By Chantal Martineau
Once the Mediterranean playground of choice for such style icons as Jackie O. and Greta Garbo, the Amalfi Coast has long been associated with glamour. But an active volcano, a Star Wars palace and proximity to the birthplace of pizza make this Southern Italian stretch extremely kid-friendly.
Naples is the gateway to Southern Italy, but for kids (and more than a few adults), it’s, above all, the mecca of pizza. Wood-fire-baked and topped with tangy San Marzano tomatoes and melt-in-the-mouth buffalo mozzarella, Neapolitan pizza is the perfect first meal to have in Southern Italy. Skip the tourist-packed Da Michele Pizzeria and head for Trianon da Ciro just around the corner, a local institution that’s been around for close to 90 years. Get a table upstairs for a glimpse of the beautifully mosaicked wood-burning oven. Kids will also get a kick out of nearby Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street lined with artisans selling handcrafted figurines as part of the city’s tradition of elaborate nativity scenes. A miniature butcher shop, complete with hanging prosciutto, may have little to do with the first Christmas but makes for an adorable addition to the toy collection back home.
From Naples, families can rent a car or travel by train or boat along the scenic Amalfi Coast. But before heading south, take a short detour just north of the city to Caserta for a visit to the magical Royal Palace. Little princesses and Jedis will recognize the echoing halls, grand chambers and long, narrow channel as those of the Naboo palace from the more recent Star Wars movies. From this fictional “long time ago,” head toward Mount Vesuvius to see the real-life ash-frozen villages of Pompeii and Herculaneum that date back to the height of the Roman Empire. The mountain itself is an accessible hike from a checkpoint near the top. English-speaking guides are available to explain what exactly you’re seeing as you peer over the edge of the winding trail into the depths of the still-smoking volcano. Experts consider Vesuvius to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet and predict that it will erupt again within the next century.
As you approach Sorrento, the sea air becomes perfumed with the scent of citrus. Orange, tangerine and lemon groves can be found just blocks from the city centre. While parents indulge in a tipple of limoncello, little ones can sample citrus sorbet and gelato. Stroll through the labyrinthine alleys of town to discover a lively cobbler trade, where shoes are made to order in hours. From the marina, ferries sail to Positano, a colourful former fishing village built right into the cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples. Its roads are staircases, and donkeys are still used to transport goods around town because horses can go up stairs but are afraid to come down! Introduce your little ones to the local culture and language with a hands-on cooking class. The Secret Garden in Positano’s centre is a charming bed and breakfast where afternoon classes are available through a company called Cooking Vacations. Designed specifically for kids (accompanied by an adult), the curriculum is pizza with a little Italiano 101 thrown in. Afterward, your marinara-stained, flour-dusted bambini can go rinse off in the twinkling sea.
(Chantal Martineau is a freelance writer who splits her time between New York and her native Montreal. She is a regular contributor to Imbibe and Best Life magazines.)