A day in Positano, Italy

I’ve been dreaming about a holiday to the Amalfi coast for years. It all started with some typical Facebook-envy; girls I knew from way back when were uploading photo after photo of dreamy Italian coastline, and I was all a flutter with trying to plan a trip. I collated Pinterest boards, bought calendars with AMALFI written all over it, and set about drawing up a perfect itinerary.

Obviously, as so many travel plans do, things got waylaid and it wasn’t until a few years later, when I received some mega compensation from EasyJet (my story here), that I actually got around to booking this trip. It was a long time coming, and had a lot of built up expectation to meet.


And guess what? Positano beat those expectations. For years I had been idly wondering how the breeze would feel on those precipitous coastal roads, how the colours of little houses built up a rockface would pop against the blue sky, and of course, of how much pasta I would eat. Positano fulfilled all of those little daydreams- most importantly the one about pasta.


We were staying in nearby Sorrento, so woke up early to grab the coach. The coach is an entire experience in itself, so instead of feeling sleepy or bored from the hour long winding journey, we were buzzed and giddy like two kids who knew exactly how much gelato was waiting for them on the other side.


Positano is not built for the weak kneed. Everything is up or down a hill, with long winding roads to connect you, or monstrous flights of stairs. We spent all of our exploring time puffing and panting, stopping to rest our weary legs or pick up a congratulations cocktail after a particularly steep flight. Round every corner is a little gem, pastel painted houses, coffe bars, sweet pottery stores or private gardens you can just about peer into.

Positano village

After several hours of lounging around on the beach and working up an appetite by scaling every flight of stairs we came across, Jonathan consulted TripAdvisor and we wound our way to probably the best restaurant in Positano: Saraceno d’Oro. We loaded up on linguini con vongole, and homemade pasta with fresh-off-the-boat seafood.




The service was fabulous, and we sat in a glorious little bit of sunshine. I honestly think that this was one of the best meals of my life- maybe because the carafe of wine was so delicious, the waiter was singing loudly to Italian music, because we’d spent so long hunting down the perfect restaurant, or just because the food was so damn good. It might even have something to do with the shot of limoncello we rounded up the meal with. Who cares- if I could spend every lunchtime here, I would.


In a happy, light mood, we tottered off down the hill to lie on the beach and treat ourselves to some more gelato and vino, still professing how great Italian food was. Seriously guys, I don’t know if you knew already, but the Italians, they got this food thing down.

As we were there in early April, people-watching was especially rewarding as Positano prepared for tourist high season. Crates of lemons were ferried between stores, flowers ready to bloom being planted along roadsides, signs and hotel walls being painted anew.


Positano in April was just stirring up to life, with a handful of places closed (most notably none of the pools were open for business), but the quiet and the charm of watching the town get ready, as though for a big party, makes visiting slightly pre-season all the more worthwhile.


Once the sun had started to set, we packed up our books and made the ascent to the bus stop. Tip for you- it’s almost completely unmarked, so take note of where you hop off the bus when you arrive.

I fell in love with Positano, and I’ll definitely be back for round two. Though it’s small enough to feel satisfied you’ve ‘done’ it in a single day, it’s got that Italian habit of leaving you wanting more.


Sirmione, Lake Garda.

The last time I looked at visiting Lake Garda, having seen brochures filled with stunning vistas, and jaw dropping price tags, I nearly choked on my Ribena and decided to park that idea for a time where I was earning approximately three times as much as I am now. I would have to wait a long time before I could afford a trip like that…

And then my lovely boyfriend and I set off for Verona. I’d read somewhere that Lake Garda was spitting distance from the Veronese centre, so I made it our collective mission to see this place- and on a tight budget.

Deciding which town surrounding the enormous lake to visit was our first task. After deliberating over the pros of each location, we couldn’t decide and ended up dip-dip-do-ing our way to Sirmione. A small town on the end of a peninsula, it seemed as good a place as any to get to know the lago, so first thing in the morning we hopped on a bus and sped on over.

The bus dropped us off at the very bottom of the town, leaving us with a twenty minute walk before we actually saw any sign of the lake. The streets before the tip of the peninsula are your bog-standard gated-hotel affair, which, only on reflection, made arriving at the Sirmione drawbridge all the quainter.


To enter the town, you must cross a hand-pulled drawbridge. This means there are no cars- just concessional obligatory Italian Vespa, whipping round the cobbled streets. The town is guarded by the Rocca Scaligera, which for the low low price of 2 euros, will give you a stunning overview of the Sirmione town’s rooftops, complete with world famous mountain/lake combo backdrop for added jaw-drops. If you’re in Sirmione, go up it. That’s an order.

We poked around Grotte di Calutto, the gorgeous Roman ruins named after a local poet, which was pretty cheap and gave amazing views of the Garda mountains. We spent a good portion of the day slowly wandering around and trying to guess what all the room ruins would have been once and resisting the temptation to make poppy-daisy-chains. We nosed out the best gelato in the area (seriously, I think about the pistachio cone every couple of days still), and spent the majority of the day at the bottom of the Sirmione cliff paddling about in the water.

I’d read that restaurants tended to be pricey, so we packed a picnic to save on costs here. I’d strongly recommend this- there are loads of beautiful places to eat alfresco in Sirmione. We had ours on the marbled rocks on the lake edge- picking through olives and tearing up bits of cured ham. I’m sure the restaurants are fantastic, but this was a budget day out and nothing beats having your lunch while dipping your tootsies into one of the most famous lakes in the world…


The most noticeable and beautiful thing about Sirmione (and Italy all over, really) is the colour. Little splashes of orange and rose pinks in the flowers and on the houses, the glaring blue of the lake, and, of course, the deep red of the glasses of Bardolino to bring it all together (well, it wouldn’t be Italy without the wine). I loved Sirmione, and the whole day had barely cost anything. Mission accomplished.


Can you afford a trip to Venice?

Venice, lovely Venice, is famous for being expensive. The Venetian grandeur of eighteenth century- where aristocrats splurged and Casanova, well, also splurged- might have been knocked down a notch or two, but Venice is still a byword for decadence.

So, is Venice affordable?

Sure, you could spend a fortune on gondola tours, take the most expensive taxis in the world, buy exquisite handmade masks and dine out in the finest Italian boutique restaurants. You could. You’d have a lovely time, and I wish you the best of luck in getting home without your arm and your leg.

Of course it can be affordable! It’s the same as any other destination- you spend as little or as much as you want. As long as you don’t fall into the tourist traps you’ll be fine. Here are my tips to enjoying a cheap Venice.

My tips 

  • Get there by train, not plane. If you have the option, fly to Verona instead. Flights to Venice are typically much harder on the bank balance- and train tickets from Verona cost less than €15 one way. They run all day, but make sure to get the local train, which is cheaper and takes about 20 minutes longer. We stayed in Verona and day-tripped to the floating city.
  • Forget the gondola. You don’t have to have deep pockets to experience Venetian canals. It might not be as romantic, but taking the vaperetto (the waterbus) is a million times cheaper (€7 for an hour ticket), and a great way to travel through the city. Save those pennies for pasta.



  • Pasta After consulting the blogosphere and TripAdvisor for foodie advice, we came across recommendations for Alfredo’s Pasta. They serve what can only be fairly described as the best pasta in Venice. I’ve never enjoyed pasta this much. Seriously, it nearly reduced me to tears of joy. The second best thing about this pasta is the price- you get a full chunky portion freshly made at around €6. It’s takeaway only, so grab a box and wander along the canal while you eat, and try to hold back your emotions.


  • Attractions Half of the beauty of Venice is in wandering around the streets, lazing by the canal, watching boats float past. That costs a grand total of €0. But if you’re desperate to see the inside of the main attractions, there are euro-savvy ways to do this. MY main tip would be to skip the galleries and museums. I’m sure they’re lovely, but if it’s art and architecture you’re after, there are umpteen gorgeous churches (including Basilica di San Marco) displaying some of the finest sculptures and structures in the city- for free. (Polite reminder, don’t be a dick)

I loved Venice- it was probably my favourite place in Italy. Venice isn’t a question of whether you can afford it- it’s a question of whether you can afford not to.




Verona: Northern Italy’s hidden gem


I’d always written Italy off. It wasn’t as exotic or fiesty or distant as somewhere like New Zealand, Rome looked cramped, and besides, pizzas are just tarted up cheese on toast. Italy wasn’t for me.

Until, like the true eagle-eyed budgeter I am, I spotted hella cheap flights using Kayak’s “Everywhere” tool. Return flights to Verona for two people for less than £150? I decided I’d put up with Verona for that price, and use it to get to more interesting places. I am nothing if not a reasonable person.

After trundling off the plane and squinting into the sunlight, I realised “putting up with Verona” is the very least anyone can do. It’s incredible.

Verona was to be our base- and I wasn’t expecting much from it other than a cheap place to sleep in between day trips to the more expensive locations Venice and Lake Garda. Sure, there was the whole Romeo and Juliet situation, but I was dead certain that’d be a bawdy museum full of bored school-trip groups, and maybe a few tourist traps selling tacky “Romeo 4 Juliet” tee shirts, but nowt actually interesting.


Well, more fool me. What a place!

Verona is a city of colourful alleys, marbled streets and Roman ruins, hidden gelatarias, gorgeous parks and bell towers both adding to and offering city-wide views of this breathtaking city.

Our B&B was a stone’s throw from the city centre, which was full of amazing places to eat. I used to very much an Italian food cynic- anyone can knock together cheese and tomatoes, that doesn’t make it a national cuisine- but I’ve firmly shut my mouth since firmly stuffing into my mouth several portions of fresh gnocchi, tagliatelli and my previous pet-hate, pizza. Oh, and gelato. Fuck loads of gelato. All hail Italian food.

Other than food (which is obviously my priority), Verona proved to be a labyrinth of gems. Every side street had something awe-inspiring tucked down it, whether it was the best damn sandwich you’d ever had, or the entrance to a sweet little garden, or, I dunno, a massive Roman ampitheatre. These streets constantly surprised and impressed me.


So what would I recommend to do in Verona?

Well, eat. The best restaurants in Verona are the ones you’ll find filled with locals- Leone Pizza behind the Arena, RetroBar hidden down some sidestreets- so ip-dip-do your way through the centre until you find somewhere with a terrace, grab yourself a bottle of Bardolino or Soave and challenge yourself to a little game of Man vs Food.

When you’re stuffed, go view hunting. Through Verona snakes the Adige River, which we crossed every day. If you climbed up the mini peaks of the foreboding medieval Castelvecchio bridge, you’d get a glimpse of the river winding around the city, and maybe catch a sunset like the one above. Clamber up the Torre de Lamberti (above, top right) and gaze out onto the city.

There’s a market on the Piazza del Erbe, which when it’s not full of hoardes of school children in matching caps trying to steal ornate face masks, is a delight. Giardino Giusti (below) was probably my favourite place to wile away the hours. There’s a maze, which suitably confused the fuck out of me for far too long, gorgeous views and all the beauty a Renaissance Garden should have. Sigh.


Be warned, it’s a very romantic city. Lots of couples gazing into each other’s eyes over the last lick of ice cream, lots of very public snogging and candlelit dinners going on at every turn. Made not unbearable, naturally, due to the equally large population of incredibly cute dogs. Couples and pomeranians galore.

Although we still used it as a base to get to surrounding destinations (the big V has excellent and cheap connections with Venice and nearby Lake Garda towns), Verona is not a commuting city. It’s it’s own destination, and a bloody lovely one at that.