Not long ago we spent a day touring the Campania region of Italy’s west coast. We’re sailing aboard the Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas and stopped for the day in Naples. From there, we took a ship’s tour focused on a visit to Pompeii, but before the tour of the Roman city near Mount Vesuvius, we stopped in the small coastal town of Amalfi.
The bus ride to Amalfi was interesting. We were in an almost full sized tour bus and drove south from Naples along a coastal road that wasn’t more than 1 1/2 lanes wide, with cars parked along the side of the road here and there just to make things interesting for the driver. Much of the road was carved out of rock and cantilevered out from the side of the cliff. It reminded us of Highway 1 along California’s west coast, except in this case the road to Amalfi made Highway 1 look like a super highway.
When we arrived in Amalfi, we were surprised to see that there was quite a bit of room for what we thought was a little town. All along the coast on the way south there was barely enough room for the scores of small houses and hotels we passed by, but once we arrived in town, there was ample room for this small village to have a thriving life.
As is the case with many of the Ship’s tours these days, we were given “free time” to wander about the city before we headed out on the rest of our journey. We made a quick survey of the area and finally settled on a small café in the city center for some coffee, and to watch the people pass by, going about their tourist business. We also had a crepe that was interlaced with chocolate, ice cream, and cookies. It was the best crepe we’ve had so far this trip, which included most of Germany, Brussels, Disneyland Paris, and Barcelona. It was what we thought a crepe should be like; thin and light, and full of flavor. The ice cream and cookies was not the result of understanding enough Italian to order food, but rather, it was more or less random selection of something from the crepe menu, about halfway down the list and in the middle of the price range.
After thoroughly enjoying our coffee and crepe, we wandered around town a bit longer and grabbed some more images of the town.
Amalfi was first mentioned in written documents as early as the 6th century. In the 8th century, it began to rise as an important trading port, doing much of its business with ports in northern Africa. The town at one time was thought to have between 60,000 and 70,000 residents. They even used a financial system involving gold currency when the rest of Italy was still bartering for their commerce.
A tsunami destroyed much of the lower town and the port in 1347, and the town never recovered as a shipping center. In the 1920s and 1930s, Amalfi was a tourist destination popular among British elite. Now, it’s just popular with everyone.
This is a town that would be worth returning to at some point in the future. Renting a car and driving from Naples or Salerno-the two closest big towns-would seem to be a last option based on what we saw of the road from the tour bus, so we asked our tour guide how locals came to this little village to vacation. There seemed to be several great looking hotels in town and folks have to get there somehow. Our guide said that many people actually did ride the public transportation bus, but they usually took water taxis to get to any of the little villages we found along the way from Naples. For us, being people who usually gravitate toward a rental car as a first option, the bigger question would be finding adequate parking once we arrived if we brought a car.
In fact, we took a boat from Amalfi to Salerno, where we again met up with our tour bus and made our way to Pompeii. Expect more about Pompeii in the next couple of days. In looking for a ferry, we were able to find a scheduled boat from Salerno to Amalfi, but not a ferry from Naples to Amalfi, so a return trip might require some planning. Here’s a look at the ferry schedule.
Our brief stay in Amalfi convinced us that we want to spend more time in central and coastal Italy, including trips out to some of the Italian islands in the Mediterranean. The food was great, based on our crepe of a lifetime, the coffee was good, and we were thrilled to see that many of the buildings dating back to the days right after the Roman Empire are still there, still inspiring us to learn about the past. With towns like Amalfi, with their old world charm, friendly people, and spectacular surroundings, it’s hard to decide where the next trip will take us.