The Amalfi Coastline is possibly one of the most famous places written about in Europe.
It’s not for the faint hearted as vehicles squeeze past each other and the cars seem to breathe in to get through gaps that don’t really exist. Where two cars won’t even attempt to pass, the local buses will determinedly squeeze through. The area is a magnet to tourists who can’t get enough of the stunning views and bustling towns. Making a three day stop in Amalfi on our trip to Cilento in the south and, having failed to convince the car hire lady at Naples airport that a Ferrari was, in my view, ‘or similar’ when it came to choice of vehicle, we traversed our way along the tricky coast road. My idea to take a shortcut over the hills, rather than the boring motorway, and up through the village of Tramonti that I had taken years earlier on a scooter, was vetoed. Mind you it was dark by now but if you look at a map you will see just how much more fun and adventurous it would have been.
On a sunny day the views from there are astounding. We had decided to stay outside Amalfi at the Excelsior Hotel that clings to the hillside affording outstanding views of the coastline from its elevated position. It’s a traditional hotel, recently refurbished and as the crow flies, about a mile and a half from town but then being the Amalfi coast it can’t be that simple as the mesmerising road zigzags its way up the hill occasionally bringing the hotel within touching distance and then leaving it tantalisingly behind to get onto the next road level. You are rewarded by amazing panoramic views from the terrace.
The village of Pogerola, which isn’t pronounced how it looks, as I found out whilst tying to buy a bus ticket, was a 25 minute walk from our hotel and our choice for evening meals.
Pogerola with its compact centre complete with church and medieval buildings sits perched high on the hill and originally boasted a castle. I’m not too sure how you come to lose a castle but there must be an explanation somewhere. As a lookout town to ward off invaders it obviously failed at some point!
It was a delight to find that, after our 25 year absence, the Restaurant Pizzeria La Capannina was still being run by the Talarico family serving exquisite traditional Italian cuisine including pizza cooked in a log fired oven and fresh green lip mussels from the bay. The large undercover panoramic terrace affords views down the valley towards the sea.
Prices in this area vary enormously. If you’re in the square in Amalfi they are higher but it’s a ‘must do’ just for the experience. The evenings however must be reserved for the little village restaurants, where there isn’t a care in the world, the waiters have time to proudly explain their menu and how they make their own wine which is especially bottled for them. The price for this beautifully cooked and presented food is unbeatable. Regardless of budget, these places are the best ones to eat at. As I don’t speak Italian and they don’t speak English it makes for a fun evening out. Fortunately Peroni and pizza are the same in both languages so ordering was easy for me!
Amalfi itself, once away from the seafront and through the arch into the square is a labyrinth of small passages up which are tucked family run shops and restaurants plus goodness knows whatelse. Whilst walking around one day we were greeted by donkeys, laden with large metal crates full of soil, emerging through a narrow passage and down the steep steps into a small square. That’s the difficulty in Amalfi with any property renovation, it is impossible to get vehicles anywhere near, so the donkey is the answer as it has been for many years before cars, tractors and diggers were invented. Before we condemn the misuse of animals I have to say that they were the healthiest donkeys I’ve seen for a while.
In the 20’s and 30’s Amalfi was the ‘in place to be seen’ by the upper class and aristocracy – hence still the high prices for food! Amalifi was an important trading town and the capital of the maritime republic called the ‘Duchy of Amalfi’ and as such dictated maritime laws in the Mediterranean between 839 and around 1200.
There’s rich history here to be found and much of it in the architecture that surrounds you. Ignoring the heaving town square and wandering up the small alleys and stairways will lead you to mystery and intrigue, not to mention the small bars where Limoncello is served on the verandah’s, some with far reaching views glimpsed between the buildings and others with no view at all except old rambling walls. I’m sure the average age here is 100 and yet they are full of life as they go about their everyday business with shopping bags full of vegetables to make truly healthy Mediterranean meals.
My holiday companions were amused by my intake of ‘Insalata Caprese’ meaning Salad of Capri. A simple Italian dish, made of sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and sweet basil, seasoned with salt and olive oil. They smiled because I’m not a salad fan (perhaps the absence of lettuce is a clue!).
A short tantalising bus ride along the coast from Amalfi is Positano but a visit there would have to wait until next time as our plans were to travel south and leave the crowds behind where possible.
This is a relatively unknown area of Italy but it is the place that the Italians go to for their holidays so choose your dates wisely!