This time last year I was finalizing the details for our impending Italy vacation. My husband was completing his MBA study abroad for a week in Bologna so I devised a plan to fly over and meet him when he was done to then set out on our own Italian adventure… and an adventure it was. Planes, trains and automobiles with a twist– A classic “Who done it?” murder occurred on our train from Naples to Bologna leaving us stranded at the end of our trip. Never a dull moment when traveling with the two of us. Up until that point it was pretty much idyllic as you’ll see.
I had two days on my own to explore Bologna when I arrived while my husband finished his studies. After that we were heading to Rome followed by a drive down the Amalfi Coast and finishing up on the island of Capri, then back to Bologna for the return flight home. We gave ourselves 3 full days in Rome, 4 full days for the Amalfi Coast and 3 days on Capri. (photo sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)
If you’re planning a summer trip to Italy know that it is the most expensive time to go if you’re headed for the coast. Not only the influx of tourists but also Italians themselves are seeking a respite from the city heat so hotel prices are set at their top tier. The Bologna and Rome hotel prices were also pretty high so if you’re solely there for the sightseeing, not necessarily the sun and beaches, you might want to choose another time of year to go. I was able to find us some pretty good deals though as you’ll see. There are countless splurge-worthy places to stay along the route we took that I’m hoping we might get back to some day but all in all this was a pretty perfect trip for us.
In Bologna we stayed at Hotel Corona D’Oro, which dates back to the 14th century. It was a good place to hang our hats since we were hardly there.
I strolled the city center piazzas and shops, stopping here and there for lunch, a gelato or glass of wine. One night while my husband attended a school function I had dinner on my own al fresco at the Piazza Maggiore. An Italian movie was being shown for the public to come and go as they pleased. It was a special night, just sitting solo in Italy while sipping on chianti and watching the goings-on around me. It is something I’ll never forget. (photo source)
Flying to Rome from Bologna was the next order of business. Rome can be a bit of a shock after a city like Bologna. Bologna is a fairly calm city where as Rome is bustling, crowded, takes aim a bit more at the tourists and can at times seem overwhelming. You have to be willing to go off the beaten path, go slow and figure out what it is your really want to see while you’re there. Ask yourself if waiting in line is really worth it for the main sites or would you be willing to pay $20-$40 to skip the lines for instant entry (which is an option almost anywhere so be sure to look into that or purchase tickets online in advance whenever possible).
My husband wasn’t the biggest fan of Rome. A little too chaotic and at times too touristy for him. We did both however love the neighborhood that we stayed in, Trastevere. This neighborhood is famed for its winding cobblestone streets, vines of flowers and ivy, artists and more of a laid-back vibe. I had found an AirBnB apartment for us to stay in that had a rooftop terrace and was perfect for our needs. In Rome you’re hardly ever going to be at the hotel if you’re there to site see so you might as well spend your extra money on the food, wine and maybe a little shopping that you’ll be indulging in while there.
Ready for our next leg of the trip, we rented a small car in Rome and headed out for the Amalfi Coast. Once we reached Salerno we turned onto the famed route SS163 and we were off. The drive is as magnificent as every book, website and movie has ever suggested, beyond breathtaking. We spent the first night in Ravello at the Hotel Parsifal, a convent from 1288 that has been converted to a hotel. The hotel was lovely and the staff could not have been more accommodating. The views were stunning from the property, the rooms comfortable and for the price the hotel really couldn’t be beat
If I had known then what I know now I would have probably tried to twist my husband’s arm to agree to a stay at Hotel Caruso which we happened upon while strolling through the village. Listed as the number 1 hotel in Europe numerous times, Hotel Caruso brings Amalfi luxury to a level all its own.
From Ravello we headed to Praiano. Praiano is a village that is next to the more famous Positano. We preferred to steer clear of the larger tourist crowds that were sure to be inundating the famed picturesque village which was why we opted for Praiano. The only catch with Praiano is that it isn’t really much of a walking area and is more of a linear village along the coast and main road. Our plan was to relax by the water while there so it worked for us, but if you want to be out and about Positano might be a better fit for you. We stayed at the Hotel Torre Saracena. Hands down the best aspect of the hotel is its direct access to the Mediterranean from a rock platform carved into the side of the cliff the hotel is built upon. I can assure you this isn’t something available at every hotel along the coast and was the main reason we chose this one. Ladder access to the water from the platform is conveniently there but jumping the 10ft or so drop into the sea is far more exhilarating.
From Praino we headed to Sorrento to hop on the ferry to Capri. We dropped the rental car off in Sorrento. A one way rental was easy enough to set up with the rental agency. My husband was a bit sad to see the car go. It had been fun for him driving stick along the insanely curvaceous and narrow coastal drive, truly the the highlight of the vacation for him. Race car driver dreams pushed aside, we set off on the final leg of the trip.
Capri is a world of its own in my mind. Be prepared to see luxury in excess that you might not have seen elsewhere. From the mega yachts to the women draped in the most recent resort runway collections, you feel at times like you’re standing in the middle of a photo shoot or movie set. It simply didn’t seem like the real world. The people watching at Piazza Umberto, at least in July, in my mind can’t be beat. We sat and had Peronis and wine each night while snacking on the gratis apps that each table receives and just took it all in before dinner. We stayed at the Relais Maresca which is conveniently located right by the funicular that brings you to the top of the island and Piazza Umberto. There are so many jaw dropping places to stay on the island though that I’ll have to devote a post solely to those hotels and inns another day.
We saved a little money by staying at Relais Maresca and used that money to rent our own boat for two days to explore the island from the water and then to go to the Fontelina Beach Club our final day there which I would highly suggest trying out. You’ll need a reservation for the beach club where you’re dropped off by water taxi, waited on by staff and a restaurant serves the fresh catches of the day (we finagled our way in by playing stupid, but it would have been much easier had we simply reserved a spot). We also were lucky enough to swim in the Blue Grotto, something that many say is illegal. We were welcomed to do it by one of the row boat guides when he saw us approaching on our own boat at sunset. As long as the row boats are gone for the day and you’re a fairly strong swimmer, the grotto is yours to swim in.
Ready to set out for trip home we had decided to take the train from Naples to Bologna leaving us a full final day in Bologna before our flight back to the states. We even paid a little extra to be in the business class seats of the high speed train. I will preface this also by saying that I had begged my husband to grab some bread and wine for the train knowing we’d want it but we ran out of time so alas, no food, no wine. What should have taken us 3 1/2 hours turned into a 12 hour fiasco.
We came to find out that a man in another car was found dead in the bathroom, apparently murdered by someone either still on the train or someone who had gotten off at one of the previous stops. The train was boarded by Italian police who held the train in the Florence station for hours. No food, no water, no wine. No good. They were letting no one off the train until each person was spoken to. My husband somehow maneuvered his way through the police guarding all of the doors after 4 hours. Looking out my window, to my surprise, I saw my husband arguing with a detective on the platform. Both men shaking their fingers in one another’s faces and yelling. Next thing I know my husband is back on the train and telling me to grab my bags. He had threatened to call the American Embassy and say we were being held against our will. A crazy approach, but it worked. We snuck ourselves on the next local train to Bologna on which there were no seats and sat in the aisle on our suitcases for 2 more hours.
I can’t tell you how incredible the spaghetti bolognese was that we had for dinner that night after such an ordeal. Eating bolognese in Bologna on it’s own is worth celebrating, but I don’t remember having ever been more hungry. The next day we arrived home, a bit worse for wear, but having had yet another amazing adventure together and more importantly having seen another part of the world with which we were unfamiliar…and another story to tell.