Monday, 27 July 2015

Italy - the Amalfi Coast

Coming up from Matera, we arrived at Salerno - the start of the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Coming off the autostrada where the speed was 110 kph, we had a very short deceleration lane of 40 kph then a stop sign. Whoa ......!!!! The locals may know about this but visitors sure get a surprise. Then you are on to the coast road and the spectacular vista that awaits.

After a couple of days amidst the mountains in the interior, it was lovely to see the water again and this coast line truly is breathtaking. The coastline runs 50 kilometres from Salerno to Sorrento, a rugged shoreline dotted with small beaches and fishing villages, and amassed with tourists. The road winds past grand villas, with terraced vineyards and lemon groves looking out across the endless sea. Yachts of all sizes are moored in the small anchorages, and some of the biggest super yachts and power boats we have ever seen. This is a playground for the seriously rich.

We cautiously wound our way along the road that twisted and turned every 100 meters, dodging the parked cars on the side of the road as well as the many pedestrians on foot taking in the view. Then there were the motorbikes! Obviously a preferred way to commute with the narrowness of the road as well as the very limited places to park. It felt like we were on an obstacle course and didn't really allow us to take in the panorama in front of us. We had opted to stay at Agerola, high up above the coastline so after turning off the coast road, we had a good climb through many switchbacks to reach our destination 700 mts above sea level. Fortunately we didn't meet any buses coming down the hill, that was our biggest fear. 

Our B & B for the next few nights was a family run stay and the friendliest stop so far. We were treated like family - from Roberto our host who gave us endless information in very good English about the area, the buses to catch and the restaurants in which to eat, to his dad Geraldo (ex professional pastry chef) who whipped up the best bruschetta with their home made cheese for breakfast, as well as delicious cakes for those who preferred sweets. He then explained to us in Italian how they were made - we just smiled at him and said 'Bellissimo' and he beamed back at us. This was truly a little haven of tranquility in the chaotic, hectic pace of the Amalfi Coast.

Our first full day started with us walking the Sentiero degli Dei - the 'Path of the Gods'. We started early morning as we knew it would take us 2.5 hours to do the 7 kms hike starting from Agerola to Positano. The path  took us through the most fascinating gorges, cliffs and precipices of the Amalfi Coast with magnificent wide views of the sea - to Capri in the distance and then down to the hamlets of Praiano and Furore located just below the path. They say it is not a trek with those who suffer from acrophobia, and in places we just didn't look over the edge but such an experience. The path ends at Nocella where there are 1,700 steps to get back down to sea level again. The calves really got a good work out doing those and the legs felt quite wobbly when we reached the bottom, but oh that first beer was amazing.


                     About 1/3 of the way along the path where it branches down to Positano


                       Spectacular scenery along the 'Path of the Gods' - looking up then down


             The start of the 1,700 steps downhill                      Thistle like flowers along the path

Along the path we had passed only a dozen other walkers, and all bar one were Australians. We had followed a French couple for most of the way and bumped back into them in Positano, so we all sat down and quenched our thirsts together. With the help of schoolboy French (our side) and schoolboy English (their side), google translate on the iPad and charades, we spent the next 2 hours 'chatting' and having a great time. After refreshing ourselves with a swim, we caught the local ferry back along the coast to Amalfi where we spent a couple of hours wandering up and down the cobbled alleyways and trying to stay cool. Record temperatures for the summer so far and day after day reaching above 40 degrees - even the locals were feeling the heat. We then caught the bus back up the mountain to our accomodation, an exhausting day nearly finished and no doubt a good nights sleep ahead.


             View from 1/2 way down the steps.                  Looking up from the beach at Positano

The next day we headed for Capri and the Blue Grotto. Busing back down to Amalfi, we jumped back on the ferry and after a 5 minute stop in Positano along the coast we were soon arriving into Capri. It was a pretty island, very touristy and very expensive but picturesque along with the rest of the region. We caught one of the small orange buses up to Ana Capri then changed for a bus down to the Grotto. The queue to enter into the beautiful blue watered cave was long and took us nearly an hour before it was our turn. Jumping into a small row boat with an oarsman and waiting our turn with the other 20 similar craft, we then had to lay very low as the tide was high and there wasn't much head room at all through the entry point. Into the cave and the most amazing coloured blue water surrounded us, so blue it really did look artificial. It was a quick 5 minute slow paddle around the interior and we were back out into blazing sunshine. 


                     The view from the bus window looking back down to the harbour on Capri


                     Getting ready to duck our heads and enter into the Blue Grotto on Capri


                                  Our little flotilla of row boats heading out of the Blue Grotto

It's goodbye to the Amalfi Coast and we now head north and inland to the region of Tuscany. And after a couple of nights of hotel accomodation, it's back to camping through the mountains. 

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