Fresh-faced and newly married, Alex and I took off on our nine-day honeymoon to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. Actually, we weren’t super fresh-faced because we stayed up late celebrating with everyone and my parents hosted an early post-wedding brunch the next morning. Regardless, we were super excited for our first international trip together! So where did we go?
Day One – Rome
Day Two – Rome
Day Three – Rome
Day Four – Rome to Positano
Day Five – Positano
Day Six – Positano
Day Seven – Positano to Sorrento
Day Eight – Sorrento and Pompeii
Since our wedding was in Virginia, we flew directly to Italy from Dulles on a non-stop United flight to Rome. The security lines weren’t too bad and we had plenty of time before our flight. We exchanged some dollars for euros and had a surprise visitor come bid us farewell at our gate: my uncle David, who was also at Dulles for a flight.
On board, the food was good enough, the alcoholic drinks were free, and though we didn’t get upgraded for being honeymooners, the woman who had the third seat in our row upgraded herself so we ended up with plenty of space for the overnight flight.
Our flight landed in Rome an hour early due to strong tail winds, so after getting through Customs we still had a bit of a wait until our prearranged transportation from the airport to our hotel. We had our first go of ordering coffee at an Italian coffee bar and drank our espresso while getting some good laughs from the transportation agent, who was dressed like she was going to a club, not to work (it soon became clear this is a common theme in Italy). Our ride from the airport to the hotel was basically like being in the Knight Bus in Harry Potter but with an Italian driving instead of a magician. The driver didn’t speak much English but would just point to things as we passed them: “Gelato!” “Tiber!” “Quattro Fontane!” while concurrently disregarding the lanes and official traffic patterns. The other couple on the minibus (also American) was terrified.
Our room at Hotel Giolli Nazionale wasn’t ready when we arrived but we were able to store our bags so we could go out and walk around the city. The hotel was a few blocks from a lot of the Ancient Rome ruins and we could see the Colosseum in the distance. When we returned to the hotel, we still couldn’t get into our room yet so we ended up falling asleep in some chairs in the lounge – jet lag is tough to beat when you don’t keep moving.
Hooray! Our room was finally available – small, but all we needed. At first, we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights, but my European brain quickly kicked in and I remembered that we might need to “plug in” the room key in order to power the electricity. Sure enough, inside the room near the door was a little slot that perfectly fit the key and voila! The lights turned on and the air conditioning unit started churning…though another thing we quickly learned about Italy is that their AC is no match for American AC. We managed to stay cool in the room as long as we lay completely still and didn’t move a muscle. However, it was still very welcome considering it was close to 90 degrees outside.
Our first day’s lunch was simple – crackers, brie, and wine from a corner shop – which was followed by another much-needed nap from which we woke around dusk.
Refreshed and ready to hit the town, we headed out for our own version of a “Heart of Rome” walking tour, which took us from the Spanish Steps and Campo Marzio to the Trevi Fountain (which was being refurbished and had no water in it except for a little wading pool so we could still throw in a coin, per tradition) to the Pantheon, then to Piazza Navona and Campo Dei Fiori.
Once the sun went down and our feet were tired from exploring, we stumbled upon Elle Effe, an adorable restaurant down a little alley, where we had buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, and focaccia for a primo, a gnocchi dish with clams, broccoli, and saffron for a secondi, and a bottle of vino. Delicioso! We retraced our steps through the Heart of Rome back to our hotel, stopping for gelato on the way (pistachio, yum!).
We had an early start this morning as we needed to be outside our hotel at 7:30 a.m. for our tour of the Vatican Museums. After a quick hotel breakfast (cold cuts, yogurt, rolls, fruit, and coffee) we popped outside to wait for our bus pickup. We enjoyed taking in Roman life while we waited, including observing a crew of garbage men whose dress seemed more appropriate to be wearing down a runway at a Prada show than picking up trash from the city streets. 30 minutes later we were starting to panic as there was no sign of the bus. We checked with the hotel concierge who assured us we hadn’t missed it and that it was likely operating on Italian time. Sure enough, around 8:15 the bus showed up, and no one seemed concerned that it was almost an hour behind schedule!
We met our guide outside the Vatican and she led us thorough the grounds and museums, including the Galleries of Tapestries and Geographical Maps, before arriving at the Sistine Chapel. Sadly, despite the very clearly-stated and displayed rules for Sistine Chapel etiquette (and the efforts of the staff inside the chapel trying to enforce them), the majority of people in it (and there were a LOT) figured the rules didn’t apply to them – so why not continue to talk loudly, take pictures, and dress inappropriately? Regardless, the chapel was pretty incredible, particularly the fact that it was all painted by hand.
Our guided tour ended in St. Peter’s Square outside St. Peter’s Basilica, which we explored on our own under the careful watch of the Swiss Guard.
We had lunch at a little cafe near St. Peter’s Square then walked back to our hotel (which ended up being about two miles…a lot further than we thought).
Later on, we discovered another little restaurant down a different small alley, Est! Est! Est!, where we enjoyed another leisurely dinner, this time with literally the best pasta we’ve ever had in our lives. After starting with a carafe of house wine for €7, Alex chose the carbonara while I opted for a pasta with artichokes and sausage. Both were fantastic, though we both agreed the carbonara was just that much more exquisite. Stuffed, we walked around the neighborhood a bit, ending at the Colosseum to see it lit up at night.
Our third day was spent exploring Ancient Rome. With the help of a guide, we made our way through the Roman Forum, including Palatine Hill, the Arches of Constantine and Titus, and the Temple of Venus and Roma.
Then it was on to the Colosseum where we were regaled with tales of gladiators, bloody executions, and the brutality of life in Ancient Rome.
No surprise, we napped in the afternoon (we were quickly getting used to this lifestyle!) then spent the evening in the Trastevere neighborhood, a young and hip area of town along the west side of the Tiber River. There were outdoor bars and restaurants set up under tents along the river bank with music playing and lots of people milling around. We meandered through some of the streets and alleys, dipping into shops here and there, and found a place for dinner with good food and cheap wine.
Ciao, Rome! Three days had flown by and it was already time to move on to the Amalfi Coast. Conveniently, the main train station in Rome, Termini, was just a short walk from our hotel. Our train trip to Naples took just over an hour. Upon arrival at the Naples station, we met up with our private driver for the final leg of our journey to Positano – it was about an hour and a half drive. The winding roads and hairpin switchbacks down the coast were a bit hair-raising! But our driver seemed experienced and confident and we felt pretty safe – as long as we didn’t look down!
Our hotel in Positano, La Fenice, was located a bit outside the main part of town on the eastern side. We actually pretty much planned our entire trip – and going to Italy in the first place – around this stunning place. My bff Cassandra had stayed here a few years before and as soon as she showed us photos, we knew we had to go.
Our host Constantino met us at the gate and showed us to our room, a little cottage looking out toward the sea. The roof of the cottage below ours was structured to also be a balcony of sorts so we had a lovely patio out front as well. All the rooms at La Fenice are spread around the property and built into the cliffside…I don’t think there’s a room with a bad view!
The rest of the day was spent settling in, exploring La Fenice, and enjoying the saltwater pool. Lunch was served poolside daily so we took full advantage of this as well. While there were only two options – a caprese sandwich or caprese salad – both were incredible and we never tired of them. Look at that mozzarella! Both the cheese and the tomatoes were from the family’s farm higher up in the hills.
That evening, we walked the half-mile or so into town and found a place for dinner. After a litre of cheap house wine, seafood risotto, and espresso, we walked some of it off on the way back to La Fenice (it’s much hillier on the way back!). Though our room didn’t have air conditioning, the front shutters opened out to the water and we enjoyed an all-night breeze.
We started the next day with an incredible fresh breakfast prepared by Constantino’s wife and two sons and served on a hillside patio. Can we eat like this every morning?
We spent the day relaxing around the hotel: swimming in the pool, reading and lounging poolside, munching on more fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, and venturing down to the private beach for kayaking and more swimming (getting to the private beach requires navigating down some pretty steep steps, which aren’t too bad, but keep in mind you have to walk back up them too!).
What’s a honeymoon without being fancy, right? So that night we started our evening at Le Sirenuse, a stunning boutique hotel in town, for champagne and oysters on their balcony looking out toward the water. These were the biggest oysters we’d ever seen – the size of my entire palm – and the lemons were so fresh and sweet you could eat them by themselves.
We figured all that fanciness should be followed by some pizza so we found a casual spot in the city center and enjoyed people watching while we drank our wine and ate our slices.
Our big plan for today was a leisurely lunch at Da Adolfo, an unassuming seafood restaurant on a small beach a few coves over from La Fenice. We heard about this place at breakfast the day before and immediately knew it was a must-do. And if you’re ever in Positano, YOU must go here too. Why would lunch be the main event of our day? Well, although there’s probably a way to get to Da Adolfo by road/car, the main way is to take a boat. You can take a water taxi from the main beach in Positano, but our hotel also had its own pick-up spot. Mid-morning we made our way down to La Fenice’s little dock off the private beach and waited for our ride (which also showed up on Italian time).
Oh, the other thing with Da Adolfo is that they don’t really have a menu, per se. When you sit down at your table, they tell you the five or six things they have that day and you decide which of them you want (…if you don’t want them all).
On our menu: white sangria, grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves, calamari, beef carpaccio, mussels in tomato sauce, and an entire grilled fish (luckily, our server saw our faces when he delivered the intact fish, head and all, and immediately took it away again to debone it).
We were seated next to an awesome Austrian couple with whom we ended up chatting for hours (like, for so long that we were finally asked to leave because we had been there too long…and this was coming from Italians). We immediately added Austria to our list of places to travel. Stuffed to the brim, we got on the boat back to La Fenice and napped away the rest of the afternoon.
Between the pool and private beach at La Fenice, we never felt the need to go into town to the main beach, though it looked pretty enticing with the rows and rows of comfortable beach chairs ready to be rented!
On our last night in Positano we meandered through all the little streets, stopping in the unique shops and admiring all the handmade goods. I had a pair of leather capri sandals custom-made for me in one of them, and in another we purchased a set of ceramic espresso cups and saucers as well as a ceramic lemon Christmas tree ornament. We had dinner and limoncello in a restaurant overlooking the water on the western end of town.
How had our time in Positano gone so quickly? It was time to pack up and go to Sorrento.
Had we been able to stay longer in Positano we would have but by the time we booked La Fenice, the room we got was the last one and it was only available for those three nights. Since we wanted to visit Pompeii, it worked out to spend our last couple of nights in Sorrento instead.
Instead of arranging for a driver to get us to Sorrento, we opted to take the ferry as it was just a short 30-minute boat ride. We walked into Positano to the ferry dock (we were able to do this because we both had small, carry-on-sized suitcases) and boarded the next boat that showed up somewhere around the time indicated on the timetable. Well, that wasn’t the boat we were supposed to get on and we had a few moments of panic as we realized we were sailing away from the coast and not around it. 20 minutes later our boat landed on the island of Capri! Once we confirmed the boat would continue on to Sorrento, we relaxed and enjoyed our detour to one of Italy’s most famous islands.
Once in Sorrento we hailed a taxi to get us to Club Sorrento. With nothing else on the agenda for the day, we had lunch at the hotel’s little outdoor cafe and spent some time at the pool.
This was a nice hotel (with air conditioning!), but we wouldn’t stay here again. It was located outside of the city center and while we walked into town each night, it was too far out for us to get a good feel for it. People rave about Sorrento but we didn’t fall in love with it on this trip. Also, the road leading in/out of town was pretty busy and didn’t lend itself to a very pleasant walk.
We had dinner in town and then went to Shot Bar, a little hole-in-the-wall spot with shooters in syringes and cheap beers. We got a kick out of all the young (mostly American) tourists out on the town to get drunk in a country with a lower drinking age. We also hit it off with the owner, an Italian guy in his 70s whose son-in-law had convinced him to open the place.
We were picked up bright and early for our morning excursion to Pompeii. It’s pretty amazing how well-preserved the place is, especially considering a) it’s so old and b) it was entirely consumed by ash and pumice after the neighboring Vesuvius volcano erupted. Although yes, it’s in ruin, it’s very easy to imagine what the city would have been like in its heyday. You can see roads, roofs, stairs, wall decor, and even house numbers.
And just like that, it was our last night in Italy. We walked into the town center and wandered through I Giardini di Cataldo, a quiet and pretty lemon orchard, then chose Inn Bufalito for our last dinner.
Then just like that, it was time to return home! Since it didn’t made sense to travel all the way back to Rome just to catch a flight, we flew from Naples to Frankfurt on Lufthansa then to Dulles on United.
Since we went to Italy in the summer we didn’t have to worry about off-season availability. If you’re traveling between late fall and early spring, you may find a lot of restaurants, hotels, and transportation options closed, particularly on the Amalfi Coast.
A huge thanks to my mom’s friend Meg, a travel agent who helped so much with planning the details of this trip! We just couldn’t get it all sorted out while also planning a wedding 1,500 miles away while settling into our new life in Austin.