Diana, Mimi, Gwen and Lisa near Palatine Hill in Rome. Photos courtesy Diana Gibbens.

Travel journal: Rome and Amalfi Coast

Who went: Mimi Duplantis, Lisa Duplantier, Diana Gibbens, Gwen Wild and Cole Baker

We went because: About a year ago, Mimi mentioned that she had wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday on the Isle of Capri, but it never happened. Diana, who owns Perfect Pairings Travel, put the wheels in motion for a wonderful celebration of Mimi’s 50th birthday in Italy!

Hotel recommendations: Although Diana arranged for our group to stay in a lovely villa in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast and in a spacious apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome, we visited a few gorgeous hotels while on the Amalfi Coast, including Casa Angelina in Praiano and Il San Pietro di Positano, located between Praiano and Positano. Both hotels are situated in stunning locations with views overlooking Positano. They are both boutique properties that pamper their guests with 5-star service and provide complimentary shuttles to and from Positano. Even if you only stop for a cocktail to enjoy the amazing views, these two properties should be on your list when visiting the Amalfi Coast.

Where to eat: In Praiano, our favorite spot was a little place called Kasai, a short stroll from our villa. Located a short stroll from our villa, we were lucky to make a reservation for the last table on the night that we visited. The weather had been chilly, so the outdoor dining overlooking the sea was not being used for dinner. The entire staff went above and beyond to meet and exceed our every wish. They were amazing and made for one of our favorite evenings in Italy. The pasta with black truffles was divine. As our waiter said when asked if he would choose the grilled seafood plate over the truffle pasta, “Never in my life, I am Italian. I always choose truffles!” And we are glad that we did too!

In Positano, we simply adored Chez Blacklocated right on the beach front in Positano. It was a larg,e beautiful and open space that offered fantastic people watching as we dined on amazing seafood and pasta served with a chilled glass of local white wine. Really, there was nothing not to like.

In Rome, we were on the quest for the best artichokes (after our discovery en route to Rome from the Amalfi), and we found those at Nonna Bettain Il Ghetto. Not only was the food amazing, but once again we were treated like family by the entire staff (who also happened to be mostly related to one another!). As we waited for our table, we requested an entire meal of artichoke dishes, and we were not disappointed! Aside from the Carciofo alla giudia (artichoke Jewish style), baba ghanoush and falafel, our artichoke feast was a delightful blur (and there were a few bottles of wine involved too!). We have already sent friends to the restaurant and they have reported that we are fondly remembered; apparently we left quite an impression!

Can’t-miss experience: As a self-confessed group of foodies, we knew there needed to be a cooking class while we were in Italy. Not only did we have an amazing dinner, we made a new friend in the process. Sergio Home Experience is a new business started by a chef in Praiano. Sergio invites small groups into his home to prepare a meal that will be enjoyed on his terrace overlooking the sea. We were so excited about some of our new recipes that we recreated one while in Italy, and we recently made gnocchi for friends in Baton Rouge. And for those non-cookers, you can drink wine and watch the others cook; it is a fun group experience.  What better souvenir from your trip than recipes to recreate at home?

Item of clothing you shouldn’t leave home without: Comfortable shoes, because you will be walking a lot and often on stairs and cobblestones (which are not kind on the feet). One wonders how people walked on these streets without Nikes a thousand years ago!

Favorite historic landmark: The entire city of Rome is an historic landmark, including the building where our apartment was located, which was a palace dating back to the 1600s. But our entire group was wowed by our tour of the Vatican with Dearoma Tours (and our outstanding guide, Valerio Caffio). In just a few hours, we covered many hundreds of years of the history of Western civilization and were left wanting more! It was phenomenal.  There was so much to see and absorb that it is worth visiting again.

Attraction worth a drive by: Seeing the Amalfi Coast from the sea gave us a different vantage point of the towns dangling from the cliffs. It is simply stunning, even on a cloudy day, to cruise the coastline in a private boat.

Great experience off the beaten path: Instead of taking the train, we hired a driver to take us from the Amalfi to Rome. This allowed us to stop at a lovely winery on Mount Vesuvius for lunch. There are a few in the area. The oldest one is Sorrentino Vini,which makes Lacryma Cristi (tears of Christ) wine. A newer winery opened by a chef is Bosco de Medici. Definitely a great way to see the countryside and break up the five-hour drive. A bonus, and the impetus for our artichoke craze in Rome, was when our driver spotted some guys roasting baby artichokes on the side of the road just outside of Naples. He stopped so we could buy a tray of eight artichokes for 5 Euro. These were some of the most amazing things we ate in all of Italy!

Worth the splurge: Private guides for tours of major sites throughout Italy such as Pompeii, the Vatican or Palatine Hill. A private guide can customize a tour to the interests of your group and move at your pace. The group really discovered that they gained so much from the guides that we had in Italy. One of our favorites was a quick overview tour of Rome in an Ape Calessino that provided a unique experience in addition to a fast way to see Rome.

Something surprising we learned on the trip: That the millions of stairs on the Amalfi Coast turned out to be a good thing after all. We could eat all of the pasta that we wanted and drink as much wine as we cared to and didn’t have any concerns about gaining weight. This was one trip where none of us gained a single pound! Grazie mille (a thousand thank yous) to the Amalfi Coast stairs!

Insider tips: When in Rome, spend some time in the Trastevere, where you will find creative restaurants and pubs that are less expensive than in other parts of Rome. This is where we found some of the best carbonara ever! A few of our favorite restaurants in the Trastevere were Da Enzo; Galessi; Santo; Tonnarella and Mimi & Coco.

Also in Rome, be sure to check the Pope’s schedule. We happened to be there for a Mother’s Day Papal Angelus in St. Peter’s Square. It was an amazing moment for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. To see so many people gathered together in one place for love was a beautiful experience.

We would suggest this trip because: The combined experience of visiting the Amalfi Coast and Rome was simply ideal. You get the history of Rome and the beauty of the Amalfi all in one visit and maybe even a chance to see Pompeii. Of course, you’ll get good food and good wine and make good friends along the way!