Italian beaches

As I’m sure you know, Italians in major tourist destinations speak great English, so if you know prego for please/you’re welcome, buongiorno for good day, buonasera for good evening, and grazie for thank you - you are set, especially if have the Google translate app handy. You don’t need to tip in Italy, and most restaurants don’t even have an addition line. However everyone appreciates cash tips - so we did find an ATM to get more cash in euros along the way.

Puglia

We joined my side of the family for my mom’s 70th birthday in Puglia at the incredible Borgo Egnazia Hotel. It’s basically a candle-lit white stone palace on the Croatia side of Italy. My oldest, youngest and I flew to Bari via Paris while my husband arrived (also via plane to Bari) after landing in Rome. My middle met my parents in Rome after a graduation trip and took the train to Bari. A private car ride to Borgo is about 1.5 hours from Bari. Borgo arranged the transportation. The Bari airport is tiny, kinda like the Monterey airport, or any regional US airport. Beauvais, the small French airport we left on Ryanair from is also a small regional airport. I’m not sure if it was Ryanair or BVA that was the shitshow, but it was an experience. There were super long security lines, and I was beyond thankful I had purchased “fast track” with our Ryanair tickets. I was worried our luggage might be too heavy even though I had purchased first row tickets, but we only had to pay nominal overage fees to check the bags. You can’t carry on normal roller carryons either; they have to fit in a skinner rack to go through security. It would be soul crushing to go through that horrendous security line to then get turned away and go to the check luggage line! We had to pay to check the overweight bags at the counter then go to a cashier then back to show the receipt (not back through the line though) then through security fast track line but our tickets didn’t register fast track. We had to go back to the cashier, show my email receipt and get a stamped 1990s style receipt. Then they forced us through fast track. Holy. After clearing that mess, it seemed very few people were at the gates. They were all stuck in the front half of the airport. The flight was an hour delayed but no one except us seemed to notice and lined up for an hour anyway LOL. The seats don’t recline and they offer for you to buy drinks, perfumes and makeup during the flight - weird but Ryanair seems to have a monopoly in the area.  

My mom reserved the owner’s villa inside the hotel grounds (Villa 100) which was insane. It had 7 bedrooms plus a little nanny bedroom, a tennis court, a large pool and an outdoor dining area. Two ladies cooked a huge breakfast from scratch in our kitchen every morning, made up the rooms and started laundry. Another sweet lady came in the evenings to tidy up and continue laundry. The house also came with a private concierge, Maria Teresa. She was amazing. We formed a big WhatsApp chat group and she arranged everything from restaurant and spa reservations to car and boat rides to amenities. I highly recommend this type arrangement for a big birthday type celebration split between 7 couples or a large mutigen family celebration like ours. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Husband and I occupied one of the two "twins” rooms on the upper floor. The beds were converted to a king, and it was spacious and beautiful - great closet, pretty small bathroom/shower but very luxurious sheets and insane balcony/view. My three grown-ish kids occupied the bottom of the three floors each with their own king bedrooms and bathtubs. All the rooms in the villa have french doors that open to an outdoor patio.

The hotel has a large double adult pool, a kids pool with an amazing pizzeria attached and two beach clubs accessible by golf cart, bikes or mini car rides through the golf course. The lobby is entirely lit with candles and has little sitting nooks all along the way.

There’s an amazing vegetarian restaurant on property as well as a Michelin-starred coursed dinner restaurant. There’s a lively bar with live music at the back of the lobby area, which is also near the spa, boutique, gelato shop and main swimming pools. They built a little town square type area where they host a weekly festival with music, dance, food buffets and entertainment. It was really fun.

The spa is gorgeous - also all candle-lit and entirely made of white limestone. They do a Roman Bath experience that is co-ed and nice with a pool sequence of different temperatures. The medium pressure massage was very light. I should have booked deep tissue. It was like a relaxing olive oil application but not ridiculously priced, so I wasn’t upset about it. 

We took a boat along the coast to some adorable beach towns, like Monopoli, where you can find local beach clubs with wonderful food and beach chair rentals. I had the best lobster pasta there for 15 euro while my kids had the best fried chicken sandwich with barbecue sauce and these potato fries in the shape of thin potato skins that I swear were fried in Puglia’s famous extra virgin olive oil. Insanely good - also relatively inexpensive. There is a famous swim spot and caves, Polignano a Mare, with a large platform for diving where the Red Bull Dive was about to happen. We saw the platforms all built and ready. 

Amalfi

We sent the kids home with my parents via the train to Rome and took a 4 hour private car ride from Puglia to Amalfi. We arrived at Hotel Santa Caterina which was truly the most magical hotel property I have stayed at, because of the multiple levels of flowers, basil, rosemary, lemon trees all carved into walkways on the side of the rocky cliff along the coast. The staff was delightful, and we had a beautiful a la carte dinner at their Michelin-starred restaurant just before fireworks went off nearby celebrating their bi-annual religious festival of St. Andreas. Pure magic. The beach club is fabulous too - tiny and reserved for hotel guests. You take an elevator down to the ocean and they have beach chairs, a saltwater plunge pool, stairs into the ocean and a bar ready to serve lemocello cocktails and fresh pizza. Dream.

Our room was also an Italian fantasy - colorful patterned ceramic tile floor and a stunning balcony overlooking Amalfi. The bed was a little hard and the sheets a little rough linen-ish, but they had a jacuzzi tub overlooking the ocean, a duvet in the closet and Bvlgari amenities, so it was all good. 

A lavish breakfast was included and appreciated. Fresh orange juice, pastries, fruits, breads and made to order eggs and meats with a stunning view.

Ravello

We only stayed at Santa Caterina for one night, and they arranged a driver to take us to Ravello for a half day then on to Positano. We left at noon with a mandatory 4 hours in Ravello which we didn’t think we would use - but we ended up staying until 3:30. We had a reservation at the Caruso restaurant at the Belmond Hotel there, and it was incredible. The chef brought over a fresh selection of oyster and caviar then live lobsters (3 kinds!) and fresh caught fish. We tried the sampling caviar and chose a lobster. Lunch was fantastic - what a treat with another stunning view! The cocktail I chose had lemon sorbet in it. I was transported back to the 90s with Lemon Chills at Six Flags but to add vodka and maybe some Prosecco in a chic setting - inspiring if I ever start having dinner parties again! After lunch, we took a photo by the iconic infinity pool and walked around the small tranquil town. We bought entry tickets to an old villa/garden that was interesting to explore. We payed a visit to the oldest ceramics factory on the Amalfi coast and met the owner, Margerita. We found out she ships tables to the Dallas store Jackson’s Home & Garden :) 

Positano

After about an hour and a half drive from Ravello back through Amalfi, we arrived in Positano. Along the way, we learned that Amalfi was the first major town on the coast, and that they made compasses. I met Carla and Antonio Sersale about a decade ago in Dallas through a dear friend. I told them I would visit them, and finally I made it. Their hotel, Le Sirenuse, is spectacular. They just finished a new pool by super artist, Nicolas Party, and it is absolutely a stunning mosaic masterpiece. Apparently it was really hard to facilitate while they were closed for 5 months to keep the area climate controlled to perfection. Well-worth it and bravo! We found the perfect little two-seat nook at the side of the pool, right under our room, in complete shade too. Our room overlooked the pool and the ocean, and it was stunning. I think it was one of the less expensive category rooms, and it was perfect. The furniture seemed brand new. The double shower and all marble bathroom was stunning as well as the bright colored porcelain tiled floor of the room. They had a smart built-in bar that I want to copy someday in a guest room. Same rough-ish linen type sheets but perfectly comfortable enough with the added duvet. I love a cold room with a heavy cover and both Amalfi coast hotels provided that environment, so I was happy. All the room amenitities and little gifts were very well curated at Santa Caterina and especially at Le Sirenuse. More than at Borgo actually. It’s apparent that Le Sirenuse has been a family run operation since 1951 - they know how to host!

A beautiful breakfast is included, and we dined at both of their restaurants, Aldo’s and candle-lit La Sponda. They were both delicious. We loved Aldo’s honey bbq octopus and lobster burger with picked zucchini. Yum.

We took one of the 12 spots on the Le Sirenuse boat and got dropped off to lunch in Nerano at Lo Scoglio. We had a 1pm reservation, and it took a few minutes to get the table since it was a super busy Saturday. We got a fantastic table on the deck over the ocean and happened to see a Dallas friend sitting directly in front of us! Lo Scolglio is known for the zucchini pasta, and it lives up to it’s reputation! The beach club on both sides of the restaurant is less chic than I had imagined. The chairs are aluminum, and it felt like a public beach. The rocks are gorgeous though. Definitely take crocs if you want to walk into the ocean for a dip. We stopped on the way to Nerano for a swim off the boat in the turquoise water. I have to say, a Cover swim shirt is an absolute essential for easy chic sun protection and temperature control on a boat day! The temp was perfect in late June. The weather was ideal too at about 85 degrees. On the way back, we hit some waves and i lost my phone. I was sitting on the front of the boat by the rail, and it flew out of my hand. Oops. Couldn’t buy a euro iPhone so had to halfass my photos and instagram stories with husband’s phone for the next few days :) Kinda nice to have a kind of adult camp anyway I guess!  I always post tons of story pics to remind myself what to write on the plane back.

After we got cleaned up, we met our close friend's brother and sis-in-law from Boston and Carla and Antonio Sersale at Aldo’s for the best limoncello cocktails and conversation. Loved chatting with Carla about her brand, Emporio Sirenuse, and our shared experience lately with our major retailers and the consumer landscape. Love my fellow female entrepreneur fashion friends! Also loved their perspective on global politics. Best Saturday!  

I had booked spots on the Sunday boat ride along the coast but opted out to chill by the pool before heading over to Da Adolfo for lunch. OMG. It’s the most unassuming dive beach club restaurant but the best food I think we had on the entire trip. It’s priced super fairly and is crazy fresh. The spinach salad with sour grapefruit and lemon paired with the caprese salad was insane. The clam pasta and the octopus were delicious. YUM! The beach is also rocky with aluminum beach chairs, but the rocks are smaller and still smooth. We took the first shuttle from the main Positano dock at 12:30 for our 1pm reservation. Since the Da Adolfo return shuttles don’t start until 4pm, we WhatsApp’d Le Sirenuse to call us a water taxi when we were ready to head back. The ride cost $25 euros paid via Apple Pay, cash, credit card at the dock upon the return and only took 5 minutes to arrive.

I’m glad I didn’t book a private boat since our hotel offered boat rides included in the stay. If I felt like we could leave our kids in the states and stay longer, I would have booked two nights in Capri after Positano and planned a swim by the Blue Grotto. With our limited time, I think I planned it perfectly. 

I was really nervous about the stairs in Positano. It wasn’t bad at all. I absolutely hate crowds and following where everyone else goes, so I had pretty much avoided the area until we were in such close proximity that I couldn’t resist.There is nothing to be afraid of - at least coming from Le Sirenuse, you take an elevator down to about -2, then you go down some pretty private stairways which lead to about 3-4 levels of somewhat crowded stairs, but I never felt panicked at all. I didn’t have to touch people. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I have a phobia, seriously.  

I always do my own travel research, but I have to give credit to my three best friends and my sister/bro-in-law for the beach club and town recs here. I had such limited time that I didn’t want to get anything wrong, and they were right-on (thank you guys, if you are reading this :)

Rome

We took another four hour car ride to Rome from Positano which came out to about the same amount of travel time as a car ride to Naples plus a train. It was a little more pricey but quite a bit less hassle since we didn’t have to deal with luggage at the train stations or an uber to our Rome hotel.  

I loved Hotel de la Ville in Rome. The staff members were super helpful, and the room was insane. Our room had a breathtaking view of the top of the Spanish steps, the Trinita de Monti and Palazzetto Zuccari. Super comfy bed/linens, big full marble bathroom with big bathtub, rain shower, a bidet as always in Italian bathrooms…very luxe. The concierge got us a coveted reservation at Les Bolognese (where I ran into more Dallas friends) which was only a short walk away in Piazza del Popolo. I was dying over an indoor table of Italian older chic ladies, one old man and two mini toy poodles. One kept barking, and the owner was completely unbothered. Walking up the Spanish Steps on the way back to our hotel there was a musician playing and singing a Harry Styles song, and it was interesting because we heard a single musician in Portugal playing Harry back in December. Sunday night around 10:30 is lively and cute around that area. 

After breakfast, we loaded up and left for the airport three hours before our flight. We passed by the Roman Forum and the Colosseum on our way. If I had my phone, I would've taken pics. I was expecting a nightmare, but the travel process was super easy. We went all the way to the beginning of Terminal 3 to the American Airlines counter to check our bags, then followed the American flag signs into the “fast track” entrance through security then through passport control (which took about 15 minutes). From there we went to the Plaza Lounge which AA contracts, and I went shopping in the Prada duty free shop :) That’s really all the shopping I did in Italy except to buy the girls little horn necklace charms that are supposed to be gifts of protection and linen shorts for husband with embroidered lemons :) When in Rome (or Positano LOL). We did have to catch a shuttle to the gate but it was fast as well.

As always, it’s a joy to share my travel notes and recs - it’s a true passion. Sorry for the bad grammar and run-ons. Not a writer obvi. xoxoxo