Italy's Amalfi Coast (Part 02): Sorrento and Capri
As mentioned in our opening blog post, public transit options along the Amalfi Coast are aplenty. We ventured furthest away from our home base in the town of Amalfi with our visits to the captivating island of Capri and the colorful town of Sorrento (and a hidden swim spot nearby!), utilizing ferries and buses respectively.
We grabbed return ferry tickets to Capri the morning of departure with ease from the booths right next to Amalfi’s port. Sit on the right side on the ride there and the left side on the way back for dramatic views of the coast. Upon arrival, we figured the best way to orient ourselves was with a boat tour looping around the whole of the island. Laser Capri was our tour operator of choice, but there were plenty of options in booths by the port. The tour brought us clockwise around the island, from Villa Jovis, in toward Grotta Bianca, under and through the famous Faraglioni rock formations, around to Marina Piccola, back out and around to Grotta Verde, past the southwestern tip crowned by the 19th century Punta Carena lighthouse, and finally to the world-famous Grotta Azzurra (“Blue Grotto”). We hemmed and hawed leading up to this moment whether or not we wanted to put up with this tourist trap of an experience, but in the end we decided we couldn’t leave Capri without having done it!
It certainly was a pain waiting the hour behind the plethora of tour boats that had arrived before us, slowly and gingerly offloading their passengers into smaller row boats in batches of two or three. After bouncing up and down with the waves and soaking in the sun for what seemed like an eternity, it was finally our turn. We hopped into our rowboat, made our way to the tiny opening to the grotto, waited for the right moment, and then were slung into the cavern. It took a moment for our eyes to adjust, but once they did and once we turned our gaze back toward the tiny hole through which we entered, we quickly realized why this little cave is so famous. As our skipper sung a sweet-sounding song at the top of his lungs, we laid there in a deep blue-colored trance. And just as quickly as we were in, we had made the loop around the cavern and were back out in the bright sun. Though it’s expensive and a bit of a time-sucker, it is absolutely worth it.
Once back at Marina Grande, we made our way to funicular up to the island’s namesake town. The main square, Piazzetta, is beautiful with views back down toward Marina Grande and the seemingly-endless Mediterranean Sea. We freshened up with some suspiciously delicious (but outrageously expensive!) watermelon lemon drinks from tacky Gran Caffe and with recharged batteries walked up and down the side streets emanating out in every direction from the square. We stopped into Chiesa di Santo Stefano but otherwise just took in the sights of the streets and took refuge in the shade when we could. Unfortunately, the boat tour had taken up so much time that we didn’t have a chance to do a couple of the other things on our list (the town of Anacapri and the chairlift to Monte Solaro)—next time! After a refreshing gelato we hopped on our return ferry and enjoyed the view of the coast bathing in late afternoon light.
We took one of the many SITA busses to get to the large town of Sorrento on the northern coast of the eponymous Sorrentine Penninsula. We got an early start, and after a two-hour bus ride along the coast and up and over the mountains, arrived at Sorrento’s Piazza Tasso mid-morning. The piazza offers an enchanting view down to a cobbled hairpin turn set in a small valley-like cropping of the rocky hills upon which most of Sorrento sits—in fact, it was a photo of this view we saw many years ago that put this town on the wish list in the first place. The town’s old quarter west of the piazza is a pleasure to stroll, and we looped through just about every street (Via San Cesareo in particular was a favorite). We slowly made our way seaside, stopping at the Church of St. Francis for a peek at its beautiful courtyard and, to our surprise, a wedding!
Sorrento’s seaside is split in two. Marina Grande, on the west side, is a gritty, fisherman-dominated area with pretty houses worn by centuries of storms and salty air. As you move eastward, you pass a series of colorful beach shacks and swimming spots toward Marina Piccola. We grabbed lunch at Ghibli on the Beach (gnocchi with tomatoes and ravioli with shrimp in a cheese sauce), walked back up to the town center, and had dessert in the form of gelato (salted caramel and coffee) from Raki. Before heading back to Amalfi, we wanted to try our hand at finding a secret swim spot we had heard about.
We hailed a taxi and asked for him to take us to Bagni della Regina Giovanna. He knew exactly where we wanted to go and dropped us off a 10-minute walk from the spot as he couldn’t bring his car any further. Bagni della Regina Giovanna, at the tip of land jutting northwesterly from Sorrento, is shrouded in unverifiable legend—as the story goes, Joan II, Queen of Naples, would bring her lovers to this spot for rendezvous (and of course a swim!). Whether the story is true or not, the spot is an absolutely divine one and is easily one of the coolest swim spots we’ve ever come across. There is a shallow pool surrounded by the forest with a small opening out to the open sea. Once on the other side, there are jagged rocks jutting at least 20 feet straight out of the water, perfect for cliff jumping. There is not really a beach, but we left our stuff on the rocks (as everyone else was doing) and swam freely between the pool (which had very warm water) and the open sea. After a few hours, we walked back up to the main road and considered how to best get back to Amalfi (Sorrento and the main bus stop was at least a 45-minute walk away). Rico noticed on the way to Sorrento that there technically was a stop nearby the swim spot, so we walked another ten minutes to that point with a careful eye on the schedule for buses leaving the station in Sorrento toward Amalfi. This rarely-used bus stop is at 40.626090, 14.360088. As planned, the bus came by, we waved frantically, and were let on board (phew). What a day!
For our next and last post on our Amalfi Coast trip, we’ll focus on Atrani, Cetara, the amazingly scenic Path of the Gods hike, Positano, and Ravello!