The Italian Stallion

"It ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward." 

Rocky Balboa

The world, as we knew it would never be the same again. If you'd of told me a year ago that I would be writing a blog about travel during the height of a pandemic just 12 months later. It's not something I would have been able to process, but yet here we are and what a difference a year makes.

At the beginning of the year, the western world was pretty much unaware of what 2020 had in store us all. By the end of January, the media were circulating news of "This Virus" which seemed confined to the Far East. As a proportion of my travel business is Long haul travel to South East Asia, by the beginning of February, it became evident it was a real issue, and from there, things began to domino.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we saw before our very eyes that Covid19 had taken a firm hold of parts of Eastern Europe. In particular, Italy and by which time, we Brits knew it was just a matter of time until we had to brace ourselves for what was coming.
Seeing the devastating impact the virus had on Italy, really struck a chord with my heart. We saw footage of the Italian nationals playing instruments and singing to one another on their high-rise balconies to lift morale and the unforgettable air force flyover with Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma blaring followed by a magnificent red, green and white display.

Then came the UK lockdown, something no living person has ever endured before. There was no clarity in the site as to when we could go about our everyday lives, never mind travel again. I knew from the beginning that Italy was the first country I wanted to visit as soon as I was able.

My blog title "The Italian Stallion." came to mind the moment I stepped onto Italian soil— Reminiscent of the fictional film character Rocky Balboa, everyone I encountered from the local proprietors to hospitality workers. The people displayed such strength and resilience to what has happened, and their determination to move forward is nothing short of commendable. The Italians respect the virus, but they are fighters, and they're looking to what we all hope will be a brighter and prosperous future.

I'm sure we can all agree that the media have played a massive role in instilling fear into the general public. Still, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to provide an unbiased overview of what it was like to travel soon after lockdown restrictions were eased.

I had an idea in my mind of what the trip would be like, and I'm pleased to say it completed exceeded my expectations in so many ways...So here goes!

I decided to visit and tour as much of the Amalfi coast as possible over 5 days.
We travelled from the midlands to London Heathrow on the 16th July, which was the night before our flight to Naples. I booked an overview stay at the Staybridge suites close to Heathrow T2. Upon arrival, we walked through the revolving doors to find a hand sanitising station and a marked arrow floor to the reception area to be greeted with a lovely smile. The receptionist very kindly talked us through the check-in process which didn't seem too dissimilar to "normal" times. They notified us that masks were only required to be worn in communal areas of the Hotel, such as the reception area and lifts if with people not a member of our party.

We dined in the hotel restaurant that evening, the service was excellent, and it was a pleasure to speak with the staff who just happy to be back at work after several months of being on leave.

Experience of the airport

Due to our flight departing at 6.30 am on the 17th July, it was an early start of 2.45, and we headed to the Meet at Greet car park at Heathrow terminal 2. Following a swift car drop off, we approached the entrance to be greeted with a row of hand sanitising stations and signs that read masks should be worn in the terminal building.
Upon entering, the check-in desks were deathly quiet even though it was early. We'd booked to fly with Lufthansa airlines via Frankfurt Germany.

Check-in was a breeze, and we wandered through to security where there were no more than a dozen people. Once into departures, I can only describe it as eerie. It was a ghost town, and I checked a departure board to find that only 5 flights were departing over the next 3 hours.
Sadly, nothing was open until 5 am, and there was no option to buy a beverage until that time. However, there are water fountains located near the toilets if need be.

Experience of flying.

We boarded our flight, and there were no more than 30 onboard upon take off. We sat at the back of the plane. Lufthansa and most other airlines have made wearing of masks while flying mandatory. However, should you wish to eat and drink during a flight, you may remove your mask to do so. There is no limit as to how many times you can remove your mask. I chatted with the stewardesses for the 1-hour duration of the flight. We arrived in Frankfurt by mid-morning to a reasonably busy terminal, which felt normal. After a short layover, we were back in the air for the final leg of the journey to Naples, Italy. The flight to Naples was at full capacity, which was strange because most airlines have outlined they will be leaving the middle seat free. However, this isn't a legal requirement. Everyone adhered to wearing masks, and it was just 1 hour 20, which was fine, and I felt safe.
Most airlines are currently not operating food and beverage services for short-haul flights. Still, they do offer bottled water to passengers throughout the plane, and you can take on food and drink (Non-alcohol) for consumption during the flight.

Experience of Naples Airport & Italian entry requirements.

Italy, officially reopened for tourism on the 3rd June and by the 4th July, was added to the safe list of destinations that UK Citizens could safely travel to without the need to quarantine inbound or outbound. There are currently no entry restrictions for tourists arriving from the UK into Italy. Upon returning to the UK a locator form which can be found on the official UK.GOV site and must be completed within 48 hours of arrival. https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control

Upon arrival in Naples, I was extremely impressed by how organised they were. The entire airport has been restructured to operate as a one-way system. Clear signage everywhere and masks were required to be worn while in the terminal. One thing they have in place, which the UK do not is temperature testing of all arrivals and departures. You are scanned just before collecting your luggage before moving onto your planned destination. Upon leaving Italy, they have implemented a fogging system, so all passengers walk through a mist machine before boarding your flights. The UK doesn't yet have these procedures in place. I'm not too sure why?

Travel to Resort

I decided the best option was to book a private driver for ease and comfort for the journey to Praiano, Amalfi coast. (if you're feeling adventurous, the drive to Amalfi from Naples, it's pretty spectacular, and car hire is very straight forward. Trains are also an option, but the train station is 3km away from Naples airport, and you will also need to catch a ferry)
An impeccably dressed chauffeur greeted us with a "handshake." just a few months ago, this was a regular occurrence, and it was the first time I'd personally shaken a hand in 3 months and boy, it was well-received. :-)

The drive from Naples to the Amalfi coast is approx 1 hour 15 mins and quite possibly one of the most scenic hotel transfers I've experienced. The Coastline of this region is phenomenal.

Hotel arrival & Check-in

Throughout our stay, we based ourselves out of The Hotel Margherita in Praiano, Amalfi for numerous reasons which I will go into and will provide links for anyone planning to visit in the future.
Our arrival at the Hotel was perfectly timed for their 2 pm check-in.
The Hotel had reopened just 3 weeks before our arrival, by which time they were firing on all cylinders. They had taken every precaution and put modifications in place to ensure guests were safe and got the most of out of their stay.
The check-in process was a breeze; our temperature was read with the hand help devices which have now become commonplace. They explained that masks were only required to be worn in communal area's of the Hotel such as the lobby (Reception area) and lifts if you were with someone who isn't a member of your party. It felt normal and relaxed, after a full overview of the property, local area and potential excursions which could be planned from the property (My request) some pleasantries and more "handshakes" we were swiftly shown to our Seaview room.

Being a travel agent does have some fantastic advantages (perhaps not in the height of a pandemic), and some of us are lucky enough to be able to travel to incredible destinations all over the world. The part that most people don't see is that we continue to work even when onsite. I feel it's within my best interest to build meaningful relationships with hotel management, tour companies and destination management, and there is no better way than when my boots are on the ground. This enables me to offer my clients the best possible advice and guidance on where to stay and things to do so they can go away and have the best holiday imaginable.

Below I have highlighted recommendations for places to stay, eat, excursions etc. all of which I've personally experienced & Some of which I am affiliated with and can obtain very competitive rates for people looking to book with Wonderluxe Travel.

Hotels - I'll start with where we stayed for the 5 days we spent on the Amalfi coast.

Hotel Margherita Praino 4* https://hotelmargherita.info/
The Hotel is an absolute gem of a property, located in Praiano which is just a 15-minute drive from Positano and Amalfi Town which can be reached by bus which stops right outside of the Hotel. Perfect for those who love a boutique hotel. They have just 20+ rooms which are bright, modern but have that classic Italian charm. The views from the Seaview rooms are so amazing, and I spent each morning transfixed on the calm sea boat watching. Their onsite restaurant Mama boasts one of the best dining views in the whole of Amalfi. The restaurant has recently been listed in the Michelin guide for 2020, and all I can say is WOW.
The Hotel is perfect for those who are looking for a little luxury but have more of a modest budget. They offer a fantastic Half board package which helps to reduce the overall cost of your stay. The Half board offering includes the option of Breakfast plus lunch or dinner, which provides so much more flexibility for those wishing to get out and about to explore all that Amalfi Coast has to offer.
They have a lovely pool with an infinity view and sundeck, which sees the sun throughout the day.
There is an onsite open-air gym for those looking to work out, and they also offer spa facilities including private rooftop massages. I was extremely impressed by how well run Margherita is, and the staff are some of the most attentive that I've encountered in a long time, nothing was too much trouble for them.
Special thanks to Angela and Chiara who looked after my husband and me throughout our stay. They were always on hand to offer advice on transport, local tour companies, recommendations on places to go and see! I highly recommend a stay at this Hotel during your time in the Amalfi Coast.


Villa Treville 5* https://www.villatreville.com/
I first came across this eloquently beautiful property on Instagram about 2 years ago, and I knew I had to visit one day.
During our time in Amalfi, I was very kindly invited to carry out a site inspection of the property and dine in their infamous Maestro restaurant. More about that later on.
Villa Treville is a hidden treasure, and if you were not aware of its existence, you would never know it was there. The Villa is a truly unique boutique cliffside property, which boasts arguably the best views in the whole of Positano. My main blog image is you guessed it! (The Villa Treville Positano money shot) The property comprises of just 5 suites and 17 rooms which are split between 3 Villas.
The property is the first 5* villa complex on the Amalfi coast, where they offer their clients the highest level of service with meticulous attention to the finest of details. Given the location, you'll experience complete privacy while staying here. It's the perfect oasis to escape the external stresses of the world and now could not be a better time for that escapism!
Being shown around the grounds of the property which are so well established, there were times when It felt I was in the Caribbean or the jungle - The lush greenery of the vegetation was simply stunning. They even have the most fantastic greenhouse filled with tropical orchids and vines. Should you wish to watch the sunset while sipping your favourite Italian red or white in this location or somewhere else of your choice onsite - This can easily be arranged.
The Villa has the most fantastic abundance of history, with a selection of the suites being named after the Russain Ballet or some famous guests such as the infamous American composer Leonard Bernstein.
I didn't get the opportunity to view any of the suites but for a great reason. They were running at full capacity for the weekend, which was terrific to hear. Indeed not a surprise as I could see from the point of entering the property - They have the guest experience at the forefront of their minds, and they will tailor that to your exact requirements.
Following my tour provided by the Wonderful Daniela Barba (PA to the General Manager). We spent some time in the breathtaking Salone Biana which I can only describe a mystical Morrocan hideaway overlooking the Positano backdrop, with yachts and boats swaying in the crystal blue sea.
It's not often I become even more excited by a property once I've visited, but maybe it's because Villa Treville feels like home. I can't just recommend this Hotel. I implore to stay while visiting or dine with them at the very least. Thank you to Daniela and Aldo (F&B Manager) for looking after us, and I will most certainly be back.

Belmond Caruso 5* https://www.belmond.com/hotels/europe/italy/amalfi...
If ever you were looking for a getaway to the glamour of Amalfi, this certainly is the place for you! The Belmond Caruso is the epitome of history when it comes to Ravello or even Amalfi.
The first bricks of this spectacular building date back to the 11th century built by a wealthy family who found sanctuary in Ravello. The grounds of the property are centuries old and matured as if they've stood since the dawn of time. I'm sure if they could talk, they would have the most amazing stories to tell.
The journey from Praiano to Ravello is a beautiful drive. We Travelled through Amalfi town, which is quaint and very charming. Sadly we didn't get any time to explore Ravello, other than the journey to the Belmond.
The property stands at a mighty 320 meters above sea level and boasts views that only dreams are made of. Upon arrival, the exterior of the main entrance reminded me of a scene from a romance novel and screamed "Amore." We were guided through a tour of the property by the lovely Iolanda Mansi who is the front office manager - Her knowledge and insight of the Hotel were infinite, and it was great to hear that she was born and raised in Ravello. The Hotel boasts just 50 rooms, all of which are handpicked and allocated to clients based on their specific requirements. The Belmond offers a private shuttle service and even provide the option of a helicopter service directly from Naples Airport. Each suite is entirely individual with either a private balcony or garden, offering complete privacy for guests.
You could quite possibly spend an entire day exploring this extraordinary property and still not scratch the surface. The show stopper just has to be the mesmerising infinity pool with panoramic views over Ravello and Minori. Visually, it looks like you have reached the edge of the earth!
We also had the privilege of dining at the Belvedere restaurant, and I don't think we could have picked a more beautiful location to spend our last night on the Amalfi Coast. The Belmond offers complete serenity and a sense of wonder. Most certainly one of my top picks for an unforgettable stay.

Food

"I've heard people say that you've not indeed sampled Italian food until you've been to Italy."
I'll say one thing, and that is the Italians cook with love, and that love was well received!! We sampled some of the best dishes I've tasted in years. I've listed just a few of my recommendations for a culinary wonder while visiting Amalfi.

Mama Restaurant - The restaurant has been listed in this years Michelin Guide for a reason, each lunch or evening meal we stayed for, We were greeted with a glass of prosecco on arrival, and we sampled plenty of the local furore wine, which was divine. As previously mentioned, the restaurant boasts one of the most beautiful views while dining in Amalfi. you can eat here even if you're not staying at the Hotel Margherita. https://hotelmargherita.info/ristorante-cucina-med...

Kasai, Praiano - definitely the best eggplant parmesan that I tasted during the trip. The outdoor seating area is covered with vines and overgrowth. fantastic views https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1...

Maestro, Villa Treville Positano - The surroundings, ambience and service were just impeccable. We sampled a 7-course taster menu with wine pairing - Aldo, the F&B Manager, set the scene with his attentive nature and knowledge of food and wine. We were so impressed by what he knew, and we decided to let them take the lead and serve the dishes as they came, each course was a pleasant surprise. The way they preserve their wine is impressive and pouring via airtight gas canisters isn't something I've ever witnessed before. They even remembered that my husband and I were celebrating our anniversary the day before. We received a surprising delicacy at the end of the meal, which was a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend lunch or dinner at the Maestro. Go on and treat yourself :-) https://www.villatreville.com/restaurant.

Il Pirata, Marina Di Praia - Fantastic for people watching. Serving up the freshest seafood from the sea to the table on the very same day. My husband said they served what the best beef was. cappuccio that he's ever tasted http://www.ristoranteilpirata.net/

Aurora Ristorante Pizzaria, Sorrento - we struggled to find pizza on the menu while in Amalfi until we came across this fantastic spot. The pizza is excellent. I Highly recommend the stuffed crust. Yummy! https://www.pizzeriaaurora.com/

Al Grottino, Capri - The owner Gian Franco is the focal point of this fabulous Caprese restaurant, located a short walk from the main Capri square. We were treated to a stunning lunch. There are pictures all over the walls of their famous guest's such as Adam Sandler and Dolph Lungren to name but a few. Fantastic hospitality and it felt so good to be embraced when leaving. a hug goes a long way. ;-) http://www.ristorantealgrottino.net/menu.html

The Belvedere - Belmond Caruso, Ravello - This was to be our last evening meal in the Amalfi. It's an open-air restaurant, with the most beautiful views that one could ever imagine. They have the vastest drinks list that I've seen - 81 pages to be precise. I'm sure there is something for the fussiest of drinkers to wet their whistle. We sat in the bar and enjoyed an aperitif before dining. Their in-house piano player serenaded us, and it was just dreamy and so romantic. The F&B Team were both knowledgeable and attentive when guiding us through their modern yet classic menu.

Points of interest - I advise you to tourist twirl around the coast as much as you possibly can! We were only there for 5 days due to work commitments, and I would say it isn't enough. I would recommend 7-10 days to see and do everything in at a relaxed pace comfortably. I understand that everyone is different in their approach to tourism, what they like and what they don't. Therefore I will keep this very brief, however, should you wish to request further information regarding specific towns or places. Please feel free to contact us via phone or email (details on our contact page)

Positano - Lots of you will have seen the famous backdrop images on social media or the TV. It's a stunning place, lots of twists and turns that you don't see from the pictures.

Sorrento - Fantastic for those who like to walk and sightsee. Lovely beach club and Pebble Beach, one of the largest populated towns in the region.

Praiano - More laid back and quiet in comparison to its neighbour Positano, we stayed here for the duration of our stay. Close to the furore Wine vineyards and the stunning Marina Di Praia Beach which is just stunning and so laid back. Great for people-watching.

Ravello - I admit, we didn't get much time here at all and will most certainly stay here the next time we return, from what I did see, it's extremely traditional and very laid back. It's a great starting point for your holiday to Amalfi, and you can work your way back around the coast from there.

Capri - Well, what can I say. Caprese, you have my heart. It's a hard toss-up between Capri and Positano as to which is my favourite place! We hopped on a ferry from the port in Positano and spent the whole day in Capri. This place screams sophistication and elegance! from the moment you step of the boat. The area just has this aura about it. Me and my husband being the natural explorers that we are. We decided to walk from the bottom to the top near the main square via the steps in 28-degree heat!!! ERROR....it's a 20-minute incline on a good day. Safe to say our clothes were pretty much translucent when we reached the top. There are open-top taxi's and buses, which would be much enjoyable unless you want to feel like you've run an ultra marathon when you reach the top? :-D The main square is fabulous for people watching. Bar's restaurants, boutiques and designer stores are in abundance. I'd recommend staying on Capri for at least 24-48 hours to get the most out of the Island.

Transport

World Tours Italy https://www.worldtoursitaly.com/
Fantastic & friendly services, modern and impeccably clean vehicles.

Positano Car Service - https://www.positanocarservice.com/
we used their services on a few occasions, a fantastic fleet of vehicles and excellent customer service.

Amalfi Coast Private Car Service -https://www.amalficoastprivatecarservice.com/
We used this company for a full day tour and an evening in Ravello. Although private drivers may not be the cheapest form of transport. It's exceptionally comfortable; in essence, you have your private tour guide who knows the area like the back of their hand. It's a great way to pick up tips, and you're supporting the local economy, which could not be any more important than a time like this. I highly recommend their services, and they do go above and beyond for their clients.

Buses - Great for exploring by day or night. prices start from as little as 1.30 euro's one way which is cheaper than a bus in the UK. - Masks are mandatory at present when on public transport.

Boat tours & Ferries - We toyed with the idea of a private boast tour over to Capri, but we decided to opt for a public ferry, and we're glad that we did. We booked tickets via our Hotel with travelmar and travelled on an open-top ferry to and from Capri. Masks are mandatory when boarding, however, if you manage to snag a seat on the open top. There is no need to wear a mask while sailing. Cost is approx 35 euro's per person for a return trip https://www.travelmar.it/

Holiday Type & Suitability - The Amalfi Coast has something for everyone, whether it's a multi-generational family holiday you're looking for, couples - It's is the perfect place for a honeymoon or destination wedding. Groups & adventure and not forgetting solo travellers too. It's very safe even for women.

Verdict - I've been asked numerous times since returning from Italy. "What was it like and would you recommend that I go?" Firstly, I give thanks, and I'm incredibly grateful that I was in a position to be able to travel so soon after lockdown. 2nd I'm happy that we did. The Amalfi Coast is now one of the most popular destinations on the whole of Europe. I knew it would be an excellent opportunity to see it in all its glory without there being too many tourists. 90% of the people there were Italians who were on vacation from other parts of the country, and there were some other Europeans and a few Brits also. Flying is entirely different of course, but once you've arrived at a beautiful destination such as Amalfi, it isn't that bad. To be honest, I've been more stressed going through security at Heathrow on a "normal" busy day than I was flying in a mask by a country mile. We were welcomed with open arms by the locals (some hugs, and it felt beautiful, I won't lie) They've been through exactly what we're all going through. Uncertainty, fear and the thought of what comes next?
I'll always advise anyone to do what you think is best for you and yours. None of us has ever experienced anything like this before, and hopefully, we never will again once we win the fight against Covid19. The Italians are remarkable people, and the one thing I'll take away from this trip is their bravery and resilience! Yes, we all need to air caution when travelling. Wash your hands, carry some anti-bac and keep distances where possible. It doesn't mean that we can't live our lives. The hospitality and tourism industry was the pretty much the first to take a real hit, and we're likely to be the last to come out of this horrid situation. We need help to get through these dark times. Suppose you have no intention of travelling until 2021. It's great because it's still your intention travel, but if you're thinking of travelling internationally in 2020 and perhaps it's an unknown process that concerns, ask an expert, someone who has been away to get a real insight to what it's actually like. Better still, book with your local travel agent. With travel restrictions currently changing daily. It's a minefield at present, knowing what is required and what isn't. Let someone else take care that, so you don't have to worry. I genuinely take pride in helping others to build and create unforgettable experiences and long-lasting memories and believe that everyone deserves the Luxury of travel and travel in Luxury!

I sincerely hope you've found this blog useful and perhaps insightful. I welcome any feedback and would be happy to answer any questions or queries you may have.

Grazie for reading and Ciao for now. xx



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