ahhh, the motherland.
so like it’s not the revelation of the century that I’m italian — my last name is astorino, and as we’ve discussed in my rome recap, italy is the motherland.
I grew up in what I would call a “moderately sized italian family.” not quite “big” by italian standards, but large enough (and distinct enough) to give me somewhat of a cultural identity outside of just “american.”
think: loud, emotional, v expressive (all the hands), v catholic, pasta-centric, emphasis on cooking/overfeeding you regardless of whether or not you’re hungry, overbearing relatives, a deep reverence for frank sinatra, unreasonably early sunday dinners, a disregard for how caffeine/espresso affect your circadian rhythm after 12pm, homemade biscotti every christmas, receiving a gold horn as a good luck charm (still don’t know why), eating caprese as an after school snack almost always, and a dad with a heavy accent and aggressively intimidating demeanor that made all your friends ask if he was in the mafia (don’t act like I’m wrong, dad!). tbh this is very italian-american, but an italian upbringing nonetheless.
however, I definitely didn’t feel a sense of deep ancestral connection when I was in rome a couple years ago, and it left me in a tailspin of identity crisis. I was on the heels of a flabbergastingly-invigorating trip to london (in which I fell madly in love with the place and was v emotionally heightened) and found myself feeling much more connected to the uk than I did to italy. wtf?
as it turns out, my family’s not from rome. they are from london, but that’s another story for another time on another post. after my family did 23andme, we discovered that — of the italian heritage percentage — we are almost solely southern italian, which includes ancestry from the amalfi coast in the salerno province. oh helllll yeah. I’ve seen those instagrams! so chic rn. I think that’s like aperol spritz HQ, right?
so when one of my best friends decided to get married in ravello, I was like “I picked the right friends in college” and also, HELL YEAH, A PILGRIMAGE. ok I’ll stop.
my trip to the salerno province included stays in scala, ravello, and positano. each was surreal in its own (borderline medieval) way; parts of this locale are stuck in time from what feels like 1,000 years ago. I remember getting into naples and thinking “literally what year is it.”
ahead I’ll cover some of the bigger takeaways — getting in, costs, dining, activities, hotel/lodging recs, and of course, gratuitous photos.
for starters, instagram’s hips don’t lie; this place is insanely pretty, and 100 percent worth the hype. the food is insane, the scenery is completely surreal, and it’s one of the most incredible travel experiences I’ve had to date. 10/10 recommend.
SO! did I feel that spark of connection to my heritage? was I overcome by that almost-ethereal, otherworldly sense of purpose and meaning you’re supposed to feel when you make a pilgrimage to the motherland? idk, I was eating a lot of gelato so it was likely a sugar high, but also YES.
joking aside, I actually definitely felt the difference between here and rome. don’t get me wrong, rome was rad, but it didn’t quite strike me in the same way that the amalfi coast did. it’s hard to put words to the feeling, but I definitely “got it.” I felt it. it was really, really cool.
is this a 23andme placebo? perhaps. but it certainly enhanced the experience. I wondered if my great grandparents or great great grandparents or anyone before them had walked the same cobblestone paths, sat on the same beach, or worked in a shop or restaurant here. I bet they ate so much gelato.
regardless of your own heritage/dna test results, this is a phenomenal part of the globe to visit — particularly if you’re into immersing yourself in history and culture. it is so, so different from the US, and a beautiful way to completely escape your “normal.”
I would also like to just clarify that no one paid me to do this post (but like 23andMe wyd, my venmo is @dominique_, #sponsorme) and none of this is sponcon just straight up personal experience. cool? cool. coolcoolcoolcoolcool.
if you haven’t gathered, this is a long post. buckle up.
it’s quite a feat to get to the amalfi coast. by plane (which I presume most of you will be taking), you’ll want to come in through naples (NAP). you can also fly into rome, but I didn’t do that and it’s further away, so for now we’re going with naples. sry.
from there, it’ll take about 130-150 euros and roughly 90 minutes to get to your amalfi destination by private car. there are busses that take visitors from NAP and FCO to amalfi destinations. for example, the positano shuttle bus will take you from NAP to positano for 28 euros, but it will take roughly two and a half hours vs. a private car’s hour and a half.
you can of course, rent a car if you’re on the brave side. since I am already frightened behind the wheel in the US — with familiar roads, signs in my native language, open highways, and no cliffs around me to veer off of accidentally — I obviously opted to skip this.
once you’ve made it to your destination, be it amalfi, scala, positano, ravello, etc — you’ll potentially need to walk to your hotel, which means you’ll want to schedule a porter to help you with your luggage if you’re bringing a heavy suitcase or multiple suitcases. the roads are cobblestone, and the walks are potentially quite long and rough with any amount of baggage. this was the case for my travel group in each town we stayed in, particularly in ravello and positano.
you can ask your hotel, airbnb host, or private driver for more information, depending on where you’re staying — they may be able to help you get a porter as well. it costs roughly 5 euros per bag.
it’s not cheap to take cars around this area. from our airbnb in scala to the drop-off point in ravello was literally 1.2 miles away, and it cost 30 euros (roughly $34) to get a taxi. seriously. for a five minute drive.
and to boot, it’s not an easy walk, particularly if you’ve got luggage or a a few campari spritzes in your system. or both. and especially not at night. so your safest/best option if you’re a young lady in a foreign country under these circumstances is to get a private driver or taxi in lieu of walking, which means you’ll want to budget accordingly.
between towns, though the distance isn’t great, it takes quite a bit of time to get from place to place. the roads are windy, and you’re on the rugged coastline of the lattari mountains, which means no superhighway that’ll get you from ravello to positano in 20 minutes. though the towns are only about 16 miles away, it’ll take one to two hours pending traffic. bright side: it’s a lovely drive.
for the most part, if you’re staying in town, you can walk almost anywhere. we didn’t take any cars in positano, and once we were staying in ravello (and not going back and forth between scala and ravello) we walked to each restaurant, hotel, etc.
there are some gorgeous lodging options in each locale I visited, as well as some incredible bargain options that still felt super clean and nice.
in scala, the girlfriends I traveled with booked us an airbnb for 50 euros a night total which was honestly the steal of the century. and I think it was like, the 16th century where we were staying, so the steal of the 16th century. party like it’s 1599. the place had two bedrooms, a fabulous view, beautiful tiling, a great host, and it was right behind a supercute pizzaria I’ll get to in a minute. all around, a win.
in ravello, we stayed with our beautiful friend/the bride for this crazy wedding of the (16th) century at the hotel where the wedding took place, villa cimbrone. it’s an absolutely spectacular manor — actually from the 11th century, not sarcastic at all — with some of the most incredible views. it’s quite literally like being in a time capsule. the sprawling gardens, historic architecture, exquisite painted ceilings, charming decor… real life magic, people. so grateful to our girl hailey for sharing this special place with us.
the italian airbnb gods smiled upon us yet again in positano, imparting good favor and blessing us with another gem of a find… but like… 300x more so than what we experienced in scala.
this was our airbnb location in positano. ON. THE. BEACH. for whatever reason, I got this for 200 euro a night, and split it four ways with the girls which was suuuuper clutch. I cannot express to you how ideal this location is/was; honestly felt better than winning the lottery. I mean like not really but you get it.
you honestly cannot go wrong when it comes to eating in italy. this cultural pilgrimage I made to the mecca of pasta, pizza, and gelato did not disappoint, and it won’t leave you hanging either. everything is carbs and cheese, and by god is it delicious.
though I think limoncello tastes like lemon-scented nail polish remover, it’s like a really big deal in amalfi, because there are lemons coming out of people’s eyeballs there. lemons. are. everywhere. you’ll have to just accept all the shots of citrus-acetone that the restaurant owners bring to you for free at the end of the meal, and smile and pretend it doesn’t taste like it’s removing a year from your life/the first few layers of your esophageal lining.
we were at several wedding events which took up the bulk of what would’ve been our restaurant-exploration time (no complaints, the wedding food was fine as hell), but we still managed to dine out at a few exceptional little spots, some of which were recs from our bride. here were the favs:
scala: il pinguino pizzeria
apparently this is the #1 restaurant in scala! realistically there was not a lot of competition because there are only 10 restaurants total, but still! it was right below our airbnb, so we sauntered on down after a loooong day of traveling and feasted on some hot pizza and fresh tagliatelle (my favorite pasta besides capellini). we met a golden retriever, who was a sweet baby angel, and saw some of an italian soccer game that was going down on a big tv in the restaurant. also, the pizza was about 2.5 feet wide (see above).
ravello: duomo caffe
we got coffee here a handful of times. good cappuccinos, great muffins and pastries. cheap. super cute outdoor seating area in the middle of the town center. that’s about all there is to know. it’s a solid spot tho.
ravello: baffone gelato
you know the drill. delish gelato. go get it. bring euros. verifying for you here and now that it is, in fact, amazing. I got some sort of cherry flavor. recommend.
ravello: terrazza belvedere, palazzo avino
get ready to throw down some serious coin on exceptionally delicious pasta and cocktails with a breathtaking view. this place is not cheap, but the tagliatelle bolognese? unnnnnreal (photo below). had some kind of mocktail situation, can’t remember what was in it but it was great. also v photogenic (better photo above).
this is legitimately one of the coolest setups of any restaurant I’ve ever been to; you’re in a rocky little grotto and climb your way up to this beautiful room right on the sea. AMBIANCE POINTS. it’s got a michelin guide nod, spectacular views, a great staff (lotta hotties tbh), and handmade pastas. also their wine menu is bigger and longer than a george rr martin book.
positano: terrazza celè, hotel marincanto
almost half of my gorgeous positano photos came from this jaw-droppingly stunning terrace. I also had the best spaghetti vongole of my liiiiife here (see below) and all in all it was an absolute dream. the views alone are worth the trip. hiiiighly recommend.
the oldest village on the amalfi coast is full of charm and quintessentially italian stereotypes, like little old men with newsboy caps tending to their gardens. I can’t make this stuff up.
walking through scala is like walking through a fairytale garden. aside from eating at the il pinguino restaurant, we strolled around on a morning “hike” that led us to ravello, including a little loop through a preserved area with waterfalls and a babbling creek.
this area is super pretty, incredibly quaint, affordable to stay in, and very accessible to ravello (which is quite a bit pricier). for that reason, I recommend this as a budget option for visiting this region. charming as heck.
ravello was where our friends’ wedding took place, and where the bride and groom got engaged a couple years ago.
put simply, it’s an enchanted storybook village. that’s not being hyperbolic or anything, it’s just the truth. this is a seriously special area with so much history… and some out of control hotels. apparently it’s also a gnarly wedding destination.
sprawling gardens (we will get to those), luxurious and historic hotels, bakeries and cafés, hole in the wall restaurants and gelato, adorable shops full of ceramics and glass trinkets and scarves and limoncello (gross, but cute/on brand), and a sweet little town square set against a bucolic skyline. greenery for days. ocean views. like I said, enchanted storybook village.
while you’re in ravello, the villa cimbrone gardens are a must visit. though the hotel itself is guests only, the gardens are open to the public for a small entrance fee. as mentioned, the villa was built in the 11th century, so the time capsule vibe is real. the infinity terrace is set 1200 feet above the mediterranean sea (yikes) and offers some draaaaama and a v romantic backdrop if that’s the kinda thing you’re into.
I don’t have as many activities to report back on since I was doing wedding things essentially the whole time, but check out the gardens, spend time in town square, get a cappuccino and muffin from caffe duomo, grab a gelato at baffone, and peruse the shops. I feel like this is kind of a vapid list but like I had a great time so maybe you will too??
ok finally the one you actually care about! don’t worry I get it, you’ve had positano pictures bookmarked on your saved instagram posts for years and you’re planning your trip finally because your favorite celebrity influencer posted a picture of their aperol spritz selfie from le sirenuse and you want to get a picture just like it.
as I said before, this place is worth the hype, and it’s exactly what you’d expect after seeing all the pictures on social media and travel sites. don’t feel bad or shy about taking some pics yourself — this is one of the most photogenic locales on planet earth, and it deserves the heavy documentation it elicits.
I got to spend just a couple days in this colorful seaside treasure of a town, but managed to squeeze in a few solid activities. here’s a quick recap/a few things to try yourself:
the beach is obviously a huuuge draw in positano, and for good reason. it’s so scenic (have you seen the gray malin photos?!), super lively and bubbling over with energy, and you can totally bring some vino with you and sip it in the sunshine. we grabbed towels from our fab airbnb, grabbed wine at “the wine shop” (literally the name) and popped over to the public section of the beach to get a little vitamin d. there are food markets all over for snacks/charcuterie, or you can grab a
slice ofn entire pizza to go (would recommend) and have yourself a nice lil beach picnic. perfect day!
drinks at le sirenuse
ok so you absolutely have to visit the hotel, le sirenuse. it’s like $2,000 at a minimum per night to stay there so like, do what you will with that information, but anyone can visit the hotel and cruise around the gorgeous property. plus, *HOT TIP* — the iconic positano pictures that you see from behind the dome (the top of chiesa di santa maria) are from this spot. including mine from just a little bit above (scroll up past the obnoxious selfie). as you might imagine from a several-thousand-dollar-a-night hotel, the drinks are priced in kind, so prepare to throw down 14-40 euros for a glass of wine, and 30 euros for a cocktail. I recommend the passionfruit caipirinha.
day trip to capri
ok this is where the bulk of my fomo will set in because I didn’t get to go on the capri day trip with the rest of the girls bc I went back to london (I h*cked up). however, they said it was one of the highlights of the trip (more fomo) and you all should get boat ferry tickets and go explore the blue grottoes and hang out on a boat I’m not crying it’s fine I’M FINE OKAY.
take an afternoon — or many — to traipse through the ancient streets and wander in and out of the shops. there are so many cute ones! I don’t remember most of the names, but specifically you must go to carthusia. if you don’t make it to capri (or if you do, idk, live your life) definitely go to the carthusia profumeria (perfumery) in town and check out some of the beautiful fragrances they make on this sparkling italian isle. my favs: corallium and terra mia. while you’re there, go right across that little alley to the gelato shop. it’s great. I’m so hungry rn.
most of my itinerary regardless of locale is centered on eating. grabbing lunch at marincanto, dinner at rada, huge takeout pizzas and italian cakes from collina, snacks from the market, back to collina for lemon sorbetto stuffed in a lemon… you get it. speaking of which, that lemon sorbetto was BOMB. tastes almost like ice cream bc it’s so rich.
bring euros. after seamlessly using my amex in the uk and france, I was in for a rude awakening in italy. they ain’t got time for that american credit card… or many credit cards, for that matter. it’s a ‘cash only’ kind of region (obv some places take card, but just bring cash… trust me).
you’ll also need cash for the tourist tax, for porters, and for many taxis. just do yourself a favor and get euros ahead of time from your bank.
learn *some* italian. I figured that with having a decent grasp of the french language and my italian american upbringing that italian would be a breeze. I was incorrect. for starters, my dad’s jersey italian is um… not correct. secondly, apparently the italian language is a bastardized composite of a zillion dialects? unclear.
anyway, it’s nothing like french, and the locals were really pissed off when I couldn’t say anything so I went for the basics: ciao (hi/bye), come stai (how are you), and potrei avere (may I have) + per favore (please). this helped in so many situations… may I have a table, may I have a glass of water, may I have the check, may I have a gelato. + please. you get it. learning the basics and putting in a baseline effort will open many doors to you, and significantly shift the mood of the conversation/person you’re communicating with.
suggestions: get on duolingo now to prep for your trip (the free version is great, but the premium version lets you spend even more time learning, which I love) and download italian-to-english translations on the google translate app and start typing in common phrases you’ll be saying, then listen to how they’re pronounced.
don’t stress about calories/sugar/gluten/dairy. idk what it is but european food is magic and somehow has no calories. I ate pasta and gelato like I was trying to bulk for the beefcake weight gain 4000 competition, yet somehow lost weight. my entire diet was dairy, gluten, and sugar, which by american standards is a form of self harm/gluttonous masochism, but I was thriving, glowing, and feeling fabulous.
I recently wrote something for huffpost about how stressing over food can cause weight gain (without even eating the food in question), so my m.o. always is to just enjoy without worry and be smart about what you eat. in europe, it was even easier. just trust me on this one, you’ll be fine: eat the pasta.
well, that’s all for now folks! hope you enjoyed taking this digital trip through italy’s iconic coastline with me. next motherland trip will have to be to calabria, because I’ve seen pictures of tropea and it looks liiiiit. I think that’s where my great grandpa came from before his parents moved him to new jersey (bet he wasn’t pleased with that move). anyway.
byeeeeeeeee // ciao! 🇮🇹🍋