Browsing Tag

Italy

Travel

Amalfi Coast

IMG_4947

Amalfi Coast – does it rise to the level of its visitors’ expectations?

Have you ever heard of the saying ‘Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled’? They are indeed words I live by – travelling and adventures are the best way to learn and maximise the curiosity and restlessness within us. It makes us look at life differently, appreciate things that we would have never appreciated before and shows us how beautiful life is.

Amalfi Coast is defined as an oasis of calm, photo perfect landscapes and ultimate tranquility. Yes it can be all of that but it can also be highly deceiving. There are ways to avoid the negative encounters and enjoy the Amalfi Coast at its best. Why I am telling you this? Because I have seen and lived both sides.

So follow me through my journey and learn how you can create the most unforgettable experience – from secret coastal paths that lead to breathtaking natural wonders, exceptional local art galleries, best beach lounges to gastronomical experiences that awaken all senses.

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – End of August to end of September to avoid the crowdedness.

Currency – Euro

How to get there – Fly to Naples Airport and rent a car from the airport.

Highlights – Miart Art Gallery, dinner at Chez Black (both in Positano) and Cetara.

Top Fact – The only land route to the Amalfi Coast is the 40 kilometres long Strada Statale 163 which runs along the coastline from the town of Vietri sul Mare in the east to Positano in the west.

Dress code – Both relaxing, light-weighted clothes and a few slightly more elegant outfits for dinner at places such as Rada in Positano.

Shopping – Be sure to leave space in your suitcase for beachwear shopping at Antica Sartoria in Positano.

IMG_4975

HOTEL

As per each time I glimpse at my bucket list and Amalfi Coast stands out as the perfect option for mid-summer. I start my research on booking.com and I find what seems to be in pictures a lovely 5 stars resort in Vietri sul Mare, next to Salerno with breathtaking views overlooking the Mediterranean sea and the Amalfi coast – Hotel Raito, part of the Ragosta Hotels Collection.

Being roughly 40 kilometres away from Positano and other towns on my to-visit list, it appeared to be a convenient place to start the Amalfi Coast drive, but little did I know that any route on the coast would actually take up to two hours one way on their hairpin bends, endless and busy zigzags. I rarely book a non refundable option, however this time I was certain that this hotel would meet all my requirements.

Post a last minute realisation of the hotel’s faraway location I decide to book first night in Ravello at a 4 star hotel (amongst the very few options available). Despite the fact that I would be double booked, I am eager to visit this town anyway and am looking for some sort of comparison degree distance wise. The Hotel Villa Fraulo enjoys a 4.3 reviews stars and with all due respect for the bokking.com platform, this probably translates into the biggest mystery in the world of reviews.

What started as a carefree and relaxing experience after a one hour drive from the Naples airport in a charming rented Fiat 500 Cabrio turned into an unexpected and unpleasant encounter due to the impactful lack of cleanliness and health safety at the Villa Fraulo Hotel.

IMG_5630

Transport

But before I become bluntly more honest about that experience, I ought to highlight the need of renting a car. You can do this straight at the airport or online and I would always recommend Hertz due to their impeccable service. Just be sure to rent a small car and preferably cabrio so you can take in fully the alluring views along the coast and one of a kind sunsets.

DAY 1 – Ravello

I always endeavour to focus on the bright side of people, venues and experiences but this time there’s not one positive thing about the Hotel Villa Fraulo aside from its somewhat convenient location. Wrongly described as a 4 luxurious boutique hotel and featuring a series of unreal attractive visual content materials, this accommodation site is nowhere near to what has been presented online. Maybe once upon a time, but now all the stars have faded far away. The dirtiness and unpleasant smell becomes unmissable from the minute I walk in through the secondary entrance which is built in via what used to be an old garage. There are no staff members here to help me check in and even by this time I am still wondering whether I have arrived at the right location. I can see a phone lost in the background and I dial 9, hopping that someone will be kind enough and interested to accommodate their guests. Someone from 7th floor (where the actual reception is) arrives after a long wait. So much for a flawless check in. I don’t have words to describe the poor state of this hotel, will let the pictures speak for themselves.

FullSizeRender-12
FullSizeRender-13
FullSizeRender-14

I immediately log into booking.com and look for another option. Despite the majority of the hotels being fully booked I find a night at the flawless Villa Tartana, a charming small hotel in the heart of Positano. Until tomorrow night though I feel the urge to step out of the hotel and visit beautiful Ravello.

From the accentuated italian culture that comes out through the pores of each corner of this small town, lemon trees and scent spread all over, spiritual art galleries, traditional coffee shops to the mesmerising grounds of Villa Cimbrone – Ravello is an absolute MUST during an Amalfi Coast visit.

IMG_4853

I commence my visit with a walk around the town and my glance lands on a mystical art gallery set in the garden of a church called Petit Prince, located at Via S. Francesco, 9, Piazza Duomo, 10, 84010 Ravello SA, Italy. Expect to find vibrant large oil on canvas paintings that will make you stop and stare. The sound of the choir accompanies the art perfectly, transporting me to another dimension of tranquility and beauty.

art

Villa Cimbrone

Once I step out of the gallery it is already quite late but I think I know the perfect place to watch the sunset and have an early dinner bite and that is Villa Cimbrone located at Via Santa Chiara, 26, 84010 Ravello SA, Italy.

On the way I bump into Ravello’s most charming italian gourmet bio shop, providing a wide selection of local condiments, olive oils, local wine and so on. Be sure to pay a visit, it is called Pascal located at Via Roma, 20, Ravello SA, Italy.

Villa Cimbrone has records dating all the way back from the 11th century, forming part of Ravello’s golden era. It was part of a large estate with a lush green vegetation covering more than eight hectares called Cimbronium, clearly the name has been kept ever since. It belonged to the aristocratic family named Acconciajoco and was later passed to a the Fuscos noble family. Representing one of the most important cultural heritage in the area, Villa Cimbrone also features what seems infinite paths of lush green vegetation gardens, with a strong influence of classical literature and including global decorations with a high emphasis on imposing yet detailed statues.

To sum it up, Villa Cimbrone provides a luxurious experience based on its highly praised 5 stars hotel, endless lush green gardens, alluring views of the coast, gourmet restaurant and wonderful swimming pool.

Be sure to enjoy a glass of local Chardonnay at Il Balcone Di Lucille in the gardens. Best seats to watch the sunset overlooking the Amalfi Coast.

16
11

DAY 2 – Positano

Once checked out of the ‘never again’ Hotel Fraulo, I hop into the car and after admiring one of the best coastal drives in the world (what seems much safer during daytime) I arrive at Villa Tartana, located at Via Vicolo Vito Savino 4/6/8, Positano SA, Italy. Promoted as a 3 stars hotel, this stunning villa proves that accommodation stars are beyond irrelevant on this side of Italy. Living regally doesn’t require booking the most expensive hotel. Set in a tranquil corner of the island, 2 minutes walk away from the beach and only 15km drive away from Amalfi. The welcoming can already be rated as a 5 stars experience – as I am checked in by the daughter of the owners who is more than pleased to help out with any query that guests might have. The room is beautiful, clean and fresh with a balcony overlooking the pedestrian positanian streets. On the other hand I would recommend skipping breakfast in the hotel as there are too many delicious coffee shops around Positano.

14

Ice Cream

As I feel an intense urge for something refreshing, there’s nothing better to hit the spot than a real gourmet ice cream! And I find the perfect place for this, just next to the stairs as I walk down from Villa Tartana. Buca di Bacco Bar is located at Via del Brigantino, 35/37, 84017, Positano, Italia. Make sure to pay at the till first and then pick your favourite flavours from the ice cream counter.

Beach Club

The first beach club I visit on the Amalfi Coast is La Scoglierea, a private beach set on a mountain cliff. Their adults only policy translates into a peaceful retreat with a good service, however does not rise up to the price expectations. Varying from 50 euros up to 80 euros per sun bed/day, the beach club lacks a welcoming treat, music, towels and that WOW factor. The potential is there, however prices must be lowered or the overall service is ought to be improved majorly.

12

Dinner – Chez Black

As you might have noticed, contrasting experiences are a ritual taking place on a daily basis here and this is why the Amalfi Coast must be truly planned ahead of time and post in depth research.

Dinner at Chez Black is nevertheless one of the highlights of the entire trip, situated at Via del Brigantino, 19, 84017 Positano SA, Italy. The wonderful and kind welcoming, the fundamental requirement to accommodate any walks ins despite the restaurant being fully booked, the italian traditional gastronomical feast, beautiful setting in front of the beach and extraordinary attention to detail are amongst the numerous benefits provided by Chez Black.

Chez Black was created in 1949 and has been successful ever since, enjoying the presence of returning guests, all the way from professional travellers and tourists to established artists and celebrities. I have probably tried every single thing in the menu and whilst each dish tickles my taste buds, my favourite is the Spaghetti with Scampi and Mixed Seafood. There’s a friendly laid back yet elegant environment and featuring a beautiful natural design made of local wood that gives me that extra ‘feeling at home’ feeling.

Special thanks to Mr. Salvadore and Gianfranco for the consistent flawless service.

Lounge Bar

The night ends in the most unexpected manner, listening to a fabulous jazz band at Rada’s exclusive lounge bar overlooking the sea – Chez Black’s restaurant sister, located at Via Grotte dell’incanto 5, Positano – Salerno Italy.

chez
17

DAY 3

Treville Beach Club

Day 3 commences with a long sleep in, shopping at the local Antica Sartoria for silk artisans and beautiful embroidered beach clothes, lunch at Chez Black and a relaxing afternoon at the Treville Beach Club, Le Sirene (highly appropriate 🙂 ) which can be reached by taking the complimentary water shuttle from Positano’s port.
As I am approaching the Beach Club, the setting is already exceeding my expectations, I have discovered paradise on earth. The restaurant is on the edge of an idyllic little bay at Laurito, defined by an elegant and cosy Mediterranean style, brought to a whole new level of freshness. Expect delicious food, pasta and fresh grilled fish. But most importantly, the coffee ice cream is to die for!

As all of the above wasn’t enough, the beach contains tourmaline, semi-precious stones that are known to keep the bad spirits away and guide you towards the right direction. They are mostly dark brown but you can find the occasional light green coloured.

Not too far away from the beach there’s one of the most beautiful hotels on the Amalfi Coast – Villa Treville, situated at Via Arienzo, 30, Positano SA, Italy. For a more affordable option, they also offer accommodation at Le Sirene, just above the restaurant next to the beach.

FullSizeRender-7
IMG_5237

Art

The evening brings with it an unforgettable visit at the Miart Gallery, situated at 84017 (SA) Italy via dei Mulini 18. The gallery itself is absolutely fascinating, dragging you into a never-ending fairytale. Featuring a never seen before setup within a lush green garden. There are mostly exquisite oil paintings by italian artists and all the collections are free to visit.

Dinner

After several visits at Chez Black, tonight I decide to have dinner at Rada, a level below the lounge bar where I discovered the mesmerising jazz band the evening before. Savoury Mediterranean cuisine, fine Italian wines and last but not least they serve an extraordinary selection of bread pre dinner.

As we are still double booked hotel wise, post dinner my sister and I decide to drive to Hotel Raito, one hour and a half away from Positano. There’s nothing that can be resolved in the middle of night, therefore I go to a much needed sleep.

24

DAY 4 – Cetara

This morning decisions are difficult. Give up this hotel and return to Positano although everything was fully booked? Stay here and drive 2 hours one way each day? It was a spectacularly stupid move to begin with but luckily the hotel’s manager is understanding enough and provided us with a 4 nights credit to be used in any of their hotels in Rome or Sicily. It isn’t such a bad turnaround, after all I always wanted to visit Sicily.

There’s one interest point close by and that is Cetara – the village of fisherman, so we decide to spend the day and have dinner there. After all, they do claim to have the best tuna on the italian fish market. Halfway into the 15 minutes journey the land falls away, revealing endless shades of shimmering orange, brown and yellow. It is clear why this coast is considered the world’s most beautiful and thrilling sightseeing road. Postcard perfect, Cetara is a fascinating fairytale village to explore with a huge cultural heart.

As the dusk approaches, a perfectly full moon makes its way up on the clear dark blue sky.

FullSizeRender-6
FullSizeRender-5

Dinner in Cetara

There are two restaurants in Cetara known for their delectable traditional italian food, Aquapazza located at Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, 36, Cetara SA, Italy and Falalella situated at Corso Umberto, 1, 84010 Cetara SA, Italy. They are both remarkably delicious, however Falallela gives you a little extra: breathtaking views overlooking the sea!

I will level it with you, there have been some major disappointments on the Amalfi Coast and there are some things that can never be predicted, but if you are picky enough and go through my article you’ll know what to choose that will constantly make you utter that WOW!

Stay tuned for my weekend in Capri – a must-see if you are planning to visit the Amalfi Coast!

Travel Venice

Venice

13217155_10154138569274362_1574990002778813129_o

A Venetian Affair

Always in movement. Always on the go. Always exploring. Similar to a book, life has its chapters. It is in our hands whether we choose to write a black and white chapter or create a book full of multicoloured, multicultural and multi-experiential pages.

After a busy week, the weekend brings a last minute decision to pack and fly to Venice. Have been there twice before, never had a chance to explore the city properly though. Seems to be fully booked everywhere and due to not having spent the night in Venice before, I don’t have any knowledge as to what hotel to book, nor what plans I should make during the weekend. Exciting, I love this kind of challenges!

HOTEL

I finally find a room available in the Gritti Palace (http://www.thegrittipalace.com), a magical hotel on the Grand Canal that perfectly combines culture, history, endless elegant Venetian design with exceptional art. Worth mentioning the hotel’s terrace with alluring views of the Grand Canal, facing the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

AT A GLANCE

Best time to visit – spring to June, summer time brings a very hot air which makes it unbearable to walk around.

Currency – Euros

How to get there – if you are travelling from the UK British Airways is the best option, for any other flight options visit www.skyscanner.com. The Marco Polo airport is much closer to the centre.

Highlights – Giudecca, the other side of Venice and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Top Fact – Venice is built on 117 small islands connected by 409 bridges (read more here).

Special treat – dinner at Oro Restaurant in Belmond Hotel Cipriani.

FullSizeRender-18

ARRIVAL

As I arrive at the Marco Polo airport I am looking for the signage that leads me to the water taxis, however I must say that it can get quite confusing. Let’s make this easy: walk out of the airport through the exit on the right towards the parking. Follow the path on the left side, cross the zebra, keep walking for another 5 minutes and at the end you will find both shared transport and water taxis. Worth getting a cab, the journey itself is a welcoming adventure not to be missed.

DAY 1

I wake up early to enjoy the breakfast on the terrace which is a sublime experience. Staff is very friendly, the ingredients are fresh and the food range is wide enough to cover all tastes. Although difficult to leave, I get a map from the concierge to establish the must sees and commence getting lost around the city.

It can be difficult to imagine Venice as a lush area, but for explorers visiting in spring you will be pleasantly surprised to discover numerous corners of nature, terraces packed with colourful roses and blossoming branches overhanging all around the city. The bold coloured buildings, the preserved sophisticated facades, the relaxed rhythms – il dolce di fare niente, the narrow hidden paths in between buildings and the water movement transport me into a different dimension, away from any worries or thoughts I might have in the real world.

13131087_10154135878629362_5607426277405269352_o

PALAZZO DUCALE

I stop by Palazzo Ducale which is 5-10 minutes walk distance from the hotel in Piazza San Marco (San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia, Italy) where I am once again blown away by the detailed interior and opulent painting parade showcasing on all walls and ceilings. The palace was built in the Venetian Gothic style with Byzantine-Venetian influences. Initial works started in 810 and was restructured countless times due to three huge fires, structural failures, new organisational requirements or complete overhaulings of the ornamental trappings.

The Paradiso in the Great Council Chamber is the largest canvas painting in the world! Doesn’t sound as surprising considering that the Great Council Chamber is 53 meters long and 25 meters wide, dimensions that define it as one of the largest rooms in Europe.

Image 1

GROM – Il gelato come una volta

After visiting the Palazzo Ducale, I feel the urge to enjoy my first GROM gelato in Venice. The sophistication in texture, the refinement in taste and the natural ingredients make it the best ice cream in the world. GROM is 100% natural, they only use fresh fruit from the best consortium in Italy with no addition of artificial colorings, aromas, preservatives or emulsifiers.

What’s more, the idea came from a newspaper when Guido Martinetti was reading an article on ‘gelato like it used to be made’. He then contacted his friend Federico Grom and decided to buy the best raw ingredients and open up a gelateria. From one ice cream shop opened in 2003 and with no prior industry experience, the business has generated €23 million revenue and has been sold to consumer goods giant Unilever for an undisclosed fee. Talking about entrepreneurship skills!

DELICIOUS LUNCH

I then hop onto a gondola and ask to be taken around the narrow canals rather than the Grand Canal which is always busy. After a very informative gondola ride on the history of Venice my stomach starts screaming at me ‘PASTA!’. I give in and post visiting and having a look at several restaurants I go for Antico Martini located in Campo Teatro Fenice, 2007, Venezia, Italy. Very friendly staff, a pleasant and cosy terrace separated from the crowded public squares and delicious food! I order a Foie Gras selection and Tagliolini with Black Truffle. BLISS!

IMG_1537

TRADITIONAL DINNER

After numerous kilometres of wondering around and an Aperol Spritz later I go back to the hotel to change for dinner. I narrow it down to two choices, both spectacular for dinner: Michelin starred Oro Restaurant with a breathless waterside terrace located in Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Giudecca, 10, Sestiere Castello, Venezia VE, Italy or something more traditional and laid back yet still elegant but less presumptuous.

Despite a late afternoon dish of pasta, I choose the second option, Trattoria do Forni, a lively restaurant with several rustic & Orient Express-style dining rooms. The atmosphere is as expected, chill-out for both the young and not so young. They use impeccable and fresh ingredients treated with simplicity yet resulting in complex tasteful starters and mains. The Scampi on raw artichokes is not to be missed!

DAY 2 – GIUDECCA

A glorious sunny Sunday is perfect to adventure the little known Giudecca, the Other Side of Venice as I like to call it. It is understandable that the mass tourism is always trotting around central Venice, however I think it is safe to say that this thin island will soon become a centre of attraction in Venice for new generations of travellers.

The breathtaking view across the Giudecca Canal to Dorsoduro, Piazza San Marco, and Palazzo Ducale, a landscape that has inspired numerous great italian artists, is the first WOW aspect that already converts Giudecca in my favourite part of Venice. Although I absolutely love the Gritti Palace hotel, the peaceful, relaxed and village vibe here makes it the perfect place to stay whilst in Venice, especially if you prefer a quite accommodation avoiding the loud crowds.

After crossing the canal in less than a minute, I first visit the alluring Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute followed by a walk around the island. It takes up to one hour at most to wonder around the whole island, although the bold colours, surreal bridges, traditional architecture might make you stop and sigh at each corner. The Fondamenta Cà Balà area (30123 Venezia, Italy) leaves me speechless, central Venice has nothing on it. I stop there for 15 minutes and stare without being able to take my finger off the shutter button of my camera.

FullSizeRender-21

ART

I continue with an unforgettable visit of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Dorsoduro, 701-704, 30123 Venezia, Italy) founded by the former wife of long time favourite artist Max Ernst and niece of the mining magnate, Solomon R. Guggenheim. A must-see selection of modern art collected by herself mostly between 1938 and 1946. Amongst the great artist featuring on Palazzo Venier dei Leoni’s walls, which Peggy Guggenheim purchased in 1949 being her home for 30 years, are Braque, Léger Dalí, Miró, Picasso and Kandinsky.

FullSizeRender-9
FullSizeRender-12

LUNCH

With a pocket full of art inspiration I cross back to the central Venice for lunch at the traditional venetian pizzeria Rosa Rossa (Calle Mandola, 3709, 30124 Venezia, Italy). The smell of fresh bread and baked pizza, the wooden design details, informal and enjoyable atmosphere, delicious food and sublime Aperol Spritz highly exceed my expectations. BEST HOMEMADE PIZZA IN TOWN!

FullSizeRender-22

Despite the fact that I arrive at the airport completely soaked after someone decides to show off on the Venice’s canals I leave with the sweetest taste in my mouth, this trip has been much more than expected.