If you have read any of my recent blog posts or seen my Instagram stories about Italy you may have sensed a hint of disillusionment. We’ve all seen the movies, the TV shows, the photography; setting the most romantic and unforgettable scenes in Italy. The famous cities and sights that virtually everyone knows about, even if they have never stepped foot in the country. I admit I was very naive about Italy.
Italy is a popular country to visit and this has implications
Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world, with over 52 million visitors flocking to the boot-shaped country every year. This big number has implications! You may read warnings: “don’t visit Amalfi in Summer, it is too crowded”. You will hear similar sentiments uttered about many Italian destinations. But really, the truth is that all the major Italian attractions and cities draw crowds almost all year round! If you don’t like crowds, visiting these destinations probably won’t be the most amazing experience for you. It is also unlikely that you will find a hint of Italian culture in some of these places as they have almost been re-engineered to extort as much money as possible from oblivious tourists.
You may disagree with me. However, if you have ever visited any Italian village/town/city that is unaffected by mass tourism the difference is blindingly obvious. It is really a double-edged sword because of course, any starry-eyed traveller (including myself) longs to visit these destinations. But sometimes these picture-perfect places are simply that and nothing more. That was a shock for me.
We visited in October with high hopes
We visited Amalfi coast in late October expecting to have one of the most amazing drives of our life! I imagined wandering through those picturesque towns by foot, trying local delicacies and simply taking in the atmosphere. I had seen the photos on Instagram and in guidebooks, I had been seduced!
The drive that begun from Sorrento started on a good foot. Driving through towns with a juxtaposition of luxurious villas and beautifully weathered buildings. We parked in a hotel car park to take in some early vistas of the coast. Small boats shimmied across the sparkling water and the towns from afar looked spectacular. The sun gently beat down, the weather was ideal for our drive.
We decided that we should get some fruit from a roadside seller, to save money and in an attempt to eat healthily. Marko engaged in a friendly banter in Italian with the fruit seller. The fruit seller selected for us two pears and two apples and placed them in a bag (it is often considered bad etiquette to pick your own fruit). We decided to have some of his homemade lemon granitas. This cost us 8 Euros (nearly $13AUD). We were shocked. Two cups of flavoured ice and four pieces of common fruit… 8 Euros. Okay, we accepted that Amalfi Coast is simply an expensive place. You can only imagine our surprise and disgust when we later realised that 2 of the pieces of fruit he had hand-selected for us were rotten. He served us rotten fruit with a smile.
The drive is a roller coaster
The drive between the towns was unreal. The narrow, winding roads are well maintained and the views are to die for. We stopped a few times to take in the views at lookouts. This was probably the highlight of this road trip. Unfortunately, as you get closer to each town and drive through, the dreamy day trip quickly turns into a nightmare. The traffic can get crazy on these roads, bumper to bumper. The driving by locals on cars, scooters and motorbikes can be questionable and dangerous. There are a lot of buses on this road, they need to overturn to get around the winding roads and it can be stressful to navigate around them. For the driver, it can be difficult to even get a glimpse of the vistas you drive along simply because the traffic consumes your attention.
There are also traffic lights that are littered along the coastline. This brings me to my next delightful tale. Marko had a green light and we continued to make our way along the road until we came across an Italian driver who had tried to overtake people who were waiting at a red traffic light!! He was sitting on the wrong side of the road, expecting us to reverse so he could pass. Marko rightly refused. The driver eventually angrily accepted that he had to reverse and get back into his lane. He reversed back. For some reason, when he was already safely in the lane, he reversed again. SMASH!!! He hit the mountain! He was screaming in his car like a maniac. This is not exactly how I imagined our drive on the Amalfi Coast.
Impossible to park and crazy crowds
Driving through the towns, crowds of tourists poured onto the streets. Sometimes it was like driving through a herd of sheep without a shepherd. There was nowhere to pull over and park, even for a moment. Your best bet is some paid parking, I don’t even want to know the cost of that let alone humour the idea. So, we didn’t actually get to walk inside the towns. I have mentioned in the past that I had a mild phobia of crowds. All my exposure in Italy to crowds has really helped that, I wouldn’t say I have a phobia anymore but I still don’t like crowds.
I have no desire to return – except by boat
Maybe you would have better luck visiting Amalfi Coast in winter but honestly, what is the point of that when the whole allure is the coast? It seems a lot of visitors come for a glimpse of luxurious, pretty towns but to me there is nothing luxurious about feeling like you are in a tin of Sardines. If I ever return, I want to visit by a small boat and visit the tiny beaches that are impossible to reach without a boat. I have no desire to visit the towns or drive that coastline. Ever. Again.
Amalfi Coast is not the place for a relaxing, scenic drive by any means. You can expect to be ripped off and drown in crowds of people. The best part is that Amalfi Coast is picturesque. That is all. Does that make a place worthy of visiting? That is up to you to decide. We had a lot more fun staying in small town nearby in Naples. Locals were good to us, food was brilliant (and cheap!) and it was very relaxing.
Of course, take my opinion with a pinch of salt. After all, I didn’t even set foot in the towns, so what do I know? Do take my word about the crowds in general in Italy. If you don’t like crowds and inauthentic touristic bullshit you will be sorely disappointed when you visit the most popular parts of Italy. In my humble opinion, ‘popular’ isn’t synonymous with ‘worthy of visiting’ because popularity alone can totally change the atmosphere of a place.
It depends what you are personally seeking for in your travels, to get glimpses of popular, picture-perfect places and have a disappointing experience or get off the beaten track and find the beauty in genuine, underrated experiences. That is up to you. I try to combine these types of experiences so I don’t end up feeling like I need a holiday from a holiday but that is just me.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below
Have you had a similar or opposite experience in Amalfi Coast? Or any other disappointments while visiting popular places in Italy? I am curious to read about them below.
If you are keen to read more about some of our shocking and surprising encounters during our road trip, check out this blog post.
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