Travelogue: Positano & the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Travelogue Positano 2

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This is the last leg of our trip to Italy

Positano is built almost entirely on the side of mountains—dramatically and precariously so. It practically drips into the sea, defying all expectations of gravity and foundations. One wonders how it came about. I suppose it stands as a testament to the value of the sea that anyone would dare consider building such a place.

We’d visited Positano on our first trip to Italy together and I always hoped we might return. Swimming in the sea is actually my favorite kind of swimming. Warm ocean waters with soft sand are the ideal for most people, but I actually love a pebbly beach that leaves you salty… and your sandwiches free of sand. And the Mediterranean is just so beautiful.

Everyone warned us that we would regret visiting the Amalfi Coast in August, so we were happy that our dates left us arriving in the first week of September. We booked our stay in Positano for six nights almost as soon as we purchased the tickets.

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We drove into town. The more cost-effective plan, and the one most people would suggest, is to take a train to Naples or Salerno, followed by either a bus or a boat. I can tell you from our last trip that I found the boat ride most pleasant, but the transit times weren’t optimal for us on this visit.

We did an elaborate cost/benefit analysis and opted to drive to and park in Positano. If you decide to do this, be sure to talk to your hotel about it. Ours had pre-reserved spots in a garage and I’m not sure how easy it is to snag one otherwise.

We were told we could drive up to the hotel, unload our bags, and then a driver would come and pick up the car to move it to the garage. The road through Positano only goes in one direction, and we actually passed our place by a few 100 meters. Aron employed some masterful (illegal) reverse-driving skills so that we could avoid doing it all over again… and thank goodness! I think Hudson was a bit green after the stretch of road from Sorento to Positano. (It’s hard to convince a three year old that—yes—you have to look up!)

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We would have probably steered clear of such a steep destination, thinking it would be too challenging with two kids, but I read an account of a woman with four kids who visited from London every year. I thought, if she can do it… we better stay at the same place. We followed her recommendation and booked the apartment with a large terrace at Residence Alcione.

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It was incredible! I knew it was supposed to be a “large terrace” but it defied every expectation. It was the kind of panorama I thought only existed in movies… or from a balcony at someplace like the super-expensive La Sireneuse (which was just a few doors down).

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As for navigating the steps and hills with children, one could use one’s stroller and follow the road but we found it much more convenient to just carry Skyler in the Ergo, and encourage Hudson to walk for whatever portion we could. At some point, Aron would carry him on his shoulders. The apartment was right at around 80 meters in elevation, so this meant some good exercise for us, and planning for infrequent returns to the apartment. That said, it was actually very manageable and it usually only took us about 10 minutes to walk from our apartment down to the water.

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We were sure to think ahead about how we wanted to spend our week: at least 2-3 days of pure beach time (you can use the free public section, but we preferred to rent—25 euro buys you two chairs and an umbrella and the option of drink service for the day; get there early for the front row and reserve), and a couple of excursions (especially one that took advantage of our having a car… I assumed Ravello).

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The hotel served a breakfast that we would supplement with a few items from the refrigerator. It usually started out looking very elegant…

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…and finished more like this.

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(Game face.)

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So far, on all of the beach trips we have taken, Hudson has had a new favorite “game” to play in the water. On this trip he often wanted to pretend to be a kitty-cat and to be called toward Aron in the water, fighting the small waves along the way until he got to him. Then, returning to the shore, he’d say “Don’t kiss kitties!” We assume he was remembering the time he kissed a neighbor’s cat in our backyard and got scratched. He also had a new fascination with swimming out very far from the shore as he’s gotten so confident in the water over the summer.

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Another favorite pastime: collecting sea glass and interesting rocks.

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While very comfortable, the water was really too cool for Skyler to stay in very long. But she loved feeling all the rocks, splashing her hands in the water, watching her brother, and making friends with locals.

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For our part, we had some fun people-watching and meeting neighbors in the rows of chairs. (Of course I can’t pass too much judgment on anyone taking a lot of photos, but those selfie-arms were hilarious! I think these two were at it for a good twenty minutes.)

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We had lovely weather overall, but it did rain a couple of times (usually, conveniently, at night). When it did rain, it poured down the side of the mountain in a torrent!

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We just took it as an excuse to bring some Spritzs back up to the room.

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One morning, we rented a little fisherman’s boat from the harbor for a few hours—and experience I wrote about here.

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There’s a second, smaller beach called Fornillo just over a stony walkway from the main, Spiaggia Grande. It’s a great alternative—especially for families—but it does get shaded earlier in the day, so we didn’t spend much time there. En route over, however, is a nice restaurant called Lo Guarracino that Aron and I went to once before—and we stopped there for lunch after our boat ride.

We didn’t last long (Hudson was just too worn out to be in good spirits), but the lemon pasta there is so delicious!

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After a somewhat rushed lunch experience, we decided we needed to do a better job of using our apartment’s facilities. After all, there really was no better view at any restaurant.

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So we did some grocery shopping while the kids napped, and made dinner in.

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It was my birthday while we were there, and after being greeted with some flowers and a sweet little hand-written note from Hudson (with Aron’s help) at breakfast, we walked over to the main dock and waited for a little boat with a red fish to appear.

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These are the boats that go to the restaurant Da Adolfo—a favorite of many, the restaurant that sets up anew every summer.

We were told to have our hotel make the reservation (as it would be more likely to be honored), so we asked for a table at the first seating—which was 12:30pm. We arrived on what must have been the second boat of the morning. The first row of beach chairs were reserved (so I imagine you can ask your hotel to do that, too) and there were a few people already there with cappuccinos beside them.

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We paid a fee for a couple of chairs (which we didn’t actually end up using much) and then went about playing in the water. When it was 12:30, we made our way up to the restaurant, which was perfectly unfussy.

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The day’s menu is written up on a chalkboard (and was still being transcribed when we arrived) and there’s a small bar at the back. We relied on our waiter for recommendations and were so glad: it was amazing. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip. (And one of my favorites in recent memory.)

The combination of great, fresh food and casual setting was perfect. I loved that we were all still in our bathing suits, eating a meal worthy of white tablecloths: mozzarella grilled on lemon leaves, mussel stew, parsley pasta, clams and homemade raviolis with squash, the best tuna carpaccio you can imagine, and a jug of white wine with peaches. The tuna was so good that we ordered a second plate.

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It didn’t hurt that Skyler slept in Aron’s arms and Hudson could get down and play in the sand under the table. In fact, if you had older kids, everyone could take swim breaks in between courses—independently! We did our best to take full advantage of the situation, having our espressos back on the beach, but a couple or a family with older kids could really stretch that meal out in the best possible way. One could really linger and then, I imagine, go take a post-prandial nap and a refreshing swim on the beach.

How awesome is that!?

On the other hand, if you have a toddler and an infant and you’re hoping to leave right after lunch, be aware that the post-lunch boats don’t necessarily run regularly. The boat operators worked the lunch rush, had a bite to eat, and then headed back to the dock. You either need to get your own water taxi pick-up or be prepared to stick it out until a boat is going back (around 3 or 4, most likely). Also, if you are lucky enough to stick around for long, the loungers are pretty packed in on that little strip of sand. Maybe bring a float and find yourself a bit of space out on the water.

I get the feeling that one can spend an entire holiday just taking advantage of the various boats that ferry people to and from restaurants and hotels along the coast. Someone needs to put together a comprehensive guide and timetable expressly for this purpose.

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All of that was the long way of saying: I had a perfect birthday morning!

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…Followed by delicious lemon sorbet (and you can eat the frozen outer lemon) from Covo dei Saraceno, and a dinner out sans kids.

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Our hotel arranged a babysitter for us for that evening. We had asked at Terre di Nano and Residence Alcione (both spots where we had at least four nights) about babysitting. They both offered to arrange it, but the cost would be pretty dear. Only for my birthday did we decide to go for it.

Aron made reservations at NEXT2—for which one walks far down the hill and then far back up the hill. (Maybe 20 minutes?) It was a great walk to do without the kids, as hugging those curves with two little ones would have made the views harder to appreciate. As it was, we found ourselves stopping around every bend to admire how the scene changed in the dimming light, from higher (and higher) up.

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It was a lovely meal, the details of which are not as well recalled, save that it started with a glass of prosecco and ended with a sweet dessert.

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Another day, we decided to take the car out. Aron went and picked it up and we hopped in as he drove past. We weren’t entirely sure where we were going: It’s not obvious which of the side-of-road parking spots would be worth pulling into. Most cars parked on the zig-zagging A163 had dents or missing side-mirrors.

If you knew where you wanted to go, this would be the perfect time to take advantage of the bus service, SITA.

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The Fiordo di Furore, and other coves would all be lovely places to spend an afternoon.

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We decided to spend the day in the bay of Conca dei Marini. Hotel Saraceno charged us around 50 Euro to park and use their beach facilities. It may seem like a lot, but knowing that our car was properly parked and having elevator access to the coast far below seemed well worth it—particularly as we were having trouble finding convenient parking.

On the way back, we did see that there was a small turn-off going up the hill opposite the village of Conca dei Marini.

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We walked past a rope on the beach to a small restaurant called Zeffiro. (They, too, had boats that would pull up, ferrying daytrippers.)

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One of the best parts? Aron stepped away from the table to soothe Skyler and while we was on the beach, the food arrived. The waiter seemed to think this was unacceptable and happily insisted that we let them entertain Skyler for us while we enjoyed our meal. She was passed from servers to cooks—all family, by appearances—and we had another wonderful lunch!

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After Skyler finished a nap on the beach, we drove back toward Positano. Had everyone been awake, we might have taken the turn toward Ravello, but Hudson fell asleep—and stayed asleep—all the way through dessert back in Positano.

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We stopped in at La Zagara almost daily—usually picking up something to go. Aron had a Sfogliatelle whenever they were available (they did occasionally sell out) and I often had a lemon delight.

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The funny thing: I assumed that we might feel like, in the end, six nights was an excessive amount of time to spend in Positano, but it wasn’t! There was so much more one could do yet. We didn’t make it to any of the other major towns along the coast, trips to Capri and Ischia are still in our future, as is one inland to Ravello! We’d been to Pompeii once before, but one should (and could easily) include visits to the ancient sites as well: Pompeii, Herculeum, or Paestum—with one of the coastal towns as a base. Travel along the road does require a strong stomach, a bit of budget flexibility, and it might be best done outside of peak travel month of August when the road gets congested.

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We spent our last day on the beach (the take-out margarita pizza from Covo dei Saraceno was our favorite beach fare) and enjoyed an early dinner at Chez Black before heading back to pack up and enjoy that view for one more night.

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We had a long day of traveling ahead of us: a one-hour drive back to Naples (where we were warned by our rental agents in Rome to be very careful: “a lot of cars go missing in Naples,” she said ominously), a short stay at the airport there (where you should proceed directly to the food hall past security to gather some excellent food for the plane and ship home some mozzarella di bufala), a painful 16 or so hours on two planes, and a two-hour drive home from SFO. I wish I’d had these photos to look back on for steeling my nerve then; one just has to repeat “it was all worth it.”

And it was.

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Our first two legs: 
Travelogue: Rome
Travelogue: Tuscany & Umbria
and some Thoughts on Traveling in Italy with Kids. 

P.S. Thanks for asking—my swimsuit, as well as the kids’ swim covers, are from boden" target="_blank">Boden.

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