SPEAKING OF TRAVEL
The most popular destinations for tourists visiting the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy are the towns of Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, and Ravello. The many shops and restaurants in Amalfi reflect its popularity as a stop for tour buses and cruise lines. Shops feature ceramic products, leather goods, jewelry, everything lemon including soaps and candies, and, of course, limoncello. In fact, there is an overwhelming choice of decorative bottles and types of limoncello. After having tasted a few different kinds, my favorite was green in color, made from lemons just as they are beginning to ripen and turn from green to yellow. My husband’s favorite was one made with panna, or cream.
The commanding presence in Amalfi is the Duomo, Cathedral of St. Andrew, towering above the main square. The steps leading up to it and the adjoining Cloister of Paradise look more difficult to climb than the reality.
At the end of the main street of the town is a paper museum, Museo Della Carta with a guided tour that was far more interesting that I imagined it would be as the Amalfi tradition of making paper from cotton rags is demonstrated. On the main street in town is a shop that still makes and sells Amalfi style paper.
Amalfi is the origin of ferries and sightseeing vessels to Positano, Sorrento, the Emerald Grotto, and Capri. Boats can also be rented or chartered and there is one place where arrangements can be made to take a boat to a secluded beachfront restaurant situated in a nearby alcove.
There is Internet access at the travel agency, L’Altra Costiera on the main street and if you are traveling on your own rather than with a group, they are a reputable source for booking side tours.
For the more intrepid, there are some nice hikes. Walk through the town, past the museum and there are signs for the Valle dei Mulini, valley of the mills and Vallone delle Ferriera, valley of the iron mills. As the paths rise uphill through acres of lemon groves, one passes streams, waterfalls and the remains of paper and iron mills dating from the 1200 and1400s as well as an ancient aqueduct; it is a slow transition from the valley with its beautiful wildflowers to deep woods. Eventually, the remains of a Norman castle can be reached, but, alas, I never seemed to have enough time to walk that far.
With all the tours that seem to find their way to Amalfi, it can get quite busy and the crowds arrive early in the day. The evening in Amalfi is much more pleasant. If you visit, be sure to wander onto some of the small side alleys. There is one, for example, opposite the steps of the cathedral that was home to some restaurants on a quiet square, away from the frenzy of main street shopping. The restaurants along the waterfront are also a little quieter.
Sorrento presents as more old world elegant than the other coastal towns. The main focal point is the Piazzo Tasso with medieval pedestrian lanes full of shops and restaurants and citrus lined boulevards radiating from it. There are tony designer shops as well as the mid scale Coin Department store and souvenir shops galore at prices that seemed less than those in Amalfi. The main cathedral, Duomo dei SS Filippo e Giacomo is bright and colorful despite its origins from the 15th century. A lesser church is Basilica of Sant’Antonino, while Chiesa di San Francesco is noteworthy for its charming adjacent cloister. One of the days we visited, it was the site of a wedding of a young woman from the UK and a local groom. Just beyond it is Villa Communale, a tiny public park with a beautiful view of the beaches, sea, and Mt. Vesuvius. There is a ramp or for fee elevator down to the beaches and the lesser harbor, Marina Piccola. The major harbor, Marina Grande, with seaside restaurants is to the west. There are two museums of note. A little oasis just beyond the Circumvesuviana train station with its connections to Pompeii, Vesuvius, and Naples is a shaded lemon grove. Stroll through it enjoying the tranquility. At the end there is limoncello sampling and purchase, but you do not have to approach this small sales stand to appreciate this shaded sanctuary.
Historically, Positano was home of the wealthiest Roman residents and that status seems to be maintained today. It is prettiest when it is approached by boat with its many white and pastel colored houses cascading down to the sea; frequent ferries arrive from surrounding coastal towns. It is difficult for tour buses to stop here, so it is not as overrun as Amalfi and car traffic is very limited. Popular shops sell what has become known as Positano style clothing made of gauze, cotton, or linen. Stroll along the waterfront and enjoy a meal at one of the lovely seaside restaurants. The church of Santa Maria Assunta is a peaceful place to visit. The Casola ceramic factory which has been in existence for 3 generations is located on the coastal road outside of Positano, but they also have a storefront near the church. I preferred, however, the Ceramiche d’Arte shop in Ravello. I thought they had a nicer selection of decorative items and their prices were better. For a custom made stone table that seats 8, it was 4800 euros (including shipping) in Positano; in Ravello, the asking price was 2800 euros. Of course, if you really want to shop for ceramics, the place to go is Vietri sul Mare, the ceramic making center of the Amalfi region.
If you are making a day trip by bus to Positano from one of the other coastal towns, be sure to get off at the Sponda shop and consider a return trip by boat. Positano is in the middle of the Sorrento/Amalfi bus line and the bus is often full by the time it stops in Positano.
Of these four popular towns, Ravello was my favorite. Perched 1150 feet above the coast, the views from the gardens of Villa Rufolo, Villa Cimbrone, and Belvedere Principessa di Piemonte are magnificent. A favorite of such people as Richard Wagner, DH Lawrence, Gore Vidal, and Greta Garbo, it is now the site of a well known music festival. Strolling among the pedestrian only streets of Ravello is a delight as is an evening on the main piazza after the day trippers have departed and the “Terrace of Infinity” at Villa Cimbrone with its breath taking views was a highlight of our trip. A nice feature for us was that it was just a 40 minute walk back down to our apartment in Atrani through the “Valley of the Dragon”.
The entire Amalfi coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means there can be no new building. Most of the structures that exist date from the 10th and 11th centuries, or 17and 18th; it is good to know that they won’t be replaced by modern high rises.
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.