Amalfi Coast: La dolce vita
Hop your way along the Amalfi Coast for an Italian adventure to remember
Childhood holidays have a lasting effect. The countries I have the strongest affinity to are all destinations I ventured to as a child with my mum, dad and brother. My love of Italy began when I was nine years old on a trip to Lake Garda. On this adventure, my dad drove us all the way there – down to Dover, across on the ferry to Calais, and onwards through France, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland before crossing the border into Italy. A grand adventure indeed and it wasn’t long before I was a fully-fledged Italophile.
Following trips saw us head to picturesque Tuscany so my parents could drink famed Super Tuscan wines; Florence so we could all munch through at least one pizza a day; Venice where 11-year-old me moaned about the smelly canals; and Verona where I proudly stood on the Romeo and Juliet balcony like I was Claire Danes waiting for my Leonardo DiCaprio to arrive. Twenty years on it was time to embark on another road trip – this time we had the Amalfi Coast in our sights, with the addition of my husband and my brother’s girlfriend adding to the madness. My adoration for Italy was about to reach new heights.
The Amalfi Coast is arguably home to Italy’s most glamorous towns and villages. It’s a bounty of perfect palazzos, infinity pools, epic restaurants and countless high-end hotels and villas, all of which are perched perilously on the edge of the clifftops which line the rugged Amalfi Coast. With the colours of the buildings cascading down until it they meet the slushing azure waters at the foot of the cliff. In amongst all that you’ll find tiny beaches located in hard to reach coves, hidden away from tourists and only found using local knowledge.
Working our way down the coast by car, our first destination was Sorrento, located just over an hour away from Naples airport.
During the summer months, the entire Amalfi coastline is teeming with visitors, so travelling out of season in early April meant I avoided the crowds. A sure-fire way to ensure clients privacy and seclusion, even in the busier times of year, is to book villas, of which the Amalfi Coast has abundance of over-the-top and glamourous options.
Villa specialist Oliver Travels’ six-bedroom Villa Califano in Sorrento was our first stop. The property is a short walk from the centre of town, but that just allows you to enjoy the views on your walk into town for a little longer.
Welcomed by the owner of the property, who lives next door, we soon settled into our far-from-humble abode. The gated property has six bedrooms, six bathrooms, three lounges, a library, two dining rooms (one more formal than the other)… the list goes on! The décor throughout embodies Italian glamour with beautiful paintings, sculptures and antiques dotted throughout. If that wasn’t enough it also has its own gym, a private outdoor swimming pool and a daily maid. The property can also arrange chefs, masseuses and transfers for an extra cost.
In Sorrento itself, my main concern was getting my hands on some delicious local delicacies and sampling delicious Italian fare. While my focus was on finding pizza, gelato and limoncello, for those keen to dine well recommend they pay a visit to Bellevue Sirene for a drink on its terrace or dine under the lemon trees at 'O Parrucchiano, a charming Campanian restaurant. Food aside, a visit to the city’s oldest church – the Basilica of Sant’ Antonino – is worthwhile. The piazza surrounding the church is a great spot for people watching, while being much quieter than the super touristy Piazza Tasso.
Back on the road, we whizzed our way down the winding roads of the coast to our next stop of Positano. Driving along the coast isn’t for the fainthearted. The roads are extremely narrow, with lots of tight corners and bends. They’re also often filled with large tour buses making it harder to navigate. Luckily for us, my dad was the designated driver for the entire trip, leaving the rest of us to enjoy the scenery.
Arriving in Positano by road isn’t doing it in style, though. The real way to arrive at this photogenic beauty is by boat; with a water-based arrival giving you the benefit of a full-frontal view of the town’s endless sun-bleached peach and blush-coloured buildings which appear to merge into the sea like a water coloured painting
On land, Positano is just as pretty, with steep and winding cobblestoned streets drizzled with purple wisteria and lined with cafes and restaurants. It’s not hard to see why Positano attracts a fashionable crowd, especially when you throw in some summer sunshine and a glass of fine Italian wine. La Dolce Vita indeed.
My home-from-home here was La Perla, part of Abercrombie & Kent’s villa collection. The property is around a seven minutes’ drive from the centre of town - far enough away to be able to jump in and out of the action as you see fit.
This six-bedroom, all en-suite home sleeps 12 people with ample space across three storeys connected by grand staircases, or a lift for those feeling a little lackadaisical. Like the properties I’d seen on arrival, the villa clings to the side of the mountain, with each room boasting impressive views of the town and across the bay.
Complete with two lounges a huge terrace and an indoor swimming pool, La Perla is a little slice of paradise. The property even has its own spa and A&K’s team are on hand to book a masseuse to visit and tend to the aching muscles your bound to have after days of climbing up and down the steep vertical streets of Positano and neighbouring towns.
My favourite aspect of the stay was housekeeper Monica’s daily breakfast. She arrived each morning before we’d even raised our heads from our comfortable beds to prepare a feast.
It was during our sumptuous breakfasts that we’d plan out activities for the day, with Monica imparting local advice and knowledge. She would arrange local taxis to pick us up, as well as arranging our transport for the rest of the stay if required. Her daily four-hour maid service ensured the villa was always in peak condition when we returned. In fact, we’d often come home (and it certainly did feel like home) to a restocked fridge and sweet treats waiting for us.
While the likes of Positano, Sorrento and Capri are the big draws on the Amalfi Coast, there’s countless other showstoppers as you work your way further south. The likes of Ravello, located up in the hills high above the Gulf of Salerno, is home to the stunning Belmond Hotel Caruso. The town of Amalfi is often overlooked in favour of the aforementioned spots, however it boasts an impressive cathedral and great dining options. Neighbouring coastal fishing village Atrani is a well-kept secret. Despite being a few minutes’ drive from Amalfi, it’s managed to remain untouched by mass tourism – something which is hard to come by here. For a spot of history, a trip to Pompeii is a must, while wellness lovers will enjoy a trip to the volcanic island of Ischia, best known for its mineral-rich thermal waters, with hot springs bubbling up at Maronti beach.
A combination of outstanding food and wines, picture-perfect scenery and some of the best accommodation in Italy ensures the Amalfi Coast remains the glittering gem in Italy’s huge set of crown jewels. The high life is well and truly delivered here, so it’s not hard to see why it attracts an affluent set of jetsetters. One things for sure, my love affair with Italy goes on!
Rental rates for Villa Califano in Sorrento range from £5,581 to £11,162 depending on the time of year. The price is for a week-long rental for 15 people. oliverstravels.com
A week-long stay at Abercombie & Kent’s La Perla in Positano costs from £16,651.
Hollie is editor of Aspire’s print and online products. She is responsible for the running of the club and ensuring the content produced and the events organised are relevant to the Aspire audience. She was previously deputy news editor and cruise writer for sister title Travel Weekly. She loves exploring new destinations and is gradually ticking new countries off her list. She most enjoys writing about cruise, South America and Japan. Before working in the travel industry she held news reporting roles at the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star.