By Vickie Kelber
The dramatic landscape of the Amalfi Coast draws throngs of tourists. In fact, during the busiest time of the year, tour buses are only allowed to travel one way on the narrow, twisting main road. The better known towns of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and even smaller Ravello become invaded by tour groups during the day.
If one is looking for an extended stay on the Amalfi Coast, there are some lovely options for a quieter location. I’ve already written about the virtues of Atrani, right next to Amalfi
Minori and Maiori are neighboring towns that were named by the Romans for the two rivers, Reginna Minor and Reginna Major flowing from the mountains to the sea. Minori is the smaller but more charming. There is a beautiful yellow washed basilica which dates to the 11th century and a waterfront promenade. The Villa Romana is the remains of a 1st century two story Roman villa. A special treat in Minori is a visit to the waterfront Pasticceria De Riso, a shop/cafe owned by TV personality and Italy’s best known pastry chef, Sal de Riso.
Maiori has the largest waterfront promenade on the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately, the town itself is not as picturesque as all the others. As is the practice in towns along the coast, the river had once been capped. During a flood in the 1950s, the cap exploded severely damaging the city. It was rebuilt in a more modern and not overly attractive manner. It is a popular vacation spot for visiting Europeans. There are beachfront restaurants as well as a Norman tower that now houses a restaurant. Corso Reginna, the main street through which the river flows below is lined with shops and restaurants and towering above the town is the San Nicola Castle. An advantage of Maiori over some of the other coastal towns is that it is relatively flat; no climbing up and down stairs here.
Praiano was a favored summer retreat for Roman emperors and later the dogi; today it is a popular destination for travelers from the UK and Germany. It is situated next to Positano and the views of that town and the sea are spectacular. On a clear day, one can see Capri. There are hotels and guest houses set along the hillside, restaurants that offer views, and a few shops mostly along the coastal road. There are secluded beaches and what seems to be the requisite multicolored domed church. If you do visit Praiano, be sure to go inside the Church of San Giovanni Battista. The colorful majolica tiled floor is memorable. Praiano would not be my first choice, however, for an extended stay. It doesn’t offer a real town or waterfront promenade and is a maze of alleys and staircases; it seems one has to climb to get anywhere.
Perched 1300 feet above sea level and facing Ravello, Scala is a perfect spot if one doesn’t want to stay right on the water. The oldest town on the Amalfi Coast, it is a peaceful respite from the crowds. One hears birds chirping while looking out on the dramatic views of the valley and sea below. It is a favorite place for returning vacationers, especially those from the UK. There are a few restaurants, including one that I have been told has the best pizza north of Naples (Naples, Italy, that is). Alas, we didn’t have to time to try it, but did enjoy one of the best cups of cappuccino we’ve ever had on the tiny main square of the town.
There are a number of family run hotels in Scala as well as larger hotels and even the opportunity for an agriturismo accomodation, or staying on a farm. Scala offers some unique walks; the local tourist office has a map of “Naturalist Itineraries.” There are also organized walks. Destinations include a grotto replete with stalactites and stalagmites, remains of a castle, and access to a national park.
The main church on the square, Duomo San Lorenzo, on first inspection appears rather simple by Italian standards until one sees the floor and the ceiling. The floor is majolica tile while the intricate painted panels of the ceiling depict the life of the patron saint for whom the church is named.
From Scala, it is a 20 minute walk to Ravello, but there are also frequent buses to it as well as to Amalfi for connections to buses traveling north and south along the coast.
Pogerola, known as “The Terrace Above Amalfi”, is well off the tourist radar. A twenty minute bus ride from Amalfi, it is a world away. There are buses to Amalfi at least hourly, with more during some times of the day. On the bus we took, there were mostly locals and a few savvy travelers. We met a couple from the UK and one other American, the three of them traveling to Pogerola for the walkers’ paradise that it is.
Another option is to walk up from Amalfi, but, at 1,000 steps, that is a trip I would rather take down.
There seem to be limited options for hotels and rentals, but the few there are lovely and it is a very peaceful getaway with cooling breezes and stunning views. Pogerola was once home to the fortifications that defended Amalfi from all manner of invaders including the Saracens, Lombards, and Normans.
There are a few shops here, including one that offers wonderful fruits and vegetables as well as homemade by products such as sun dried tomatoes and fruit. For such a small hamlet, there are a surprising number of restaurants, including one named “Gerry’s Pub”.
There are churches in Pogerola dating to the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. The walks from Pogerola are spectacular; many of them relatively flat. On Tuesdays and Fridays at 5:30PM, there are organized walks offered from the Info Point/Cocktail Bar/Gelato terrace. This multi faceted terrace bar is an alluring place to sit and sip a limoncello or cappuccino or sample homemade lemon granita while overlooking the valley and sea below. A perfect way to enjoy the Amalfi Coast far from the crowds.
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.