As I sit in a Starbucks in Manhattan typing this I’m faced with post-travel distress. “Things were so much [fill in the blank]-er in Italy…” Yep, I’m that obnoxious person right now. Last week I traveled with Travel Noire on a TN Experience through the Amalfi Coast and although I was only gone for seven days, I had the time of my life.
Since college I have followed Travel Noire on social media, envying the beautiful people I saw traveling the world. So when I realized I had the opportunity to join in on the fun, I jumped on it. TN Experience registration opened and I immediately emailed a handful of friends asking if they wanted to join me on one of these curated trips. Rumor had it that registration fills up within 24 hours so I insisted that if anyone was interested, we should talk that evening. My friend Simone and I had both recently read Year of Yes, which could have been a leading factor in our eager “lets-go-for-it” attitudes. After deliberating between destinations (Cape Town or Bahia? Bali or Johannesburg? Where is Zanzibar?) we agreed the Amalfi Coast would be a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of New York.
Day 1 – HELLO RAVELLO
A seeming paradise compared to the slum of NY airports (those who know me know how deeply I despise flying in/out of New York), I flew into Naples Airport Capodichino before being shuttled to our living accommodations in Ravello, located in the hills of Campania. The hour drive stunned everyone, with our eyes glued to the window. We exited Naples to the winding roads in the mountains, ascending 1200+ feet up where we had a view of Pompeii and Naples on one end and the Mediterranean Sea on the other.
Once in Ravello I was escorted to a B&B directly outside the town square. The accommodations were extremely spacious and owned by the same owners of the restaurant next door. Since the weather was a perfect 78 degrees, Simone and I strolled through Ravello, popping into shops that sold limoncello, custom leather shoes, hats, bags, and the infamous “Wine and Drugs” store. Naturally, we were also gawking at the picturesque views.
That night we all gathered for a group dinner overlooking the sun setting over the Amalfi Coast. On the menu was fish, pasta, breads, wines, tiramisu with lemon flavor on everything. This was the first time our group of 15 sat down all together; from the start it was apparent that we had a fun-loving crew that never stopped laughing! Following dinner we enjoyed a live concert in the town square, which was a part of the Ravello Summer Festival.
Day 2 – BASKET WEAVING & HIKING
Each morning we awoke to an Italian breakfast, which consisted of pastries, fruit, sliced meats, juices along with coffee or a cappuccino. I quickly learned that ordering a coffee meant ordering an espresso shot so cappuccinos were my thing! I also learned that coffees and teas are never meant to be drunk on the go–in fact, food in general is never to be taken on the go. The Italian way is to slow down, sit and enjoy a meal so it’s frowned upon to grab-and-go. In fact, there aren’t to-go containers or cups to accommodate those trying to be on the move. Certainly a stark opposite from the New York lifestyle of wandering Starbucks cups on every street.
After breakfast our crew visited a local family who not only weave baskets, but also create wooden instruments for the town of Ravello. We each had a chance to create a custom Italian instrument before we used them to perform as a “band.” We also learned the art of ancient basketweaving with local plants. The family was as welcoming as you could imagine. They rolled out cheeses, bread, lemons and other fruits harvested from their family grove. Of course, bottles of prosecco and wine were passed around as well.
In the afternoon we shuttled to the hilltop town of Agerola to begin our hike to Positano on a trek dubbed, The Path of Gods or Sentiero Delgi Dei. Our tour guide, Anna, pumped the group up and kept us motivated throughout the 5 mile hike. When I described some of the beautiful sites in New York City in conversation, she always exclaimed “Mama Mia!” Along the trail we enjoyed magnificent views of the Mediterranean, neighboring towns and old homes and buildings from hundreds of years prior. Nearly 3.5 hours later we arrived in the quaint town of Positano where we watched the sun set. Unsurprisingly, on the shuttle back to Ravello most of us fell asleep.
Day 3 – COOKING SCHOOL
Chad, our experience designer, warned us not to eat anything on Day 3 in preparation for Mamma Agata’s–and for good reason. From our B&Bs we walked to Mamma Agata’s Cooking School, which takes place in the family’s private home resting on top their family grove, where they harvest all their ingredients. We were 1000 feet above sea level and basically in the clouds.
Mamma Agata has been the private chef for notable icons who would frequent the Amalfi Coast such as Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy. At 80+ years old, Mamma is still in the kitchen cooking and gathering ingredients from the grove. In the kitchen with Mamma Agata is her daughter, Chiara and Chiara’s husband, Gennaro. Both Mamma and Gennaro are chefs while Chiara is the master host.
We spent 8+ hours at Mamma Agata’s! Chiara hosted us from breakfast to a late lunch with plenty of snacks, limoncello and wine in between. At one point in the kitchen saw that it was raining outside. Chiara looked out and called it “romance;” the rain wasn’t ruining the day, it was adding romance to the day.
Before we left the kitchen the rain let up and the sun was out. During breaks we toured the property which has been in the family for 300+ years. Our group had a blast at Mamma Agata’s and were definitely stuffed the remainder of the day.
Day 4 – BEACH DAY
As a group we were free to do our own thing Day 4…but only after our Swedish massages in the morning. How taxing!
I suggested heading down to the beaches and the entire group cosigned. Heading to Maiori we split into two groups: those busing to the coast and those walking down. Excited to capture some pictures on my nicer camera, I opted for the hour(ish) walk. On the trek down we passed through Marmorata, Minori and smaller towns until arriving in Maiori. The views along the way were stunning.
Once in Maiori we settled onto our beach chairs for some well-deserved rest. We were happily surprised by the drink prices– beer ranged from 1 to 4 euros (maybe I’m just jaded by NYC). The sea water was cool but refreshing–definitely warm enough to dip in–so we stayed there for hours until sunset. After we beach-bummed ourselves out, we bused to Amalfi for dinner where we popped into one of the restaurant/cafes by the water. Naturally, we enjoyed another Italian meal of pasta before heading back to Ravello.
Day 5 – LEMON ERRYTHANG
Our day started a little chilly but quickly warmed up as we rode up to Scala in a 1970s Fiat shuttle. In Scala we toured a large lemon grove that also harvests grapes, chestnuts, pumpkins, etc. On our tour we enjoyed a lemon-inspired snack inclusive of lemon slices covered in balsamic vinaigrette and salt (eaten with the peel still in tact), lemon pound cake and lemon rum pops.
Next on the itinerary was visiting a Limoncello factory. Since lemons are a staple on the Amalfi Coast, limoncello is considered the official drink of the region. Best served cold, limoncello consists of 98% alcohol steeped in lemon peels (for often as long as 80 days) and water. There are many different flavors but all consist of 35 – 40% alcohol so be forewarned, it goes down like a shot. From the factory we rode down to Amalfi to eat lunch in a castle on the water. Everything on the menu was lemon-inspired: mussels with lemon, artichokes in lemon, lemon-seasoned pasta, lemon sorbet, and even more that aren’t coming to mind. Too many courses to keep track!
Later that evening we attended a wine tasting class in Ravello where we learned more about wine production in the region and techniques to spot quality red and white wines. Several people left with multiple bottles in hand before heading to dinner for another traditional Italian meal of endless courses. At the end of our meal the chefs came out to thank our group and give us big hugs before we departed.
Day 6 – YACHT LIFE
We lived like Beyonce on our private yachts from Amalfi to the Isle of Capri–in fact we passed by her Amalfi home which is basically a private island. Our group split up onto two yachts that met us in the Amalfi harbor. From the time the boat arrived our captain guided us through the most beautiful stops along the way, offering us snacks, prosecco, wine and the ever so important aux cord. With a photographer on board to capture the ride it honestly became a party!
We stopped by the Green Grotto, the Blue Grotto and countless other grottos and sites along the coast. Someone graciously brought handy dandy ginger gum to prevent sea sickness on the 2.5 hour ride.
Once we reached Capri we look a lift to the top of the hill overlooking the entire island. Since I wasn’t too interested in window shopping around the swanky stores I walked through the gardens and captured some beautiful shots before my camera died. Although much more crowded than Ravello or Amalfi, Capri had incredibly stunning views. Before catching our yacht back to Amalfi, a few of us took advantage of the free bike shares on the island, enjoying the perfect 75 degrees. Once arriving back to Ravello our group met up for a final dinner of pizza (my surprising favorite was pumpkin and mozzarella) and gelato. The “Last Supper” was bittersweet but we all acknowledged that we had experienced something incredibly special that week.