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Shore Excursion From Naples: Picture-Perfect Positano

by Silke Elzner

When your cruise takes you to Naples, Italy you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to shore excursions. There are so many different ones to choose from, one more exciting than the next. I ask you, which Naples shore excursion would you prefer?

Your first option would be one of the most fascinating sites of the Old World, Pompeii. You second option, the Amalfi Coast, a stunning coastline with beautiful towns, one of which being pretty Positano. As the third option, there is the island of Capri just off the coast, a great day trip destination with stunning scenery and typical Italian la dolce vita.

So much to choose from and so little time – such a dilemma!

Decisions, Decisions: Which Shore Excursion to Pick from Naples?

When we arrived in Naples Cruise Port, we knew we wanted to experience something entirely different. Instead of the usual tourist staples we wanted to check out Naples itself on our shore excursion. Of course, the city has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places in Europe. Don’t go there, people will tell you. It is too poor, too corrupt, too dangerous. Yet, we reckoned that a tour exploring the Underworlds of Naples would be full of excitement, an experience quite off the beaten path. We were looking forward to discover a place that not many people would dare venture to.

But, alas, as it turned out, our choice was indeed too daring. The shore excursion that was offered by the ship was too off-centre and couldn’t spur enough interest. Subsequently, it got cancelled and we needed to change our plans and sign up for one of the other 25 tours. All of these would inevitably include a visit to Pompeii one way or the other.

I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed by this. Pompeii surely is an interesting attraction in the region. But I felt that I needed to see something different. In the end, we did book an excursion to Pompeii, but we made sure we also spent half a day in pretty Positano. I am happy to confirm that we thoroughly enjoyed both destinations and that it took us less than five minutes to get over our initial disappointment. So let’s have a look at our shore excursion experiences of Positano.

The legendary Amalfi Coastal Route - quite miraculously it takes up space that doesn't really exist.

The legendary Amalfi Coastal Route – quite miraculously it takes up space that doesn’t really exist.

From Naples on the Amalfi Coastal Route to Positano

The route from Naples to Positano was quite a remarkable journey. We first drove through a landscape that had once been severely effected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. We came past villages whose names sounded familiar – Stabiae and Herculaneum still rang a bell after years of Latin studies.

We followed a road that looked unlikely to be a popular tourist route, right through the centre of villages, narrow and winding. At times, the road was so narrow that there was no footpath to either side, just tall walls that were fencing in gardens and backyards of the village houses. It was a challenge for our driver, and an interesting way to slow down our journey and enjoy the scenery.

It was only after this initial stretch of the route that we finally reached the beginning of the spectacular Amalfi Coastal Route. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, to honour this outstanding example of Mediterranean landscape. The cliffs here were steep and towering, unforgiving and humbling. Thanks to the UNESCO heritage status the coastline was protected from any further development. This made purchasing real estate almost impossible for newcomers. But it also secured this beautiful stretch of Mediterranean Coast in its current picturesque condition for future generations.

There was hardly any space for the road, let alone for the villages. Every usable square metre was occupied here, sometimes in the most ingenious way. Properties needed to cling to the cliffs, their gardens cascading down to the coast. Marinas and beaches, artificially created for tourists and day trippers to add appealing features to the ancient villages. Parking lots by the side of the road, fully enclosed by the tall walls of a former quarry.

Spectacular outlook on the coast around Positano - sheer limestone cliffs, endless tunnels, man-made marinas and beaches, and above all the endless blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

Spectacular outlook on the coast around Positano – sheer limestone cliffs, endless tunnels, man-made marinas and beaches, and above all the endless blue of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Eternal Blue of the Mediterranen Sea

As we traveled down this impossible road, passing through incredibly long tunnels, making use of concrete bridges that hug the walls in the most precarious way, we realised how one-dimensional our perception had become. To the left there was nothing to see, just the sheer limestone mountains with their sparse vegetation.

But to the right there was the dramatic coastline of the southern Sorrento peninsula. The endless blue of the Mediterranean Sea. This early in the morning a haze shimmered over the water’s surface, blurring the lines of water and the bright blue summer sky. We saw tiny islets dotting the indigo sea. Small yachts criss-crossed the waters, their white hulls blindingly white in the harsh morning air. Crumbling watchtowers were hiding in this impossible landscape. We spotted a hermit who had found his exclusive spot in a remote bay just outside of Positano.

On and on it went, until finally, after many twists and turns and lefts and rights, tunnels and bridges – we finally arrived in Positano. Or rather, we arrived at the end of the queue of busses and cars waiting for their turn to enter the village centre. A traffic jam of the unexpected kind.

Our first glimpse of Positano revealed the challenges motorists and pedestrians face every day. Since we were stuck in a massive traffic jam, we had plenty of time to study the scene.

Our first glimpse of Positano revealed the challenges motorists and pedestrians face every day. Since we were stuck in a massive traffic jam, we had plenty of time to study the scene.

A Vertical Village Made for Film-Stars

Positano was a vertical village. In this rugged landscape, where the steep cliffs met the sea in the most dramatic fashion, there was no space to be spared. As we were siting in the car queue waiting for our turn to enter the city centre we had plenty of time to study the town from above.

Only the very top roads were broad enough for traffic. Even then it was a challenge even for smaller cars. Parking spots were rare and treasured. From the initial net of roads that allowed traffic, maybe they were a handful, no more, the streets flowed down to the sheltered bay. In these lanes it was pedestrian traffic only.

Positano entered the world stage during the times of the great seafaring nations. It was a busy trading port for many centuries and served the Amalfi Republic which traded locally acquired salt, grain and slaves for the gold dinars of Egypt and Syria. With this they in turn bought Byzantine silk which was a desirable good in Western Europe.

Shopping is big in Positano: Boutiques and souvenir shops sell everything from the cheap and tacky to the elegant and pricey.

Shopping is big in Positano: Boutiques and souvenir shops sell everything from the cheap and tacky to the elegant and pricey.

Later, the people of Positano turned to fishing. By the mid-nineteenth century the economy was in shatters. Many left the area to seek their fortune in other places, most notably in America.

It was the tourism in the 1960s that brought a breeze of fresh air back into the villages of the Amalfi Coast. Musicians and poets felt inspired by the romantic flair of the town, the pastel houses and elegant boutique stores. Italian cinema made Positano popular, the fashion industry embraced its raw and unspoilt charm.

Today, Positano is one of the most famous destinations along the Amalfi Coast, a perfect honeymoon destination, a beach resort for families, and shopping mecca for anyone looking for Italian style fashion and homewares.

Positano is a day trip destination that requires some mobility. Stairs and steep, narrow roads make exploring the town an outright adventure.

Positano is a day trip destination that requires some mobility. Stairs and steep, narrow roads make exploring the town an outright adventure.

Walking Down to Positano Beach

After a lot of chaos which involved at least half a dozen of uniformed police controlling the traffic flow in a semi-logical way, we finally pulled up with our bus at a petrol station. From here it was just a short walk to the beginning of the pedestrian zone that was not unlike many other village roads throughout Italy.

In fact, Positano strangely reminded us of the streets of Venice, with the difference that Venice didn’t have any mountains and Positano didn’t have any canals. The atmosphere here was authentic and came  with small imperfections like crumbling house fronts and smelly back lanes.

We followed the flow, taking the steps downs to the bay, past trestle tables with cheap jewellery and tacky souvenirs. Wisteria covered the walls and the pergolas of many broader streets. The thick flowering carpets blissfully offered shade and bathed the scene in a prism of colour.

There is a lot of charm and romance in Positano's streets. The wisteria canopies in particular provide precious shade and an intoxicating natural perfume.

There is a lot of charm and romance in Positano’s streets. The wisteria canopies in particular provide precious shade and an intoxicating natural perfume.

There was little sense in our route which leads us left and right and down some stairs and past some dead ends. But you couldn’t lose your bearings in Positano as all routes would eventually take you down to the water and to the beach.

We saw the typical mix of shops and boutiques along the way, invitingly calm and relaxed backyards of luxury hotels with their stiff looking waiters and trickling water fountains.

Many day visitors arrive by ferry in Positano. The views from aboard the ships must be spectacular.

Many day visitors arrive by ferry in Positano. The views from aboard the ships must be spectacular.

Pizze e Limoncello

Down by the water it felt like any other Italian seaside resort. We found a shady spot in a pizza restaurant and ordered some cheap but surprisingly tasty slices of pizza. It was too tempting not to order some limoncello afterwards, a lemon liquor that made the most of the melon sized lemons that are harvested in the dark volcanic soil up to three times a year.

Our last walk before we had to return to the bus took us along the beach promenade. The sun lounges and umbrellas were standing orderly in line on the beach like soldiers. They were awaiting the masses of tourists that were just about to conquer Positano via the arriving ferry boats. The newcomers undoubtedly would be greeted by the most amazing sights.

They would see the slopes with the colourful houses. The pretty church of Santa Maria Assunta in the centre. The classic Italian chic that had its roots in the 1960s.

Picture-perfect Positano: A towering, vertical village that seemed to defy the laws of gravity. It took us away to places that were almost to surreal to believe. A worthy shore excursion from Naples? We let the pictures below speak for themselves.

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This vintage Italian movie poster printed on tiles reminds of great Italian movies from the 60s which made Positano popular with artists and film stars.

This vintage Italian movie poster printed on tiles reminds of great Italian movies from the 60s which made Positano popular with artists and film stars.

This church right by the beach is one of the first sights that visitors see when they arrive by boat.

This church right by the beach is one of the first sights that visitors see when they arrive by boat.

Space is at a premium in Positano. The mountains around the town are very, very steep.

Space is at a premium in Positano. The mountains around the town are very, very steep.

In summer, light and colour add a lot of charm to this pretty Italian town.

In summer, light and colour add a lot of charm to this pretty Italian town.

Houses hug the steep mountainsides. There are no new developments permitted to protect the unique landscape of the Amalfi Coast.

Houses hug the steep mountainsides. There are no new developments permitted to protect the unique landscape of the Amalfi Coast.

Many little details like this Madonna picture make this town a joy to explore.

Many little details like this Madonna picture make this town a joy to explore.

Not sure how you feel about these balconies but the look of them really sends shivers down our spine.

Not sure how you feel about these balconies but the look of them really sends shivers down our spine.

Colourful houses overlooking the beach in Positano - picture perfect.

Colourful houses overlooking the beach in Positano – picture perfect.