- Idiots Abroad: Taking Small Kids on a Whirlwind Tour of Europe
- I Flew Ryanair and I loved it!
- Challenges of Vacationing With a Large Family in Europe, and More!
- German Castles, Ausfahrt Jokes and the Sound of Music
- Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Pizza Galore (this post)
- The Long Way Home to Belarus… Literally
- Searching for Bono and Licking Donuts in Ireland
Ah, Italy! It’s at the top of most travelers’ bucket list, and for a good reason. The sights, the culture, the food, the people: it’s an incredible medley that makes Italy, well… Italy.
Few days ago I got an email from one of my readers who told me that her family just recently visited Amalfi Coast. I’ve replied and said that I have a trip report that’s been calling my name for over a year, and it’s about darn time I give it “birth.” We went at the end of June, and I highly recommend you avoid this area in July and August. Hot, hot, hot!
Rick Steves (famous europhile who made a fortune by showing average American Joe/Jane how to visit real Europe affordably) has said that Italy is as orderly as spilled spaghetti. I concur, and this statement couldn’t apply more to southern Italy, which is a country within a country.
Nothing works quite the way it should, traffic signs are considered suggestions, and schedules are not binding to the ones who set them. We came to Italy right after visiting Germany, and to say the two countries are very different would be an understatement.
That said, if you can force yourself to go with the flow and just embrace unique and rich southern Italian culture, you will have a blast. People here don’t seem to stress a whole lot about everything working perfectly. They are too busy enjoying the views.
Speaking of, don’t rent a car in Amalfi Coast. It’s stressful, not to mention, you’ll miss all the gorgeous views outside because you’ll be scared to death the entire time. You have been warned.
After landing in Naples airport, we got in a van (arranged ahead of time) and let our driver take us to a village of Saint Agata. It’s located about 15 minutes right up the hill from Sorrento, longer if you go by public bus. It cost us 100 euros to get to our rental, which isn’t cheap. But with small, tired children, I felt it was money well spent.
My in-laws flew to Rome where they picked up their rental car (long story). They didn’t get to Saint Agata till late in the evening and were exhausted from all the stress of local driving, plus getting lost a few times due to incorrect GPS coordinates.
Our vacation rental and surrounding area
I’ve mentioned in this post that we used a company called FeelingItaly to arrange our vacation rental, and it turned out to be the best decision. The cost wasn’t cheap (about 321 euros per night), but the place accommodated all 9 of us, and in style.
There was a nice view of surrounding hills.
It even had a pool, which was all my kids truly cared about. Pompeii? We don’t need no stinking Pompeii!
The rooms were nothing to write home about, but we didn’t come to Italy to stay in a room the entire time.
Best of all, our rental house was located a stone throw away from several local restaurants, a bakery and a tiny grocery store. Hardly anyone spoke English, but somehow we got by. By the second day, grocery store owner was hugging and kissing my daughter and giving her treats as if she was a part of her family.
There were kids playing soccer in piazza, and older people congregating near tiny church each evening to catch up with friends. I don’t think I’ve seen even one cell phone. It’s almost as if entire village was stuck in a time warp. We really felt like locals, with not another tourist in sight.
Sorrento, on the other hand, was a different story. It was busy, congested and full of Americans. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
This is a “must-see,” and if you can only tour one site during your visit to the Amalfi Coast, make it Pompeii (see Trip Advisor page with reviews). I would not save it for the last day because a lot can happen. You may get sick or encounter bad weather. I don’t believe in saving the best for last unless it’s food.
We decided not to take a guided tour and instead, visit Pompeii excavation site on our own. I brought Amalfi Coast guidebook written by Rick Steves (highly recommended), which had descriptions of various buildings, and felt it was sufficient. I knew a good bit about Pompeii already, having read several books on it in my younger years.
However, I recommend you do your own research. Tours can be worthwhile and have a potential to really enhance your overall experience.
The site is HUGE, so get there early if you want to tour most of the ruins. Remember, this used to be an actual thriving city, one of the biggest in its day. It’s not just a few scattered buildings here and there. You really need to be in decent physical shape because there is a lot of uphill walking involved. I recommend you hit the gym for a few months before your trip, and no, I’m not kidding.
Fortunately, this place is worth the effort and can give you a unique insight into the ancient Roman culture. I especially enjoyed seeing the frescoes, restored to look just like they did few thousand years ago.
I was surprised that Pompeii excavation site has a restaurant on premises, carved into one of the ancient buildings. How cool is that?
I LOVE pizza!
Even my kids were fascinated by everything Pompeii had to offer, but after few hours got pooped out due to all the walking involved. So, we had to turn around and take a train back to Sorrento.
Someday I hope to come back and see the rest of the exhibits.
Excursion to Capri
I will say upfront that Capri, in my opinion, is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a scenic island. But I feel Amalfi Coast drive will give you a similar experience without the additional expense of a ferry. Capri was busy with tourists, and just felt hectic and congested. I’m sure it didn’t help that it was extremely hot on the day we sailed there.
Also, somehow, I messed up the times on the tickets and as a result, we only had 2.5 hours to spend on the island. That meant we had to skip a visit to the famous Blue Grotto. I’m not terribly upset because the reviews on TripAdvisor were somewhat mixed. Still, it would have been neat to finally experience it in-person.
My brother-in-law did a long, arduous hike and was rewarded with these views:
Hmm, should we do this hike with our two small, exhausted children? No way, Jose! But the scenery is definitely picturesque. Capri is a pretty island, but personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit it, especially in the summer when the place turns into a zoo. If you have an extra day or two, by all means, go and see it. Let me know how you liked the Blue Grotto.
Amalfi coast drive
I almost didn’t go on this tour. I was so tired after visiting Pompeii and Capri during previous two days and thought it would just be more of the same type of scenery. Well, I’m so glad I went. We hired a private tour guide with a minivan.
I highly recommend you go this route even if you happen to have a rental car. I realize that there will be a strong temptation to save money and use the vehicle you already have, but I recommend you fight the urge.
Suck it up and pay for the tour because the drive itself is quite stressful, but it helps when it’s done by a local who knows all the ins and outs of the area. I think we paid around 350 euros for seven of us (my brother-in-law and his wife didn’t go with us), but it was totally worth it.
Alternatively, you can use public buses that go up and down the coast, but then you’ll be a slave to their schedule. With young kids, it might be better to opt for a tour, but it depends on your budget. Whatever you decide on, just go!
We spent the entire day touring the area and looking at jaw-dropping scenery.
The tour guide let us stop at several scenic overlooks so we could take some photos.
The best part, hands down, was spending few hours in Positano:
Our guide also took us to a locally-owned restaurant where we had more pizza and some wine. In vino veritas.
At the end of the tour we stopped in the small town of Amalfi, which used to be a powerhouse and a bitter rival of Venice. You can see the signs of former glory days everywhere.
How you can use miles and hotel points to visit the area
Flights: You can see this two-part post on ways you can redeem miles and points for award flights to Europe. You might also want to read about my recent experience with trying to find 5 tickets to visit my family. Naples airport isn’t served by many major airlines, but there is always an option of flying to Rome and just taking a train to Sorrento. Of course, make sure to spend few nights in Rome first.
Hotels: When it comes to chain hotels, there aren’t many choices, but you do have a few options. I recommend you stick to Sorrento because it will provide a good base for visiting Pompeii, Capri and Amalfi Coast towns. Here are the results via Awardmapper:
Hilton usually runs at 60,000 points per night during summer months, which is expensive. The best deal, by far, is Comfort Hotel Gardenia Sorrento Coast because it costs only 10,000 Choice points per night.
Be aware, Choice program is very quirky, and you can’s book more than few months in advance. Also, this place is fairly popular during summer, so you will have a lot of competition. Still, it’s a fantastic deal, and you can even use points to book rooms that fit four people, a rarity in Europe. Plus, the hotel has a pool, and breakfast is included.
There are several ways to get Choice points:
2. Transfer them instantly on 1:1 basis from Membership Rewards.
While this isn’t a spectacular return on your MR currency, if you are short on cash, consider this option.
3. Wait for Daily Getaways promo to return in spring and hope to buy Choice points for around 0.43 cents apiece (a great deal for this particular hotel IF you can find availability).
4. Sign up for Choice co-branded credit card.
You can earn 32,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. This Barclays-issued card has no annual fee, and you can use this non-affiliate link to apply. I wouldn’t sign up for this card right now if you plan on visiting Italy next summer, but it’s something to consider down the road. Definitely beats buying Choice points for 1.1 cents each.
I do encourage you to at least look into vacation rentals if your budget can swing it. Sure, it’s a bit more trouble, but you’ll get a more authentic experience. I know we did. You can reserve your rental via many booking sites including AirBnB (my referral link, you’ll get $35 off your first stay).
That said, Comfort Hotel Gardenia hotel looks like an amazing deal on points in high season. That’s probably what I would pick for our family of four, especially if I could buy Choice points dirt cheap via Daily Getaways.
You could also consider using your Ultimate Rewards points if you happen to have Chase Sapphire Reserve. That’s because you’ll get 1.5 cents in value per point toward hotels. I checked UR travel portal, and there are quite a few options listed for Sorrento area, most of them locally-owned. Here is just one example:
I believe by “double” they mean king-size bed, but I’m not sure. Europeans have different terms compared to ones we use in America. When in doubt, always reach out to the hotel or vacation rental’s owner.
Amalfi Coast is one of our all-time favorite destinations. Yes, it’s well discovered at this point, and you will have to share it with hordes of other tourists. Be prepared for many selfie sticks. But the views, those views… How can you beat them?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.