Lottie Duncan
Sometimes you get a job that makes you pinch yourself! In March my agent called. “The Big Kitchen at BBC Good Food Show is sponsored by Travelsphere. They would like you to demonstrate on the stage in June and regale enormously about Travelsphere and their holidays…. But first you need to go on a holiday with them… with Jon…..for free!”

It took 2 seconds for me to say….’Oh go on then!’

We didn’t know where we were going to go at first. We had a look on their fabulous website www.travelsphere.co.uk and perused their various trips - ones which looked food orientated. Then I got the email - ‘Fancy the Amalfi Coast in May?’

Another 2 second response …’Oh go on then!

So with great excitement Jon and I packed (I had the BIG blue beast of a suitcase, Jon had a more reasonably sized one) and on the 6th May we flew to Naples. Having never been on escorted tour I really didn’t know what to expect. But from the moment we landed in Naples and met our tour manager I knew it wasn’t going to be a regimental, time managed tour - it would be very relaxing.

Our hotel was in Minori. Now we loved Minori because it is full of local life. Slightly off the tourist track, it does have plenty of restaurants and the odd ceramic shop but the main joy about the town is its local population who go about their daily lives amongst the visitors. That made it extra special for us. The first day saw us go to what became our favourite place - Sal de Riso. The cakes, the coffee, the cakes, the coffee….the cakes!

We did some filming there for Travelsphere which meant I had to eat three cakes before 8am…not a terrible trial I can assure you. It turns out that Genaro Contaldo’s nephew manages the place so in between filming I had a little FaceTime with Genaro. As you do! After breakfast we boarded the coach (expertly driven along the hair raising Amalfi roads by Antonio) and drove to the town of Amalfi where we wandered about, visited a stunning cathedral and then a paper mill. I know! A paper mill.

It wasn’t on my Amalfi must see bucket list - mainly because I had no idea that historically Amalfi was a centre for paper making but I’m glad I went and I’m glad our Tour Manager mentioned it. This is one of the great benefits of an escorted tour, you see and visit things that might ordinarily pass you by. Ravello followed for a spectacular lunch. We wandered away from the tourist track and found a little wine bar that sold the most delicious food. The grilled smoked mozzarella in lemon leaves was a highlight. As was the deep fried pizza, and the array of pasta dishes we consumed between us!

Back on the coach and back to our very comfortable room for a nap before supper in a bonkers and brilliant Fish Restaurant in Minori. The owner looked like Robert de Niro, he said Jon looked like George Clooney and I befriended the lot of them over Amalfi lemons, tomatoes grown on the side of Vesuvius and some bread. There was fish as well - plenty of it , a bit of bottom pinching and quite a bit of wine too. In all it was a great evening - if a little bizarre!

Wednesday - Sunny Sorrento!

First stop a Limoncello factory where we watched it being made and then I had to taste lots of it! Honestly - what a terrible thing to force me to do. I had quite a bit of it just to show them how terrible it was to make me drink it at 11am in the morning. Then I had a bit more….and got back on the coach. Not too long until we arrived into this stylish town with a happy and bustling vibe. We strolled through and found a lovely place for lunch on a jetty jutting out over the sea.

I’m sure you have gathered by now the entire trip was generally centred around breakfast, where to have lunch and supper and the best place for a snack! Plenty of sun, some more rose wine (I do think we kept the rose wine sales quite buoyant for the time we were there!) a beer or two then a stroll back to the coach via the very famous Gelato shop for a huge Amafi lemon sorbet before … yes you’ve guessed it - a pre-supper nap. I also bought some Limoncello - for my recipe on the stage at the BBC Good Food Show - Sunshine Sorrento Cake with Limoncello Cream.

Thursday saw us take a trip to Capri, typically on the one rainy and cool day of the whole week. So the boat over was a tad choppy and chilly, Capri was a tad cloudy and nippy and the boat back was quite a lot choppy and extremely chilly!

But we made it to the top of Capri - Ana Capri - which I actually preferred to the rest of the island. Perhaps because it was quieter and away from the busy harbour side and the boutiques of the Capri village. We didn’t risk the chair lift - it was too cloudy to see anything anyway and it turns out the chair lift broke down for two hours that day with people on it! Think we dodged a bullet - as the thought of hanging in the air on a chair, surrounded by mist and the possibility of no where to wee didn’t sound appealing!

I had my first pizza of the trip in Ana Capri. It was worth the wait. Can’t believe I held out until Thursday! Never looked back after that! In the evening we went to a restaurant recommended by Genaro - La Giardinello. Wine, tomato salad and a plate of grilled fish was the order of the evening - with lots of fresh bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic. Heaven!

Friday - a lazy breakfast at our favourite Sal de Riso. Cappuccino, Cornetto (Croissant) while we watched the world go by. They really looked after us there and treated us every time to little extras. On this morning we had a selection of sauces to dip our Cornetto in - pistachio, chocolate, custard or jam. I got quite a lot of it down my front. I like to do that - it shows everyone how much I enjoyed the food!

A very relaxing private boat organised by Travelsphere whizzed us to Positano for the afternoon where, instead of looking at a Roman Villa we went for lunch. You really don’t ever feel under pressure to do something you don’t want to with TS - and on this afternoon we just wanted to sit in a lovely restaurant and watch all the beautiful people promenading by us in Positano. It was very lovely to while away a couple of hours. Being idle is often overlooked as a pastime. Sometimes you just need to … be.

A relaxing return boat trip back in the sunshine - not nippy at all and we napped (again) before supper. Oh Happy days we discovered that Sal de Riso did evenings too…!

Sometimes the simplest of dishes can be the most triumphant. As a starter we had some exquisite anchovies warmed through in their tin with butter, toast and strands of Amalfi lemon zest. Why have I never thought of warming them through in their own tin boat before? Why? Genius idea and so bloomin’ delicious. We followed this with a spaghetti dish of anchovy and walnuts - a very typical dish from the area. You can NEVER have enough Anchovies!

Saturday morning and we awoke to more glorious sunshine and a trip to a local vineyard. We strolled through their grapevines, saw how and where they made their wine and then all sat down together as a tour group to eat a wonderful lunch with wine tasting. I also had a go at making a few courgette flower fritters in the kitchen - I love getting my hands into cooking some food whenever I can!

When we got back to the hotel we made the most of the sunshine and went and lay by the pool with a book. Again very relaxing and just what we needed. Guess where we went - yes Sal de Riso for PIZZA! Well I hadn’t had one for a couple of days. We also had a pudding treat of the most delicious lemon gelatos. Oh Lordy I still think about them now!

Up early on our final full day - to Pompeii! A bit drizzly when we woke but by the time we pulled up to the city and I bought a €5 pink waterproof…..the sun came out! We were escorted around the city by our guide Franco, in and out of the busy streets, in and out of the city brothel and private houses. It really is a fascinating place full of ingenuity, incredible engineering, naughtiness and sophistication - but also sadness. They all died in such a terrible way.

Back on the coach (might have had a nap!) and then back to the hotel for a rest before our last supper - and of course we had to back to our favourite place. This time for proscuitto, ginger and Amalfi lemon pizza. I know, not your usual pizza suspect - but totally scrumptious.

What a week. We saw so much. Met some very lovely people on our tour and learnt all about the Amalfi Coast through the information our tour manager told us on the coach, and through our own eyes as we rode along or disembarked.
And we ate so well. I came back with so many ideas. I spoke with the shop keepers, restaurateurs and people of Minori and came back with ideas aplenty.

Three dishes of which I will be cooking on the BBC Good Food Show Big Kitchen Stage on Thursday 13th and Friday 14th June. www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com Check out the website and book your tickets today!

A massive thank you to Travelsphere for the holiday - it really was all we hoped for and I hope this blog has inspired you to have a look at their website and book a holiday of your own! - Lotte Duncan

Amalfi Coast

8 Days from £649