what I have been telling people.
Beth: I’m glad to see that we’re checking.
Chris: And I took you away from the museum in Naples.
Beth: Right, okay, so the archeological museum, we’ve covered that. But then they also have the Museo di Capodimonte, which is an art museum, but it’s a pretty spectacular art museum, considering that it’s got Caravaggio’s, and Brueghel’s, and other world-class artists in this little palace in Naples up on the hill. It’s a really nice museum to visit if you’re interested in painting, and sculpture, and things like that. And then, I mean, there’s just a million churches obviously, and they have a Naples underground, and, oh, it’s a very frenetic city, as we said.
Chris: And when you say a Naples underground, we are not talking about a subway system.
Beth: No, no, we’re not.
Chris: You’ve got to tell us what a Naples underground is.
Beth: It’s just a little part of the city that’s underground. Lots of cities have them, but this one is just a little more interesting, I guess.
Chris: A historic part of the city that is no longer used and now you can explore, or just a subterranean part of the city to get you out of the bitter cold winter. I’m not quite sure I know what you’re talking about.
Beth: So it’s got an underground, and you go down a flight of stairs, and they have guided tours that help you look around and see. I haven’t been there in years.
Chris: It looks like part of it reminds me of the cistern underground in Istanbul. So it’s portions of the city that are no longer lived in, but you can explore.
Beth: Exactly. That’s exactly right. And I’ve never been to Istanbul, so that’s interesting they have that as well.
Chris: Excellent. Anything else we want to do in Naples before we head down to the coast and play jet setter for a while?
Beth: Jet setter? No, I think that gives people a good feel, so they know if that’s something that they’re interested in. Like I said, really frenetic, it moves at the speed of light.
Chris: I want to rent a car and drive around Naples, right?
Beth: Heck no. I say no self-drive south of Rome on the west coast. If you go down to Colibri or something like that, over on the heel, it’s fine, down the Colibri, it’s fine, but in this area, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, you’re just asking for trouble.
Chris: Excellent. So we’re taking a bus or a train then down to the Amalfi Coast.
Beth: I personally am taking a private driver.
Chris: Well, I’m going with you.
Beth: I know, right? Well, the train system, let’s start there. There is a train called the Circumvesuviana, which means around the Vesuvius, Mount Vesuvius, the volcano, so it’s a little train like a commuters type of train. You can pre-buy tickets. It runs every however many minutes, and it does kind a circle around Vesuvius. And it starts at Naples, and it ends at Sorrento. So stops include things like Pompeii, and Herculaneum, and Castellammare di Stabia, which is another one of those towns. But because it’s Naples and because it’s Italy, it runs whenever they feel like it. So don’t rely on that train.
When I have a client that’s really, they don’t want to spend money, I say, “The one time you need to spend your money is being transferred from Naples to wherever, because you’re not going to get there any other way.” You don’t want to hire a cab, because the taxi drivers in Naples notoriously they have no scruples. If you go and stand on this train platform, you may or may not get picked up. So the one time you want spend your money is private drivers from Naples to the Amalfi Coast.
Okay, I would say Sorrento and Positano are the most famous towns down in the coastal area. Again, Sorrento is on the Sorrentine side, Positano on the Amalfi. Sorrento is more of what we would consider a city or a town, as opposed to these little jewels. This is the biggest one. Sorrento is the biggest one, and it’s a real city. And people live there, and people work there, and it’s kind of open year-round. A lot of the stuff down there is very seasonal. The season ends on October 31 or somewhere about and starts usually whenever Easter is.
So Sorrento doesn’t necessarily follow that rule, except some of the hotels close, but everything else stays open. So the restaurants are open, the stores are still open, and a couple of hotels are still open. So you get sort of a real Italian working life situation when you go to Sorrento at any time of year. And, of course, they have their handful of excellent restaurants, Michelin stars, and five-star hotels, and all that, but then they also offer more affordable things, as well.
Chris: And from what I understand, Sorrento is not a bad option in terms of where to stay because of that.
Beth: Exactly, and because it does have that access to that little train. It is the last stop on the train. And then there’s buses, so you can get other places by bus.
Chris: Where else are we going to go, or what else are we going to do in Sorrento before we go there?
Beth: Well, from Sorrento, we’re going to take day trips. I mean, it’s a nice place to kind of plant yourself, do some shopping, wander around. There’s not any real sights to see per se.
Chris: Except for the lovely view.
Beth: The lovely view and the water, and you can see the island of Capri. You can see the Gulf of Naples and all of that in front of you from the coastline there.
Chris: And which of our day trips are we going to do first?
Beth: Well, we’ve already been to Pompeii, but another thing that we can do that we didn’t discuss is to actually visit Mount Vesuvius, the volcano itself.
Chris: Which is still there, strangely.
Beth: It’s still there, and it’s dormant, but it’s not dead. I have a friend who lives down there, and he said that still periodically the government of the Naples area will offer people money to buy their houses and move them the heck out of there. They don’t want to let go, even though they see it right in front of them. They see the history. It’s amazing that they still want to keep that house.
Chris: Now, it’s not as active as Mount Etna in Sicily. It is not smoking all the time, but it is still a volcano.
Beth: It is still a volcano. And if you’re an active person, you can actually hike it. You can hike to the top, which I did once, and that was painful. And the hike down was much more attractive, and there actually are vineyards and stuff on the slopes of this volcano. You know, that volcanic soil is really good for making wines. Personally, I do offer to the clients that I work with a visit to the volcano and then a lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard. So that’s something you can definitely do when you’re there. And the wines are really good, both red and white.
Chris: And spectacular views, I would think, from the volcano.
Beth: Oh my God, yes. Insane views.
Chris: Excellent, and then you mentioned the island of Capri. Naples, the home of pizza, Capri, the home of ice cream.
Beth: The home of limoncello, for sure.
Chris: Well, ice cream was invented by the Romans on Capri is my understanding.
Beth: There’s a lot of good food and drink all over the south of Italy. So, yeah, you could do Capri as a day trip from Sorrento or from the coast.
Chris: Taking a ferry over.
Beth: You can take a ferry over. You can take a private boat. You can go on a group boat tour. There’s many ways to get over there. The ferry/hydrofoil is the least expensive route, and it takes about an hour, give or take. And then, obviously, if you take a private boat or something like that, you’re going to take your time making your way across. So Capri…
Chris: You hesitate recommending we go to Capri is what I’m hearing in your voice.
Beth: I was going to say I kind of file it under the, “What do guidebooks recommend that you think are a waste of time?” I don’t think it’s a waste of time. However, like we talked about the other things, this is one heck of a crowded place. Everybody goes there, and the cruise ships go there. So when you bring cruise ships into an area, you bring a different kind of chaos than the chaos we talked about in Naples. You just bring so many tourists that don’t know what they’re doing, where you’re walking down a street, and you have to stop a million times, because you’ll run into a person who’s kind of wandering aimlessly and doesn’t know what they’re looking at. And maybe they’re looking at their phone, too. It’s like, “Okay, focus.”
Chris: Well, they probably are, because they’ve been just starved for Internet.
Beth: Exactly, exactly, so it is lovely. Again, just like Pompeii, there’s a reason people go there, the views, the water.
Chris: That you can check online for cruise ship schedules, and so if there’s a day during your trip, for instance, where there are no cruise ships in port, that would be the day to do Capri.
Beth: Absolutely. And, of course, they have the famous Blue Grotto there. And for people that don’t know, that’s sort of like an underwater cave. No matter how you get there, even if you are a private yachter, once you get to the area outside the Blue Grotto, you have to get out of your nice happy boat and get onto this tiny little boat with all the other prigs. And you have to lay down in the boat to make it into the cave hole, but then you get the payoff. They call it the Blue Grotto because it’s got blue light shimmering from the water, and it’s very lovely.
So we said limoncello, shopping, if you are interested in shopping, Capri is a good place to do it. They have some really interesting restaurants. Again, lemons are the theme down south, giant lemons, like we’ve never seen here. I remember the first time I went, me and my girlfriends went into a bar, and we weren’t 21 yet, but, of course, in Italy, you’re old enough to drink, so everyone was, “We’re going to have drinks. It’s going to be awesome.” And I saw these giant lemons on the bar, and I said, “I want one of those.”
And I just took a knife and fork to it, and it was incredible. Everything there is so fresh, and it’s plucked straight off the tree, and you’re not dealing with all the insecticide and blah blah blah. So they make tons of things with lemon. And like we said, the limoncello liqueur, lemon granita, which is like Italian ice, and so they have lemon groves, as well. And you’ll find these on the coast, and you’ll find these on Capri. So you can eat in restaurants that are kind of in a lemon grove, which is a cool experience.
Chris: Have a favorite restaurant there?
Beth: There’s one called Da Paolino that’s like a lemon grovey type restaurant that’s really nice. It’s a good experience.
Chris: Cool. Anything else before we’re hopping back on the boat.
Beth: Let’s get back on the boat.
Chris: All right. I sensed you were ready. The crowd started to get to you there a little bit.
Beth: I know. I don’t deal well with crowds, which is why I tend to travel in April and October. So, now, we’ve visited Sorrento, and from Sorrento, we said we can do day trips, and there’s really interesting restaurants in town and just outside of town. I believe it’s the only three-star Michelin restaurant is just outside of Sorrento, and that’s called Don Alfonso. Just for people’s reference, it’s spectacular.
Chris: When we take that day trip down to Positano, I am guessing this might not be the most appropriate time to wear my “I’m with stupid” t-shirt. If I’m going to be in with the crowd, what’s the dress code in Positano if I really want to see and be seen?
Beth: Well, it’s hard to be an American. Linen, something like that, light or pastel, leather shoes, no gym shoes. But come on, we’re all going to do it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to wear gym shoes, because I want to be comfortable, and unfortunately I was built for comfort and not style. That’s me personally. You just have to be smart. Like we said, in Naples, have your money belt or whatever, don’t wear your white Reeboks. That’s so American.
Chris: And just for the record, in case my wife were to ever listen to this, I don’t own an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt. She could, but I don’t.
Beth: Hi, honey. Okay, so, usually, when I have people call me, it’s either going to be a choice of do I want to stay in Sorrento or do I want to stay in Positano. So if we’re going to stay in Positano, because we’re moving there, it’s a totally different experience. It’s a much smaller of a town, and it is the most vertical town in Italy. The entire town is kind of terraced using steps to get down to the beach area, which, again, is pebble. So let’s not focus on the beach, because it’s not really that important. But it’s a very charming town, lots of good shopping, a nice church, again, not a place with a lot of sights to see but just a really nice place to be and hang out.
Chris: The coastline itself is a notoriously beautiful drive, as we talked about, that you are recommending we not drive.
Beth: Right. Have someone drive you, so you can look out the window. And the drive is definitely not for the faint of heart, and you might want to consider a Dramamine, you do it, because it’s definitely it’s switchbacks all the way, lots of switchbacks. And especially, in the summertime, again, where that high season crowded situation, that drive from Sorrento to Positano can take well over an hour.
Chris: Now, we’ve talked about so far four, five different places that are fairly well-known. Where do you also send people down there that I haven’t heard of?
Beth: Well, you’ve probably heard of…let’s just move down in an arch a little more. Ravello would probably be the next most famous, but not quite as famous. It’s a very, very small town crowded with really a high class of service. You’ve got like three grandom five-star hotels all lined up in a row on the same street, because there really is only one street. There’s a couple of other streets, but there’s one main road. And actually, Ravello has something to see, and that’s these gardens and villas.
They have the Villa Rufolo, which in the summer does concerts, outdoor concerts, that are really nice, and then when it’s not summer, the gardens are incredible pretty much year round. But, again, this is a seasonal place, like Positano, where things kind of shut down at the end of October.
The interesting thing about Ravello is that it doesn’t have a beach. It’s up. So it’s up on the cliff. While you get great water views, you can’t go down to the water. That’s kind of like the last stop on the coast. In between Positano and Ravello, there are several little towns, Praiano, Amalfi, like the name Amalfi Coast. The town of Amalfi is actually a bigger town, and it’s kind of terraced but not to the extent that Positano is. But they have the beach area, as well, and then they’ve got this gorgeous, gorgeous church. Their Duomo is really spectacular, and you have to climb up to get to it, so you get the payoff after you do the work.
And they are known for some really good restaurants and gelato, of course, as well. And the area around Amalfi is also very interesting. They do a lot of papermaking there.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Beth: So for anyone who’s an artist who is interested in handmade paper, they do a lot of that in that area. And then some other smaller towns are things like Vietri sul Mare, which is where they make Vietri tiles that you’ve heard of, ceramics. Ceramics come from that area. So that’s interesting at least to visit or to shop. If you’re interested in ceramics, that’s the place down south to go.
Chris: You’ve done about 25 trips to Italy all over, not just in this area. What’s the best day you’ve had in this area?
Beth: You know, I want to say, I spent an afternoon in Ravello with a friend of mine, and we just wandered the streets. And then we went in to the Villa Rufolo, and they were doing a little modern art show, and they had all these gorgeous flowers and all this stuff. And it was so relaxing, and it was early April, so the season had just started, so all the people are really friendly. They haven’t been beaten down by the tourists. In Italy, you get the flowers a lot faster, at least than you do in Chicago, where I live, so the first week of April, and everything is in bloom, and everything is gorgeous, and the weather is perfect, and it smells great. And that was really a great day.
Chris: And you mentioned the people. Who’s the most memorable local that you’ve met?
Beth: I have been dealing with a family that live in Positano for as long as I’ve been doing this job, which is 16 years this year, and they started with…they ran little boat tours out of their…they had a little cabana on the beach of Positano. So because I work in the travel industry, I would sell my clients these trips. Basically, they offered two ideas: One was a private boat trip out to Capri, and the other one was a boat trip along the coast.
So I went and visited, and I actually stayed in their house, which was really nice, and took the day trip along the coast. And it was really nice, and the father, the patriarch of the family, who ran all this and is a fisherman, he was so interesting, and fascinating, and so Italian. And he married this English lady from England, and the dynamic was really something to see, because she’s a little prim, and he’s a Southern Italian man, which you don’t get less prim than that. So it was interesting to see their relationship, and it was interesting to see how they run a “business” in the very Italian way.
Chris: A “business.” So Northern Italy is known for the business sense more so than southern Italy.
Beth: Oh, yeah, I would say so, which is not to say that I prefer Northern Italy.
Chris: No, no, no, Southern Italy is more work to live rather than live to work.
Beth: That’s exactly right.
Chris: What’s going to surprise me when I come to the Amalfi Coast or to Naples?
Beth: I think the views. It just smacks you in face with its difference from anything you’ll have ever seen before. And you’ll be surprised by the warmth of these people, aside from the cab drivers. They’re so genuine and so wanting to help. Even if they don’t speak English, the fact that you try just by saying bonjourno or even ciao, just some little effort, and that just opens up the world for them, and they’ll talk to you. You may not understand a word they’re saying, but it’s a beautiful conversation.
Chris: I’ve told a story on this show before, but it’s been a long time, I think, since I brought it up. I learned a little Italian before we went the first time, and it was actually in Northern Italy. We were in Milano, in Milan, and we went to the same restaurant unusually two nights in a row, because we went to a neighborhood restaurant near where we were staying. And I was speaking in Italian the first night just really out of stubbornness, because the two young waiters spoke perfect English, and so it wasn’t a problem that I needed to, but I had studied it, done it, so I was going to use it.
So the second night when we walked in, Mama greeted me, family-owned restaurant, of course, and she greeted me in Italian. The whole night she spoke to me in Italian, and it was, “Ah, you’re the one who learned Italian.” And it was an entirely different class of service that night, and every time I looked over, she was smiling, because I had taken the effort to learn.
Beth: That’s exactly right. It goes a long way, longer than we think.
Chris: And I am not saying my Italian was any good necessarily, but it was good enough, good enough, apparently.
Chris: As we start to wind this down, before I get to my last four questions, what else should we know before we head to this area?
Beth: If you want to go during the super high season, May, June, July, August, plan well in advance. Okay. Right now, it’s a little early to plan for next year, but come September or October, it’s not too early to plan for next year.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Amalfi Coast, only in Naples.”
Beth: The garbage strike.
Chris: The garbage strike. Okay, strikes are not unusual in Italy, so…
Beth: But the garbage strike in Naples, and we can’t even call it “the” garbage strike as if it’s only happened once. I can’t count the number of times they have had a garbage strike in Naples in the past 15 years, and they just fill the streets with trash. And you have to keep your windows closed. I mean, that’s the quintessential…fine, the train people strike. Fine, the airline people strike. But the garbage workers strike, and that really hits home.
Chris: You’re standing in the prettiest spot in the region. Where are you standing, and what are you looking at?
Beth: Well, I think I might be standing in the gardens of the Villa Rufolo, and I’m looking out at the water.
Chris: And finish this sentence. You really know you’re in the Amalfi Coast, or you really know you’re in Naples, when what?
Beth: You eat the best pizza you’ve ever had in your whole life.
Chris: And this is from somebody from Chicago here, so those are fighting words.
Beth: I know. Totally different, but don’t tell my mom.
Chris: There’s no bad pizza. And if you had to summarize the area in just three words, what three words would you use?
Beth: Warm, and when I say warm, I don’t necessarily mean the weather, stunning, friendly.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest, again, has been Beth Rubin, who can help you plan your trip to Italy. She’s here from Select Italy, and we mentioned that you are on the A-List from Travel and Leisure for travel specialists. And since Travel and Leisure named me the best independent travel journalist in 2014, we have a great deal of respect for the opinion of Travel and Leisure magazine.
Beth: Exactly. Yes, they know what they’re talking about.
Chris: Oh, yes, they’re bright people over there. Beth, thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing with us your obvious love for Italy and for Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
Beth: Thanks, Chris. It was my pleasure.
Chris: I had an email recently from Daniel, who said, “I only recently came across your podcast after I began traveling for Ausdroid. Somehow, companies started inviting me to events in different companies, so I’m not complaining, and your podcasts on the destinations I’ve traveled to have been outstanding in helping me plan my days off.” Excellent. I’m always glad to hear that somebody is making use of the podcast. Thanks for writing, Daniel.
Then I also heard from Mickey, who said, “I just read/saw the pics of your road trip to Memphis and Nashville last year. I also re-listened to the Memphis podcast as a refresher for things to do when a friend comes to visit in a few weeks. Much of it I haven’t done, even though I’ve lived here for 20 years. New to Memphis just last year is the Bass Pro Shop that took over the Pyramid, which had been our major arena. I think it’s the world’s largest Bass Pro Shop, has two restaurants, and a hotel, and an observation deck on top that’s supposed to offer beautiful views. It’s certainly had over 1,000,000 visitors and, I think, even over 2,000,000 just since April 29, 2015.”
Mickey also has some suggestions for Nashville, and I’ll put those in the show notes. It’s a rather long post, but some good suggestions there. But I just found it amusing that if you’ve been to Memphis, and you’ve seen this great big arena, imagining it as a Bass Pro Shop and a Bass Pro Shop with a hotel just sounds like something I have to see to believe, so thanks for writing, Mickey.
With that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an email to host at AmateurTraveler.com or better yet leave your comment on this episode at AmateurTraveler.com. The transcript of this and every episode is sponsored by JayWay Travel, experts in Eastern European Travel. As always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.