The Amalfi Coast in Italy has long been known as the vacation spot for the jet set — not the tot set. But its seaside towns carved into limestone cliffs, buildings dripping with vibrant purple bougainvillea, and gorgeous vistas of the Tyrrhenian Sea make the Amalfi Coast an ideal location for a luxury family vacation. Situated on the southwestern coast of Italy, the Amalfi Coast is three and a half hours south of Rome and an hour south of Naples by car.
Since so much of a family trip to the Amalfi Coast is about relaxation, it is nice to add in a little history and learning with a stop in the ancient cities of Pompeii and/or Herculaneum on the way to or from the coast. Last summer we were fortunate to spend a week on the Amalfi Coast with our ten-year-old daughter, with stops in Pompeii, Positano, and Capri.
When flying into Rome or Naples, there are a few options for getting to the Amalfi Coast. From Naples, you can take a hydrofoil ferry to either Sorrento or the island of Capri and then connect via ferry to other towns along the coast including Positano and Amalfi. There is also bus service between Rome or Naples and many of the towns along the coast. Of course, renting a car is also an option, but be warned that the highway along the coast is extremely narrow and serpentines its way along sheer cliff dropoffs and hairpin turns, with busses and trucks barreling in the other direction – not for the faint of heart! Since we were coming off of five days in Rome, we hired a car and driver to take us first to Pompeii and then on to Positano.
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There are many small towns to explore along the coast, but since getting to many of them is easy via ferry, it is best to pick a home base and explore from there. If you want plenty of options for hotels, restaurants and shops, the more popular towns of Sorrento or Positano will be a good fit. You can always do a day trip to the island of Capri, but if you have the time, I’d highly recommend staying overnight. Capri is a very different place when the daytrippers have gone!
A visit to Pompeii is best done early in the day, before the sun reaches its peak, as there is very little shade to be found. While it is possible to find a licensed guide at the gate, the better choice is to make arrangements in advance for a guided tour, otherwise you never know what you are going to get (trust me!). When traveling with kids, you’ll probably want a tour that avoids the brothels and mention of the “signposts” that so graphically point the way there. If you decide to explore on your own, it helps to download the Pompeii augmented reality app from Kreisa before you go.
Plan on spending at least a couple of hours exploring the amphitheater, public baths, forum, and various well-preserved houses and shops. It is amazing to see how large Pompeii is, especially when you climb to a higher vista and get a sense of the amount of the city that’s still covered. Because facilities within the site are limited, it is best to use the restrooms and stock up on water before entering. The sun can be brutal if you are visiting in the summer, so don’t forget sunscreen, sun hats, and comfortable shoes for walking over cobblestones.
Only the most jaded teenager wouldn’t be awed when arriving in Positano. An architectural feat, the entire town is built into the cliff with one road winding its way from the top to the bottom. Unless you are staying at a hotel very close to the beach, be prepared for lots of climbing – not the best choice for strollers or legs that tire easily – but the views and homey feel of staying just above the town center are worth the work! Our family rented a two-bedroom apartment, Casa Cicogna, with amazing views from both bedrooms and a full terrace overlooking the beach and town below.
While it is simple enough to take day trips to explore Sorrento, Amalfi or Ravello, it is also easy to relax the days away at the beach. There is a small public beach if you want to bring your own chairs and towels. But if you don’t want to carry them up the stairs, you can also rent chairs and towels daily for about $15 per person at the beach club. Each day we asked the attendant to reserve our spots by the water’s edge and we enjoyed our days lounging in the sun and bobbing in the gentle waves. Just be aware that the beach isn’t just rocky – it is entirely rocks and pebbles – so water shoes are a necessity!
Because Positano is situated right on the water, it is no surprise that the seafood is superb. However, Positano is also known for its lemon dishes, like the famous delizia limone (lemon cream-covered sponge cake), and one of my favorites, grilled mozzarella between lemon leaves at La Pergola at Buca di Bacco Bar. The teeny-tiny clams in the spaghetti vongole at Ristorante Le Tre Sorelle were the sweetest and tastiest we’ve ever eaten. Even though we filled up on pasta, gelato and pastry, we at least started our days off with healthy fruit smoothies and green juice at Casa e Bottega on our walk down to the beach.
Capri has been a summer retreat for the ruling classes since the times of Emperor Augustus and Tiberius, who built the famous Villa Jovis there in the first century A.D. Today the streets of Capritown are lined with upscale boutiques, designer brands and famous hotels. Some posh hotels don’t welcome children, but others, like Casa Morgano (where we stayed), sister hotel to the famous La Quisisana, are more tolerant.
The town fills up from 10a to 4p with cruise ship passengers and daytrippers from the coast, so it is best to get an early start when exploring the island and spend the middle of the day by the pool. If your family is up for a walk, the Pizzolungo Trail is one of the prettiest hikes you will ever take. Head out of Capritown from the Piazzetta along Via Longano to Via Matermania, following signs for the Natural Arch.
This magnificent rock formation towers hundreds of feet above the coastline, affording the most spectacular natural views. After gawking at the arch, follow the steep staircase 500 steps down to the Grotti di Matermania. In ancient times, this cave was used to honor the gods of the wood, but today you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled into the set of an Indiana Jones movie and are about to discover a hidden treasure. Luckily, very few people make this trek, so you can enjoy your views in relative peace.
From here, continue through the woods and along the coast to the Tragara Viewpoint, offering stunning views of the famous Faraglioni Rocks. As you make your way back to town on Via Tragara, follow your ears to the singing lemon granita maker for a refreshing drink. Or head back to town and follow your nose to the Buonocore gelateria, where the aroma of freshly made waffle cones will make your mouth water.
Of course, Capri is best viewed from the water. If you can, take a boat tour around the island, with stops at the famous Blue Grotto as well as the Emerald and White Grottos. Or, do what we do: splurge on a private boat charter and spend the day swimming and exploring all around the island.
In Capri, the food is as good as the shopping, and a couple of experiences not to be missed are dining in the lemon grove at Da Paolino and the garden at Villa Verde. The enchanting lemon grove alone is worth the taxi ride down to Da Paolino, but the food won’t disappoint. From the immense antipasto display to the amazing lemon pasta and fresh fish with lemon, to an entire room’s worth of a dessert buffet – you will not go home hungry.
At Villa Verde, the waiters are as fun as the food is good, making it a favorite of celebrities like Mariah Carey and Magic Johnson (whom we saw twice during our stay). They have the best fried zucchini flowers I’ve tasted, but I also suggest you order the pasta fagioli and watch what happens when they bring it to the table.
A family vacation to the Amalfi Coast is bound to be a trip to remember and makes a perfect counterpart to a week spent sightseeing in Rome, Tuscany or Venice.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Tamara Gruber.
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Can I suggest that you spend a few dollars and get a guide for Pompeii? The first time we went we were in and out in under 20 minutes – ‘they are just ruins dad!!!’ was the response. The next time, with a guide, we spent 3 fun filled hours and the kids learnt loads!