Southern Italy in 14 days

Highlights:

  • Hike the path of the gods for stunning panoramic views of the Amalfi Coast.
  • Sail around Stromboli at night for spectacular views of the volcano's lava flows.
  • Learn how to cook traditional Calabrian recipes in Tropea.
  • Sleep in a cave in the Sassi District of Matera; one of the worlds oldest towns. 
  • Enjoy fine dining in the cliffs of Polignano a Mare; deep inside Ristorante Grotta.

Day 1: Positano (Amalfi Coast)

Fly into either Rome or Napoli, pick up a car and drive south to the beautiful Amalfi Coast.  We suggest setting up a base in the Amalfi Coast for a minimum of five nights and where better than the picturesque town of Positano!  Positano is the perfect spot to set up a base but can be expensive, crowded and it has limited parking so for an alternate (but just as good), try the small town of Montepertuso situated directly above Positano. It is a 30 minute walk down to Positano; the walk gets you off the road (and onto stairs) and gives you a taste of what it's like for the locals, whilst offering beautiful views of Positano all the way down.  Montepertuso is also good for free parking. However, we suggest you take the local bus (Positano - Nocelle) back up!

Montepertuso - Montepertuso literally means 'hole in the mountain'

Montepertuso - Montepertuso literally means 'hole in the mountain'

Day 2: Positano - Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii & Herculaneum 

Drive towards Napoli (about 1 hour) to Herculaneum and Pompeii.  Do both if you have time if not I always lean towards going to Herculaneum as it is in better condition than Pompeii and has less tourists.  Whichever one you choose, make sure you find yourself a private car park - do not leave your car parked on the street as there is a risk of car theft in the area.  After you have finished wandering through the eerie ancient towns, head up to Mt Vesuvius for stunning views of the Bay of Naples and inside the volcano.

Mt vesuvius - view inside the crater - some days it steams more than others

Mt vesuvius - view inside the crater - some days it steams more than others

Day 3: Positano - Capri

Take a boat from Positano (plenty of options in summer) to explore Capri. The Blue Grotto is an absolute must when going to Capri. Try and get to the Grotto early before the lines become too long. To get to the Blue Grotto take a boat from the main port of Capri to the Grotto. Once outside the Blue Grotto you will have to wait until one of the Gondolas picks you up off your boat and first takes you into the Grotto. 

Tip - Some gondola 'captains' will allow you to go for a quick swim in the Grotto for a small tip.

CApri - blue grotto

CApri - blue grotto

Day 4: Positano - Path of the Gods

Today will be one of the highlights of your trip. The Path of the Gods starts in the small town of Bomerano. To get to Bomerano make your way to the pretty town of Amalfi; if you are staying in Positano take a boat to Amalfi (cost 8 euros). Then take a bus to Agerola and hop off at the Bomerano stop. You can buy the bus ticket at the tourist office directly opposite the port and they will be able to tell you the bus timetable. In general buses leave to Bomerano in summer about every 1-2hrs.

The hike itself takes about 3-4 hours and takes you from above Amalfi along the cliff top all the way back to Positano. The hike offers incredible panoramic views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, Positano and Praiano. This is an absolute must! The hike is essentially all down hill if you are going towards Positano and can be easily completed by almost anyone. However, it does get quite hot in summer and therefore we would suggest you do it as early as you can on days that are forecasted to be hot.

Path of the Gods! Hiking about Praiano and Positano on the Amalfi Coast. Absolutely Stunning!

A photo posted by Nick & Alana (@licenced2travel) on

Day 5: Positano

Have a day to yourself in Positano or anywhere else on the Amalfi Coast to enjoy the beach, go shopping and/or to relax before moving further south. Look out for the small boats that take you to private beaches and restaurants. For more information refer to our guide to the Amalfi Coast.

Day 6: Maratea - Ravello & Paestum

Drive south towards Maratea, making sure you stop off at some hidden gems on the way!  Firstly, take the coastal road from Positano past Amalfi towards Ravello. Ravello is a beautiful little town high up in the mountains. Here visit either Villa Rufolo or Villa Cimbrone Gardens for incredible views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and gardens, not to mention a coffee in the main square!

Next, drive south towards Maratea and stop over in Paestum. Paestum has three very ancient Greek temples which are in excellent condition and well worth the stop before making your way to Maratea for dinner.

Day 7: Maratea

Maratea is a really cool hilltop town about 3 hours south of the Amalfi Coast. The town gets very few non-Italian tourists. In July it can get overrun by tourists; however the rest of the year it is very quiet for Italian standards. Come to Maratea to relax on the beach and wander through a beautiful old town.  If you have an extra night up your sleeve, you have to spend it here!

Maratea has one of our favourite restaurants in Italy; Taverna Rovita. This restaurant is relatively inexpensive but offers terrific fresh local produce, homemade pasta and a friendly atmosphere; well worth the visit!  Make sure you ask for their recommendations!

For more information review our visit our detailed guide on Maratea.

Maratea

Maratea

Day 8: Tropea

Today, drive south to Calabria. You might ask "where is the best place to stop between Maratea and Tropea?" In all honestly we would drive straight to Tropea, and quickly!  After being to the Amalfi Coast and Maratea you would think the whole coast is littered with beautiful hilltop towns; however, the way to Calabria straight through endless industrial towns which have completely ruined the natural scenery and any cultural landmarks.  If you really do need a stopover, we'd recommend Pizzo - known for the best Tartufo and has a landmark or two that may be worth the visit.

When you get to Tropea, have a wander around the old town and make sure you make your way down the stairs to Santa Maria Dell'Isola - a small church and garden opposite the town, just above the beach. 

For a great experience take a cooking class in a local Calabrian Farm. We went on a Tour with In Italy Tours which is run by Tania, a lovely Australian from Sydney originally. Everything is organised for you - we were picked up directly from our hotel and taken to a farm about 30 minutes out of Tropea where we met a local family who gave us a very enjoyable evening of cooking and eating.  This was absolutely fantastic - Tania was amazing, the hosts were lovely, the food was INCREDIBLE and the wine kept flowing all evening. For more information refer to her website: http://www.initalytours.com/

TRopea - view from Santa Maria dell'Isola

TRopea - view from Santa Maria dell'Isola

Day 9: Tropea - Stromboli

Today you can either drive 20 mins up the road from Tropea to the emerald beach at Capo Vaticano. The beach at Capo Vaticano is consistently named in the top 100 beaches in the world for its calm crystal clear water.

For a truly unique experience sign up for a tour of Stromboli by night. Stromboli is a volcano located off the coast of Tropea; on a clear day you can see it on the horizon. The advantage of the night tour is that you can clearly see the red lava sparks erupting form the volcano. Many tour companies offer a tour to Stromboli combined with a visit to the Aeolian Islands. 

Tropea

Day 10: Tropea - Scilla

Drive 90km (1.5 hours) south to Scilla a beautiful fishing village in Calabria. The main focal point in Scilla is its fortress situated above a very relaxing beach. The town is littered with seafood restaurants that serve deliciously fresh seafood from Calabria; Swordfish is its specialty. From Scilla, Sicily is only a stones throw away and you can easily see the Sicilian coast from the beach.

SCilla - View from the main town before walking down on to the beach

SCilla - View from the main town before walking down on to the beach

Day 11: Matera

Drive 310km north east to the truly remarkable town of Matera (this is an absolute highlight!). Matera is one of the oldest towns in the world and there is evidence to suggest it has been inhabited for the past 100,000 years. The oldest area of Matera is its Sassi district; houses here have been carved out into the limestone hills. 

Matera is still relatively unexplored by tourists and you can wander through the old town, into former dwellings or churches built into the hills without getting bumped into, wait in excessive lines or have people get in the way of your perfectly timed photos.

Get to know the Sassi District by organising a private walking tour of the town. This is relatively inexpensive and the guides around the city are terrific at setting the scene and painting a picture of what it would have been like living there.

Matera - Sassi district of barisano

Matera - Sassi district of barisano

Day 12: Matera

Wake up early and go for a quiet walk around the town and imagine what it would have been like to live there 1,000 years ago. Things to do and see in Matera:

  • Go inside a cave dwelling (try Casa Noha or Casa grota di Vico Solitario).
  • Visit some of these incredible churches:  San Giovanni Battista, Santa Maria de Idris and San Pietro Barisano.
  • Hike down into the gorge in front of the Sassi District for unique views of the town and a walk around the Parco della Murgia Materana.
matera - sunset view of the sassi district caveoso

matera - sunset view of the sassi district caveoso

Day 13: Polignano a Mare

Polignano a Mare is 75km (1.5hrs) from Matera. However, before you get there, we have a few important stops for you. The first stop is drive to the other side of the ravine in Matera to get amazing views of the Sassi. To do this you need to head North out of the town towards Bari until you hit the Stada Statale 7 (Via Appia) and head East for about 5km before you need to take a sharp right towards a caravan park. Put the following address into Google Maps: Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100 Matera, Italy. 

Make sure you have a light breakfast because you are about to have an amazing lunch for which you want to be as hungry as possible!  Head to Osteria Appia Antica, which is in the middle of a small town called Santeramo in Colle. The town itself is nice but usually wouldn't be worth a stopover except to visit this restaurant. This was the best restaurant we ate at in all of Southern Italy. The restaurant specializes in local dishes from Puglia and for 64 euros (total) we both had a set menu and a bottle of wine.  Wow!!  We didn't have a booking but if you get there just after it opens for lunch, you should be find to get a table.

Complete the day by arriving at the resort town of Polignano a Mare. Perched high up on the cliffs, the town offers a great atmosphere (actually feels slightly hipster) and a perfect base to come home to each night after exploring Puglia. The added advantage is that Polignano a Mare (and the rest of Puglia for that matter) has not yet been turned into to an exploited tourist town; you'd be lucky to overhear any English.

Polignano a mare

Polignano a mare

Day 14: Polignano a Mare - Grotte di Castellana, Alberobello & Locorotondo

Today's day trip will see you drive a round trip of only 70km but we assure you that you will experience three very interesting places. The first stop is at Castellana Grotte; an incredible cave system about 70m below the ground.  Join one of the tours and and walk the three kilometre circuit to the incredibly beautiful White Cave; named for its transparent stalactites and stalagmites.  Very cool.

The next stop is to see some "trulli" (sorry, we couldn't resist the pun!) distinct architecture admired around the world. The town of Alberobello is famous for its 14th century Trulli houses. The cone shaped houses have been done up and are definitely worth a stop and admire the gnome like dwellings. Also look out for the small trulli houses along the way on the day's drive.

The final stop is the beautiful whitewashed town of Locorotondo.  There is not much to see here in terms of tourist attractions but just walking around the old town drinking coffee and taking photos is enough to have a very enjoyable experience! 

What better way to top off the day by having dinner in a Grotto. Ristorante Grotto in the Hotel Grotto Palazzese is situated in the cliffs below Polignano a Mare and provides an incredible setting for a very enjoyable meal.  We can't stress enough how amazing it was to eat here - it is very much worth the $$$ spent!!  Tip: make sure you book! 

Castellana grotti - main entrance cavern

Castellana grotti - main entrance cavern

Polignano a mare - ristorante grotta

Polignano a mare - ristorante grotta

Day 15: Home

Final day - you have many options as to how you get home or to the next part of your trip. You can fly out of Bari airport, take a ferry to Croatia or Greece from Bari, or drive back to Napoli (if that is cheaper for your car hire; though some car hire companies such as Sixt do not charge one-way fees when you pick up and drop off in the same country).

We hope you end up going to Southern Italy and enjoy it as much as we have!