It’s a unique place no matter where you hail from. In the states, it’s where the food, smells, sounds, sights and culture can be very different from the rest of the country.
And, it’s no different in Italy.
My boyfriend and I knew we had crossed the border into “The South” four hours into a five-hour road trip from Ancona to Salerno. Yes, the signs indicated we were leaving Lazio and entering Campania, but the drivers were the clear signal.
Drivers straddled the two-lane highway, drove on the right shoulder and regularly cut us off. You see road rules don’t apply in the south of Italy, at least that’s what most southerners will tell you.
After exiting the crowded autostrada into Salerno, we were met with a sea of cars and one way streets.
DAY 1, because our B&B was in the city center with no street parking, we decided to park our car in a garage for the weekend. A smart choice since everything in the city is within walking distance and most street traffic is limited to residents. Believe me, call ahead, pay the 25 euros and save your sanity. Also, if you plan to leave the city on a Sunday, make sure you can get your car out of the garage since most businesses are closed.
If you’re visiting Salerno or anywhere on the Amalfi Coast from Rome or Naples, you’ll likely arrive by train or ferry, respectively. The closest airport is in Naples. Leave your car behind. You won’t need it and you’ll find you can move around a lot easier without it.
Since Ancona is tucked away on the eastern coast of Italy, direct flights or trains were not possible, so driving was our best choice.
After a few wrong turns, we parked our car for the weekend and headed towards Il Campanile, a lovely bed and breakfast in the heart of historic Salerno footsteps from great restaurants and extensive shopping on Corso Emanuele.
Average summer rate is around 80 euros a night.
The building is a converted bell tower but the accommodations, located on the second floor, are completely modern and have air conditioning. I loved the little terrace in our room that was just big enough to look down at all the action through the cobblestone alleyways.
After settling in, we enjoyed Salerno’s nightlife, which included a delicious seafood dinner by the port and late night cocktails in Piazza Flavio.
DAY 2, we met up with a former colleague of my boyfriend’s who was kind enough to take us on his boat and show us around the coast. I grabbed a quick breakfast at Bar Rosa near our B&B and tried the traditional Campania sweet called sfogliatella. I wish I could say I was a fan of this ricotta-filled pastry, but this one was not good.
Maybe it was the crappy service I got from the bar employees, who apparently couldn’t make sense of my Italian and expressed it by wrinkling their noses and barking orders. Whatever the case, I had one bite and we were off.
We took a 20 minute ride from Salerno to Amalfi before we decided we couldn’t resist taking a dip in the deep blue Mediterranean. The water is so clear and the temperature just right. After a quick swim, our friends dropped us off at Amalfi and we had about an hour to explore before jumping on a ferry to Positano.
We scurried through the town’s narrow streets and stopped to speak to some kind locals who helped us locate the nearest farmacia (pharmacy). I was in serious need of some sea sickness medicine. The choppy waves and the crappy breakfast didn’t agree with me.
Our time in Amalfi was brief but I can still recall the giant lemons and fresh produce outside of every outdoor market we saw. Lemons are produced widely and with different variations throughout Campania.
You’ll find them in lots of drinks and dishes, so don’t leave without sampling.
After a quick lunch on a dock, we boarded a double-decker ferry for the 20 minute ride to Positano.
Positano was everything I had imagined. Beautiful bougainvilleas cover the trellises of almost every terrace overlooking the coast. The golden duomo and buildings old and new appear stacked on top of one another in breathtaking randomness and purpose. And the stony cliffside adds another unbelievable factor, as you sit their in awe of how centuries old churches and monuments could have been constructed at those soaring heights. The coastline is magical.
Of course there are the throngs of tourists and the stabilimenti (the umbrella businesses that stake claim to the beach), but it wasn’t as crowded as I expected. We stepped into a bar for some cool drinks. Lemon granita for me, beer for the boyfriend. He also got a side of attitude from a nasty waitress who seemed to have had it with tourists.
We walked a bit and decided to spend our time under the shade of a colorful umbrella. Then it was back to the ferry for a 75 minute ride back to Salerno.
We grabbed a delicious dinner at Mythos, a Greek restaurant near our B&B, and spent the rest of the night following the young crowds from one busy piazza to the next. We came across so many cool bars and spots off the beaten path this way.
DAY 3, our last day was spent sightseeing around Salerno. We hiked up to Giardino della Minerva, a multi-level outdoor garden that grows plants with medicinal properties. The centuries old property boasts beautiful panoramic views of Salerno, and also serves a refreshing lemon granita and sweet ginger cookies at the cafe on site.
We later walked down to the beachside promenade and shady park before having lunch al fresco at a delicious pizzeria called Spunzillo. Great pizza, salads, beer, and of course limoncello.
To cap off our trip, we were serenaded by a strange, amusing Italian man who insisted on circling around the block in his broken down Fiat blaring loud Tarantella Napoletana music and stopping every so often in front of us and other diners.
I loved it, but I’m glad the man and his creepy smile stayed in his car. I mentioned this to my Sicilian friend Serena, and she kind of shrugged her shoulders and confirmed this is a typical thing you’ll find in the south.
If anything, I learned the south can be sweet and sour like its lemons.
We regularly found southerners who were less than accommodating and frankly very rude whether on the road or in a bar. But for every one of them, there was a sweet local who was willing to direct us to the nearest pharmacy, give us advice on the quickest route to places, and even show us around the coast.
This weekend, we’ll be heading south again, this time to Ischia which is an island in the Bay of Naples.
I’m looking forward to seeing another side of the south and sharing it all with you.