We sent our Key Account Manager, John Docherty to the Amalfi Coast, to experience an escorted tour for the very first time!
I've worked in the travel industry for a number of years now, well twenty seven to be exact, and during that time i have sold, and experienced many types of holiday ….But never an Escorted Tour. Read on to learn about my Travelsphere Escorted Tour to the Amalfi Coast."
I was delighted to be offered the chance to visit our top selling destination Italy, and in particular the picturesque Amalfi Coast. We have all seen photographs of the rugged coastline over the years and i remember learning about Pompeii at primary school, so this opportunity excited me. It was made even more exciting when my wife could join me and really experience the tour as our customers would.
We flew from Glasgow to Gatwick, and then Gatwick to Naples and after collecting our baggage, proceeded out of the arrivals hall to be greeted by Jane, holding a Travelsphere board with a huge smile, and she would be our Tour Manager for the week. As we transferred to the coach, we began to meet our fellow travellers, who would be experiencing the Amalfi Coast tour with us. As we had arrived in the evening, our transfer was in the dark, but one thing is for sure, the coach journey was not for the faint hearted, those coastal roads from Naples to the resort of Minori were narrow, winding and ridiculously close to the cliff edge, but I couldn’t help get excited and imagine what we would experience over the next week. We arrived at the 4* Villa Romano Hotel and went straight to dinner (The tour is on Half Board basis) followed by an early night in preparation for an exciting week. I must add, there is always one character in a group and while at dinner on the first night, Harry (or Henry as his wife called him when he was misbehaving), chose to sit with us, we had a new friend!
Now you may recall that I mentioned earlier that there is often a misconception about touring that you'll be living out of a suitcase, moving from hotel to hotel. Well, this like many Travelsphere escorted tours is referred to as a “Relaxed Tour” so I only needed to unpack once, and the Villa Romano would be my base for the week. The Amalfi coast tour has some included tours, giving me free time if I chose, but why would i come to this area and not visit Capri, the beautiful resort of Positano and not forgetting Pompeii on the optional tours too?!
Day 1, Amalfi and Ravello (Included Tour)
After a good sleep, and a substantial breakfast we were ready to explore. Breakfast in the hotel was fantastic, such a wide selection of cereal, fruit, pastries, hot food and cold meats and cheese, there was something for everyone. We took the short walk to the sea front of Minori and caught our first glimpse of the Amalfi coast - we were not disappointed. Lemon groves spread as far as the eye could see and the rugged coastline looked spectacular"
Antonio our coach driver was waiting to take us to Amalfi. Amalfi is the main town on the coastline and was the capital of the maritime republic known as the Duchy of Amalfi, an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 9th and 11th centuries. The Duomo Sant'Andrea cathedral which is at the heart of town, survives from this era. A patron saint of Amalfi is Saint Andrew, whose relics are kept here at Sant'Andrea cathedral, which was the first place we visited.
As we stood in the Piazza Duomo looking up the long stair case, the cathedral was a sight to behold and for anyone visiting Amalfi, the three euro charge for entrance is well worth it. Before leaving we took a moment to light a candle in the very impressive chapel full of character, and amazing architecture and of course history. We took time to wander the winding streets, before settling down in Piazza Duomo for a coffee and fresh pastry before heading 350 metres above the Tyrrhenian Sea to the town of Ravello.
The main sights of Ravello are Duomo di Ravello (Cathedral of Ravello) and Villa Rufulo, built by Nicola Rufolo, one of the richest Patricians of Ravello, on a ledge and it has become a famous attraction for thousands of visitors. The villa was mentioned by Giovanni Boccaccio in his Decameron and it is the place where Richard Wagner in 1880 was inspired for the stage design of his opera Parsifal. We opted to visit Villa Rufulo and you can see why they were inspired by the stunning views over the Amalfi Coast and the Gulf of Salerno. The beautiful gardens are in bloom most of the year and well worth seeing and for seven euros, well worth it. We had earned a lovely lunch of fresh bruschetta and selection of cold meats, olives and fresh bread washed down with a glass of Italian wine.
In the evening we had our welcome meeting and drinks pre dinner where we got to meet up with our tour manager and speak with more of the group. I was extremely delighted to meet Mrs Thompson and her husband, who have travelled with Travelsphere for the past twenty two years and experienced so many of our trips.
Day 3 - Capri (Optional Tour)
We made the short journey to the neighbouring resort of Maiori to join the boat for our trip to the enchanting Island of Capri. Highlights of our guided tour include the hillside village of Anacapri, the wonderful Gardens of Caesar Augustus and the Faraglioni rocks.
Before we docked in Marina Grande, the boat took us to the three famous Faraglioni, which are are stacksof coastal and oceanic rock formation eroded by waves. They are found at the coasts of several regions of Italy. We then boarded one of the twenty mini buses that are on the island to the town of Capri and took the short walk through some elegant shops, where we arrived at the spectacular botanical Gardens of Augustus. Originally known by the name of Krupp Gardens, were established by the German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp in the early twentieth century to build his mansion in Capri. Initially the gardens took on the name of "Krupp Gardens", a title held until 1918, when the gardens were renamed "Gardens of Augustus", the title they are known as today. The gardens, designed in terraces overlooking the sea, can be considered a testament to the rich flora of the island of Capri, with various ornamental plants and flowers such as geraniums, dahlias and brooms. We then had time to grab a coffee, and for my wife to take me back to the shops and convince me that the rucksack she wanted was a good buy.
It was then back on the mini bus, and to head up to Anacapri, but we had to endure the coastal road, known locally as the “Mama Mia” road….. all i can say is my heart was in my mouth, not for the faint hearted. The Ancient Greek prefix ana- means "up" or "above", signifying that Anacapri is located at a higher elevation on the island than Capri (about 150 metres higher on average). We enjoyed free time as well as lunch before finishing the afternoon in the Marina Grande before our journey back to Minori.
Day 4 - Positano (Optional Tour)
We had a morning of leisure, so after a nice lie in, we walked the coastal road to Maiori in the glorious sunshine, stopping to take some amazing photographs. As we were not departing until 1pm we took the opportunity to have lunch, sat in the sun on a beautiful terrace overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. We then joined the rest of the group on our own private boat. Our Tour Manager spoke to us in detail about the coastline, pointing out places of interest. We were able to take in the dramatic views as we travelled along the scenic Amalfi coastline to Positano, which is one of the region’s most exclusive resort and admire the pastel-coloured houses clinging to the rocks. Positano in the sunshine was even more stunning than we had experienced a few days earlier.
As part of the excursion, we visited the newly opened Villa Romano Positano. In the centre of Positano, an extremely well preserved villa which is under the functioning church (if you go inside the church, on left side at the end you can see a staircase down to the villa.) We were taken on a guided tour around the ruin. Our guide spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable about architecture and Positano history. We also saw a medieval crypt build by the church parish. we were able to see some of the most incredible wall paintings you will ever see—close to 2000 years old, and still look brand new. Some of the items they were able to put in display were just incredible, this is a must for anyone visiting this beautiful town. We will definitely be back to visit and spend a few days in the narrow streets lined with boutiques and cafes. and experience some of the beach front restaurants with amazing local seafood.
Day 5 - Wine Tasting in the Amalfi Hills (Included Tour)
Today we headed into the Amalfi Hills, where we had another another chance to take in the Amalfi Coast's sublime scenery on the way to a winery. We arrived at Cellar Giuseppe Apicella, a family run vineyard, where the first year of production they sold 3000 bottles and forty years later, now produce 70,000 per year.
The wine of Giuseppe Apicella is produced in 7 hectares of vineyards, the oldest of which were planted in the early twentieth century. They produce white, red, rose wine as well as grapa. Following the tour, we sat down to a beautiful light lunch of locally produced ingredients as well as cheese made on the farm, of course washed down with a choice of red or white wine. A lovely relaxed and informative tour showcasing one of the many fantastic wines from the region.
We then had the afternoon at leisure to enjoy the sunshine before heading back to the hotel.
Day 6 - Pompeii (Optional Tour)
Well this was the tour we were really looking forward to as we had both learned about Pompeii at school, so there was no way we were missing this. We were off discover the exceptional archaeological site of Pompeii, the Roman town frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. We were met by a local guide who lead us through maze of streets. As we strolled around Pompeii, we got a fascinating insight into the last days of the people who lived here. We were able to see villas still decorated with brightly painted mosaics, Roman baths and an impressive amphitheatre. There are even bakeries here that still have their bread ovens and flour grinders intact. The first place we visited was the amphitheatre and no matter how many photographs you see of this, it blew my mind. I genuinely walked around for three hours with my mouth open as I imagined the town as it would have been.
Some of the highlights of the day were The House of the Faun, built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the largest and most impressive private residences in Pompeii, Italy, and housed many great pieces of art. It covers nearly 3000 square meters and occupies an entire city block. The Villa of the Mysteries is a well-preserved suburban ancient Roman villa on the outskirts of Pompeii, southern Italy, famous for the series of exquisite frescos in one room, which are usually thought to show the initiation of a young woman into a Greco-Roman mystery cult. The Temple of Apollo is a Roman temple dedicated to the Greek and Roman god Apollo in the ancient Roman town of Pompeii, southern Italy. Facing the northern side of the town, it is the town's most important religious building and has very ancient state of origin. The House of the Tragic Poet is a Roman house in Pompeii, Italy dating to the 2nd century BCE. The house, or villa, is famous for its elaborate mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology.
Pompeii has now been ticked off the bucket list, and it did not disappoint. What a way to end a fantastic week, and it's safe to say, this will not be our last Escorted Tour!