You’ve found yourself in one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich areas of Italy: the area around Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Once you’ve explored the sights, the history, the food, there’s only thing thing left… shopping!
As well as providing a bit of retail therapy after dealing with tourists all day, there’s something to be said for picking up a few souvenirs. As well as giving some gifts to your loved ones (and thereby invoking a warm glow of smugness as they barely conceal their jealousy), a few well-chosen items can really bring back the memories of your trip. Scents and tastes can come flooding back to you, transporting you back to Italy long after you’ve left. And who doesn’t want that?
Even better, all of these souvenirs have a strong basis in Italian history and culture, truly reflecting the area and people who made them. No novelty Michelangelo’s David aprons here!
So without further ado, here’s the best items to go shopping for in each town!
Capri: Carthusia perfume
The gorgeous island of Capri is a Mediterranean paradise, and you’ll notice the scent straight away when you visit – sun, sea salt, flowers, lemons, and pine. What better way to bring back the memories than to have that scent bottled? So my shopping pick is Carthusia Perfume, which you can pick up from various locations (including Naples Airport), but is truly special when purchased from their store on Capri’s Viale Matteotti.
Carthusia has an interesting history. Legend dictates that Queen Joan of Anjou made a surprise visit to the Carthusian monastery on the the island – a startled prior had some local flowers picked and put into a vase, in order to make the monastery suitably scented, and presumably distract from the less-pleasant scent of a smelly cassock. After she’d left, the prior went to throw out the water from the vase, and realised that it had a particularly pleasant scent remaining in the water. Being a man with a bit of forethought, he eagerly wrote down the formula for producing the concoction.
Skip forward to 1948, and the prior of the Charterhouse discovered the ye olde formula, and sold it to a chemist in Piedmont. This created Cathusia perfume. Whether you believe the tale or not, the more pressing point is the perfume itself: how good is it?
Answer: very! You can go shopping for your new best friend at the laboratory/shop on Viale Matteotti which will conjure up scents from every corner of the island. Aria Di Capri invokes the scent of sun and flowers, whilst Mediterraneo is sparkling lemon and green tea. Fiori Di Capri claims to be the original prior’s recipe, and Corallium brings back memories of the deep blue sea. Check out the whole range here; good luck choosing which one you want most!
Positano: Lemon goodies
When you visit Positano, one motif in particular will stick in your mind: lemons.
Not just the real, growing kind. When you’re on the main shopping street, you’ll see lemons everywhere: in perfumes, in candles, on tablecloths, in ceramics, and most gloriously of all, in the myriad of treats you can buy and bring home. Yes, the people of Positano know that when life gives you lemons, you squeeze those suckers and mix them with something sweet and tasty.
The best selection is in Sapori di Positano on Via dei Mulini – this little shop has everything that it is possible to produce from the humble lemon. Family run, it’s best known for its line of traditionally-made limoncello, a lemon liqueur that you’ll see quite frequently in the Amalfi Coast area. But don’t settle for the more-generic ones you see in the tourist shops; this is the better stuff. But my favourites are the sweet treats: the lemon candies, nougat (nothing is better than Italian nougat!), and lemon chocolate. Yes, you read that right, lemon chocolate.
The taste and scent of lemon is so ubiquitous in this region of Italy, you really can’t being back the memories of your trip any better way than treating yourself to some lemon candies. And they make excellent snacks for the flight home, too!
Sorrento: Inlaid Wooden Boxes and Cameo Jewellery
Sorrento is a great town for shopping – the tiny streets just off Piazza Tasso are full of small stores and stalls selling all kinds of local products, from enormous fruit and vegetables to artisan gelato – but one of the most common sights you’ll see is a workshop selling the wooden boxes that the town is so well known for.
Wood inlay and cabinet-making have been a Sorrento specialty since the 14th century. The boxes are essentially a wooden mosaic, an incredibly difficult skill to master, but this is the home of the craft: it’s not uncommon to see the boxes being created and worked on, especially if you keep walking down the narrow streets in the direction of the Marina Grande.
And you’ll be amazed by the variety of boxes you can buy! Want a wood pattern? Not a problem. Want a variety of colours, bright blues, modest whites, vibrant reds? Easy. Want a different shape? Go for it! Different size? Sure, how many would you like? But lovers of purple beware: it’s considered an unlucky colour in Italy, and is a little harder to find!
My other shopping pick for Sorrento is something you see a little less, but is just as beautiful – and again, you can watch it being made! Cameo jewellery is traditional to Italy, and usually made from a shell – layers of white outer shell are painstakingly scraped away to reveal the coloured surface underneath, and the remaining white surface is carved into the most beautiful designs. The best place to buy one is Bimonte, on Via P.R. Giuliani (just around the corner from the church of San Francesco), probably one of the finest cameo workshops In Italy: drool over their collection here.
Falling in love with Sorrento? Read about the town and what to do there.
Naples: A gift from Christmas Alley
The name may sound like a terrible made-for-television movie shown during the festive period, but rest assured! It’s not actually called Christmas Alley. Phew.
Actually sporting the more authentic-sounding name of Via San Gregorio Armeno, this small side street has acquired the nickname of Christmas Alley thanks to the stalls lining the sides, which sell all kinds of Nativity scene figure imaginable. Known as presepi (from the Italian “presepe“, or “crib”), these stalls have become famous as the place to get your Nativity figures. And with the Nativity scenes being a very big deal in Naples – in Italy, you don’t just have a stable with the cozy family and a handful of shepherds; you assemble a whole village – it’s easy to see why this has become a busy street for shopping.
The street is at it’s peak in September and October when stallholders are gearing up for the Christmas period, some carving the figures deep within their stall, but it’s not just confined to winter festivities. If you’re a football/soccer fan, then you’ll definitely want to visit: you’ll never again see such a variety of statuettes and caricatures of footballers. Aside from images of the godlike Maradona (who has his own shrine just around the corner at Bar Nilo), you’ll be spoilt for choice for lovingly created statues of Napoli players, and slightly less-than loving figures of the rival Juventus team.
Politicians and celebrities are also not immune from the satirical eye of Christmas Alley, and if you’ve ever wanted a statuette of Donald Trump emerging from a toilet bowl, this is your chance.
Amalfi Coast: Ceramics
Italy, and the Amalfi Coast in particular, have been renowned for ceramics for thousands of years. A fortunate meeting of ancient trade routes and rich volcanic soil meant that the ceramics trade became firmly established early on, and nothing’s changed – you’ll still see countless ceramic shops as you travel along the Amalfi Coast.
The obvious use is homewares, and if you fancy shipping some home, you’ll find an absolutely mind boggling array of items to give your apartment a touch of Amalfi bling. Dish sets, more plates than you can shake a… plate… at, vases, umbrella stands: the choice is yours. And then there’s picking a design! Lemons are, predictably, a popular theme.
If you’d like something a tiny bit smaller, and more likely to survive the journey home, tiles are a good choice. You’ll see plenty of shops selling these, particularly ones depicting the local landscape, or the blue and white Cross of Amalfi. However, my choice was a shop along Via Lorenzo D’Amalfi, which seems to specialise in cat-shaped homewares. And that’s exactly my kind of souvenir!
Fancy reading some more on Amalfi? Read about the town, and the world’s cutest puppy, here.
Guaranteed Shopping Satisfaction
If you’re a hardcore shopper, or if like me, you just fancy a poke around the shops every now and then, you’re in for a treat.
Wherever you visit in the Naples/Amalfi Coast region, you’re guaranteed to find things that you’ll want to bring home. For the big budget traveller, Capri is a paradise, with Via Camarelle hosting some of the most exclusive stores in Italy. Sorrento is perfect for lovers of handmade goods, and Positano will satisfy sweet-toothed art lovers. Naples and Amalfi are brilliant for finding the quirky knick-knacks that’ll find a place in your heart, but all of them will have you reaching for your purse or wallet, and making a memory.
Have you bought or tried any of the above? Let me know in the comments!