Category Archives: Italy

Pretty villages and beautiful views along Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula

The Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is breathtakingly beautiful.  There are 13 fascinating villages along this part of the Sorrentine coast and each one has its own unique character and charm.  We loved Positano, Praiano, Ravello, Amalfi and the spectacular Walk of the Gods that passes across the mountains high above them.

One of our favourite places to stay is Casa Privata.  It is secluded, beautifully decorated and, as well as having a fantastic pool, it has a gorgeous garden that runs directly down to the sea.  And here, hidden away on rocky outcrops beside the sea, is the perfect place to enjoy the sun, for the thoughtful folk that run Casa Privata have set out comfortable sun-loungers and parasols for their guests. Bliss!

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Rome – a wonderful mixture of antiquities, high fashion, gritty street life and religious institutes

I have to confess:  I love Rome.  It is a beautiful city with a wonderfully chaotic mixture of antiquities, high fashion, gritty street life, religious institutes, historic buildings, art and gardens.  There is so much to do here and as well as the classic tourist sights there is an ever changing programme of world class exhibitions, music and cultural events.  Rome’s historic centre is well-known for its magnificent buildings, ancient statues, piazzas and churches.  Yet, as if to contrast this and remind us that Rome is also the birth place of modernity, there are avant-garde bridges such as the Cavalcaferronia Bridge, utilitarian buildings like the Torri del serbatoio di acqui and re-purposed spaces such as the Gazometro, whose round cylindrical structure stands 92ft high and has been transformed into a nightlife mecca offering parties, concerts, bars, exhibitions and performances.

Rome, like most cities has its hip-neighbourhoods too.  These ebb and flow along with the cool-crowd who bring the spotlight to an outlying area for a while, only to move on to rediscover another all too soon.  I have lost count of the number of times Trastevere has been in and out of fashion; whereas Testaccio has firmly established itself as a key hipster destination and now Ostiense is making its name as the “undiscovered” Rome, with a growing restaurant scene, hidden markets and cool nightlife.  But it is the historic centre that keeps me returning to Rome again and again.  I love exploring its twisting, narrow streets with their magnificent mixture of light, space and colour and the promise of some architectural splendour or ancient ruin around every corner.  I love the galleries, museums and churches.  And I never seem to tire of the squares, fountains and pretty street cafes.

Every time I visit Rome I head to the Pantheon and marvel at its beautiful dome with its curious central opening to the sky.  It is almost two thousand years old and is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  The Pantheon sits on Piazza della Rotonda, which has a famous fountain and obelisk at its centre and is an excellent place from which to start exploring the historic centre.

Rome, Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain

From here you can easily walk to the beautiful Trevi Fountain, which has been immortalised by Fellini in his iconic film La Dolce Vita.  Then wind your way to Piazza Navona, which has several beautiful statues and three magnificent fountains.  A short walk south of Piazza Navona is Campo de’ Fiori.  Here you will find Rome’s famous food market, surrounded on all sides by a tempting array of cafes and restaurants.

Another of my favourite squares is Piazza del Popolo.  This large square is not far from the Spanish Steps, another of Rome’s icons.  The Spanish Steps link Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, which is dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church, at the top.  Both Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps lead to the elegant Villa Borghese gardens.  One can lose oneself for hours in these gardens. They are also home to two incredible galleries.  The Galleria Borghese, which houses a substantial part of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna that has neoclassical and Romantic paintings and sculptures.

Other things not to miss when visiting Rome include:  A stroll along the Tibre and a visit to Castel Sant’Angelo which sits on the Tibre’s northern bank.  One must brave the crowds and go into the Colosseum; One should climb the steps to The Capitoline, one of the Seven Hills of Rome situated between the Forum and the Campus Martius, to admire the breathtaking views across the city; And one has to spend at least a day at the Vatican City – one absolutely must see St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.

As with its architecture Rome is full of both modern and ancient attractions and for the latest in 21st-century happenings look no future than the Gagosian Gallery.  This is one of Larry Gagosian infamous contemporary art galleries and has the reputation for having its eye on all the latest happenings in the art world. Then there is the GNAM, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Maxxi, the National Museum of the Art of the 21st Century.  The Maxxi was designed by Zaha Hadid and puts on an exciting programme of exhibitions and artists throughout the year.  Whilst over in the ever trendy neighbourhood of Testaccio is MARCO, Rome’s museum of contemporary art, which has been installed in a complex of 19th-century slaughterhouses beside the Tiber.

Dining and shopping are two other irresistible pastimes in the eternal city and whilst it is true that it can be difficult to escape the tourist traps at times, with a little perseverance even the first time visitor can eat and shop exceptionally well here.  For some of the best recommendations on where to eat in the city visit Katie Parle’s blog:  http://www.parlafood.com/ Katie is a food blogger par excellence who has lived in Rome since 2003.  It was thanks to Katie and her website that we dined at Emma (http://www.emmapizzeria.com/), a fantastic little restaurant hidden away on a small cobbled street in Rome’s historic centre.  Emma’s  is fast getting the reputation as one of the best pizzerias within the city walls, needless to say you need to book if you want a table for dinner.

As the saying goes:  Omnes viae Romam ducunt – all roads lead to Rome and whilst medieval scholars purportedly used the phrase to explain how diverging lines of inquiry would lead to a single conclusion, we also think that eventually those with a passion for travel, culture and food will be lead to the eternal city and will not be disappointed.

Useful links and information about key sights and galleries:

The Vatican Museums: http://www.museivaticani.va/
Colosseum: http://www.coopculture.it/en/colosseo-e-shop.cfm
The Capitoline Hill: http://en.museicapitolini.org/
Villa Borghese, Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5 (+3906-841 3979). http://www.galleriaborghese.it/default-en.htm
Baths of Caracalla, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 52 (+3906-3996 7700).
Castel Sant’Angelo, Lungotevere Castello 50 (+3906-681 9111). http://www.castelsantangelo.com/
Gagosian Gallery, Via Francesco Crispi 16 (+3906-4208 6498). http://www.gagosian.com/
Galleria Doria Pamphilij, Via del Corso 305 (+3906-679 7323). http://www.doriapamphilj.it/
Macro Testaccio, Piazza O Giustiniani 4 (+3906-6710 70400). http://www.museomacro.org/
Maxxi, Via Guido Reni 4A (+3906-320 1954). http://www.fondazionemaxxi.it/
GNAM, The National Gallery of Modern & Contemporary Art. http://www.gnam.beniculturali.it/
Palazzo Farnese, Piazza Farnese 67 (+3906-0606 0884). http://www.inventerrome.com/index.php/en/visiting-the-palazzo-farnese
Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda (+3906-6830 0230).

For our other posts on Italy see the articles on the pretty villages of Positano and Praiano on Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast; and the famous walk, Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) in Southern Italy.  This walk is infamous for its incredible views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and its stunning coastline.

Rome, Piazza del Popolo
View up to the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens from Piazza del Popolo

Praiano – the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Praiano is a tiny fishing village on the Amalfi Coast about 20 minutes by car or 10 minutes by water taxi from Positano and it couldn’t be more different from its glamorous neighbour. It is renowned for its natural beauty and charm, so if you like to be a little bit off-the-beaten track and enjoy a more laid-back vibe and authentic Italian atmosphere, then this is the place to be.

Praiano is characterized by narrow streets that wind their way down to the sea beside terraced gardens and simple whitewashed houses. Ca’Pa is a classic example of a traditional fisherman’s house; it is now a gorgeous private villa with six rooms and a landscaped garden that leads down to the sea. Praiano is situated on a natural promontory guarded by the imposing Torre a Mare that has sat on a rocky outcrop for centuries looking out to sea protecting the village and its natural harbour. In the pretty main square is the cathedral of San Gennaro with its square bell tower and classic dome decorated with hand-painted majolica tiles. The cathedral and square become the focus for different festivals and saint days throughout the year; and at the end of July is the spectacular Luminaria di San Domenico (www.luminariadisandomenico.it). During this festival the square and the houses of the village are filled with the light from thousands of candles and torches.

High above the village is the simple Convent of San Domenico, there is a little grassy terrace here where one can rest after the climb and enjoy the beautiful views over Praiano and the coast. Down at sea level is the sundrenched beach Spiaggia Gavitella, with a great restaurant and bar that can only be reached by water or on foot. The village has a privileged position on the coast with panoramic views that extend from the bay of Positano and the islets of Li Galli to Punta Campanella and the island of Capri. Watching the sunset here is an event in itself and it is a magical way start to an evening. The sun slowly descends over the sea and behind the mountains illuminating Capri, the Sorrento Peninsula and Punta Campanella and bathing them in the most incredible purples, golds and reds. Enjoy this spectacle from the balcony of your room, or the terrace of a local bar or restaurant and at least once hop in a water taxi so you are on the sea speeding your way to your favourite bar or restaurant as the sun finally disappears behind the mountains.

In fact wherever you stay on the Amalfi Coast getting out onto the water is a must. There is nothing quite like seeing the coast from the sea and experiencing the pleasure of swimming from the boat or isolated beach. There are caves and rock formations beneath the cliffs to explore and super cool beach bars and restaurants to try. Many of these beaches, bars and restaurants can only be reached by boat, which makes them feel all the more special and exclusive.

More information about Praiano and the different events and festivals can be found at:  www.praiano.org

Below are a couple of little gems we enjoyed in Praiano. If you have some personal favourites tell us all about them in the comments section below.

Stay at Ca’Pa – this is a lovely alternative to a hotel and a true hidden gem.

Il Pino’s restaurant – this is a small and intimate restaurant with huge glass windows facing out to sea, perfect for enjoying the amazing Praiano sunset. The service is charming and the food simple and fresh.

Che Bonta – Don’t be fooled by this basic looking cafe with a few tables balanced on the stairs, we thought it did the best pizza we’ve had outside Rome.

Take a water taxi to Il Pirata for drinks or dinner. It is a pretty cool way to start the evening.

Favourite day trips:
Definitely get out on the water. If you can hire a private boat with a skipper and soak up the sun and the views of the coast from the water.

Ravello, near Amalfi – a very interesting mountain town home to the famous Villa Rufolo and gardens.

Walk the Path of the Gods – this is a breathtaking way to see the coast. Click here for more information.

Positano – the Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast stretches from Positano to Vietri sul mare on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. It is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world that has been has designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural landscape and cultural value. There are 13 fascinating villages along this part of the Sorrentine coast and each one has its own unique character and charm; all are worth visiting and exploring. If you like the crowds, the hustle and bustle of busy streets and the glamour of Michelin Starred restaurants and designer boutiques then you will love Positano.

Positano is probably the best known town on the Amalfi Coast, after Amalfi itself. It became the playground of the rich and famous in the 1950s after John Steinbeck published his beautiful essay about this relatively poor fishing village in Harper’s Bazaar (May 1953). Positano is famous for its labyrinth of stairways and picturesque alleyways and it is fun to wander the narrow streets and discover its various bars, terraces and restaurants, many with panoramic views across the town. However the true charm of Positano is best appreciated from above or from the sea, only then can one really see its overall beauty. Its pastel coloured houses follow the natural course of the mountain down to the sea, finally clustering around the main beach. The beautiful Church of Saint Maria Assunta, with its majolica tiled dome, dominates the town. It rises magnificently above the beach and surrounding hotels and is visible from every corner of the town.

If you want to break away from the crowds of the coast then simply head upwards. The most awe-inspiring views of the area are from the mountains above and the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) is an unmissable experience (click here for information about this walk). The walk goes from Nocello to Bomerano and can also be accessed from Positano and Praiano. A visit to Nocello or Montepertuso is well-worth the effort even if you are not walking the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei). They are both very pretty little mountain villages where time seems to have stood still and traditional ways of life continue unhindered by the modern world. Both can be accessed by bus or via the steep staircases that wind their way up from sea level. Both have a good selection of cafes and restaurants, many with stunning views over Positano and the coast. In Montepertuso you can climb up to Mount Gambera, the mountain with its famous gaping hole that can be seen towering above the coastal road and Positano. Don’t forget to ask about the different legends and myths associated with the area, it is called the Divine Coast for many reasons, not just its staggering beauty.

Below are a couple of little gems we enjoyed in Positano. If you found some special places here tell us all about them in the comments sections below.

Next2 is our favourite place to eat. Set in a pretty old courtyard the restaurant has a stylishly contemporary feel to it. The food is outstanding and the wine list memorable (and extensive). They are always busy yet the service still friendly and there is always a super cool soundtrack playing in the background.

Beach bars: Take a water taxi to one of the bars along the coast; many are only accessible by boat.

Day trips:
Definitely get out on the water. If you can, hire a private boat with a skipper and soak up the sun and the views of the coast from the water.

Walk the Path of the Gods – This walk offers some of the most spectacular views of the area. Click here for more information.

Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) – Southern Italy

The Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy is a beautiful place. Nothing can quite prepare you for the dramatic coastal scenery, the pretty fishing villages and the medieval towns perched on precipices high over the sea. If you are looking to add something a little different and off the beaten track to your visit then look no further than The Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei). This is a true gem hidden high above the glitz and the glamour of the coast that offers visitors a unique perspective of this area of outstanding natural beauty.

The path follows the ancient mule tracks that join Bomerano and Nocello (a small village above Positano). These old paths link the villages that are scattered across the mountainous peninsula and the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) is arguably one of the most spectacular of all these routes. It hugs the side of the mountains over 500 meters above the sea and offers some truly amazing views of the coast. The path passes through a range of different landscapes: limestone cliffs; wooded areas with carob and holm oak trees; green landscapes with wild flowers and aromatic herbs; lemon and olive orchards; and farming terraces with vineyards, vegetable plots and tomatoes.

We picked up the route above Praiano, about half way along the trail. Praiano is a pretty little fishing village that lies between Amalfi and Positano nd here we always stay at Ca’Pa’, a gorgeous private house with only six rooms and a landscaped garden down to the sea (click here for more info). The ascent to the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) trail starts just off the main road at Piazzetta Gagliano behind a small fountain. The path is well marked and winds steeply up through the village gradually giving way to lush terrace-farms and vegetable gardens before passing in front the Convent of San Domenico. Here there is a grassy terrace with views over Praiano and its beautiful domed church. There are also wonderful views across the gulf of Salerno towards Capri in the distance. After the Convent the path becomes narrower and more exposed until it finally passes through a wooded area where it joins the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei) at a clearly marked T-junction. Here there are two choices: west towards Nocello or east to Bomerano.

We chose the westward section of the path to Nocello. From here on the scenery gets more rugged, the cliffs and grottos more Path of the Godsimposing and the views open up to reveal beautiful panoramas across the coastline. The path rises and falls past spectacular rock formations and tree filled gullies; and Positano comes and goes from view as the path gradually winds its way towards Nocello. These views towards Positano are stunning, its coloured houses clinging to the mountain side above a sparkling turquoise sea. Eventually the path arrives at Nocello, a pretty mountain village above Positano and from here you can either descend to Positano or continue on to Montepertuso. Montepertuso is the next village along, famous for Monte Gambera the rock with a huge gaping hole in it. We couldn’t resist one more climb and detoured to Monte Gambera where there is a bench and table to enjoy more spectacular views. From the main square in Montepertuso one follows a series of winding stepped streets that slowly descend to Positano, with yet more beautiful views of the town and sea. There are also regular buses down to Positano from Nocello and Montepertuso.

Practicalities:
The full trail from Bomerano to Nocello is about 9km. Although the path is well marked it is always advisable to have some sort of reference or map and Walking on the Amalfi Coast – A Cicerone Guide by Gillian Price is excellent. Alternatively hire a guide; this always brings great benefits to any trip. I have read great things about Giovanni Visetti and if his website is anything to go by anyone who chooses to walk with Giovanni Visetti will be in excellent hands. http://www.giovis.com Here is what he has to say on the full Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli dei) trail: http://www.giovis.com/sentdei.htm

Getting around
The coast is well served with buses and the trail can be access at various points along its route. Below are some links to transport information that may help with planning:

Sita Buses serve the Amalfi Coast: http://www.sitabus.it/ &

http://www.theamalficoast.net/orari_sita_bus_timetables.html

The local buses around the Positano area are run by Flavio Gioia and they post the most current timetables on their facebook page: Flavio Gioia facebook page: https://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/Flavio-Gioia-Sas-Autolinee-Autonoleggio-Autolavaggio/184397864923129

Casa Privata, Praiano, Italy

Italy is simply magnificent.  It has to be experienced to be believed.  There are few places in the world where life and art seem so closely intertwined, to the extent that living seems to be art itself.  Whether it is culture, history, architecture, fashion, food, art, nature, sport, music or a religious experience you are seeking – Italy offers it all.

And with so much choice how do you find the place that suits you best.  We recently visited the Amalfi Coast and found the most gorgeous spot to relax and explore this extraordinary area, Casa Privata in Praiano.

Praiano on the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is an UNESCO World Heritage site that it is characterised by both mountains and sea.  It is simply beautiful, the green terraces and hills form a perfect backdrop for the villages that cling to the cliffs above the sparkling sea.  Casa Privata is in Praiano a tiny fishing village on the Almafi coast.  It is perfectly placed to explore all that the region has to offer, the Sorrento Peninsular, Ravello, Scala, Amalfi and on to Saleno.

Ca’P’a

Clinging to the side of one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in Europe, Casa Privata is a hidden gem on the Almafi Coast.  Tucked away from the glitzy hotels and Almafi crowds Casa Privata offers simple luxury in an elegantly designed stone house in Praiano.  The house has only 6 rooms, all beautifully decorated with views over the sea and manicured gardens.  Unusual for the area the house has a large garden that seems to descend endlessly to the sea and is flanked by its own olive and lemon groves.  A secluded pool with magnificent views across the Tyrrenhenia sea is a relaxing option for those who do not want to tackle the stone stairs down to the sea.  The garden itself extends right down to the water and the private rock beach has been transformed into a sunbather’s paradise with comfortable sun loungers, a fresh water shower and diving points.  It isn’t just the unbelievably beautiful setting or private sea access nor the stylishly designed interiors that set Casa Privata apart from all other hotels, it is the very personalised experience that Rosa and her team take so very seriously, they make you feel so at home that it is more like visiting a close friend than being a guest in one of the most sought after hotels on the coast.

 

Accommodation

Casa Privata has 4 double rooms and 2 suites.  The house can also be rented as a whole, making it ideal for a private family holiday or celebration.  All of the rooms are unique and have been elegantly finished in true Italian style, cleverly combining modern and antique furniture to give the sense of staying in an exclusive old Italian villa.  You can see the sea from all the rooms and those on the top floor open onto a magnificent stone terrace from which you can enjoy incredible views of the coast, sea, local mountains and garden below.  All the rooms are fabulous but we particularly love staying in the rooms at the top, the access to the communal stone terrace from the bedrooms something we really appreciated.  Each evening we would sit on the terrace, with a glass of something cool from the honesty bar and watch the sun set over the sea and coastline before heading out to enjoy the night.

Activities

Casa Privata is a perfect launch pad to indulge your own personal passions, whether it is culture, art, architecture, gastronomy, retail or more energetic activities – it is all here.  At Casa Privata they believe in the southern Italian saying “tutto e possibile” (everything is possible) and all you need to do is ask.  The options are endless from helicopter flights, dives at the island of the sirens, boat trips, in-house massages or tickets for a concert in Ravello.  Almafi, Sorrento, Ravello and Positano (made famous by the film La Dolce Vita) are all within easy reach.

Dining

Breakfast is a long and lazy affair at Casa Privata.  Rustic wooden tables are laid with crisp white linen under the trees on the patio in the garden and guests can help themselves to a tempting choice of fresh fruits, yoghurts, meats, cheeses, breads and sweet pastries.  Whilst fresh juices, tea and coffee seem to flow endlessly from the kitchen and are made to your specific taste.

Although Casa Privata does not have a formal restaurant, Rosa and the team are happy to prepare rustic dishes for anyone who wishes to stay in for lunch or dinner and often invite guests to an impromptu dinner under the stars if a particularly excellent piece of fish has been caught that day.  The house operates an honesty bar system and the enormous fridges in the kitchen are stuffed full of every type of drink one could possibly want, they also have a wonderful Italian wine list.

For those with a passion for food the village of Praiano offers a wide variety of restaurants and if one exhausts the immediate options, glamorous Positano is only a short bus or taxi ride.   We had a couple of memorable meals at both Restorante Next 2 (www.next2.it) in Positano and Hosteria il Pinoin Praiano but you really are spoilt for choice along the coast.

Foot note:  This is an independent review; the writer stayed as a mystery guest and paid for their stay.