Italy Part 1: Amalfi

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‘Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’. -John Steinbeck

The photo above is of Amalfi – not Positano << it’s about 20 minutes away – but in my opinion, Steinbeck’s quote still applies. As many of you know, I got back last Wednesday from a twelve day trip to Italy. We had the most amazing time and if I could go back tomorrow I would.

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I’m sure you can see why. This was the pool at our hotel. In the middle right of the photo, you can see the steps leading down into the Mediterranean Sea. Dreamy doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

Upon returning home, I quickly realized that I had too many amazing photos, and too much to tell you to cram the whole trip into just one post. So, that being said, there will actually be FOUR posts dedicated to our Italian vacation. They are as follows:

1. The Amalfi Coast

2. Rome/Florence

3. Lake Como… and

4. A very special post, with some amazing guest bloggers, dedicated to the art of traveling with children. <<< I am SO exited about that post.

I hope you enjoy this series, and if you have any questions you’d like answered about our trip, please feel free to ask while all the information is still fresh in my mind!

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Our hotel in Amalfi, looking out at the Mediterranean Sea.

So — without further adieu let’s take it from the top…

Joe and I got married in September of 2013. When we were deciding on a honeymoon location, I was insistent upon going to Europe. Joe suggested that we might want to relax on our honeymoon, rather than running around trying to see a million things, and he also reasoned that the last thing we needed to do in the midst of wedding planning was plan a European vacation. I mean… the man had a point. I hate to admit it when he’s right – it doesn’t happen very often – but this time, he was.  So off to Hawaii we went. Then came 2014. It was the year of friends’ weddings and family trips galore. Ashley and I launched the blog. I found out I was pregnant. In April of 2015, we had William. It was always something… and it seemed that our European vacation was a dream that might never come true.

But, if you know me, you know that I am nothing if not persistent, and I wouldn’t let it go. A couple months after I had William, I told Joe that I still, really did want to go to Europe. He looked at me like I was crazy; and he was right, it was a logistical nightmare. But I was bound and determined to make it work. You see, to me, travel is something that is very important. In my opinion, whether you’re traveling an hour away from your home or across the globe – whatever your means allow – travel expands your horizons, it gives you an appreciation for other cultures, and it teaches you invaluable lessons about yourself. But, I married someone who feels very differently. If you know Joe – you know that he is an extremely anxious traveler. He didn’t grow up traveling very much – which is absolutely fine – but in adulthood travel still makes him a little uncomfortable.  Accordingly, any time we want to go on vacation, I am the driving force.

So when I told him for the 100th time that I still really wanted to go on our Europe trip, he knew I meant business.

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A couple weeks after our discussion, we went to dinner with our closest friends, Jeff and Kristin. They had just gotten back from a trip to Iceland, and they were telling us all about their travels. I jokingly mentioned that I really wanted to go on a trip – maybe to Italy the next spring. I said it halfway to push Joe’s buttons, and halfway to show I was serious. But then, Kristin mentioned that she had been seeing some amazing photos of Positano on Instagram. Wouldn’t you know it, but thirty seconds later, we had our phones out and we were all gazing at photos of the Amalfi coast. The next thing we knew… our trip to Italy was born.

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We showed each other photos that were very much like this 🙂

Kristin is a planner and Kristin’s mom is a travel agent… so between the three of us, it was like the dream team of vacation planning. Kristin and I sat down and mapped out our dates – we decided where we wanted to go, and how long we wanted to say in each place. From there, her mom took care of the rest.

For me, the timing of the trip was perfect. Although I could have easily spent a month in Italy, we got to see and do SO many things on our 12 day trip, and I never left any city feeling that we had missed too much. In the end, this was our trip itinerary:

Italy:

April 8th: Take the red eye from New York to Rome

April 9th – April 12th: Amalfi

April 12th – April 14th: Rome

April 14th- 17th: Florence

April 17th- April 20th: Lake Como

Now… onto Amalfi…

On April 8th, William’s first birthday, we took the red eye from New York to Rome. Although we heard COUNTLESS times how crazy we were to be bringing a one year old on such a long flight, it wasn’t bad at all. Kristin’s mom got us an amazing deal on business class seats and it made all the difference in the world. The attentiveness of the cabin crew, combined with all the extra room, and the ability to fully lay down, made the 9 hour flight – with a usually rambunctious 1 year old – extremely easy.

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This was right before we took off from New York.
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And this was as we were about to land in Rome. Still all smiles. Momma and Baby. 

We landed in Rome at about 9am and took an 11:00am train  to the Rome Central train station. From there we took the hour and a half train ride to Naples. All in all, the train situation was very easy – however I will warn you – keep your wits about you at the Naples train station. Men will try to “wheel” your luggage for you as you get off the train, and then they will force you to pay them in order to get it back. My advice is to keep your hands on your luggage and to keep walking like you know where you are going. If you do that, no one will bother you.

We arranged to have a driver meet us at the Naples train station, as the road along the Amalfi coast is extremely narrow and windy. We used this company >>> here, and I highly recommend them. The trip from Naples to Amalfi takes about an hour, however we stopped in Pompeii on the way to Amalfi so the boys could see it, and that added another two hours to our journey.

Also— a word to the wise, if you get carsick at all, take some dramamine before you head out to Amalfi. Kristin did this and it made all the difference in the world for her. The ride is to the coast is beautiful, and you definitely don’t want to miss it.

There are a million towns to stay at along the Amalfi Coast: Positano, Ravello, Amalfi, etc, etc, etc… it really just depends on what you want from your location. A lot of bloggers decide to stay at Le Sirenuse in Positano and people were shocked that we didn’t decide to stay there. While it is a gorgeous hotel – and very “en vogue” – we knew we’d be traveling with William and we would be dependent upon a stroller. With that in mind, we decided we didn’t want to stay in Positano, because there are a ton of stairs and it is very hilly. Besides… we didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. We wanted something a little bit different.

That brought us to the Hotel Santa Caterina – a gorgeous, classic, old Hollywood glamour hotel, nestled into the cliffs, right outside the town of Amalfi. I will try my best to describe the beauty of this place to you, but unfortunately photos and words will never be able to do it justice.

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The Hotel Santa Caterina by night. Photo Credit: Jeff Rowe 🙂

Being at The Hotel Santa Caterina was like stepping back in time. We walked into the lobby, and were met by a front desk staff that welcomed us like family, and they were ready to help us with our every need. We moved through the lobby and into the sitting room of the hotel. Beautiful white couches lined the walls, ivy vines – that were older than I – adorned the ceiling, there were beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers on every table, and then… our eyes lifted, and we realized we were looking out onto the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean Sea. It was, in a word, breathtaking.

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I fell in love the minute I set foot in this hotel. The ambiance, the decor, the colors, the people, the history… everything about it made my heart sing. The hotel has been family owned and operated for three generations, and when you are there, you are made to feel like just that… family.  After we checked in, the concierge showed us to our rooms. From my past travels to Europe, I was accustomed to small elevators, small rooms, small everything. But not at The Hotel Santa Caterina. Our room was HUGE, the bed was enormous, we had a sitting area where we had drinks every night (before and after dinner – ooops), and the bathroom was expansive. But… the pièce de résistance… was a stunning balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I was in heaven.

As soon as we got settled, another concierge knocked on our door and surprised us with some “welcome champagne”. If only all vacations started like this one…

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After we enjoyed our champagne, we got cleaned up and headed upstairs for drinks, and then dinner. All the drinks at the hotel were handcrafted, and not only were they beautiful, but they were absolutely delicious as well. During drinks we arranged some activities with the concierge. A boat ride to Capri and Positano, a couple of gorgeous dinners, and even a nanny for William for one of the nights. <<< I’ll be the first to tell you that I never thought I’d be OK with leaving William with a nanny while on vacation. But… we did it twice, and I’ll never look back.

After our cocktails and activity planning,William’s jet lag started to kick in, and ours did as well. We quickly had dinner in the gorgeous hotel restaurant, and although it was amazing, I barely remember it. I was SO tired. All I know is that my sea-bass was outstanding.

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The next morning, Joe and I woke up early, eager to explore the hotel. Jeff and Kristin who have two young boys (and are much smarter than us) took advantage of the peace and quiet and slept for 15 hours. < I highly suggest doing that!

First we ordered espressos to the room – so we could be semi functioning humans…

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And then we went upstairs to the restaurant and enjoyed a beautiful breakfast while William slept some more. FYI – breakfast was included every morning with our room, which we absolutely loved.

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Then we went adventuring. The grounds of the hotel were absolutely stunning. As was the pool which we found out was easily accessible by elevator. <<< Sooo necessary if you’re traveling with children.

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As we walked around the hotel, Joe and I were absolutely stunned. It was like we had the whole place to ourselves. There wasn’t another soul in sight. So here is the golden ticket. You ready? I made sure to bury it in the middle, so as to not give it away to everyone. 🙂 Mid to late April is an amazing time to go to Italy. At this time of year the high season hasn’t started yet, which means that prices are still (relatively) low, reservations are easily accessible, and the weather is absolutely perfect. I mean… we had two 75 degree days while we were there.

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For us, the peaceful and tranquil nature of April in Amalfi was just what we needed. Adding to our enjoyment, was the fact that we never had to worry about William bothering anyone because there really wasn’t anyone else around. That being said, if you care more about the “scene”of the Amalfi Coast, and the hustle and the bustle, then June through August is your time.

Over the next two days in Amalfi, we ate, we drank, we strolled, we boated, we swam, and we laughed. Then we laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more…

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As you can see, we had no fun at all… 🙂 I’ve touched on this before, here, but I’ll say it again. There is something about traveling with great friends that makes life infinitely more enjoyable. This trip was no exception. Now… a little bit about our friends… since I know you’re wondering.

Jeff and Kristin are friends that Joe and I made later in life. We’re not friends because we grew up together, or because we went to school together, or because we work together. No. Rather, we’re friends because we choose to be, and that, to me, makes our friendship incredibly special. Kristin is one of the most honest and frank people I know, and she’s fiery. Those qualities are what drew me to her initially and they’re why I love her dearly now. Then there is Jeff. He is Kristin’s perfect complement. He’s easygoing, fun-loving, and just like Kristin, he’s hilarious. FYI, he also really likes photography, so a lot of the images in the coming posts are his. What’s more… they are incredible parents to two little boys, and I swear, everything I know about being a mom I learned from Kristin. So that is the skinny on our friends… they’re awesome, and no… you can’t have them. 🙂

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Now here is my favorite story of our whole time in Amalfi….

For our second night in Amalfi, we had a reservation at Torre Normanna – a beautiful Italian restaurant, perched high above the water in a 13th century fortress.  It boasts sweeping views of the coastline, and since it was one of the nicer reservations that our concierge had arranged for us, we decided we’d leave William with a nanny at the hotel. On our way out the door, our concierge mentioned that he’d like to send us to his wife’s favorite sandal shop on the way to dinner – if it was OK with us.  He said it was something we just HAD to see. We would be able to pick out whatever design we wanted, and our sandals would be delivered to us at dinner later that night. I mean… who would say no to that? It sounded perfect, so we quickly agreed. 

About 15 minutes after leaving the hotel, we pulled up to an unassuming storefront. As we peered into the shop, we all kind of looked at each other in bewilderment. This was the legendary sandal shop our concierge had been talking about? An older man was sitting behind the counter… and he motioned for us to come in. Evidently our concierge had called ahead and he had been waiting for us. He introduced himself as Alfonso – and explained that he had owned the sandal shop for over 40 years.

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As we walked inside, our eyes were all drawn upwards. There were hundreds of sandals decorating the walls.

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Alfonso explained that we could choose any design – and we could also choose any color. To me, it was incredibly overwhelming. I immediately picked out an adorable pair for William, but I knew we only had 15 minutes until we needed to leave for dinner. I don’t make fashion decisions that quickly, so I reasoned I’d make my way back there on the last day of our trip so I could have time to think about what I really wanted.

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William’s Sandals

As I walked around the shop, one specific design caught my eye. Somewhere back in my memory, I remembered something special. I grabbed Kristin’s arm and said,

“See there? That sandal? It’s like all the ones I have at home, you know? Well… it’s crazy, but Jackie O had those sandals made for her right here on the Amalfi Coast. She brought them back to the US, and that’s how the Jack Rogers sandal was born. They’re an iconic American sandal today, but they really originated right here. Isn’t that crazy?”

Kristin looked at me and said, “That is so cool that you know that.” Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Alfonso and he was holding a book. It was Jackie O’s biography, and tucked inside was a collection of old photographs. He motioned for us to take the book, and as we leafed through the photos, it was like going back in time. We came to the last photo, and there was Jackie O, on a golf cart – wearing her iconic leather sandals. At the bottom was a letter written to Alfonso, signed, Love Jackie. I felt tears creep up in my eyes. The “Amalfi magic” I was talking about earlier… yeah… there it was again.

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#allthefeels — Am I right?

That night, Kristin had a pair of sandals made for her mother – to say “Thank You” for planning such an amazing trip, and we promised we’d be back in two days when we had more time. True to our word, two days later we returned – this time with William in tow. Alfonso loved him right off the bat, and watching the two of them interact, made my heart swoon. After some serious contemplation, I decided upon a simple, white, leather sandal. I watched intently as the same hands that once made our first lady’s sandals now made mine – and I couldn’t help but smile. It was the perfect ending to our time in Amalfi. I will treasure those sandals, and my memories in Alfonso’s shop forever.

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Amalfi, for me, was magic. I think Steinbeck said it best – “It bites deep”. As I write this, I find myself missing everything about our time there. I miss the view of the beautiful town of Amalfi from our balcony, I miss the sweet smell of the wisteria, and I miss the quiet hum of the Sea. I turn 30 next April, and I told Joe – there’s nothing I want more than to be back in Amalfi. Here’s to hoping that dream comes true.

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2 thoughts on “Italy Part 1: Amalfi

  1. I love Hotel Santa Caterina and Le Sirens!! Both excellent choices for different reasons. Also – the shop that Jackie O purchased her shoes from is in Ana Capri – the man that crafted hers is still alive and still makes shoes…he has photos of himself with all the celebrities he crafted scandals for! He even will sign the bottom of the shoes for you as well. 🙂

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