Hidden Mediterranean Gem

I almost do not want to write this post as I want to keep Nerano my little Italian secret because it holds such a special place in my heart and I never want it to change.  Nerano is a charming little fishing village located between Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.  From personal observation and experience, it is mostly visited by Italians which suggests that it is relatively unknown to the rest of the World.  This is half the attraction if you want to avoid the summer crowds of Capri, Positano and Amalfi. For us, Nerano is the perfect mix of beach, boating, food, wine and hiking so you can be as inactive or active as the day finds you.


Setting the scene

The beach at Nerano is called Marina del Cantone and is surrounded by restaurants and beach clubs.  Some of the restaurants are quite famous so it is not surprising to see the arrival of a flotilla of super yachts at around lunch time everyday.  This is fascinating to watch as each restaurant has a fleet of little timber boats with skilled boatmen who exchange passengers from the smaller craft despatched from the super yachts. The passengers are then ferried to the jetty of their chosen restaurant.

Our favourite restaurant in the Marina is Il Cantuccio (meaning ‘the corner’) because, I am guessing, it sits on the most western side of the Marina.   We just love sitting on the restaurant deck perched above the Mediterranean watching all the comings and goings over a few bottles of Rosato.  If you are not a fan of fish, seafood, tomatoes or buffalo mozzarella then you are going to struggle in this part of Italy.  My favourites at Il Cantuccio are the risotto ai frutti di mare and the delizie al limone or the lemon titty cake as it is fondly known in our family as it literally looks like a woman’s breast.

Where to stay

There are a few accommodation options in Nerano from European camp parks, hotels, rooms at restaurants and rental houses/apartments.  If money is no object, I would recommend Villa Costanza which is a luxury 10 bedroom / 10 bathroom house and perfect for wedding parties.  It has an amazing pool and terrace but all this comes at a price (AUD$17,900 per week in July/August).

We always rent an apartment at Casale Villarena and, in or opinion, is the best accommodation in town.  They have a number of apartment options.  This year we stayed in the La Vetara apartment which has two large en suite bedrooms with a kitchen/lounge and a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Marina.  We shared the apartment with our best friends so it is perfect for sharing couples, but a point of note is that you have to walk through one bedroom to get to the other.  This did not worry any of us.   Best thing is the La Vetara terrace has an amazing panorama and is the perfect place for playing endless hands of cards and enjoying aperitivo each evening.  Remember to pack a portable speaker so you can stream music from your phone.

Eating at Casale Villarena – Truly an experience

The apartments all have well-appointed kitchens but Casale Villarena has its own restaurant and the food is incredible.  Apart from breakfast and lunch, we ate in the restaurant 11 evenings out of 13 which speaks volumes.   There is a Michelin starred restaurant less than 500 metres down the road, Quattro Passi, but the food and wine are so good at Casale Villarena that we never felt the need to leave.  You never know what to expect at Casale Villarena, from the wood fired pizza evenings followed by dancing on the terrace, a risotto evening by the pool cooked by a famous local chef (absolutely sublime) and a degustation dinner with local cheese and wines in the cellar.  Nerano has its own speciality pasta dish made of 4 cheeses and zucchini (courgettes), pasta alla Nerano, and Casale Villarena’s take on it is the best we have tasted in the area.


How to get from Casale Villarena to the beach?

Casale Villarena is situated about 1 kilometre from Marina del Cantone.  There is a narrow alley way that weaves it way through the village houses but it is quite steep so it is all well and dandy on the way down but after a few bottles of wine at lunch, it is rather a challenge coming home.  Luckily for us we are all extremely fit so enjoyed the challenge but you can always catch the local Sita bus down to the beach and back.   It roughly runs every hour on weekdays and every two hours on the weekend.  There is a bus stop right outside the Casale which is very handy.  If you want to drive down to the beach, there is a car park down at Marina del Cantone.  Word of warning, you cannot park your own car and there is no respect for cars in this part of the World so dents and scratches are “normale”.  Not so great if you have a hire car and do no want to be up for paying the insurance excess.

Where can I buy groceries?

There are two well stocked alimentari (general stores), one run by Olga and the other by Rachele, less than 50 metres from the Casale where you can purchase provisions including fruit and vegetables, milk, yoghurt, coffee, water and bread.  We each had our favourite shop which prompted endless debate amongst our party.  Recommendation, make sure you have plenty of notes in every denomination as both Olga and Rachele were none too pleased at having to give change on larger notes.

If you want more variety, then the closest supermarket is about a 20 minute drive away in Sant’Agata.  Casale Villarena can do breakfast, lunch and dinner so all meals are covered.  Given we had our kitchen and are fussy breakfast eaters, we bought breakfast supplies and prepared breakfast in our apartment.  There is also a great bar right next to one of the alimentari where you can sit with the locals and enjoy a beer or limoncello or in our case, about 10.

Activities / Things to do

One of the things I love about staying at Casale Villarena is the day trips arranged by the owner, Guglielmo.  We love messing about on boats and we were lucky to have two full day trips on a private boat skippered by Guglielmo himself.   Who would not love being on a boat, sipping Prosecco, stopping to swim in secluded coves and caves and lunching in gorgeous villages off the tourist trail?

Well if messing around in boats is not your thing, then there are also many hiking trails many of which are ancient mule tracks.  Our favourite is the trail to Ieranto Bay which usually takes about 45 minutes and is a great place to swim.

This year we were also lucky enough to go on a tour of the Phlegraean Fields, an area to the west of Naples.  Guglielmo organised a private bus and tour guide for the whole day.  We left at 7:30am and returned to the Casale Villarena at 8:30pm.  We visited a live volcano, the Solfatara, the Baia Museo Archeologico Campi Flegrei which houses some important artefacts and sculptures, the ancient ruins of a Roman spa and my faovurite, the Pischin Mirabillis,  a Roman fresh water cistern.

One place we never tire of visiting is Pompeii.  Pompeii is about an hour and 15 minutes from Nerano depending on traffic.  This year we were lucky enough to visit with my niece and her husband.  I recommend using a private guide.  We paid 120 Euros for about 2 hours (excluding entry fee) and it is worth every cent.  If driving,  we always park at the Zeus camping park (http://www.campingzeus.it/en/) and we have had no trouble but we never leave anything of value in the car.  From memory, the car-park is about 1.50 Euro per hour. Also, if you want to avoid the heat and crowds of Pompeii during the day, then you can take a late afternoon tour;  last entry is at 6:00pm and closing at 7:30pm.   Pompeii is also extremely cheap with adult tickets priced at 13 Euros.

Beach Clubs

Okay it wouldn’t be a Mediterranean holiday if it didn’t involve a beach club.  So if taking a bed and umbrella at the beach and reading a book for the day is your thing, then there are plenty of options at Marina del Cantone.  Our favourite beach club is La Perla.  It has great facilities: car park, restaurant, change rooms and all importantly, toilets.  We would wander down about 11:00am and get a bed and umbrella, have a swim, read a book and then take lunch in the restaurant.  The food and wine are really good.    A bed and umbrella will set you back 20 Euros for two and it is an extremely civilised way of going to the beach.

The beach is a pebble beach so a tip is to pick up a pair of beach shoes.  There is a shop at Marina del Cantone that sells inexpensive beach shoes that you can swim in which allows you to get in and out of the water.  According to husband, you can do it but it is a difficult, slow and painful process to get in and out of the water without beach shoes.

The other beach club we sometimes like to go to is Conca del Sogno.  There is a walking track from Marina del Cantone but everyone usually arrives by boat.  It is extremely fancy and you need to book a bed well in advance if going on a weekend.  You cannot get away with wearing bathers in the restaurant and will need to dress up in your best Italian linen shirt and Tods.  They do a gorgeous cold octopus and potato salad which I love. This is the place to be seen, especially coming off your super yacht.

Fact file:

How to get to Nerano:

  •  Arriving from Naples International Airport: Nerano is only about 70 kilometres from Naples International Airport but takes about 90 minutes driving time, depending on traffic.  It is quite hectic, so unless you are experienced in driving in this part of Italy, I would recommend taking a private driver which is about 110 Euros one-way.  Casale Villarena can arrange your private driver.  Other option would be to take the ferry to Sorrento and get a taxi or private driver.  Sorrento is about 30-40 minutes’ drive from Nerano.
  • Arriving from Rome: we flew into Leonardo da Vinci Airport and elected to hire a car and drive down to Nerano.  It only takes about 4 hours as it is freeway once you leave the ring road all the way down to Naples.  It’s an easy drive until you get to Naples.  Other option is to take the train into Rome Termini and get the Frecciarossa train down to Naples.  It only takes 70 minutes.  Then you can get a private driver from Naples.
  • Tip: I am not going to lie, Nerano is a bitch to get to if you are driving as once you leave the motorway and get past three tunnels and reach Vico Equense, it is nothing less than crazy with narrow winding streets.  But once you get to Nerano all is forgiven as it is so worth it.

Where is the nearest ATM?

  • Italians love cash which is a pain in the proverbial when travelling.  There is a private ATM at Marina del Cantone.  As we have the car, we prefer to go to the Deutche Bank ATM in S’ant Agata (Via Vincenzo Casola, 16, Frazione Sant’Agata sui due Golfi, 80061 Massa Lubrense NA, Italy).  This ATM is always reliable.  We also take the opportunity to have a gelato which is in the next street.


Accommodation: Casale Villarena is located in Nerano and has a number of accommodation options.  They have a restaurant, swimming pool, car park and washing machine.    Further details can be found at: http://www.casalevillarena.com/

Beach club: La Perla is located at via Amerigo Vespucci 24 viale vespoli, 80061 massalubrense NA, Italy.