The Unforgettable Boat Ride Around Capri Island

Sunday, 21 October 2018

I never dreamed that one day, I will be cruising around Capri island in Italy onboard a 40 feet private boat. But just like what I said before, even the things you never dreamed of will come true if you follow your heart. And so in August, I followed my heart and went to Italy for a week with two of the most important people in my life. I undeniably had one of the best experiences ever. 

We originally planned to take the boat tour on our last day in the Amalfi Coast, which was the middle of the week. However, when I checked the weather two days before, the forecast was rain. Therefore, we decided to move our boat trip forward and cancelled the boat that we initially booked via Capri Relax Boats. From what I have learned, it is better to book a boat tour at the beginning of your holiday week so that you have more opportunity to reschedule just in case the tour gets cancelled due to bad weather. 

We booked a last minute boat tour with Positano boats. The owner, Francesca was very helpful and answered all my queries. They only had two boats left when I called- the 22ft Corallina and the 40 ft Crowne (their biggest vessel). I initially booked Corallina (€350) as it was obviously cheaper, but J was worried that it didn't have enough shade and wanted the bigger boat instead. After discussing with Farrah, we opted for the Crowne. We paid €1,100 for a whole day private tour as we made the booking in less than 24 hours. Otherwise, it would normally be €675.

We met our skipper (or captain)Francesco in Marina di Praia at 1000. The Crowne was definitely beautiful. It had a bedroom downstairs and a toilet. It also had a bar. Drinks such as water, soda and prosecco were complimentary as well as some nuts and biscuits. Snorkelling gear was also available. Francesco was lovely and very knowledgable of the coast. He had answers to almost every question we asked. He made our boat trip very comfortable and enjoyable. And despite being seasick, I really had a great time.

As soon as we started sailing, I knew that this experience would be one for the books. Passing by Positano was one of the highlights of our boat trip, although we only berthed briefly to pay for the boat. Perched on a hill with pastel-coloured buildings, Positano is truly beautiful, more so from the water.

As we sailed on, Francesco went through our itinerary for the day. We would stop for a swim, sail around Capri island and then have lunch in one of the islands around 2 or 3 pm. I didn't go for a swim because I can't swim for my life, but J and Farrah did. 

We sailed through the Sorrento coast then to Capri island, passing by really fantastic sights like the dramatic Faraglioni rock formation and the Punta Carena lighthouse in Anacapri.

We made the wise decision to just stay on the boat and not stop by Capri island because from what I can remember from 9 years ago, there wasn't anything really interesting to do in the island unless you want to shop for expensive stuff perhaps. It was and still is, as far as I know, very touristy and expensive. So instead, we admired the lavish island from afar whilst our captain Francesco went through each and every house of famous people that we passed by, like Sophia Loren's villa. 
Photos by Farrah

We also wanted to see the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), but there was a long queue and the wait was up to 3 hours, so we decided to give it a miss. Besides, the entrance free was €14 per head. Francesco reassured us though that there was an equally beautiful grotto not far from where we were called " The Heart Grotto", and it would all be ours - no boats, no tourists. It wasn't really the same, but to be fair, it was quite romantic. He took us to a couple more grottos after that which were very nice.

After about 5 hours cruising around Capri, it was time to go for a quick lunch in the small fishing village of Nerano. It seemed very busy in the island that day with numerous boats already moored in the marina. A complimentary boat from the restaurant came to pick us up as Francesco docked our boat quite far from the shore.
Photo by Farrah

After lunch, we headed back towards Praiano. We still wanted to sail through Amalfi town, however, Francesco suggested that we should go back as the rain was coming. He was right because as soon as we got off the boat, it rained cats and dogs. We were stranded in front of Trattoria Da Armandino for more or less than half an hour. When the rain settled a bit, we decided to walk up the hill to get a bus. When we got to the bus stop, it was ridiculously busy, so we thought we'd take a taxi instead. But there were no taxis passing by either. This was when Nonno Raimondo came to mind. Do you remember him? I mentioned him in my previous blog. Somehow, the universe sent him our way as J spotted him driving towards Praiano. And so, with my very limited Italian language skill, I called him and asked if he remembered me. He said, "Ah, Cristina. Si, si!". He said something like I drove you from Ravello to Praiano yesterday. After I confirmed that it was indeed myself he was speaking to, I asked if he could kindly pick us up from Marina di Praia. After roughly 10 minutes, he arrived.

The 10 minute journey from Marina di Praia to our Air BnB hotel went smoothly until it was time for us to pay. Nonno Raimondo asked for €90 for a 3.7km taxi ride. I was in shock so I asked him a few times whether it was €90 or €19. He had to write it down and when I realised he really meant €90, I was speechless. The three of us looked at each other and all we could say was, "this is total rip-off". I didn't see the point of arguing, so we amicably paid €90. As much as Nonno Raimondo was cute and sweet, he was crafty as hell. And because we trusted him, we didn't negotiate the price before we boarded his taxi. Oh well, another lesson learned.

Anyway, that evening, we travelled to Positano to try the Michelin-starred restaurant that a lot of people have been raving about. We took the local bus on our way to the restaurant for €1.30 per person, then hired a taxi on our way back for €35.

Overall, this day is truly unforgettable, despite the sea-sickness that left me feeling unwell until dinner, and being ripped-off by an old Italian man. First of all, the private boat ride was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I've always thought that cruising on a private boat in Capri was only for the rich people- (well, not anymore lol). It might be expensive, but once in while, we all deserve some luxury. And saying that, luxury is of course, better experienced with the right people.

Where we ate
1. Il Cantuccio- Massa Lubrense 80061, Marina del Cantone, Nerano
- This restaurant seemed like a tourist trap at first glance, but definitely not. The constant busyness of the restaurant is probably down to the fact that it has connections with boat companies and therefore, they bring all their clients to eat there. To be fair, there were also a few regulars when we were there. They seemed to know everyone and called each other by first name, so it was all good.

The service was friendly and quick considering the amount of people in the restaurant that day. We were seated as soon as we got in and our food came even before we realised it. J ordered the squid, Farrah the spaghetti alla Vongole (which is highly recommended) and I ordered the grilled shrimp. 

2. La Sponda- via Cristoforo Colombo,30, 84017, Positano
- As people who love to eat, we wanted to experience Michelin-starred dining in the Amalfi coast and so we booked La Sponda. With its grandiose interior lit up by some 400 candles and amazing views, it is no surprise that this restaurant is one of the most recommended in the Amalfi coast. Perhaps not that mind-blowing kind of food experience, but it was good nonetheless. Service was rather slow. There was a lot of waiting in between courses. My fish was lacking some spice and seasoning, but other than that, the rest of the food was good. There was also a complimentary tiered sweets and a take-away lemon sponge cake which was very thoughtful. On top of that, their musicians Franco and Andrea provided us with a very good entertainment. It was definitely a good night.
Photos by Farrah


The Charming Town of Ravello And Its Dreamy Gardens

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

On our second day in the Amalfi Coast, we divided our time between the bustling town of Amalfi and the sleepy town of Ravello. We spent more time in Ravello because we knew from our previous research that Amalfi is very crowded, especially because it was high season when we visited. As busy and uncomfortable as it was (because of the warm weather), we couldn't give Amalfi a miss and therefore, we spent a few hours in the morning to explore the town. 

So, we hired a taxi from Praiano to Amalfi for €40. For convenience, taxi was our choice of transport during this trip. It actually saved us from the inconvenience of waiting for the SITA bus and fighting for seats, then potentially standing in the bus for the rest of our journey. 

Our first stop was at the Duomo di Amalfi Sant' Andrea Apostolo (Amalfi Cathedral). With a very modest entrance fee of €3, we were treated to an amazing baroque interior, beautiful cloisters inside and out, interesting religious artefacts and the relics of St Andrew the Apostle. I realised that as a first-timer, admiring the impressive facade of the church wouldn't have been enough because the very heart of the Cathedral is the crypt. Well, in my opinion anyway.

As we were already in Amalfi Town, we thought we'd explore the place a bit more, hence we walked down via Lorenzo D'Amalfi- the main shopping street in Amalfi. As expected, it was too busy for me to fully appreciate what it had to offer. After more or less than a couple of hours, we decided to take another taxi to Ravello. I must mention that our taxi driver from Amalfi was Nonno Raimondo. He was this sweet old man, probably in his late seventies or early eighties. However, he was crafty too. We paid him €190 from Amalfi to Ravello, then Ravello back to Praiano. It wasn't bad for the distance I suppose, but my story about Nonno Raimondo doesn't end here. But let me talk about Ravello first.

Without a doubt, Ravello is our favourite town in the Amalfi Coast. Set in a mountaintop, it provides breathtaking views of the sea and the coast below. The main square (Piazza Duomo) emanated peace and tranquility despite the presence of tourists and locals alike. Walking along the narrow cobblestone streets in the summer heat was refreshing. In Ravello, you must take your time to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere, the scenic beauty of the villas that line up the winding streets, the vines on rustic walls and simply the genuine positive vibes that this charming little town exudes. 

The walk uphill to our first destination was quite challenging, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. There were a lot of pleasant surprises along the way, like Villa Eva which wasn't on our itinerary but since the gate was opened when we passed by, we went inside without realising that it is actually a private hotel. We managed to have a little walk in their simple yet romantic garden, until someone spotted us and ordered for the gate to be closed. By this time, we were on our way out anyway. Lucky escape indeed.
Villa Eva
Via Santissima Trinita
84010 Ravello, Italy

A few minutes walk from Villa Eva is Villa Cimbrone, one of the two villas on our list to see in Ravello. Villa Cimbrone offers beautiful sculpture garden and expansive sea views. The Terrace of Infinity which sits atop the cliff, overlooks the stunning Mediterranean sea. This enchanting garden is worthy of the challenging walk and the €7 entrance fee.
Villa Cimbrone
Via Santa Chiara, 26
84010 Ravello, Italy

Just a few steps from Piazza Duomo, and about 15 minutes walk from Villa Cimbrone is the Villa Rufolo. This dreamy garden is perfect for photoshoots ala sweet escape. The explosion of colours makes a very pretty backdrop. Not to mention the magnificent views of the coastline. This picturesque garden is a must see in Ravello. Entrance fee is only €7, which is cheap compared to what Villa Rufolo can offer. I read somewhere that the best time to visit the villa is between May and October. We went in August and the flowers were in full bloom. In fact, I found the bougainvilleas that I was looking for in this villa.   
Villa Rufolo
Piazza Duomo
84010 Ravello, Italy

Where we ate

1. Cuoppo d'Amalfi- via Supportico dei Ferrari 12, 84011 Ravello
- To be honest, I think this was the main reason why we wanted to visit Amalfi town in the first place. I mean, deep-fried seafood! Who would say no to that? A legit Italian street food place, Couppo d'Amalfi is a must-try in the Amalfi Coast. It is tucked away in a little corner in an alley just off the Amalfi Cathedral. We had the D'Amalfi for €12 and the Calamaro for €9. Everything was perfectly deep fried to crunchiness especially the shrimp, I actually ate the whole thing (yes- including the head, shell and tail). It was indeed pure deep fried seafood goodness!

2. Il Flauto di Pan- Villa Cimbrone, via Santa Chiara 26, Ravello
- We decided to have lunch at Villa Cimbrone's Il Flauto di Pan restaurant, however their main restaurant was closed at the time. We were given the bar menu and was offered a table in the garden instead. It was lunch with a view indeed and the food, although simple, was very tasty. We ordered the prosciutto and melon and the artichoke salad.


PRAIANO: Amalfi Coast's Best Kept Secret

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Positano and Amalfi are perhaps the most famous towns in the Amalfi Coast. A lot of people would probably prefer to stay in either places because I must admit, Positano, with its pastel-coloured houses perched on a cliff, is a sight to behold. It is indeed dramatic and elegant. This only means that Positano is very touristy and if you are looking for a peaceful place to stay whilst on holiday, maybe it is better to choose the least heard-of towns nearby. Amalfi town, on the other hand, is a major transportation hub and therefore very busy, too.

There is however, an equally picturesque town half-way through Positano and Amalfi town that is apparently often overlooked. The tranquility of the town provides that perfect place for much-needed rest and relaxation after a tiring whole day of exploring neighbouring towns. Despite not knowing much about this place, we chose to book our Air BnB accommodation here anyway. It was one of the best decisions we have ever made during this trip, as Praiano is definitely Amalfi Coast's best kept secret.

We spent our first full day in the Amalfi Coast exploring Praiano, which was a good idea as it was too hot during that day. First on our list was the quaint church Parrochia Di San Gennaro, famous for its beautifully decorated ceramic floor tiles. They also have the annual Luminaria di San Domenico Festival from the 31st of July to the 1st August wherein Piazza San Gennaro is illuminated by candles and the Chiesa by colourful lights.

Praiano is famous for its sunset because the town is facing west. Saying that, we were not able to watch the sunset properly because our accommodation was out of the way. Either that or we were exploring other places nearby. Apparently, the best place to watch the sunset in Praiano is at the La Gavitella beach. Be prepared to go up and down the challenging 400 steps, but I can guarantee you that it's all gonna be worth it as you will be rewarded with beautiful sceneries all the way- from narrow maze-like streets, to fish figurines, to a view of the colourful Positano from a distance. If you are not up for a swim just like us, there is always the Cala Gavitella Beach Club where you can sit, relax and enjoy some Cafe Shakerato.

Another place in Praiano that is worth visiting is the Marina di Praia beach where Torre a Mare is also located.  Torre a Mare is a medieval tower that houses the sculptures and artwork of the local artist Paolo Sandulli. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the tower as we didn't have enough time. The Fiordo di Furore is also a place that you must see when in Praiano.

On our last day in Praiano, I made an effort to wake up early in the morning to catch the sunrise up the hill. Watching sunrise has become one of my travel routines since I found myself wandering around Venice one cold winter morning a few years ago.  There is something about the stillness of the morning that somehow inspires me. It is not necessarily because my mind is clear and fresh ideas come in, but it has more to do with exploring an unfamiliar place in a peaceful morning by myself. This brings me comfort and confidence, knowing that I am able to do something on my own whilst the world is still asleep.

So, as I opened our apartment door, the cool morning breeze touched my skin. There was the unfamiliar floral scent from the neighbour's garden. I continued to walk up the steep steps of the narrow street, examining each house that I passed by. Everywhere was quiet at half past six in the morning. Then I started counting the steps. As I ascended to the top of the hill, a lovely cat greeted me. The cat purred and I said "hi" as I continued to walk. The cat followed me, and we both walked up to Parrocchia San Luca Evangelista, a church dating back to 1588. When I finally reached Piazza San Luca, I heard laughter echoing from a distance. The world was starting to wake up, but the piazza remained empty. I stood by the fence and watched small boats floating in the sea. It was a delightful sight indeed. I was totally absorbed by the beauty that surrounded me that I literally jumped when the church bell rang. That's when I realised that I have been out for almost an hour. I walked back to the apartment with my heart full and my mind refreshed, ready for the day ahead.

Where we stayed:
Casa Aurelia (Aurora), Via Umberto I, 48, I-84010, Praiano
- We had a very pleasant stay at Casa Aurora. Not only that it is spacious, but also very clean and close to amenities. There is a gym at the bottom of the hill. The bus stop is a few yards away. Two of the best restaurants in Praiano are just around the corner. There is also a grocery store at the bottom of the street. On top of all that, the view is magnificent. But most importantly, our host Anna was amazing. She was very kind and helpful. Check out her collection of ceramic plates which her husband apparently makes in his shop in Positano.

Where we ate:
1. Kasai- via Umberto I, 84, Praiano
- Kasai easily became our favourite restaurant in Praiano. The food was delightful and very affordable. The servings came very big, even the mussels for a starter. We also didn't make any reservations both times but we were seated quite quickly. I cannot really fault the service as everyone was very friendly and accommodating. Between the three of us in two days, we had a selection of some of the most delicious meals I've had in my travels: Trofie el Pesto, Tartufo Pasta, mixed grilled seafood, Cozze con Pomodoro and Polpette.

 2. La Moressa, Piazza Moressa,1, Praiano
- This restaurant was recommended to us by our host. It was the first restaurant we ate at in Praiano and we were not disappointed. It is quite a walk up the hill, but definitely a good one. I ordered Spaghetti "the ancient way" because I haven't had pasta with anchovies before, so I was very pleased that it was delicious. It was perfectly salty and the pasta was al dente. I would say, you must put La Moressa on your list of restaurants to try in Praiano. 
Photo by Farrah

3. Ristorante M'ama- Via Umberto I, 72, Praiano
- A fine dining rooftop restaurant boosting one of the most stunning views I have seen in Praiano. Their mouth-watering tuna steak that J had was unforgettable, it was cooked to perfection. My seafood risotto was very well seasoned and Farrah's fresh Tagliatelle with Squid Ink was delectable. Their dessert was impressive especially the four shades of chocolate. Besides the great food, customer service was efficient. We were also treated with some fireworks from the top of the hill. It was indeed an amazing food experience at Ristorante M'ama.

4. La Brace, Via Gennaro Capriglione, 146, Praiano
- La Brace is one of those restaurants that do not reflect their low rating on tripadvisor. With 3.5 stars, I didn't expect the food to be that good. First of all, their catch of the day which was grilled orata fish tasted so fresh. The grilled squid was such a treat I ate it all by myself. I would definitely recommend this restaurant for the good food, friendly atmosphere and the view.


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