Italy is colourful and passionate and wonderful. It has fresh sharp lemons and the juiciest oranges and brightest flowers. It has narrow coastal roads that have been nicknamed Mamma Mia from the shock visitors express on their first experience as they overlook sharp drops from the cliff tops to the ocean below.
I’ve visited Florence (loved it!), Milan (shopping), Turin (Juventus) so it is only natural I wanted to see more. The picturesque coastline of Amalfi, the intrigue of Sorrento with the archaeological sites of Herculeanum and Pompeii and the romance of Capri have been high on my hit list before reaching fever pitch in November last year. I did originally look at taking this trip alone and I have since found out from my friend Preet that it IS fairly easy to do. However, my best friend from school Emma (a journalist for Yorkshire Evening Post) decided to come with me and thus the journalist and the PR set out to explore a little corner of Italy.
We stayed in Sorrento for one week arriving on the Friday night and airport transfer time was two whole hours. We did Herculenuem and Pompeii on a day trip on Sunday and got back in enough time to sit by the pool. We also did a day trip on the Amalfi Coast on a small mini bus (this is recommended so it can weave its way along the narrow roads) so we went to beautiful Positano, Amalfi and Ravello. Finally we almost ran out of time to do Capri but we managed to go on the day we went home which was a luxury shopping paradise!
I’ve compiled a list of what to DO and what not to DO.
DO go to Capri
Capri is a major hot spot and what I didn’t realise is that it is a fairly large island with designer boutiques galore – Gucci, Chanel, Bottega Venta, you name it, it is there. It’s absolutely beautiful and about half an hour away from Sorrento by ferry. The first ferry from Sorrento goes from the port at 7.20am and they go fairly regularly after that – two companies service the Capri ferries so you can book single tickets if you want to get the one back which suits you better. Tickets are about 35 euros return per person and are large air conditioned affairs. If you’re in a rush we did do this trip in about half a day (9.40am ferry there and 1.50pm ferry back) BUT we were hit by ‘tour guide’ traffic. Shuffle shuffle.
Don’t go to Capri with the breakfast club
The problem is thus – the islands main shopping area is atop a steep climb and served by a Fernicular which is like one of those cable car train thingys that run up and down all day. You have to queue for tickets and then for the Fernicular (so queue for a queue) and if you arrive at the same time as a tour group then it’s bedlam with super annoying tour guides holding umbrellas to keep hold or their groups. It can take ten minutes or half an hour depending on your timing so try and go ahead of those enjoying their hotel breakfast to get a jump on things.
Do watch the sunset, Don’t assume it’s like Ibiza
Sunsets are beautiful wherever you are but Sorrento seems to have fiery sunset that burns fierce and runs from pale lavender hues to intense volcanic red shades in the blink of an eye. It can be best viewed from one of the three marinas in Sorrento or from the clifftops above. We watched it first from the marina, then we intended to watch it from one of those fancy sun beds positioned in the sea but alas it closed at 7pm and we were ushered over to Peter’s Beach where you can swim on the public beach or head into the bar as the sun god down.
Do take your camera
These pictures are probably my favourite pictures ever – it is an Instagram heaven! Everywhere you turn there’s a Vespa (Ravello), or a ton of red and white beach umbrellas (Amalfi) or a beautiful flower display (everywhere), or pastel painted houses (Positano).
Don’t underestimate the amount of water you need to drink
It is one HOT country and the baking temperatures mean one thing – drink water. Looking at the enormous prices they can charge at tourist hot spots (3 euros for a small bottle at Pompeii) buy them cheap from corner shops or supermarkets and take them with you.
Don’t fall for Italian patter
Remember Shirley Valentine? If you’re not careful, you’ll end up starting in Sorrento with a) the Naples airport security guard who got a little too close for comfort, b) the Casanova sailing the boat from Capri ‘live with me’, c) Romeo and friends who will follow you around the streets at night ‘English girls!’ Well, here’s a little tip, they do it to everyone ‘Bella, bella!’ so keep your head straight girls.
Do your research
I must admit I was a bit thick on this one – I booked through Thomson and just assumed they would be amazing but I don’t think I would book through them again. Our hotel was called Settimo Cielo and had an amazing pool overlooking the harbour and was close enough to walk into the town. If you go any higher up into the mountains, then you might need the assistance of a little shuttle to bring you down – which is fine but just less flexible. So check out the location, and the pool (you’ll enjoy that pool when you come back from a hot trip to Pompeii). Finally check things like air con is included and you have a balcony. The pictures from our hotel were extremely misleading so don’t be afraid of asking questions and doing your own research.
Don’t leave it too late to get picked up
Yikes. 4pm pick up to go back to Naples for our flight back to London. Totally chilling out in the hotel – well if you must know I was drying my hair in the communal bathroom as we got ready at the 11th hour. Our pick up arrived half an hour early! Yeesh. There did seem to be a common theme of pick-ups from hotels being pretty early so take my advice and be ready!
Don’t always follow the tour guide
As lovely as tour guides are (and they are cute, they call you ‘my family’ to keep you all together in formation), but it would be great if they let you off the leash once in a while. So it you come to a stop and point you in a certain direction, don’t be afraid to ignore it. They are often pointing you to crowded squares and tourist hot spots so take a wander around yourself to take in quieter, leafy lanes like these ones in Ravello.
Do go to the welcome meeting
Welcome meetings feel more like a Venus fly trap where you’re lured into meeting your holiday rep who thrusts you a glass of wine and does the hard sell on the 4×4 trip to the active volcano with an added bonus of a wine tasting trip (at least you’ll be drunk should Vesuvius erupt).
Don’t worry if you miss the welcome meeting
Time spent waiting for welcome meeting pickup – 10 mins
Time spent working out we’d missed pick up – 10 mins
Amount of time late for welcome meeting – 15 mins
Information it was worth going for – erm they checked our pick up points for our trips
Moral of the story, we’ll always have Google.
Don’t be alarmed by Italian traffic
Whoopppeeeee they like a drive they do! It is the town or the scooter/moped/bike – a lot of the places are so tight/high/narrow that you really do need to be on two wheels. They drive fast so don’t be too scared when they whizz past (although obis be careful). If you have a fear of heights – sit on the left hand side of coach trips. If you like views – go right. One thing to note is that Italian women CAN drive in the highest shoes imaginable and ANY outfit plus they can take their helmets off and have immaculate hair and makeup – SKILLS.
Don’t buy Walkers crisps from Pompeii
That’s 3 euros you’ll save. You’re welcome.
Don’t believe every Limoncello seller owns his own factory
Well maybe they do, but what I mean is it is a fight for tourists so every shop does: Limoncello in shape of a boot/fancy bottle, Lemon Tea Towels, Lemon Soap, Lemon everything.
Don’t pay more than 2 euros for a lemon tea towel
Well, you can. The priciest pieces seemed to be in beautiful Positano, the prettier the place the steeper the tea towel.
Don’t be afraid to stray away from hotel breakfast
A lot of places in this area include breakfast or are half board/all inclusive. While this is a great way to save money, lets face it, it can be as boring as arse. On day one you’re like ‘ooh bread rolls with boiled egg, I can eat that.’ Day three, Jesus boiled eggs again?!? Day five and you’re trying to rustle up a new combination using various condiments. Moral of the story is, swerve it if you want. You can pick up great takeaway food on the go as we found when we skipped breakfast for a stroll on the sea front and enjoyed fruit and yoghurt from the Carrefort supermarket in Sorrento. Yum.
Do have a slice of pizza
Have lots of different slices to try all the different flavours.
Don’t worry about tourist tax
They keep saying it to you as if it is going to be huge. But it is only one euro per person per night. Good to know so you can factor it in as it won’t be included in your hotel price.
Do smell the flowers
Italy is extremely picturesque so please enjoy the beautiful colours of the flowers.
Don’t listen to your rep and pay extra for luggage
I was shocked and saddened to see the pushy lengths the Thomson reps went to when making you fear that you would be over your baggage allowance. Telling you that all your extra shopping would be 20 euros a KG. On Norwegian Airways – they couldn’t give a monkeys – and that airline was an absolute delight – THEY EVEN HAD WIFI ON THE PLANE! Wow.
Do eat the ice-cream/Don’t eat the ice-cream
Ok, honesty time, me and my friend both got food poisoning on this trip. I am convinced it was the ice-cream we had a van in Herculaenum (although I can’t be 100% sure). So, because Italian icecream is the best in the world – stick to proper shops where you’re not going to get sick. It really isn’t worth it.