On the other side of the hills, through some tunnels and around some hairpin turns, one pops out on the Amalfi coast. Coming from Napoli, it looks as though you’ve disembarked in another land, even though it’s not 60km away. The greenery contrasts against an azure Mediterranean Sea. The cliffs drop off to reveal a rugged coastline dotted with castle-like lookout towers used by locals nearly a thousand years ago to defend themselves from pirates.
We booked a B&B in Positano for a couple of nights. Actually, above Positano in a small village called Montepertuso. It seems to consist of about 137 houses, a church, two restaurants and a bus stop. It’s perfect. These towns were built vertically from the sea up the hillsides. But what we hadn’t considered was the fact that there are approximately 1500 steps from Positano up to our perch.
We decided to explore somewhat horizontally that first day… traversing over to the trailhead for the Path of the Gods, or Il Sentiero degli Dei, we managed to hike the path all the way from Montepertuso to Bomerano and back. For the record, “horizontal” is relative in these parts.
Words cannot do justice to panoramas we encountered along the way: the jagged rock formations, caves, terraced gardens, carefully-placed villas, and the sheer cliff faces that seemingly melted into the sea below. We did the hike backwards, so had to wander about a little village to find sustenance, and were rewarded with some great eggplant parm to help fuel the 2nd half of the hike. The decision to hike back rather than wimp out and take the bus proved to be a good one: the views from the “high path” were even grander, walking through the long grasses that lined the trail was meditative, and the late afternoon light contrasting with the fog off the water was surreal. Truth be told, my legs grumbled a bit when we missed a bus from Nocelle and walked the last 3km or so. But all in all, I think this hike falls on my list of favourites. Total distance 22+/- km round-trip. Definite accumulation of adventure points on the day!
These coastal towns are connected by a local bus route, so the next day we were off to Amalfi proper, and from there the town of Ravello for its terraced gardens and medieval estates. Castles and breathtaking views? Yes, please. Bright blue skies and more spectacular views greeted us as we marched through the impeccable Villa Cimbrone (a fancy-shmancy hotel that opens its gardens to tourists)…worth every penny of the entrance fee. Between the architecture of the villa, cloister and crypt (replete with grand piano), the views, and the serenity of the place, this won our hearts more-so than the tourist-thronged streets of Amalfi.
But even an accidental tourist has to get one of Campania’s giant lemons topped with local lemon sorbet! (when in Amalfi…)
Once back in Positano, we were faced with the dreaded steps! There is a local bus that takes one from the bottom to the top, but that schedule is haphazard and it seemed silly to wait around for a bus that may or may not come… so up we climbed, and I lost count somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11 gajillion. The reward came at dinner, where we stumbled into the family-run Donna Rosa, a surprising little restaurant with charm spilling out from the kitchen onto our table! A nice way to round out the day.
The following day, we planned to hike the Sentiero Panoramico, a loop high above Montepertuso. Essentially, mostly UP… But the weather gods had other plans. A shift in the skies was upon us, and the looming clouds promised a treacherous journey on a hike already deemed hard by the guidebook. So we opted to do a short climb up to Il Buco, a hole in the mountain with very cool views from this weird geology. What goes up must come down, so we hiked down the same steps we had climbed up the day before, and wandered around the streets where Kardashian sightings aren’t uncommon (no paparazzi to be seen this day). At no more than 17C, there were still several bikini-clad people on the beach, selfie-ing it up as if the season were in full swing. I cannot even imagine what this place is like in the middle of summer!
With dark clouds looming, we managed to grab our bags, grab a bus, and grab cover under a car park before the storm raged for real: Jupiter ushering us out of Positano with a bang. And so the days of the Amalfi coast come to a close with bonus points for bright blue skies, breathtaking views and challenging-but-worth-it hikes. Also fennel liqueur (where does one find some?!)
We stayed in a different section of Napoli on the last night, in a nice B&B run by a zealous host (whose mother made the most fantastic Italian pastries for us for Easter breakfast!). We were bowled over by her hospitality, which proved a wealth of excellent suggestions for the evening, including the best seafood experience of the trip: ‘a Figlia d’o Marenaro. The local favourite being the zuppa di cozze, a pile of steamed seafood over bread, with a zesty fra diavolo drizzled over the lobster. It did not disappoint!
So I left Naples with a better spirit than I entered. Maybe it was the last supper. Perhaps the Mediterranean air seeped into my pores. The eggplant parm and the homemade sfogliatelle and the hiking and the company surely didn’t hurt. They say you need at least 10 days of vacation for it to really feel like a holiday. I was on Day 9 and headed for a couple of nights in Istanbul to finish off my adventure.
I’ve written a lot about Istanbul, so I’ll not go into explicit detail here. Suffice to say it was a nice couple of days wandering about this weird and wonderful city. I’d intended to visit the Rumeli Fortress, a castle situated on the banks of the Bosporus, but it was closed (until next time!). I still managed to eat a traditional herring sandwich at a fish boat on the Golden Horn. I wandered through Gülhane Park and stumbled across a gray heron rookery. I explored Taksim Square, and later the Egyptian spice market. I even watched the Iftar unfold in the park between the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya. And my B&B, the lovely Hotel Empress Zoe where I’ve stayed each time I’ve visited, was a warm comfort. The city has gone through major renovations in the year and a half since I’ve been here, and seeing the old city walls and newly-restored ancient monuments was a treat.
So, no, it wasn’t the warm and sun-soaked holiday I had envisioned. But all the same I’m grateful for the ability to travel. I’m grateful for a world full of food and culture and historical ruins and relics and museums and landmarks and sweeping vistas to explore, and a team back at the office holding down the fort while I took this much-needed break (but not so much for the Lyft driver who got lost at the airport on his way to shuttle my jet-lagged body home).
Until next time, world… the wheels are already spinning.