Local and Luxurious Amalfi Coast Tours With Valise Travel Concierge
Have you ever wanted to travel a part of the world like a local but have no idea where to begin? Would you feel confident creating your own itinerary? How would you find the best local people to work with, trust them to discern your particular interests and deliver just the right experience? And just as important, would you trust them with your hard-earned budget? Then again, who has the time to do all this anyway?
Travel planning is a full-time job, so unless your boss is away, forget about doing much research at work. Many of you are not only looking to travel, but want the unique and local experiences we talk about on Travlinmad. I know this because I hear from you quite often with questions about the places we’ve been, where we’ve stayed, and the planning details you’re trying to get just right. I hear from those of you whose bosses really are away (or maybe you’re the boss) and you’re planning an independent trip when you’re supposed to be working! But what if you don’t? What if you want that experience without having to plan it yourself?
I get it. Travel planning not only takes time, but creating experiences that are truly unique takes expertise.
We love slow travel — spending more time in one place getting to know the local people and immersing ourselves in the place. We’ve taken several dedicated slow travel tours over the years in Italy including Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, and a lagoon island in Venice, staying in locally-owned agriturismos and spending our days getting to know the area’s winemakers, cheese producers, artisans, craftsmen, and farmers. We went glamping in Bela Krajina and slow traveled the South Styrian Wine Road in southern Austria last year. But we’ve never traveled on a group tour like the one I took to Italy with Valise Travel Concierge. Oh I’ve been on group tours before — enough to know we prefer to travel independently, taking small day tours and hiring local guides to help us explore unfamiliar territory. But my tour with Valise was different, like an untour kind of tour.
Who is Valise Travel Concierge?
Group Tours with Local, Independent Guides
This recent Amalfi Coast trip to the beautiful coast of southern Italy was a week long experience with active women, all of whom were over the age of 45. I had no idea what to expect when I was invited by Elaine Haffey, owner of Valise, to come along and experience one of her tours. A week on the Amalfi Coast, one of my favorite Italy bucket list spots? How could I say no?
Elaine is an avid traveler, fitness expert, and yoga instructor, who now runs curated small group, immersive travel tours all around the world. She’s been organizing tours for 8 years, and now runs 8-10 trips a year to exciting places like Morocco, Tanzania, Italy, Portugal, and Vietnam that include combinations of unique adventures you rarely find in a tour company and couldn’t begin to recreate on your own. Imagine trying to cobble together an experience of seeing the Great Migration of wildebeests across the Serengeti with just a few friends? Her travel experiences are curated for individuals and small groups with a focus on active exploration, cultural discovery and local engagement. Plus, it was no surprise that the food and wine were amazing, but I never expected to have a Michelin star food experience, let alone two. The tour was perfect if you’re looking for an intimate group tour that’s semi-structured with plenty of down time built in to enjoy exploring a bit on your own. But what if you want that experience without the group? That’s the really cool part.
This is where the concierge in Valise Travel Concierge comes in. Elaine loves hosting her group tours, and she is part of every tour that she runs. But for travelers who want a curated experience just for themselves and their friends or family, she’ll create an itinerary just for what interests you. Or maybe you’ve already been to Portugal or Italy and are ready to go a little deeper. Her customized Amalfi Coast itinerary — or to any of her destinations — will arrange every detail including lodging in her recommended accommodations, meals prepared by trusted local chefs, and activities and tours run by guides she knows and trusts.
I was excited to see what was in store but secretly worried how much I’d be getting in touch with my inner chakras or embarrassing myself on the new yoga mat I’d purchased just for the trip. While I occasionally attend a yoga class, I frankly wouldn’t know my tree pose from a down dog if a branch fell off and whacked me in the head. Then there was the idea of traveling with strangers, and just women at that. I just knew they’d all be hardcore — the kind of trekkers, yogis, and rock stars who make it look so easy.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our Amalfi Coast Itinerary
Our week in Naples, Sorrento, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast was filled with interesting and fun things to do, but not jam-packed to the point of exhaustion — a very well-paced Amalfi Coast itinerary. Who needs a vacation after your vacation, right? That’s the reason behind slow traveling. We were dropped off at our villa in Massa Lubrense where we based ourselves for the entire week. I knew right away that Elaine appreciated what it means to slow travel. Here’s our 7 day Amalfi Coast itinerary, but first…
So who was in our intrepid group? There were just 5 of us — from Massachusetts, Georgia, and Florida. Besides Elaine and me, there was:
Denise, an OR nurse who loves to read, talk politics (love that!), and travel to exotic places. She seemed to know her way around a yoga mat pretty well too!
Jan (sister of Catherine), a retired school teacher who was traveling abroad for the very first time. She’s born and raised in Georgia, passionate about her home and family, and still misses the little kids and their “angel breath” from school!
Catherine (Cay Cay), like her big sister Jan, is also a school teacher in Georgia, adores her teenage boys, and was traveling to Italy for the first time. She was a natural on the trail!
This gorgeous villa in the quiet neighborhood of Torca in the area of Massa Lubrense was our abode for the entire week. Each of us had our own room and bath but the common areas of the dining room, living room, kitchen, and expansive deck gave us plenty of room to stretch out — literally… the deck overlooking the sea was perfect for morning yoga-lates and Barre sessions. The pool area was stunning, although the early April weather in Massa Lubrense made it too chilly to swim.
Perhaps the best feature about the villa however had to be the talented and effervescent Giusy, our personal Chef for the week. Her cooking and dynamic personality made breakfast and dinners at the villa a highlight of our stay!
Day 1: Arrive in Naples and Tour Pompeii
With everyone in the group flying in from different places, we all arrived in Naples, Italy within the same two hours. All of us that is, except Elaine herself whose flight from Bologna had been delayed. Travel can be unpredictable sometimes and often requires us to practice flexibility. Fortunately Elaine had a Plan B in motion to accommodate her unexpected delay. Our driver Pasquale met the rest of the group at the airport and after quick introductions, we were off to the Roman ruins of Pompeii for a private three hour tour. I had been to Pompeii before and spent an entire day with my husband exploring the site on our own. But this private tour with “Ralph” (I’m sure his name was Raffaele who didn’t want us to butcher his name too badly), I learned more about the site and ruins than I had without a guide before. Afterward, we met Elaine out front, who had arrived while we were on the tour, and off we went to our private villa in the hills above Sorrento, in the area known as Massa Lubrense.
Day 2: Hike to Sorrento
We started the day with yoga on the expansive villa deck overlooking the sea. And honestly, it was great. It felt good to stretch from the super-long flight (to Naples by way of Moscow) and start the morning off this way. Today was our first full day of hiking, and I kept hearing we were going to hike to Sorrento, which surely was a mistake. Because after the van ride up the hill from Sorrento yesterday, there was no way I’d be hiking back down. Our guide Giovanni met us at the villa, a handsome young man who loves to hike the hills of Campania showing off his homeland to travelers from around the world. Giovanni is a wealth of knowledge about the local landscape, history, and culture of Campania, and his English is excellent. We began our hike along the narrow streets and back alleys of Torca, the small town we were staying in, occasionally straying from the pavement onto paths winding through groves of lemon and orange trees, stopping along the way to check out local plants used as herbs or for medicinal purposes, where the local women did their wash by hand in the early morning, or a good local bakery.
Several hours later we stopped for lunch at Il Giardino di Vigliano, an amazing property with a hotel, restaurant, and hundreds of lemon trees from which they produce the delicious liqueur limoncello for famous companies on the island of Capri. Our lunch was a perfect mezze of freshly-baked semolina bread topped with homemade olive oil and their own lemon and orange marmalade, two platters of fresh mozzarella cheese both smoked and aged, fresh green olives grown on the property, and of course lots of limoncello. After lunch we continued on. Down… down… down through public parks where families were gathered, and locals spilling out from Sunday church services. Our descent into Sorrento was so gradual I barely realized our altitude, though my ears gave it away when I couldn’t hear my footsteps anymore. A quick yawn and all was clear again, and on we hiked. An hour and 8 miles later, we reached Sorrento!
After some light shopping along the street, we rewarded our hard work with Aperol and Ugo Spritzes in the main piazza, then hailed a taxi for the ride back up the hill to the villa just in time for dinner.
TAXI TIP: Taxis in Italy (and in many other tourist places) line up behind one another in a queue waiting for tourists who need a lift. It’s tough to negotiate down a taxi rate since they all stick together in the queue, and this was definitely the case in Sorrento. Also, fares for official taxis outside tourist places are often regulated by the municipality. We’ve successfully haggled with taxi drivers before in Bologna and Florence, but it was always done away from the line of taxis and other drivers. Keep this in mind when trying to haggle a lower rate. Italians drivers don’t like to lose face in front of other drivers.
Day 3: A Day in Positano and Ravello
After the hike to Sorrento the day before, a day of exploring the famous Amalfi Coast was a perfect way to spend our third day. But first, another round of yoga on the deck. This time Elaine introduced us to Barre, and some serious moves I haven’t done since ballet class when I was 10 — the one that showed my parents that their money might be better spent on arts and crafts classes! Kidding aside, I was again reminded that this kind of leg workout is great before and after a strenuous hike. My legs felt massaged and ready to go again.
We hopped in the van and headed to the resort town of Positano, known even among Italians as one of the best vacation spots in Italy. We all went our separate ways to explore the town as we wanted and I immediately headed to my favorite spot in town, following the steps high above the beach overlooking the beautiful Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Strolling the town for these kind of stunning views is one of my favorite things to do in Positano. I was amazed to see so many familiar spots getting a facelift or fresh coat of paint, clearly getting ready for the onslaught of tourists who flock to the towns along the Amalfi Coast during the summer months. June, July, and August are the height of the tourist season, when tourism isn’t just heavy, it’s crushing — two hours to go two kilometers between Positano and Amalfi is insanity! I was so glad to hear Elaine runs her Amalfi Coast trips in early Spring and later in the fall.
After strolling the town for a couple of hours, we met back at the van for our ride up the mountain to lunch at La Tagliata before heading to Ravello. Lunch at this hilltop restaurant was an experience in locally-grown and produced food, a parade of homemade specialties selected by Massimo himself, the owner of La Tagliata. One by one, platters were set before us: side dishes of prosciutto and freshly pulled mozzarella followed by grilled vegetables, roasted eggplant, and roasted red peppers. Then the pasta course: gnocchi, gemelli, manicotti, and cheese ravioli, all homemade and dressed up in homemade tomato sauce (yes I’m a sauce girl, not gravy!). By the time the meat platter came, we were all too stuffed to eat. Nevertheless, we each tried a selection of their organic pork, rabbit, veal, and lamb, all of which are produced on site. OMG we were beyond stuffed, and yet miraculously when the dessert platter arrived, we dove right in! Why is that? Mounds of chocolate mousse, almond cakes, and tiramisu were devoured with glee, followed by — what else? — small tastings of the house limoncello, a perfect sweet ending to the gluttony. Come on, we were in Italy after all! By the time we reached Ravello, our carb crash had subsided and we were ready for more. We ended up at a ceramics shop and bought everything from colorful plates, platters, and mugs to limoncello sets. Come on, we were in Italy after all!
Day 4: Hike to Termini and Marina de Cantone
Any worry about overeating was quickly forgiven the next day when we set off on Hike #2 with Giovanni, this time down the other side of the Sorrentino mountain to the town of Termini, Nerano, and finally Marina de Cantone at the water’s edge. The van dropped us off near a local farm to pick up the trailhead to Termini, and the weather was cold and rainy, a thick soupy fog that hung over the mountaintop like a shroud. But by the time we reached Termini, the sun began to peek through, just in time for a toast of prosecco at a local restaurant. Just across the street, we enjoyed a limoncello tasting, followed by a stop at a local ceramics shop. This shop was different from Ravello and we watched as each piece was painted, glazed, and fired by hand. Then we were back on the trail heading down toward the town of Nerano, through a dense seaside forest and out to the open sea.
The water surrounding the Sorrentine peninsula and Amalfi Coast is an indescribable blue, with amazing scenery and gorgeous views around every turn. Near a hidden cove we picked up the trail again that wrapped around the side of the hill and led us to our final destination, the Marina de Cantone and lunch at the famous Lo Scoglio da Tomasso restaurant. From our outdoor table overlooking the water, we enjoyed a platter of appetizers like sautéed red cabbage, escarole, and spinach, roasted eggplant, and roasted red and green peppers, another huge platter of fresh octopus in a light vinagrette, and fresh anchovies (that are fresh and delicious, and taste nothing like their nemesis, canned anchovies). This was followed by a deep-fried course of fish croquettes, squash blossoms, and little bread pillows. Thankfully, the pasta course was light and simple — the local specialty of Spaghetti with sautéed zucchini and Romano cheese. At last, the main course arrived — fresh Sea Bream on a bed of lemony potatoes and capers, which was filleted table side. Hike, eat, shop, drink limoncello, repeat! I’m amazed we were still hungry for more at dinner that night, but Giusy’s Spaghetti with mussels, and Sea Bream and Shrimp really hit the spot.
Day 5: Free Day — Shopping in Sorrento, Pizza at Basilico, Dinner at Don Alfonso!
Today was our first free day to do whatever we wanted. So I decided against yoga or barre, and slept in. After yesterday’s hike, my legs were in need of some serious TLC and a long hot shower. One of the girls stayed back at the villa, reading and catching up on sleep. The rest of us caught a taxi into town for a little Sorrento shopping and lunch. The pizzeria Basilico came highly recommended by our driver and seconded by a friendly shop owner, so off we went for pizza.
Now, a word about pizza in Naples... I’ve said it before, eating pizza in this part of Italy will only break your heart. It ruins you on pizza forever. The pizza at Basilico was pretty amazing, just like Neapolitan pizza should be. Wood fired edges and pillowy in the middle. Mmm. I feel bad for poor Jan and Cay Cay, our two new travelers to Italy. Every time they eat pizza from now on, they’ll think of the pizza at Basilico, and they’ll weep for it just as I do.
And the most amazing part of the day? The food got even better. Dinner that night was at the 2-star Michelin restaurant Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’Agata, a must-try dining experience in the hills above Sorrento. From the exclusive tour of their pre-Roman wine cellar to the amazing array of dishes we were treated to, it was an evening to remember. Read all about our dining experience at Don Alfonso.
Day 6: Free Day — Sant’Agata
The weather gods didn’t smile on us today, originally intended to be our excursion to the island of Capri. Thankfully, Elaine juggled a bit and switched the boat tour from Sorrento to Capri to Friday, leaving us a free day to play in the rain. This time of year along the peninsula and over to Capri, weather is unpredictable, and rain and fog is not uncommon. We took it as a day to relax and check out nearby Sant’Agata, where we found another fantastic restaurant, the one-star Michelin rated Lo Stuzzichino. Lunch started with the most incredible rustic artisan bread followed by an app of sautéd eggplant in marinara — perfect for dunking the bread. Entrees were simple pasta dishes — mine had cherry tomatoes and prawns — followed by a shared dessert of lemony Tiramisu and espressos all around. Eat, shop, repeat!
After a perfect long afternoon nap, dinner that night at the villa was one of my favorites. Giusy made the prettiest and most delicious lemon risotto, beautifully presented in a fresh half lemon, followed by lightly fried calamari, and Italian pastries for dessert. There’s a definite theme here…nap, eat, repeat!
Day 7: Visit Capri
Our last day on the Amalfi Coast and the sun was out and shining. After a good yoga session and light breakfast, we got an early start for the marina in Massa Lubrense, where we would catch our boat to Capri. Taking a day trip from Sorrento to Capri is popular and a short ride. When we were in Sorrento years ago, we watched one rainy day as ferry boats bobbed about the choppy waters like toy boats, leaving Marina Piccola for Capri with a ship full of frightened (and nauseated, no doubt) passengers onboard. The weather today was beautiful but the water was still choppy, especially for the 26’ boat we were on, but the young Captain handled the single engine crossing with ease. We docked at Marina Grande, and stopped in the Salumeria de Aldo for some of their incredible fresh Caprese sandwiches. After buying our funicular tickets, we rode the cable car up to Capri town, and it was as beautiful as I remembered. There are so many things to do in Capri, but we were just here for the day, so some of the girls headed for some shopping and a picnic lunch of the Caprese sandwiches — a great way to lunch on Capri. Two of us opted to check out the Gardens of Augustus, and the nearby Carthusia Perfumery, a Capri tradition since 1948, where I picked up a small bottle of their citrusy Mediterraneo perfume. For lunch we headed to Ristorante Michel’Angelo, a wonderful restaurant and one of my favorite meals in southern Italy, tucked in the neighborhood near the Hotel Quisisana. Our appetizer cheese platter featured some of the best smoked mozzarella I’ve ever eaten, but the crowning jewel of the beautiful presentation had to be the creamy ball of burrata. Oh my. My seafood pasta entree and the Torte Caprese were divine, but I’m still dreaming about that burrata cheese!
TIP: Most travelers sadly do just a day trip to Capri, but it really does deserve more. It’s the kind of place where much of its magic comes late in the day as the tourists are leaving, the sun is setting, and narrow side streets are nearly deserted. It’s like having the most beautiful place on Earth all to yourself.
Dinner tonight at the villa was “Pizza Night”, and Giusy really outdid herself with pizza after homemade pizza coming out of the brick oven done to perfection. Our Last Supper was one to remember! And while I loved the pizza at Da Michele in Naples, and the Pizza Margherita at Basilico, I think Giusy’s first pizza out of the oven was my very favorite.
Simple. Perfect. The way traditional Italian food is. I can’t think of a better ending to a week filled with new discoveries, new friends, and plate after joyous plate of amazing Italian food.
Why Travel With Valise?
There are so many reasons a traveler would enjoy one of Elaine’s trips. Although I can only speak to this trip along the Amalfi Coast, I gleaned a thing or two about her travel values and aesthetic after our week together to know what one could expect from her other trip destinations as well. Elaine is gregarious and isn’t afraid to mingle with locals and make connections with their connections, which helps her create well-structured travel experiences that are unique, fun, and well-paced. She also builds in enough variation and flexibility depending on the activity level and interests of her guests, and readily welcomes changes in plans whether it’s from the weather, or even if the group decides they’d like to do something a little different that’s off-schedule.
For those who may be new to traveling, Elaine is an experienced traveler, who can be trusted to guide you through challenging situations and keep you safe. Her experiential tours help you see a place and the local people in ways that are unique and well off the tourist trail.
Travel to the Coast of Italy: Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
The cost of her Amalfi Coast trip is $3,000, which does not include airfare, tipping, or personal incidentals or purchases. Given the activities included and the service level at which they’re presented, I think it’s a very good value when compared to similar Amalfi Coast vacation packages, and considering what you’d pay for Amalfi Coast walking tours alone. Amalfi Coast vacations can get expensive, not to mention the time it would take for you to do the planning. Our tour included:
A week’s accommodations in a luxury, private villa with pool overlooking the Mediterranean Sea
Nightly dinners in the villa prepared by a gifted local Chef
Off-the-beaten-path hikes with a local guide to quiet neighborhoods and hidden gems known mostly by locals (some include lunch)
A private boat tour to and around the island of Capri
A private guided tour of the ruins at Pompeii
Several Amalfi Coast day tours to Positano, Ravello, and Sorrento (some including lunch)
I was a guest of Valise Travel Concierge on this tour. As always, all opinions, stories, and photos are my own based on my firsthand experience.
Truth be told, I was a little nervous about spending a week with new people in a place I’ve always shared with just my husband… a place where both our families came from. And it was tough gazing across the Bay of Naples to the home of my grandfather and great-grandparents from that gorgeous terrace at Il Giardino di Vigliano — after a few shots of their limoncello — and not feel sentimental. The sights and sounds of my childhood were all around me, and I wanted to share it with my sisters and family. But then I’d look at Jan and Cay Cay, at the fun they were having together and their joy at seeing Italy for the first time, and the experience was just as wonderful.
One thing is for sure — sharing new experiences with adventurous women and a whole lot of wine and laughs on an Amalfi Coast tour is a great way to travel! — xo
IF YOU GO
Valise Travel Concierge offers 8-10 unique trips a year including several Amalfi Coast tours and also to Sicily in southern Italy. Check out their website for more details. They also offer concierge travel planning services, crafted around your interests and preferences. Email Elaine directly for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.