No, I’m not on the Amalfi Coast, unfortunately. I’m stuck at home in Washington DC in a huge blizzard on its way delivering us 2.5 feet of snow. So in an attempt to get away from my TV, I’ve decided to write a blog post about a trip I took several years ago with my wife and her family to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy. I was looking at the pictures the other day and thought that I should post some of them because the scenery on the Italian coast is so is stunning. I think it’s the most beautiful place that I’ve been to in the world.
The rocky coastline, steep cliffs, and colorful seaside villages paint a scene as beautiful as any painting. The sounds of the sea lapping against the rocks and children’s laughs echoing off the cliffs are just some of the senses you might experience when lounging on the beach in Amalfi, or resting on a boat in a bay off the island of Ischia. So to take myself back there, here’s an account of our one week trip to beautiful Italy.
Rome to Ponza
We flew into Rome, got a ride to the port at Ostia and embarked on our boat for the several hours ride to the island of Ponza, situated about 20 miles from the Italian mainland. This little island has been occupied for 5,000 years and is thought to have been referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. Ponza’s scenery was my first taste of the beauty that I would encounter over the next week. We actually didn’t set foot on the island but we got a close up view of the island’s main town, Ponza. It was a beautiful little town of pastel colored buildings built into the hillside overlooking the harbor.
The next day we sailed to the island of Ischia, significantly larger than Ponza and located about 10 miles off the mainland. Over the next two days, while our boat was at anchor near the medieval Aragonese Castle, we explored the island during the day and slept on the boat at night.
We were in need of exercise so we went on two hikes in Ischia. The first day we walked through the town of Ischia, the island’s main commune, exploring the narrow streets that curve up and down the steep hills of the town. If you’ve seen the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley, the island might look familiar because some of it was filmed here. On the second day we hiked up into the Boso Della Maddalena, a park in Ischia’s Comune de Casamiccila Terme.
Basically every city in the United States has a pizza place with the name Capri in it, but I didn’t really know much about the island before visiting. It’s a beautiful island and has been used as a resort destination since Roman times, for obvious reasons.
Our first encounter with the island was with the Faraglioni, huge rocky outcroppings poking out from the island’s southeastern coast. The Faraglioni have been worn down by water erosion and one even has a hole in the middle of it through which small boats pass. We disembarked one afternoon at the little town on the island’s southern coast called Marina Piccola.
From there, we ascended the switchback path called Via Krupp that leads up from the coastline to the rocky bluffs overlooking the ocean. At top are the verdant Gardens of Augustus, where we caught our breath and had a drink.
We had lunch at the La Fontanila, which might enjoy the best location of any restaurant in the world. It’s part beach club, part restaurant, and you can eat on the shaded verandas while enjoying the view of the ocean and the rock pools below the deck, next to which people sunbathe under huge blue and white umbrellas.
We spent the night exploring the town of Capri, which was beautiful but a little too fancy for my taste. If you’re into international fashion chains selling clothes and jewelry and don’t mind paying the high prices then you’ll be in heaven in the town of Capri.
Our next stop was on the mainland of Italy along the famed Amalfi Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We started out in the gorgeous town of Positano, a name which also graces the names of many Italian restaurants all over the U.S.
We walked around Positano and took in the sights along the crowded but gorgeous Fornillo Beach. We walked through the narrow streets of this beautiful town, passing the Santa Maria Assunta, a domed church with green, yellow, and blue tin-glazed pottery tiles.
The next day we spent hiking along the the Sentiero degli Dei, or the Footpath of the Gods. This 5 mile mountain pathway east of Positano connects the town of Praiano with Nocelle, and offers breathtaking views 1,000 feet above the Tyrhennian Sea.
Amalfi and Ravello
The town of Amalfi, another seaside city roughly the same size as Positano and almost as beautiful, was our next stop. We shopped there for a little before taking a cab up to Ravello, a hilltop town that overlooks the sea from cliffs as tall as 1,200 feet. We took photos in the Piazza Centrale and then headed to the Hotel Caruso, a former 11th century palace, for dinner.
Anyone who is interested in history or architecture must visit the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii. In 79 AD, the city was buried under mounds of molten ash billowing out from Mt. Vesuvius. The ruins today are relatively well-preserved because they were buried and safe from looters for hundreds of years before being excavated in the 1700s.
We hired a guide at the front gate, who turned out to be the sister of a graduate school classmate of my brother in law. She took us around to all the main sights. I was impressed by how big the city was. You can easily spend a whole day there if you are really into it. The sun was hot and we only had an afternoon but we were able to see a lot.
I enjoyed walking the ancient streets and stepping into the former shops, some with colorful frescoes still on the walls. The Roman’s liberal attitude towards sex was evident in a former brothel we stepped into. The walls were adorned with paintings depicting sexual acts that would make anyone blush.
To get an idea of the human cost of the volcanic eruption, be sure to see the plaster casts of the many people who died there. It’s haunting to see forms of people crouched in the fetal position or splayed out in agony as they took their last breaths.
Other sites of interest included the amazingly well preserved theater and the forum complete with still standing columns. I left Pompeii deeply impressed by the ingenuity of the Romans.
This was an outstanding trip that was both relaxing and exhilarating. We had a lot of time to relax on the boat and catch up on our reading. But we also stayed active and explored several Italian towns along the gorgeous coastline, taking in the sights, hiking, and tasting wonderful Italian food along the way. I can’t wait to go back one day.