A Portrait of the Amalfi Coast

The first time I went to Italy, I was 22 years old. I had saved for years to be able to spend a few months backpacking through Europe, my ultimate dream for as long as I could remember. More so than any other country I visited that summer, my expectations of Italy were high. I dreamed of sitting in cobblestoned squares with a glass of cold white wine, church bells in the background. I dreamed of rolling green hills, of turquoise Mediterranean waters. I dreamed of wandering tiny towns with even tinier streets, getting to glimpse just a bit of Italian culture and history with my own eyes.

Thankfully, Italy met all of my expectations and then some. My trip to the country was brief, my adventure a whirlwind, but I saw enough of the country – of its architecture, of its food, of its jaw-dropping beauty – that I knew I’d return one day.

What I didn’t know then was that, over the next 13 years, my travel blog would develop into a full-time career. Travel blogging and writing would end up taking me back to Italy again and again; whenever I had a few days to spare, I’d eagerly look into ways of visiting a new city or region in Italy. After visiting over 100 countries, Italy keeps me wanting to return.

Timing is Everything

Despite my frequent trips to Italy – over a dozen in total – there was one region that always seemed to elude me. I had traveled around Northern Italy on my own many times but had never made it to Naples, Sorrento, or the Amalfi Coast in the south. Despite the Amalfi Coast being at the very top of my “must see” travel list, the timing never seemed to fit.

There was also the question of logistics; despite being an avid solo traveler, I knew I didn’t want to see the Amalfi Coast on my own. I knew that the drive along the coast itself was one of the most beautiful in the world and that there was no way I could trust myself to keep my eyes on the road when there was so much beauty just outside the windows. And as much as I love traveling on my own, there’s no denying that, sometimes, you just want someone to take care of things for you, to not worry about which train to take or how to find the hotel.

The solution to all of my Amalfi problems, then, was a tour. When I first read the Club Adventures itinerary for Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi Coast, it almost seemed too good to be true: a food tour in Naples, the birthplace of pizza; a day spent exploring Vesuvius and Pompeii, learning about the ancient volcano and the lives it claimed; limoncello tasting near Sorrento, including a tour of a lemon farm; wandering the winding streets of Capri; and finally, of course, having a full three days on the Amalfi Coast, taking in some of the most beautiful sights in the world.

Travel through a Local Lens

I’ll be honest. Despite how amazing the tour sounded, I still felt nervous; I’m used to traveling solo, to doing things my own way. But from the moment I met Andrea, my local leader for the small group tour, I felt at ease. I loved that the tour group was small enough that we could all get to know each other well, and a fantastic dinner at a local trattoria in Naples on our first night cemented instant friendships.

Over the next nine days, I realized the small group tour was helping me discover so much more of Italy than I would have on my own. Firstly, we had Andrea, who was not only a wealth of information of history and culture of the region but an excellent resource for recommending the best local food and wine in each restaurant (we all agreed that Sorrento really does have the best limoncello). But we had so many other local people join us, too, not only experts in their fields but people whose passion for their culture and their hometowns became infectious.

  • There was Lilli in Naples, who insisted we try one of each of the local Neapolitan pastries, then took us for pizza in one of the most authentic restaurants in the heart of the Old Town.
  • We met Luigi near Sorrento, whose entire family runs a lemon farm; he showed us how to make the best limoncello possible before treating us to an incredible meal, all made with homegrown ingredients.
  • There was also Maria, who picked oranges grown in the sunshine on her family’s farm near the Amalfi Coast for us; we learned about the way of life there, and how her family has lived on that same land for generations.
  • There was the family at a vineyard in Tramonti, a short drive from Amalfi, who gave us a tour of their property and prepared a traditional meal for us… which included, of course, a sampling of wine from their 500 year old vines.
  • And then there was Giovanni, the man who got us safely from Point A to B. Finally, I got to experience the road trip I had dreamed of for so many years. Along those twisting roads that took us from Sorrento to Amalfi, the coast unfolded in brilliant bursts of blue and green: the emerald hills and vineyards, the aquamarine sea, the endless azure sky. And while the entire tour was wonderful from start to finish, it was experiencing this – this Italy of dreams, this Italy that you can’t believe exists until you see it with your own eyes – that will forever stand out in my mind.

Over the next few days, we explored the towns of Amalfi and Positano by bus, boat, and foot, including the stunning hike of the Path of the Gods. Our small group spent some time together, and some time apart; we could choose how much time to have on our own, which was perfect for a person like me, used to independent travel. But more often than not, I chose to be with the group. We really had become like family, and every night we laughed and shared stories over plates of pasta and bottles of wine.

On the final morning, as I took the boat from Amalfi one last time, I watched the town for as long as I could until it disappeared from view. There’s no denying I love Italy, and that I will return one day, but I knew that even before I started the Club Adventures tour in Naples. What I didn’t expect was to create such strong memories on the tour. I didn’t expect to meet so many local people who would show me things I’d never seen before, never in all those previous solo trips.

I thought I had already seen the best of what Italy could offer, but I was wrong. It turns out there was so much more to see and learn, and this time I had a group of new friends to experience it all with.

And honestly? You have got to try that limoncello. It really is the best.

Brenna Holeman is the blogger behind This Battered Suitcase, which specialises in long form narratives and solo travel tips. With over 100 countries under her belt, she’s a big fan of window seats, souvenir shopping, and local whisky.