Lake Como – Villas on the Lake

Did you know Lake Como is only about an hour’s ride from Milan? There are numerous grand villas that line Lake Como.  Taking the slow ferry gives you a glimpse at a few!

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Villa on the lake
Lake Como villa
This screams Italy to me!

Villa Balbianello in Lenno is one of the most scenic residences on the lake and is famous for its terraced gardens.  It was originally built for Cardinal Angelo Durini and sits high up on a hill overlooking Bellagio and the lake. The Loggia Durini is a popular wedding venue. This location has made its way into a variety of movies like Casino Royale and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.

Villa Balbianello, Lenno
Lenno
Loggia Durini

Grand Hotel Tremezzo besides being a magnificent hotel has a floating pool! This historic property was recently renovated and very popular on the Lake. Enjoy the restaurants or the spa.  Terrace dining has you looking over to Bellagio. While here be sure to stop next door and visit Villa Carlotta. Built in 1690 it features a lovely Italian garden. Again, if you are taking the ferry to Bellagio or Varenna you can hop off in Tremezzo to visit here.

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Grand Hotel Tremezzo, floating pool

Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is another lovely spot to stay, just lunch or grab a drink. The Villa was built back in the 15th century. The park is not part of the property and the Gardens at Villa Melzi are time better spent.

Villa Serbelloni

Villa D’Este originally had a female convent on this site but it was later demolished to make way for a private residence.  It too has beautiful gardens.  In 1873 it was converted into a hotel and it has seen the likes of many celebs!

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Villa D’Este in Cernobbia

Did you miss the beginning of this series on Lake Como? Here is a link to Part One- Lago di Como – a series

Lago di Como, a series, part 5

There are so many things and places to experience on Lake Como that I could go on and on! Here are a few more sites from the city of Como located only an hour by train from Milan and perfect spot to call home base for visiting the lake.

 

 

Did you miss Lago di Como, part 4  

Lago di Como – Part 3; Lago di Como – Part 2 Brunate; Lago di Como – a series

Lago di Como, a series, part 2 -Brunate

When you are in the city of Como, Italy on Lake Como don’t miss the chance to ride the funicular up to the small town of Brunate which sits 2346′ above Como. Of course, if you are in no hurry you can hike up! The funicular opened way back in 1894. The breathtaking views of the lake and the town below can’t be matched anywhere! While there walk around or hike to the Volta Lighthouse for more outstanding views.

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Funicular to Brunate
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View from Brunate north towards Switzerland
 
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Como Catheral from Bunate’s Panoramic viewpoint 

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Sitting high on the hill is the Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo in Piazza della Chiesa. This quaint lovely church is another nice place to stop and admire the view.

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Church of Sant’ Andrea Apostolo

Stay tuned for more from Lake Como! Did you miss Part 1? Lago di Como

Ready to go on to Lago di Como – Part 3

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre can be found between Genoa and Pisa and is an easy train ride from Milan or Florence.

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The 5 towns of the Cinque Terre are a UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching for 6 miles on the Italian Riviera but are very different from their glitzy neighbors.  We will explore each of the towns as we go.

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Monterosso coastline

Many people who plan to visit these towns also plan to hike at least part of the trail so I’ll start there. Heads up- starting April 1, 2019 a new law takes effect banning hikers from wearing flip flops or face fines. This seems like a no-brainer to me since I had on hiking boots but we saw many people who probably decided on the spur of the moment to hike part of the trail and were not prepared either with the proper footwear, water, snacks, first aid for bees, cuts, etc.

Hiking trails are available from Monterosso to Vernazza to Corniglia.  Recently the path has been closed between Corniglia , Manarola and Riomaggiore due to landslides so be sure to check if they are open. You can hike in either direction.

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We hopped the local train from Santa Margherita Ligure, our home base, to Monterosso al Mare and hiked to Vernazza then after lunch grabbed a ferry to Manarola. Plan your time wisely! It was insanely hot when we were there in early September and we encountered quite a few hikers.  Move over and let people who are quicker pass.

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This was the easy part!

Don’t overestimate how much you can accomplish in one day! The hike is strenuous, no matter your age, and exhausting!

Don’t forget to enjoy each town you do visit remembering why you went there in the first place. This section of the Italian Riviera is breathtakingly beautiful but sadly, too much tourism, like in Venice, is threatening these gorgeous places.  Be considerate and don’t ruin it for the next guests.  The area is fragile and needs to be preserved for us all to enjoy. Goes without saying in my book!!!!

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Make sure when buying your tickets for ferries or hiking that you are paying for the right thing.  We were sold hiking tickets in Monterosso but after hiking about 15 minutes up a steep hill we were told at a checkpoint that we had the wrong tickets- more money and too late to turn back!

Be prepared as things run slowly here! Our train back was well over an hour late unlike the Trenitalia trains that run all over Italy.  The local trains are not as prompt where the Trenitalia trains are very prompt!!! Don’t be late! No one will wait for you! Buy your tickets in advance is great advice!!

Your choices are limited for staying in one of the 5 towns for the most part so you might consider staying nearby and making day trips to the Cinque Terre and Portofino. Some towns to consider are: Santa Margherita Ligure, La Spezia, Levanto, and Rapalo. Leave the car elsewhere.

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Santa Margherita Ligure

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Portofino

Monterosso al Mare

This town has a beautiful stretch of beach where you can just hang out and relax and then explore the town’s architecture in both the New town and the Old town or just start your hike.

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Monterosso al Mare

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Monterosso- play time!

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Monterosso al Mare coastline

Vernazza

This town is so picturesque with its beautiful natural harbor and tiny narrow cobblestone streets and cute restaurants flanking the small Piazza. Linger along the breakwater built only in 1972 that surrounds the harbor. Take in the sights in Piazza Marconi and watch the boats come and go as children play in the waters.

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In case you didn’t hike in from Monterosso be sure to take a few extra minutes to find the narrow stairs that mark the start of the trail that lead you up to the most quintessential view of Vernazza.

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Vernazza

The harborfront church of Santa Margherita is unusual for its east facing entry rather than the more traditional western orientation.

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Santa Margherita church

This town dates mostly from the 12th and 15th centuries. The color of the buildings are regulated (known as ‘Ligurian pastel’) MAGICAL!!!

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Just like many parts of Italy the hillsides around the Cinque Terre are dotted with olive and wine vineyards. Be sure to walk uphill in each town to avoid the crowds of the waterfront.

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Manarola

Manarola is the last town we visited as it was already late and our train ride back was about an hour and then we were delayed another hour plus. The town seems to hang in a ravine and is relatively quiet. These towns all seem to hang on the cliffs like on the Amalfi Coast and Positano. Manarola is probably the steepest of the 5 towns. Be sure when there to head uphill out of the harbor area where the crowds are less dense. The hills here are also covered with vineyards and lemon groves. For lovely views late in the day head up the trail towards the town’s cemetery.

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Manarola

Sadly we did not have enough time or an extra day to get to Corniglia or Riomaggiore but here is some information on both. Next trip!

Corniglia is the only town not on the coast. Wine is still the lifeblood of this town as it was in ancient times.  The hike from here to Vernazza is a challenging, hilly 1.5 hour hike. Check to see if the trail is open to Manarola before setting out!

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Corniglia

Riomaggiore offers lovely views back on the harbor from the breakwater. Have fun just strolling from the train station down to the harbor.  This town is very photogenic especially just around sunset.

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Riomaggiore by Kevin Mercier http://www.kevmrc.com

(sorry I couldn’t get there this trip) here is a great shot by Kevin Mercier

Where is your next trip?  My wish list is so long and made even more complicated by all the towns I really want to revisit. Hard to complain! See you in our next town 🙂

If you are planning a trip to Italy I have blogs on many towns some which I have visited 2 or 3 times often employing guides so I don’t miss the local highlights that most tourists miss.  Guides are well worth the extra money.  If it is pricey for you, consider some less expensive meals or forget the souvenirs to compensate.  You won’t be sorry.  Travel Agents who specialize in Italy can help you with guides, train and travel arrangements as well as affordable accommodations in convenient locations so you don’t waste too much time checking out your location.

Chanticleer Garden

Just a short drive from Philadelphia, Chanticleer is one of the great gardens in this area. Once the Rosengarten estate, today Chanticleer is a contemporary garden situated in a  historic setting.   Garden Design magazine has dubbed this “America’s most inspiring garden.”

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Coneflowers in the Pond Garden area

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Expectantly awaiting blossoms!

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Sunset glistening on the maple trees on the elevated walkway

“The Chanticleer estate dates from the early 20th-century, when land along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad was developed for summer homes to escape the heat of Philadelphia. Adolph Rosengarten, Sr., and his wife Christine chose the Wayne-St. Davids area to build their country retreat. The family’s pharmaceutical firm would become part of Merck in the 1920s.”

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Clematis and Climbing Hydrangea

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Ivy

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Barley in the Serpentine Meadow

They purchased a neighboring property in 1933. It is now the site of the Minder Ruin Garden composed of three “rooms”. The Great Hall; The Library; and The Pool Room

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The Great Hall with its fountain shaped like a large sarcophagus

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Marble Faces gaze up from the depths of a fountain in the Ruins in ‘The Pool Room’

As you leave the Ruins you enter the Gravel Garden filled with orange butterfly weed, grasses, Alliums and a variety of other plants including Yuccas.

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Gravel Garden

Gravel Garden

Daughter Emily’s house, located at today’s visitor entrance, was built for her in 1935. It is presently used for offices and classrooms. Here is another house on the property.

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The heirs left the entire property for the enjoyment of the public   The garden opened to the public in 1993.  If you are in the area and are visiting gardens be sure to check out both Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens.

Hiking in CT – Lover’s Leap State Park

Lover’s Leap is a Connecticut State park located in New Milford along the Housatonic River and straddles the Housatonic Gorge. The history of this park is dark and full of mystery! The signature attraction is the red wrought-iron bridge built in 1895 and one of four iron lenticular truss bridges remaining in Connecticut. It rises 100′ above the rocky gorge below. Don’t look down if you are afraid of heights!

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This historic bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The legend of this park dates back hundreds of years to Native American Princess Lillinonah, the daughter of Chief Waramaug of the Pootatuck Indians. The Chief died in 1735. There are a variety of scenarios of what happened but one says that she fell in love with an Englishman who she married but while he was gone on business she supposedly jumped from the rocks at the top of the mountain when he didn’t return in the time frame expected.  When he returned and learned of her fate he also jumped into the river to be with his love. There are many variations on this story so who knows! Some say she canoed to her death into the ‘Great Falls’ ( now 14′ below the surface of the Housatonic since the construction of the Shepaug Dam) and when he returned he saw her in the rapids and leaped to his death in an attempt to save her.

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Lovers Leap Wrought Iron Bridge

The park has several hiking trails with beautiful views of the Housatonic River and overlooks Lake Lillinonah and a now submerged Goodyear Island named for an early fur trader who traded with the Indian community in this area.

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The LEAP over Lake Lillinonah

Part of this park once was the estate of Catherine Judson Hurd who bequeathed the land to the state for use as a public park. The native Americans occupied this site for over 8,000 years. It’s location was strategic for both observation and signaling.

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Housatonic River Gorge

Map

Greve in Chianti and Montefioralle

Greve in Chianti was our home base while in the Chianti region of Tuscany.  From here we travelled to Siena then to Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Arezzo and Montichiello. As I detailed in a previous blog we were delighted to stay at Villa Bordoni for our time after we left Venice and Florence. The countryside around Chianti is very fertile and a patchwork of vineyards, ancient olive groves, dark cypress trees and the miles of hay fields. You see many small and ancient villages, magnificent Renaissance palazzos and churches.

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Villa Bordoni

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Vineyards

Greve in Chianti is a medieval town not far from Florence in the heart of Chianti Classico territory and has developed around a central Piazza over the last 500 years. . Piazza Matteotti, a triangular shaped square is surrounded by shops and restaurants and is home to the Saturday market.  In the center of the Piazza is a statue of Giovanni da Verranzano.  If you have ever been to NYC then you know of the Verranzano bridge.  He is credited with discovering NY harbor. At the far end is the church of Santa Croce.

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Piazza Matteotti and Giovanni da Verranzano

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Church of Santa Croce

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Wild Boars roam the countryside in Tuscany

Sangiovese grapes are the very soul of Tuscany. In fact, their fruity, aromatic fragrance is present in almost all of Tuscany’s top wines.

– Classic: is reserved for wines produced in the region where a particular type of wine has been produced “traditionally”. For the Chianti Classico, this “traditional region” is defined by a decree from 1932.

– Riserva: may be used only for wines that have been aged at least two years longer than normal for a particular type of wine.

“Chianti Classico, produced in the provinces of Firenze and Siena is characterized from the exclusive and compulsive “Gallo Nero” label. Chianti Classico and Riserva is made with 80-100% of Sangiovese grapes, and a max 20% of Canaiolo, Colorino, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. ……also the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (grapes must be grown by the winery itself and minimum aging requirement: 30 months, including 3 months of bottle aging).”

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The Rooster is the symbol of Chianti Classico

Since the 1970s, Tuscan wine producers have begun to experiment with foreign grape varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. By combining these with the Sangiovese grape, they have created the Super Tuscan wines (an unofficial category of Tuscan wines, not recognized within the Italian wine classification system), which are high-quality wines that are popular in international markets. Some of the most famous names are: Tignanello and Sassicaia.

Montefioralle is a tiny hamlet set on a hilltop west of Greve in Chianti paved with stone houses and narrow cobblestone streets and is supposedly the ancestral home of Amerigo Vespucci, the mapmaker, navigator and explorer who named America. This town dates back to the 11th century and is exactly how you expect a Tuscan village to look with its medieval buildings still standing.  Widely considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and still enclosed by its original defensive walls. Charming!!!! It was absolutely magical and I felt transported back in time.

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We stopped by during the day when it was very quiet and then came back in the evening for a fabulous dinner including the infamous Bistecca Fiorentina!  Let me just say we had this steak everywhere! Steak is really not the right word to describe this thick slab of beef it is like a T-bone steak from a large oxen.  It is always seared on both sides and served rare.  As all the guide books suggest- don’t ask for it well done!

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Want to read more about Villa Bordoni? or Villa Vignamaggio in Greve? Here is a link also back to the beginning of this adventure which began in Venice.  From there you can continue with me or jump to Florence, Siena, Pienza…. well you get the idea! Stay tuned still to come are Montalcino and Montechiello.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE AMALFI COAST- let’s get started (5 part series)

Once a wealthy maritime power few regions of Italy are as gorgeous as the corner of Campania that is home to the hilly Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast.  This is also the home of Naples, and the Islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. Smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean the sea is the most alluring blue green color and if that doesn’t win your heart the warmth of the sun and the people certainly will. From the Sorrento Coast to Salerno the views don’t disappoint. They take you to Mount Vesuvius across the bay of Naples and then across the sea to the Island of Capri.  It is a world made up of stairs!  Thousand and thousands of them so bring your most comfortable walking shoes.  This is no time ladies for fancy high heels that will only get caught in the cobblestones!

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Cultural highlights are everywhere from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum to the ancient history in Sorrento and Naples with sights and adventures that take you back to Roman times. The Amalfi coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site which hopefully will help preserve its charm and history.  The landscape is dotted with alluring, charming towns and the most beautiful churches.

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Praiano

The food is “bellissima”! Make sure if you go to have the pizza! The pasta extruded using bronze dies creates a rough texture better supporting the sauce tastes nothing like ours here in the US and the mozzarella, gelato and limoncello are divinely delicious! The vine-ripened tomatoes beckon at every meal and the lemons and olives… well you get the idea! The hills are terraced with lemons, oranges, olives and grapes with Sorrento itself being known for its lemon production.  They all thrive in this volcanic soil. Did someone say “Limoncello”! Be prepared for lots of seafood, desserts and more desserts!

 

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Pizza with carciofi (artichokes)

All that walking though will let you eat and drink your way around.  Did I mention the wine!!!!! Divine!!! Hang out and relax and enjoy the wine and the sunsets. Savor the slow pace and forget all those “To Do” lists, if even just for a little while.

What would a coastline be without the hidden coves and beaches that will try to lure you away from your intentions. These are not the beaches of the Caribbean however! First and foremost, you must plan to see the coast from the water, especially on Capri!

Conca dei Marini Amalfi

Of course, for those so inclined there are plenty of hiking adventures to be had.  (coming in an upcoming post)

For those more adventurous, the cliff hugging Amalfi coast road, one of the world’s most beautiful scenic roads, with its 1,001 hairpin turns and breath taking views will test even the most accomplished driver. If you love roller-coasters then this is for you. Luckily there are taxis, private cars and buses that make travel easy and convenient because of course, you don’t want to miss the scenery because you had to concentrate on the road!

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Amalfi Coast Road

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Oh yeah that’s the coast road thru Positano!

Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and a old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. (see upcoming blogs) Ravello is most famous for its extraordinary gardens and the Ravello Music Festival. Amalfi is the main coastal town and port. Positano is the jewel of the coastline with shops and houses cascading down the ravine to the sea. Don’t miss Capri or one of the other islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tourism is the major industry on this coast.

I am debating on the best way to tackle this blog so you don’t miss a second of my trips to the Amalfi coast so I think I will cover a few towns in separate blogs as there is too much to be said. Are you ready to continue on to Part 2 in this series? “Positano Bites Deep”

If you want to travel to Italy I can highly recommend a fabulous planner Ashley Turney of L’Esperta.

See you next time! Ciao!

 

 

Sorrento and Capri (Part 5 of 5)

Sorrento is known as one of the world’s most charming and romantic old towns with it’s many cafes, shops and historic sites. It is located in southern Italy about an hour south of Naples, wedged on a ledge and separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. This is a land of high hills and valleys and mountains surrounding the entire peninsula. The area is surrounded by smaller villages like Meta, Sant’ Agnello and the area known as Massa Lubrense.  Sorrento is a good home base for your Amalfi Coast excursions.

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Bay of Naples

Piazza Tasso is the central square in Sorrento and the hub for fancy hotels, artistic and cultural events. There are many side streets, almost alleyways I would call them lined with all manner of shopping from high end boutiques, gelato shops and cafes everywhere just to stop and relax and remember why you are here! The town is laid out on an East – West orientation to take advantage of the most sun and North – South to get the prevailing winds.  This was originally a Greek town plan. The 13th century palaces that dot the back streets have no balconies and this was for security.

 

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Sorrento

The limestone rocks here create a soil that is very suitable for various types of vegetation. The most popular and well known product from the region is of course lemons and that oh so famous liqueur: Limoncello!  Of course, we won’t forget to mention the olives, vineyards, vegetables, tomatoes and orange groves also.

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Limoncello

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Peppers, peppers and more peppers!

For our final stop on this Amalfi Coast tour: Capri

You definitely can’t miss Capri!  This island is romance on steroids!!!  The views are mind boggling dramatic and the ocean is a glorious turquoise color. Capri and Ischia are the islands to the west of Sorrento in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  You are hooked immediately upon your arrival to this busy marina and you are in love immediately.

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Marina Grande Capri

Villa Jovis, one of the most magnificent of the Roman Emperor Tiberius’ island palaces is located on Capri’s second highest peak and is a great spot for hikers.  He was the first “tourist” they say who fell in love with Capri looking for a refuge from the hustle and bustle in Rome.  The island is famous for hiking and if that is not for you take the chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro and gaze down upon the towns of Capri and Anacapri and the famous Faraglioni rock formations (see top photo).  Mount Solaro is the highest and most panoramic location on the Island of Capri. From this vantage point you can see all the way down to the center of the town of Capri and to the town of Anacapri and all the way to the Sorrentine peninsula and the Gulf of Naples.

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Anacapri from Monte Solaro chairlift

Of course you will find the most fashionable shopping square anywhere in southern Italy with high end boutiques just calling your name.

Be sure to explore the island both by land and sea.  The Grotta Azzura- The Blue Grotto is a true adventure.  Both times I have been the sea was too choppy for us to enter but it is supposedly absolutely breathtaking.  If it is anything like the other grottos I did see… well- you decide!  I have never seen water this color- anywhere!

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Are you convinced yet!

 

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View back towards Sorrento and Positano

 

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Enjoying JK Place Hotel

 

I have loved every minute of my time on the Amalfi Coast and frankly can’t wait to return again and again! Thanks for traveling with me!  Ciao for now until my next adventure!  If you missed parts 1-4 you can find them here on the blog and all the photos are on my Flickr album.  Hundreds to enjoy and way too many to put in this blog.

When you are on the Amalfi Coast hire a private driver or take a taxi.  Both are experts in the sights and history of the area and will make your journey that much more memorable. Again if you are interested in going to Italy considering working with either of the ladies below and tell them Robin Lensi sent you. I suggest you contact either:

Capritime Tours– Rebecca Brooks or

L’Esperta – Ashley Turney

 

 

 

 

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