I recently traveled with my sister, Nelda, to the Amalfi Coast of Italy for a dream-come-true trip. Nelda and I had long talked about taking a trip like this together that involved eating and sightseeing along with authentic Italian cooking classes. We wanted to experience the cuisine and beauty of this region of Italy in an intimate "non touristy" way, and Nelda found a small tour for us that delivered in every way.
This post provides an overview of our trip with a small sampling of the gazillion photos I took. In future posts, I'll be sharing recipes for some of the amazing dishes we ate and learned to prepare.
Delectable Destinations is a small tour company that offers authentic, intimate travel. Led by owner, Carol Ketelson, our trip to the Amalfi Coast provided the perfect blend of eating, cooking, wine, and culture in settings that were off the beaten path. Thanks to Carol's exquisite taste, we experienced the best of the Amalfi Coast from the picturesque villa where we stayed, to the cooking and eating experiences, to the tours of coastal towns, to family-run vineyards, lemon orchards, and restaurants.
One of the things that sets Carol's tour apart is the small size of the touring group. She includes a maximum of 7 people on her tours. That way we could all fit in a small passenger van. Most importantly, the small group size meant that we could visit places that would never be able to accommodate large touring bus groups. Our expert driver, Roberto of Amalfi Coast Destination, transported us to one fabulous location after another. Roberto was so much more than a driver--he added fun, flair and festive Italian-American music to the trip that resulted in laughter-filled sing-alongs as we drove along the narrow, winding roads of the coast. That's amore!
Through the years, King-Man and I have traveled abroad extensively, often bringing our two boys along as we were raising our family. Among our favorites were trips to the Galapagos, Egypt, Greece, Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes we traveled on our own and planned our own itineraries. Other times we explored foreign countries on large tour buses where the schedule and itineraries were planned by professionals. We've traveled via private tours as well. I've loved all of our past trips, but this trip via Delectable Destinations surpasses them all. Small, intimate, and simply wonderful.
Here's a photo summary of our 10-day trip.
Nelda and I flew into Naples a day before our Amalfi tour began. We walked the narrow, ancient streets of Naples, first with a private guided tour and then on our own. The distinctive food of the region was on display everywhere we walked. There's a pizzeria around virtually every corner, so, of course, we had pizza for our first Italian meal there. Because when in Naples...
The next morning, it was on to the Amalfi Coast. Roberto picked us up, along with the 5 other tour members, and off we went.
The grounds of the villa are abundant with lemon, orange, and olive trees that provide the villa with the freshest ingredients for making their own limoncello, marmalades, and olive oil. I began each morning with a walk through their vegetable garden that was the source of fresh ingredients for the meals there. (A bonus treat was listening to their gardener in the distance singing in Italian as he worked--loved that!) On my morning strolls, I often encountered Roberta's father, Alfonso, who stopped by regularly to say hello and make sure everything was running smoothly.
They have their own chickens, too, and they were real beauties. I joined Ilaria when she gathered eggs for us to enjoy with our breakfast. Speaking of breakfast--WOW. Roberta and Ilaria prepared a huge spread for us every morning that we enjoyed at an outdoor table that overlooked the ocean. What a way to start the day!
The industrious Coiffi family that runs the villa also has two shops in the scenic little town of Ravello, a short walk from the villa. Roberta's mother, Carmela, has a ceramics shop. Her sister, Margherita has an olive oil shop. I couldn't resist making some purchases from them that they promptly shipped to my home in St. Louis. After falling in love with the dishes that were used for our meals at the villa, I just had to have some to enjoy back home! You will see some of Carmela's ceramic dishes in use in my upcoming Italian recipe posts.
Among the treats that I enjoyed at breakfast every morning were the mandarine and kumquat marmalades made from their own trees at the villa. I raved about it so much, that Roberta and Ilaria offered to include us in some hands-on cooking where we made marmalade, plus a cake that was topped with the marmalade we had made. That spontaneous cooking experience turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the trip. I'll be sharing their marmalade recipe in an upcoming post using Clementine tangerines, since they are widely available in the U.S.
Another fun activity at the villa was learning how to make mozzarella cheese. That was followed by some cheese and wine tasting. I'm not sure it was even noon yet, and we were already drinking wine. Hey, those Italians know how to live!
Located next door to our villa--literally just steps away-- we walked to Mama Agata's Cooking School for a full day of cooking and eating. This is another small, intimate, family-run business that is so special that it's hard to describe. Like our villa, it has stunning views of the ocean with terraced gardens on the steep hillside that are the source of many ingredients that were used in the dishes prepared in their cozy kitchen that day. We gathered around as Mama Agata, her daughter Chiara, and Chiara's husband Gennaro showed us how to make a few of their signature dishes. The morning began with Mama's famous lemon cake that, in her younger years, she served to Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Jacqueline Kennedy. Recently, celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, Pierce Brosnan, Sela Ward, Woody Harrelson, and Kurt Warner have visited there.
We learned to make eggplant parmigiana with Mama's signature tomato sauce, farmer's pasta with olives, fresh tomatoes, and arugula, lemon chicken, and sausage with peppers. My favorite was the fried fritters with hell sauce (yes, it was hot!). Here's a short video I filmed that captures the fun we had while Chiara explained how Mama was mixing the fritter batter.
We'd spend time in the kitchen cooking and then move to the table that overlooked the ocean to sit and sample the food. On breaks we walked through the gardens and marveled at the views. Throughout the day Chiara kept us entertained with her wit, energy and warmth; she made us all feel like a part of her family. It was a full day of fun and food that ended with us rolling (not walking) back to our villa.
Thanks to Carol Ketelson for permission to use her 2 photos above of Chiara with Mama Agata and the ocean view.
I will be sharing some tips and adapted recipes from Mama Agata's in future posts. If you'd like access to a complete collection of her recipes, you can order her cookbook. I bought one to bring home with me, and I love it! The recipes include clear directions and step-by-step photos.
We had another deliciously fun experience in a gorgeous setting at the Osteria Reale winery and restaurant. It began with a wine tasting led by the entertaining owner Luigi Reale in his small, quaint wine cellar. After that we each made our own pizza choosing from a variety of toppings and cooking it to perfection in the stone pizza oven. That pizza was the best, and the wine--even better! Loved this entire experience.
After a walking tour exploring the history and artistry of the ceramics of Vietri, Alfonso, our awesome guide for the day, took us to the Le Vigne di Raito organic vineyard. It's another family-run business. When owner Patrizia and her daughters served us a fabulous meal after touring the vineyards, she had her grandbaby in her arms. I loved how personal and informal it was--it felt more like a family gathering than a tourist activity. To further the family feel of the day, it turned out that one of our tour companions, Mary Lou from South Carolina, was a relative of Patrizia. It was so fun to be a part of their reunion.
Patrizia and her family prepared an amazing feast for us to eat along with their wines. My favorite was a rice dish baked in a bundt pan that had meatballs and melted cheese inside. So good! The organic wines were wonderful, and, once again, the ocean view was stunning. The meal concluded with espresso and a variety of homemade flavored liqueurs. Alfonso and Patrizia provided another memorable experience--what a day!
If there's one food that defines the Amalfi coast, it has to be lemons. They are everywhere! One of our mornings was spent climbing a trail up an organic lemon orchard on a terraced vertical hillside. We met the father and son who run the business, and they were as warm and welcoming as everywhere else we went. The lemon trees were amazingly loaded down with enormous lemons. The flavor of the lemons was like none I'd tasted before; even the peel tasted good without any bitterness at all. At the top of the orchard, we were treated to lemonade and lemon cake. Later, back at the bottom of the orchard, we sampled their limoncello.
We had many memorable meals, most in small, family owned restaurants. We never ate boring food that was mass-produced for large tour groups. In fact, most of the time Carol invited us to order whatever we wanted from the menu, including wine that never stopped flowing. (This never happened in previous tours I'd taken.) Virtually every restaurant we visited served us their own homemade limoncello--it's definitely a thing there. Everywhere. And, it's so easy to make--I'll be showing you how in a future post.
One of my favorite meals of the trip was pasta with clams baked in parchment paper at the Ristorante Da Ciccio Cielo Mare Terra Amalfi. I'd never seen pasta prepared that way, and it was so amazing. Oh my. Carol shot a video of the pasta being served by our waiter who is the son of the restaurant owner. (You guessed it--another family-run business.) I've been experimenting with this parchment technique at home and haven't quite mastered it yet; but I hope to share my modified version in a future post.
It may not sound like it, but we didn't just eat and drink on this trip. There was a lot of memorable sightseeing, too. We had walking tours of the coastal towns of Ravello (a short walk from our villa), Sorrento, Positano, Vietra, and the ruins of Pompei. The gardens, architecture, and ocean views were unforgettable. I fell in love with this beautiful region of the world.
If you'd like to learn more about the particulars of this fabulous tour, please contact Carol at Delectable Destinations. She can answer any questions you have. Not only is Carol a fun traveling companion, but she is also a hardworking professional. This tour was top notch, and it's in no small part due to her attention to every detail.
You can follow Carol on Facebook and enjoy her beautiful photography on Instagram. Delectable Destinations also has culinary and cultural tours to other places; some are pictured in Carol's snapshots below. India and Spain are next on my bucket list; although, honestly, I'd be happy to experience the Amalfi Coast trip all over again!
Here's to happy travels and memorable meals.
Make it a Yummy day!
P.S. In case you were wondering, this is not a sponsored post; I was not compensated in any way for writing about this tour. I'm simply sharing a trip I loved and places and experiences that I recommend to anyone who loves travel and good food. Because, after all, travel to beautiful places with fabulous food and wonderful people is living The Yummy Life at its best.