Back when I was a guide, I always started my tours with the same speech. “At the heart of every travel story,” I would tell my guests, “is a love story. Maybe you fall in love with a country’s food. Maybe you fall for that country’s music, or its art. Maybe it’s a place, a small café or a bakery or a boutique. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s even the person you’re traveling with. The story you tell your friends and family about your trip will be that love story.” I spent seven years guiding tours around Europe, and as both a veteran guide and a frequent Italy traveler I can safely say that nowhere is this more true than when you’re experiencing Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast. Love is certainly woven into the region; it’s said that it was named after a nymph who was romanced by the legendary hero Hercules. It seemed like the perfect place to take my husband; we had gotten married the previous spring. I’ve been all over Italy, and the Amalfi region holds a special place in my heart; this would be Jason’s first time there, and we were both excited to have our first Classic Journeys adventure together.
During the drive up to the rim of Mount Vesuvius, the most infamous volcano in human history, my husband Jason had a huge grin on his face. “It’s not going to erupt, is it?” Our guide Sergio, who’s no doubt heard this question hundreds of times over his guiding career, paused. “Probably not.” Another pause, and then a laugh from Sergio. Still, there’s a gravitas to Mount Vesuvius, destroyer of Pompeii, and its power is almost tangible beneath your feet. Jason devours history books; he’d told me that this was the part of the trip he was the most excited about, and reiterated that as we were getting ready for the walk to the summit that morning. The guide in me wanted to advise him that our jaunt to Vesuvius was just Day One of our Classic Journeys Amalfi coast trip, and that he should pace himself, because as awesome as Vesuvius is, all sorts of wonderful things lay ahead. This was his first trip to Italy, so I decided to not give him any advice, and to let everything be a surprise.
The trip to the island of Capri almost made me regret that decision. There’s nothing quite like zipping across the placid Mediterranean in a high-speed hydrofoil; the alsicafo provides a very smooth and very fast ride across the Gulf of Naples, and my husband would have been very happy riding around in it all day. Once we got to the island, he didn’t need any convincing to stay. Capri has been called the world’s most beautiful island, and this isn’t Italian pride talking: with its warm blue waters, stunning peaks, and vibrant villages, it’s unlike any other island we’d ever been to. Staying at the Grand Hotel Quisisana certainly added to the experience; the five-star accommodations and incredible staff made us feel like royalty. “Tiberius had the right idea,” Jason observed on our second day there, referring to the ancient Roman emperor who made Capri his seat of power. “Rule the Roman Empire from Paradise, eat great food, swim in that warm water; it’d make the job much less stressful.”
After two days in paradise, it was back to the mainland - hardly a letdown. Le Agavi Hotel in Positano looks like it came with the cliffs; that somehow, millennia ago when the rock formations were rising from the sea, a resort eventually just grew out of the sheer granite face to overlook the ocean. When you stay at the Agavi, the only way to get a bad view is to close your eyes. We’d be here for the next three days, the resort serving as a stunning home base for our adventures in the Amalfi region.
As I learned as a guide years ago, reinforced by my current role with the Classic Journeys team, it’s the people you’re with that make the trips worth taking. Of course, as with everything in life, pizza helps. We were invited to join pizza maker Luca and his family for a lesson in how to create the wood-fired pies that have become a global favorite. Sipping wine that the family had aged in their own barrels, flour up to our elbows, sneaking bites of delicious fresh buffalo mozzarella, and laughing with our hosts over our amateurish struggles with the dough, I exchanged a happy glance with Jason, and I knew that it was here that my old introduction to my travel groups once again proved to be true.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelli Kuehner is a Senior Tour Operations Coordinator for Classic Journeys, overseeing operations and logistics for France, Iceland, Ireland, and Cuba. Prior to joining Classic Journeys, Kelli spent seven years in Europe and the U.S. as a cultural travel guide. In addition to her passion for travel as a vital transformative experience, Kelli’s favorite pastimes include hiking, running, cycling, writing, snowboarding and - solidified by a year spent working for a cooking school in Paris - cooking. She lives in north San Diego county with her husband Jason and two step-kids.