Salerno was our last port on our 12 night Mediterranean cruise before sailing back to Barcelona . Giovanni Lerusce of Positano Car Drivers (a tour company that I had used and enjoyed in 2009) met us at 7:30 a.m. for an all-day tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. Two couples, Karishma and Denver; and Carla and Keith from cruise critic.com joined my husband and I on the tour. Because the day was somewhat hazy we were not able to view the sky and sea in its usual bright blue splendor, but the coastline was glorious nonetheless. Our first stop was charming Ravello, with its beautiful gardens and fantastic views. Giovanni explained that the town has been a favorite spot for many of the rich and famous, including writer, Gore Vidal, who was a former resident. Our next stop was amazingly beautiful Amalfi which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent some time walking around the square, shopping, taking pictures, and admiring the magnificent and historic Amalfi Cathedral (or St. Andrews Cathedral) that overlooks the Piazza Duomo.
As we headed up the coast toward Positano, Giovanni stopped so that we could look at the display of little handcrafted village scenes that are built into the natural rock wall along the roadside. Known as a roadside presepe, this work of art (crafted by Michele Castellano) features tiny houses, some miniature models of buildings from the nearby village of Praiano, and culminates in a nativity scene. This display must be even more charming when it is lit with tiny lights at Christmastime! We also stopped for a tour of the Ceramiche Casola factory where we admired the beautiful ceramic pieces. One of the specialties of this family-owned enterprise is designing and constructing tables of various sizes, using a combination of lava rock and ceramics. The tables are somehow rendered practically (or maybe totally) unbreakable as was demonstrated to us when the sales rep whacked a table with a hammer. We had first seen one of these beautiful tables in San Gimignano and had wondered about the durability. NOTE: I loved this place and was picturing one of those tables in our home, when I noticed that my husband was asking the salesperson for a brochure to take with us. Hmmmmm....... and me with a birthday coming up! Well, a girl can dream and they do ship worldwide!!
Giovanni was a careful, courteous, driver as he expertly navigated the narrow, twisting cliff road that was crowded with vehicles and motorcycles. It looked like they were taking part in a sporting event requiring nerves of steel! The views along the way were simply gorgeous with lemon trees, olive trees, bougainvillea, etc., all competing for space with the enchanting villages that clung to the steep cliffs and seemingly tip-toed all the way down to the sea. This truely must be one of the most beautiful areas in the world!
Driving into Positano was like seeing postcards or pictures in a travel magazine. Everywhere you looked - in all directions - it was so romantic and picturesque. (This was the place where some of the scenes from my favorite movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" were filmed.) Positano was full of small shops and boutiques, many of them featuring local designs. As we were walking down one of the steep streets on the way to the beach, my husband spotted a boutique that was named "Louise." It looked like a beautiful flower garden, filled with ladies clothing all in colorful floral prints. Of course I had to go inside and check this out! It was fun chatting with Louise, the designer and shop owner, as she helped me select a couple of unique shirts and allowed me to take a picture of her. (The picture is very pretty, but since at this time I don't have her permission to use it, I won't be including it with this review.) I soon had to say goodbye to this friendly lady and her lovely "flower garden" as it was time to leave and Giovanni was waiting at the top of the hill.
The next stop was Sorrento where we enjoyed pizza for lunch. YUM! Have I mentioned before that the pizza in Italy is to die for? We didn't really have much time for sightseeing in Sorrento, but it looked interesting and it would certainly warrant a return visit to check things out. There are a couple of picturesque harbors and views from the cliffs are incredibly beautiful. There are also some nice beaches in the area, including Leonellis Beach that one can access from the top by an elevator. I had read that Sorrento, in addition to being the birthplace of limoncello liquor, was the land of the mystical mermaids. So, I listened carefully,and with mermaids on my mind, imagined I could faintly hear their enchanting songs coming up from the sea as we drove away.....
The last stop on our tour was Pompeii (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) where Giovanni had arranged a terrific private guide for us. Pompeii is unlike any of the other ruins and, in my opinion, is a "must" on the list of places to visit if you are in the area. It was at the urging of my daughter, a sixth grade teacher, that I toured the site in 2009 and I was eager to see it again. Pompeii was "frozen in time" in 79AD when Mt. Vesuvious errupted burrying the entire Roman city in volcanic ash and taking the lives of tens of thousands of people. It was later found that the ash actually preserved everything just as it was on that fateful day. Excavation that took place over the years uncovered areas of the city and various objects that show glimpses of what life was like in Pompeii. We were able to see casts that had been made of forms of the victims (one a pregnant lady) who didn't escape the erruption. It was fascinating, but sad, and feeling sort of like an intruder, I was uncomfortable taking pictures or looking "close-up" at the casts.
Note: There is much to see at Pompeii and it would probably take days to see everything. Walking on the uneven stones can be tricky and the weather can be very hot, depending on what time of the year and/or time of day you visit, but it is so worth it. Also, there are several entrances into Pompeii. The one we used in 2009 was flat and easily accessable; the one we used for this last visit was up a fairly steep incline of large uneven stones that was very dificult for some people to navigate. If you are arranging a tour of Pompeii and this sounds like it could be problematic, you might ask about the various entrances.
We certainly enjoyed our day with Giovanni. He was kind and every bit a gentleman who spoke of his family, life in Italy, his travels, and some favorite recipes. (Yes, another Italian man who likes to cook!) Since he lives in the area, he was very knowledgeable about past and present events and told us that there would be a big celebration with fireworks that evening (I believe at his church). When the day ended and we arrived back at the ship it was dfficult to say goodby, especially since we knew our cruise would soon be over.
That night as our ship was sailing away, my husband and I stood on our balcony and watched fireworks light up the sky over the Amalfi Coast. What a magical ending to our day and a salute to all the good times we had in Italy!
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.