At least the way back was the worst part of the driving along the cliffside coastline. Most of the time, the sun shone bright and there was little traffic on the one main drag. This is part of the reason we decided to go on an Italy road trip in the dead of winter – some choices of restaurants and accommodations were sparse, but so was the crush of tourists. February seemed like the perfect time to check out southern Italy for the first time.
So, we sort of skipped Naples all together. I’m sure it has its sights, food and fun like most iconic Italian cities. But we arrived late at night to pick up the rental car, and all I could see was seedy chaos and lots of aggressive drivers. We were tourists, half lost and overtired, so again I’m sure the city can be charming. But after the first harrowing encounter we decided to use our time elsewhere.
The little village at the top of the cliff was our home base. A beautiful Airbnb away from the main square was just big and cozy enough for two to four people, complete with a terra cotta balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn’t decide what was prettier – the clear blue sky or how the cobble stone steps leading to the cottage looked in the pouring rain.
In the winter some (and rainy weather) some of the shops were closed, but there’s still plenty to admire in Ravello. Have an espresso and pastry in the square, and finish an evening at the mom-and-pop restaurant Cumpa Cosimo. This was easily the highlight in Ravello and we went back twice. Almost empty, run by an older couple who serve up piles of fresh pasta and fairly decent house wine. The older woman in a lemon-decorated apron kept grabbing our chins when he wouldn’t finish his plate. I will say though, check your bill or tally in your head what you’ve ordered. The owners tend to ‘estimate’ the total and announce it at the end of your meal, overcharging sometimes for the dishes that what’s marked on the menu.
Also in the village is the stunning Villa Rufolo. This property has been loving restored over the centuries and boasts the best views of the Mediterranean in town. Walk through the open-air courtyard like looked to me like a church and go out back toward the manicured gardens full of brightly colored flowers. In the summer, the villa hosts concerts and the Ravello music festival.
The crown jewel city sits on a scenic harbor about 2 hours south of Naples. When thinking about how and Italy road trip might look, you must be imagining a postcard from this place. The harbor front has a few cafes and stores, but seems more for just taking in the views of brightly hued boats and mosaic walkways.
Go into the center of town to find a lively piazza that has a couple homemade pasta joints and gelato stands. It’s fairly touristy, but enjoyable to sip something strong and watch countless people go by. If there’s time, pop into the beautiful Amalfi Cathedral that dates back to the 9th century. There’s a beautiful mother-of-pearl cross on the inside, and outside it’s adorned with Byzantine-style paintings.
Father down the mini peninsula is a town that’s really for the locals, but can give insight to daily life in southern Italy. February meant things were very empty – barely a soul in the main piazza. We poked around some shops and had an average lunch. The ocean view is nice, but a little worn from constant cruise traffic. It was easy to find cheap parking and walk almost anywhere though. We stopped for some Nutella gelato and a couple strong coffees that made the trip in town worthwhile.
On the way back to Naples from Ravello, we took a detour off the coast to Pompeii. This can be a trip in itself, but having the afternoon was plenty of time to get acclimated. There’s actually several sites with ruins to explore, but the main Pompeii ancient city is the most famous. You can walk for hours along cobblestone streets that are centuries hold, peering into homes, bath houses, graveyard, churches and even stadiums. Most of the artifacts have been moved into storage, but these line the main square so you can take a peek at the pottery and tools. What’s most fascinating and tragic are the plaster molds of human bodies and animals recovered from the eruption.
Prepare for potential rain if there in the off season – it was pouring buckets when we arrived and everything is open air. If you’d like more information, there’s optional audio tours for a fee or personal guides in any language under the rainbow.
If looking for more information on Italy, check out Jet-Settera’s guide to the Amalfi Coast! Have you ever been on a road trip in Europe? Do you travel in the off-season?