Secret Hotels of the Amalfi Coast
Reid Bramblett scoured Italy's cliffside villages--and the island of Capri, while he was at it--for million-dollar views at hundred-dollar prices
The Villa Eva isn't just Eva Balestrieri's hotel. It's her childhood home; she was born in room 5. The room, which now welcomes guests, has a huge terrace, cupola ceiling, and walls covered in watercolors and chalk drawings. Eva's husband, Vincenzo, is the artist; he also made furniture throughout the property, and spent decades transforming the grounds into a carefully tended jungle. Stone paths twist past nooks and gazebos, and the outdoor pool and attached bungalow bar (with TV lounge and Internet stations). Cottages scattered about have been turned into guest rooms stuffed with idiosyncratic details: sculpted columns, Moorish windows, painted tile work, stained glass, old fireplaces, and Gaudi-esque chimneys. The main house consists mostly of oversized, multiroom suites designed for families or small groups of backpacking buddies. It's a warren, with many rooms accessible via outdoor staircases over the roofs of the rooms below, and lounge chairs on every available flat space. Villa Eva is halfway along the country road from Anacapri to the Blue Grotto. Take a taxi, or arrange for the hotel's shuttle to pick you up at the main Capri port or in Anacapri. If you really want to get there on your own, ask for specific directions when you make reservations or you'll never find the place. It's a 20-minute walk downhill from Anacapri--and a world away from the hobnobbing crowd in Capri town. Via La Fabbrica 8, Anacapri, 011-39/081-837-1549, villaeva.com, closed November 1 to mid-March, doubles $115-$145.
How to get around the Amalfi Coast and Capri
To go anywhere in this region, you have to pass through Naples--the only city in Italy where even Italians fear to drive. No matter how tempting it may be to rent a cherry-red convertible, tackling the Amalfi Coast by car is a mistake. Traffic is heinous (including jams at tight curves that require all stopped cars to back up in unison to allow the passage of a bus coming from the other direction), and parking is both exorbitantly expensive (upwards of $40 a day) and frustratingly limited.
Good thing there's an extensive public transportation system. At the Napoli Centrale station, catch the twice-hourly Circumvesuviana, a clattering old suburban rail line that'll take you to Sorrento (70 min., $4). From there, it's an easy transfer to a bus or a ferry.
Finding the Circumvesuviana, which runs under Napoli Centrale, is a bit tricky. Head toward the station's main exit, but just before you get there, look to the left for stairs leading down. Follow CIRCUMVESUVIANA signs; but partway along the hall, stop at the ticket windows you'll see on your left. Several commuter lines use the same platform; ask around to be sure the train is bound for Sorrento before stepping on board. Beware of pickpockets every step of the way.
To get to Capri from Sorrento, catch a taxi or a local bus to the docks for one of five daily ferries (20-50 min., $10) or 15 daily hydrofoils (20 min., $15).
To reach Amalfi, Praiano, or Positano, you'll need to head to the south side of the Sorrento Peninsula along the undulating Amalfi Coast Drive. This white-knuckle thrill ride is one of Italy's greatest wonders: just over 30 miles of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below, green slopes all around, medieval pirate watchtowers on the headlands, and colorful villages in the coves. Every 50 minutes, a SITA bus (sitabus.it) runs from the front of the Sorrento train station to Positano (50 min., $2.25) or Amalfi (100 min., $4). For the best views, snag a window seat on the right side of the bus.
The ride back hugs the cliff, cutting out the views, so a fast Metrò del Mare ferry (metrodelmare.com) makes more sense--especially if you find you can't stomach another bus ride. Ferry frequency varies with the season, but there are roughly three daily between Amalfi and Positano (30 min., $8), three daily between Amalfi and Sorrento (1 hr., $9), and two daily between Amalfi and Naples (2-2.5 hrs., $13). For the latest information and schedules, call the tourist boards, below; websites are nonexistent or not very helpful.
- Amalfi 011-39/089-871-107
- Capri 011-39/081-837-5308
- Naples 011-39/081-402-394
- Positano 011-39/089-875-067
- Sorrento 011-39/089-807-4033