It’s easy to be crushed by all the options of Amalfi: the many historic towns that hug the coastline, the endless plates of pastas, and the many grottos filled with illuminated, electric blue waters. But my favorite way to get lost in this singular place is by sea. If you have a few days in the region, I suggest spending at least one by boat, with a captain and a vague sense of where you want to go.
Here is our itinerary for our day on the Amalfi coast, thanks to Francesco, our captain, a native of Naples who has been navigating these waters for some 20 years and is a true #journeymakers (see previous post on Stu Wadell of Cabo). Francesco's knowledge of the region's hidden gems, its history and the his personal stories, made our trip truly memorable.
*For those who just want to know what we ate, that’s here too, at the bottom.
Whether you are staying on the island of Capri (as we did) or on the mainland, Amalfi is filled with boat rental operators. Some boats you can rent on your own without a license but I suggest renting one with a captain if possible: 1. To benefit from their experience and knowledge of the region and 2. To make stops as stress-free as possible.
Since we started somewhat later in the day, at 11am (our fault not Francesco’s), Francesco suggested boating to Lo Scoglio, a hotel and restaurant on the Sorrentine peninsula, in Nerano Bay, for lunch. After a 40-something-minute ride, we arrived. Lo Scoglio, which means “the rock” in Italian, doesn’t look like much. The wooden tables are simple, its blue and white sign is faded, and there have likely been minimal renovations on the property since it first opened in 1958.
But Lo Scoglio represents my favorite aspects of southern Italian dining. Fresh, local ingredients, expertly executed pastas and seafood dishes, and family is prioritized above all else.
The daughter, Antonia, met us with a smile as our boat pulled up and quickly showed us to our table. She proceeded to explain the menu, highlighting her favorites, such as their signature dish, the zucchini pasta (my dish) and the yellow tomato pasta and gnocchi (Dan’s dishes). The pasta was perfectly al dente, with the zucchini dish dense with chopped garlic, fresh parmesan and pecorino cheese. Dan’s tomato dish, which appeared deceptively simple, was also sublime. It was made with sweet, tiny yellow tomatoes with incredibly low acidity, unique to her father’s farm. They have been growing this particular tomato for the last three years.
Our biggest crime this trip was not coming to Lo Scoglio with a bigger stomach, as they are also known for their seafood, especially their ricci di mare (sea urchin). Of the entire trip, this was our favorite lunch.
After lunch, we hopped back on the boat and Francesco told us stories about his father, who taught him everything he knows about cooking, and shared his family’s “famous” meatball recipe, which I imagine is the equivalent of a hearty hug in Italy. He also told Daniel (which we later confirmed), that his mother’s family named implied that his family was also from Naples. Engrossed in conversation, we barely noticed Positano-- Amalfi’s ultimate postcard town-- as we pulled up. On the Amalfi coast, there are few sights as picturesque as Positano as you round the corner from the west side (see top image). Despite the congestion in the harbor, it’s still something magical. Houses in faded shades of cream, pink, white and yellow appear perfectly stacked against the sheer cliffs, all framed by the bright green clusters of trees and the sparkling blue below.
For better and for worse, Positano is everything as advertised, beyond its beauty, it is also packed to the gills with international tourists in August.
We stayed an hour here. We rushed through the narrow alleyways, to avoid the throngs of people, and found refuge at the hotel, Le Sirenuse. The pool bar of the Sirenuse is the perfect spot to get an Aperol Spritz, catch your breadth and see Positano from yet another gorgeous perspective. It’s about an 8-minute walk from the harbor.
Before we could say “la dolce vita,” we were clamoring back towards the dock, to head back to Capri.
Seeing Capri by sea is probably the most efficient way to get a total view of the island in a short period of time and access its lesser known beaches and grottos. Of course, there is THE blue grotto of Capri, but there is often a long line to see it and it generally doesn’t match the hype. After making a short stop at the blue grotto, we quickly left the cluster of boats, to cruise along the rest of the coastline. Francesco diligently pointed out every grotto along the way, including the green grotto, and areas where we could dive or swim (a nice respite from the August sun). There were interesting rock formations, as well, including large arches carved out by the sea. By 5pm, we were back at the marina, where we bid Francesco ciao and mad our way back to the heart of Capri, to see the sun set on our favorite day in Italy.
A note on food:
Typically, I would never ever recommend eating one’s weight in pasta and gelato over the course of one week, but I’m sure we accomplished that and then some during our trip. For our family and friends, and others looking to eat their way through Amalfi, here’s a collection of our favorite meals:
1. Lo Scoglio – The best lunch we had. Practically everything served, besides the seafood is from the family’s farm. Terrific attention to what really matters: the quality of the ingredients. Simple dishes are elevated to new heights with wonderful produce, such as those very sweet, low acidity yellow tomatoes.
2. Da Gemma – in the town of Amalfi. This 140-year-old restaurant, offers creative, modern twists on traditional dishes.
3. Aurora - in Capri, for wonderful people watching, and tasty, crispy pizzas, as good as you’ll have on the island – also try the Cacio Pepe with black truffles (we asked them to use spaghetti as the pasta for this dish, which they happily did). The random paparazzi photographer and the photos of celebrities on the walls can be a little cheesy (which made us skeptical of this place at first, but it was very tasty).
4. Il Riccio- in Anacapri. A perfect place to waste away a whole afternoon. This Michellin-star eatery has first-rate seafood and day beds to let you sleep away your food coma or rest in between dips into the ocean.
5. The pool restaurant at Hotel Caruso – in Ravello for fantastic drinks and pasta by the pool. You’re largely here for the view but the quality of the food is solid too. Ravello is an adamant must if you are traveling to Amalfi – our number one spot for views. Because it’s so far up the mountainside (a 30-40 minute ride from Amalfi), it feels quieter and a little less jammed with tourists.
6. Buonocore Gelateria- in Capri for gelato. The sugar waffle cones are freshly made. I could tell you where this is, or you could go to the heart of Capri and sniff it out.(This month, I’m participating in American Express Travel’s campaign to pay tribute to #journeymakers, the people we meet on our travels that make our trips anything but ordinary. )
(This month, I’m participating in American Express Travel’s / #AmexTravel campaign to pay tribute to #journeymakers, the people we meet on our travels that make our trips anything but ordinary. Click here to thank yours. )