Sharing travel tips from my week on the Amalfi Coast.
Bring Cash (i.e. Euros)
The tax rate is 52% in Italy (!!!). Almost every single activity we participated in either requested cash as preferred payment method, or only took cash. From classes to adventures to drivers/cabs to hotel tax, it is all about the cash. There are plenty of ATMs along the coast, but beware that you will have to pay a transaction fee.
Also – hotels will charge a city tax. It’s not much – ours was only 15 euros – but they only accept cash. The rest of the balance can be paid on the card. Be smart, don’t be like us, running to the ATM when we were already running late during check out.
The Amalfi coast is a great place to relax, but if you can’t handle the beach or pool every day, all day, plan some activities. Hands down my favorite thing I did on this trip (and maybe ever!) was Mamma Agata’s cooking class. It was an incredible experience and still allowed me to soak in some sun rays in her beautiful mountainside garden and learn about Italian cooking. If do you this, do not make dinner reservations. You will eat a lot, all day long.
The yacht tour and the kayak tour were also a lot of fun. The yacht tour gave us an opportunity to see the entire coastline and also visit Capri. The island of Capri is filled with shops, but it’s definitely not something you want to do for a full day (especially because none of it is affordable!). The yacht tour gave us a few hours on Capri, and also gave us the chance to see the different grottos, go swimming in the Mediterranean and we didn’t have to worry about making ferries and waiting in line.
Kayaking also gave us the chance to see parts of the coast we wouldn’t be able to on foot or in car (including a stop at a beach only accessible by water). Free activities? Go hiking! There are tons of trails that lead into quaint towns. You’ll discover breathtaking views.
If you do go hiking on the Amalfi coast, I highly recommend buying a guide book. We used “Sorrento, Amalfi Coast & Capri: Car Tours and Walks” which provided helpful instructions such as “when you get to the mural of the immaculate conception, go up the stairs to the right of it.” You’ll also save your phone battery and have a bit more bearings on where you are (maps aren’t that helpful!). Bring lots of water, a hat, sunscreen and BUG SPRAY. I have never been bit by so many mosquitoes before. I used a ton of bug spray and I’m not sure it even made a difference. I probably needed heavier duty stuff.
In the summer, it’s hot, and you’ll drink a lot. But don’t worry, there are spigots along the paths and the water is safe to drink. We refilled our bottle every time we found one (some paths have more than others).
A good pair of sneakers will do – but if you want to bring hiking boots, go for it. Gym clothes will also be more comfortable (I don’t know how people hiked in denim shorts and blouses, but hey, to each their own).
The coastal towns are connected by the Travelmar ferry. We found this to be the easiest way to move between the towns, as well as the quickest. It’s a bit more than the SITA bus, but worth it, as you get spectacular views from the seat that you wouldn’t get otherwise. We took it frequently between Amalfi and Minori.
The SITA bus is affordable, and definitely preferable to driving. I was not a huge fan of being on a bus, overlooking a cliff, on a winding road with a lot of crazy drivers. But, it is the most cost effective other than walking.
Do not take cabs! The prices are OUTRAGEOUS. They charge a tax plus an astronomical fee that goes up depending on the time of the day. A 20 minute cab ride from Ravello to Minori could cost upwards of 60 euros or more. If you want to take a car, ask your hotel to call you a private driver. The prices are still ridiculous, but in bad weather, or late evenings, they are worth it. We paid between 40 and 55 euros for a 20-25 minute drive. And the driver guarantees to pick us up at the end of the evening.
Walking is a great way to get around, but don’t expect to walk between towns unless you are hiking or planning to sweat a lot. Everything has an incline and decline and there are a lot of stairs. There are no sidewalks on the main road unless you are in a town. Between? Nothing. And you may die (I’m being serious!) if you decide to try and walk.
Take it from me – don’t rent a car. It was nice to have, because it did dictate my arrival and departure time, and we were able to make a day trip to Pompeii, but it was an unnecessary expense. The car itself was cheap to rent (less than $100 for the week), but garaging it was very pricey (20 euros a day). Plus, anytime we wanted to use it, we had to give the hotel an hour to get it out of a very jam packed lot. This is pretty much the case with all lots on the coast. If you park the car on the street, someone is likely going to hit it. We saw may mirrorless cars and big dents on sides.
The roads are the size of a one way street with two way traffic. Add steep inclines, incredible curves and very fast drivers, and you may have a heart attack. Even the driver we hired made a lot of exasperated and fearful sounds as other drivers careened towards us. Driving in the mountains is a bit easier because there aren’t any cars parked alongside the road (making the roads slightly wider). All in all, we probably spent the same amount renting the car and garaging it as a private driver would have cost to take us to and from the airport – but I’m not sure it was worth the headache. We luckily made it out unscathed.
Food & Wine
Gluten free diners, rejoice! Italy is fabulous with gluten free meals. I emailed most restaurants before going, but for those that were last minute decisions, I didn’t have that opportunity. “Senza glutine” will take you very far, and almost everyone has gluten free pasta available. They were also surprisingly accommodating of vegetarian diets, with numerous options on menus.
The best wine I had was homemade wine (at Mamma Agata’s and at Agriturismo Villa Maria). It was sulfate free, lower alcohol and amazingly refreshing. At restaurants without this option, I stuck with the house wine. It tended to be significantly cheaper than all other glasses on the menu, and tasted great (5-6 euros per glass vs. 8 – 9 euros).
Mozzarella, lemons, limoncello, seafood and pizza are big in Southern Italy. Pasta transpires throughout the country of course, but not risotto. Learn the food that the area is famous for and stick with that. And the tomatoes? To die for. Seriously.
Pastries & Gelato
Unlike the U.S., if you want a pastry or ice cream, you must pay for it first, then go up to the counter with your receipt. We would check out the dessert case first, then make our way up to the cashier, pay, and return to order the treat. It’s just how it is. Gelato comes in cups or cones and in three sizes. You can get two flavors in a small, so don’t feel pressured to order bigger (unless you want it!).