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Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

St. Louis, Missouri
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Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

My wife and I just returned from a fantastic week in Sorrento and Positano. We arrived in Sorrento on Saturday Sept 19 and spent 4 nights before moving to Positano on Wednesday Sept 23 for 3 nights. On Saturday Sept 26, we returned to Rome to catch a Sunday morning return flight.

I found these TA forums to be very helpful in planning our trip, so am happy to return the favor with this trip report. Rather than give the day-by-day account, I’ve jotted down major impressions/tips.

Arrival—Transportation from Rome Fiumicino Airport to Sorrento:

Our flight arrived at Rome Fiumicino Airport just before 8:00a. After researching the various options to get to our Sorrento hotel, we opted to splurge for a car service after our 13-hours of air travel. The cheapest way to go is to take the Leonardo Shuttle from Fiumicino to Roma Termini Station (E9.50/person; 30 minute ride; leave every 30 minutes at 5 and 35 past the hour), followed by a train to Napoli Centrale Station (we considered 2nd class tickets on the fast Eurostar; E38/person; 1 hour 20 minute ride—could save some money by taking a slower train), followed by switching to the Circumvesuviana train (downstairs from Centrale Station) from Naples to Sorrento (roughly E3/person; about 1 hr 10 minute ride), followed by walking with our luggage 5 minutes to the hotel. This approach would have taken us roughly 4-5 hours (including waiting times for trains) and cost about E100 in total.

Instead, a car service picks you up at the airport, puts you in the car and drives you directly to the hotel in around 3 hours but with significantly less hassle. We ended up going with Angelo Stinca (www.angelodriver.com) for E320. I emailed 13 different car services and Angelo was the cheapest option and came with great references on various travel sites. Other price quotes ranged from E330 to E450. Angelo sent another guy to pick us up but he was great—spoke good English, pointed out various sites and facts along the way and got us there in good time. I would recommend them.

Sorrento Hotel:

We decided to splurge again on our hotel to get a great private terrace view of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius and chose the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. We considered various other options that either did not have the terrace views or were a bit remote from the center of town. The EV is right on Piazza Tasso and has simply spectacular views. We had a deluxe sea view room (#134) and it was tremendous—good sized bathroom with very nice shower, large bedroom and sitting room with very high ceilings and a huge private terrace right over the “Excelsior Vittoria” sign on the cliffs below.

Sorrento Restaurants (in order of our preference):

We absolutely loved Da Cataldo (www.dacaldo.it) at the southern end of Marina Grande. We loved it so much that we ate there twice. It’s about a 20-25 minute walk from Piazza Tasso and has much better prices (E45 for both of us including wine but no dessert) than many of the places up in the city center. The homemade scialatielli with seafood was the single best dish we had on the entire trip—unbelievable.

We had a great, romantic meal at L’Antica Trattoria (via Padre Reginaldo Giuliani 33). We sat on the outdoor upstairs terrace surrounded by grape vines on overhead trellises and enjoyed the music from the strolling mandolin player. This was our priciest meal (E87 for both of us including wine but no dessert) but was a pretty unique setting and experience.

We enjoyed dinner at Restaurant Bar Photo (Via Correale 19), which is maybe a 5 minute walk from P. Tasso. The place has art work on the walls (and ceiling) and has kind of a Berlin, high energy vibe. The food was very good.

La Laterna (Via San Cesareo 23/25) came highly recommended by several TA contributors and we had a nice lunch. Definitely was not our favorite but the food was good.

We had pretty average pizza lunch at Pizzeria Aurora on P Tasso. The waiter was poor as well. Wouldn’t recommend it.

Sorrento Gelato:

We tried both Davide and Primavera; both were good but we preferred the latter based on the larger portion sizes. Highly recommend it.

Sorrento Day Trips—Naples and Herculaneum:

On Monday, we took a ferry to Naples to see the National Archeological Museum (E6.50/person) before taking the Circumvesuviana train to Herculaneum. The ferry ride was great—nice views of Vesuvius and Naples. We walked to the NAM to see a bit of the city on the way…probably a 30 minute walk. No map is included with admission, so buy a guide book in the book store by the entrance. Most of the exhibits (but not all) do not have any English descriptions, so a quality guide book is essential. We spent probably 3 hours here and could have spent more. Well worth the trip.

We then walked to Pizzeria Da Michele (www.damichele.net) for the absolutely fantastic pizza. This place has the reputation of having the best pizza in Naples and it did not disappoint. You will almost certainly need to wait for a seat but do it. There are only 2 types of pizza—margherita (with cheese) or marinara (without). We ordered the extra cheese margherita and it was fabulous. We each finished the large size. The place is filled with locals…not in the tourist center but close enough to walk to the train station (about 15-20 minutes).

We arrived much later than planned at Herculaneum (the Ercolano Scavi train stop)—around 6:00p (it closed at 7:00p). When you get off the train, don’t take a cab, just walk straight down the main street right toward the shore and you’ll run into the site in about 5 blocks. The site is much smaller than Pompeii and can probably be seen pretty comprehensively in about 2-3 hours. As we began to explore it we met an older gentleman who worked there who offered to show us around. He was great…pointed out lots and lots of details we would have totally missed (although we had a bit of a language barrier). He took us to a number of areas that were blocked off to tourists and took lots of pictures of us at important spots. He did (surprise, surprise) ask for a tip at 7 when he finished with us but we had no problem paying him. Then, as we were about to leave, another guy who worked the night shift as a security guard approached us and took us around to see some areas we had not been able to hit before closing. We ended up staying with him until nearly 8:30p, with him leading us through multiple areas with a flashlight. Not sure you can really plan to hook up with someone like this but it really made for a great experience.

Sorrento Day Trips—Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii:

On Tuesday, we took the circumvesuviana train back to the Ercolano Scavi train stop (our hotel concierge told us to go to the Pompeii Scavi stop instead and catch a bus to the Vesuvius park—this would take much longer and cost more) and caught the Vesuvio Express bus (office is immediately to your left as you exit the train station) to the park (tickets included round trip bus fare and entry fee to hike to the top of the mountain). The bus drops you off about 600 vertical feet from the top (about a 20 minute walk with switch backs). The crater is amazing, with multiple steam vents, and the views over the coastal plains and the Bay of Naples are awesome. Highly recommend doing this.

After Vesuvius, we went to Pompeii via the Circumvesuviana train (the site is only about a hundred yards from the station). You could easily spend an entire long day here but we only had about 3 hours. We rented the English audio tour headphones, which was very helpful. I’ve read some opinions that Herculaneum is the more impressive site due to its more fully preserved buildings but I think I would recommend Pompeii if you only have time to see one. The political advertisements o the walls, the amazing frescoes and gardens and the fantastic theaters and amphitheater (oldest surviving Roman one in the world) make Pompeii more impressive in my view.

Sorrento to Positano:

We chose to get to Positano via Metro Del Mare ferry boat (E9/person) rather than by bus, taxi or car service. We loved the trip and were very glad we went this route. The views of Capri and the coast line are phenomenal and approaching Positano for the first time from the water is unforgettable.

Positano Hotel:

We booked a Superior Double room (#34) at the Hotel Buca di Bacco. We absolutely loved the hotel and our room. We had a very large private terrace overlooking the beach and the water and with the great classic view over the Duomo toward the riot of colorful buildings running up the western hillside. The room was large, very nicely decorated and very bright. The bathroom was smaller than the EV but still large by European standards. The buffet breakfasts were outstanding and we enjoyed the views from the terrace as we ate. The front desk staff spoke good English and was friendly and helpful. We will definitely stay there again for our next trip.

Positano Restaurants (in order of our preference):

We had a great dinner at Bruno’s (just past Le Sirenuse). Our table was across the street against the railing overlooking the harbor…fantastic views. The pasta was great.

On Friday, we took a fantastic walk up and over Cristoforo Colombo to Viale Pasitea over to the small village of Fornillo and had a trememdous late lunch at La Fornillo. We had a nice outside table and really enjoyed the food. We would love to go back.

Close behind Bruno’s and Il Fornillo was the Buca di Bacco’s restaurant. The tables were inside, so the ambience was not as cool but the food was great.

La Cambusa (down by the water) was highly recommended by our guidebook but we were disappointed with the food and wine and it was pricier than Bruno’s and BdB. Would not go back.

Positano Gelato:

We tried both the place below the BdB restaurant and La Zagara and definitely preferred the latter. We went there several times.

Positano Day Trip:

On Thursday, we took the Metro Del Mare ferry to Amalfi (E6/person one-way) in the morning and explored the town. We enjoy lots of walking off the beaten path and really enjoyed wandering up into city away from the crowds (didn’t see any tourists) to the east of the Duomo (can’t remember the street names). We had a great lunch at Trattoria Da Gemma (Via Fra Gerardo Sasso 9, just west of Via Genova) and explored the Duomo. The latter was nice but didn’t rate as a highlight of the trip.

We then caught a bus to Ravello. Or, actually, we first mistakenly got on a bus that was going to Salerno and burned lots of time trying to unwind the mistake once we became aware of it. Anyway, the raves about the views from Ravello are all accurate. It’s a very, very beautiful place. We saw the Villa Cimbrone (E6/person) and the Villa Rufolo (E5/person) and enjoyed them both. Cimbrone was probably our favorite, as we preferred the views from the terrace and the opportunity for longer walks (it’s a bigger place). We then took a bus back to Positano.

Departure—Transportation from Positano to Rome:

To get back to Rome, we chose to take a morning ferry to Naples (about E14/person; with a stop in Sorrento; 1 hour 20 minutes total time), followed by a quick cab ride (about 15 minutes and E13) to Napoli Centrale station, followed by a quick Eurostar train to Rome (E37/person; 1 hour 30 minutes). The entire trip took about 3.5 hours and cost about E80.

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1. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Thanks for posting your report. I was pleasantly surprised to see that you stayed at the Vittorio Excelsior! I stayed there about 30 years ago and I hardly see that mentioned on TA. Of course I'm sure they have spiffed up the hotel since I stayed there, but I loved that place. The gardens, the terrace, the dining room, the room overlooking the bay and Vesuvius! I'm going to Sorrento next year, but can't afford today's prices at that hotel. Grazie and ciao!

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2. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

P.S. Try to post some photos! especially of the hotel. Do you think the hotel would let me walk around and check it out while I'm there?

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3. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Thanks for a very comprehensive trip report. I'm thinking of travelling to Positano in the next year and this has given me alot of food for thought. Cheers.

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Positano
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St. Louis, Missouri
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4. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

You're welcome...fun to write it all down.

I've uploaded some pics of the EV hotel...will post a link as soon as TA has put them up.

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5. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Great post!!!

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6. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Thanks, Amalfigirl.

Sushi3--my hotel pics are posted...here's the link:

www.tripadvisor.com/members-photos/molonlabe

Regarding walking in to the EV to look around, there was usually but not always a guy standing at the entry arch. When there was someone there, they sometimes but not always asked for our room number (or let us walk in when I showed my key). Net, net, I suspect you could manage it if you're motivated to do so...

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7. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

And may I add you have nerves of steel to allow someone in Ercolano, after dark, to show you about the ruins with a torch!! I wouldn't be caught dead walking down the street in Ercolano in broad daylight - SO a very big BRAVO to you, molonlabe! Also the Euro6 fare ferry - you mention it as being Metro Del Mare? Are you sure it wasn't Coop Sant'Andrea ferry as the Metro Del Mare fares are generally a few Euros more expensive...

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8. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Maybe less "nerves of steel" and maybe more "brains of mush." He was an older man wearing an official-looking badge, so I figured we were OK as long as we were locked away from the city in the excavations...but I did get nervous when he took us around through a locked back entrance into a small building where they're working on the boat excavated from the ancient harbor. There was no light whatsover and I felt more "trapped" if he did have an unpleasant agenda. A little adventure to spice up the trip.

You are probably right on the ferry to Amalfi. I didn't distinguish between boats...just bought a ticket for the next one that was leaving.

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9. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Ha ha ha - I am hearing you loud and clear molonlabe. Got caught in a similar situation in the amazing San Nicola church in Roma where a slight young man appeared from the refectory with an official badge on and offered a tour. I said ''sure, why the heck not'' and pulled some willing friends along behind me and next thing I know, I am hunched over, stepping over priest bones in the bowels of the church learning all about the Temple of Juno as I looked over to watch one friend break out into a dripping sweat and start to hyperventilate as they whispered worriedly: ''Amalfigirl, this is a veritable TRAP!''.

Anyhow we all survived, the tour was genuine and for a handful of coins it was excellent - and we all have a good laugh about it now.

They're weird those situations on holidays - in one's own town, one seems to be able to smell a rat a mile away, but on holidays one can tend to think ''OK, I will follow this nice smiling man, down into a cavernous pit, why not? You only live once, right?''

Hmm, am I sensing a pattern here, molonlabe? Maybe these weird scenarios only happen in Italia?

These aren't my pics but for ruins on your next Italy trip, San Nicola is certainly something to visit in Roma:

sitesandphotos.com/catalog/parent-229726.html

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10. Re: Sept '08 Positano and Sorrento Trip Report

Perhaps your friend thought they looked more like relatively fresh tourist bones...

Those pics look creepy...sign me up.

;