Last April we donned our hiking boots to walk along some of the trails of Italy’s Amalfi Coast. There was peace and quiet. There was time for contemplation. There was time to chat with our fellow hikers. Up here on the cliffs, high above the shimmering water of the Mediterranean, we were far away from the hordes of tourists who crowd the narrow streets of the coastal fishing villages.
Until the 19th century, these spectacular footpaths were the main highways and principal means of communication between the hillside settlements. They wind past grand villas, cultivated terraces, neatly planted vegetable patches, vineyards, lemon groves and centuries-old churches.
Our first guided hike was to the Valley of the Paper Mills. We soon discovered that just getting from Sant’Agnello to Amalfi was an adventure in itself. Our bus journey was made even more interesting because of our guide’s running commentary. The road, formerly a mule path, was built after the Second World War and extends for 80 kilometres. In some places the road is suspended on stilts and seems to be hanging on fresh air. Once in a while the precipitous drop to our right was stomach-churning.
There was an endless stream of traffic and constant road repairs. Traffic accidents were not uncommon. Motorcyclists overtook recklessly on blind curves. As we passed the village of Positano – nicknamed the Kingdom of Stairs – our guide pointed out that this was the most nearly vertical town in Italy. Houses cascaded down to the waterfront. An hour later , our driver pulled up at the harbour in Amalfi. Our group of eight hikers followed our guide along a narrow walkway to the central piazza. Above a wide flight of 62 steps, the elaborately decorated Romanesque cathedral, the Duomo, dominated the square. The exterior is a strange mixture of architectural styles, the Arab influence being particularly noteworthy. There are arches and peaked roofs, tiles of all shapes, colours and sizes, and an eclectic onionstyle dome which sits atop a square bell tower. Some of our group saw ugliness in this structure whereas others saw beauty. There was just time for a caffe latte at L’Abside before beginning the hike. The shade from the overhanging trees provided a welcomerespite from the sun. Further on, the trail ran beside a rushing stream and cascading waterfalls. In the 12th century, this area was renowned for its papermaking, and until the 1950s many mills were still operating. Only one mill remains as a museum.
As we neared the hillside village of Pontone, we espied the ruins of a medieval basilica, which still stands in ghostly vigil. Soon we were settled comfortably under the colourful umbrellas at the Blu Bar in the piazzetta, enjoying a well-earned lunch and refreshing ice-cold lemonade. After a short descent, we reached the main road. We piled onto the bus for a brief journey to hilltop Ravello, where our day’s outing would end. It was a peaceful place, and over the years the quiet serenity has inspired many writers and musicians.
The next day’s delight was Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods, the most famous hike on the Amalfi Coast. We started in the hamlet of Nocello and ended in Bomerano, a distance of about eight kilometres. Not surprisingly, this was a busy trail. There were hikers from Germany, France and England, and a large group of teenagers on a school trip. We never tired of the amazing vistas to Positano and the glittering water in the gulf below. We heard the tingling of bells as goats scampered over the rocky terrain.
The mountainside had been painstakingly terraced and the ground lovingly planted, and the well worn path climbed steadily upwards. There were many uneven steps, several rocky patches and some challenging parts. The mixed terrain kept this trip interesting.
At last we reached the pass, the Colle la Serra, our halfway point and a good lunch spot. Now facing inland, the scenery changed. We could see our trail winding its way to Bomerano, where the promise of an ice-cold beer awaited.
We truly enjoyed both these beautiful hikes. Walking along the ancient pathways of the Amalfi Coast will forever remain one of our fondest memories of our holiday in the Sorrento Peninsula.
Lindsay Salt, Postmedia News