Along Italy’s Amalfi Coast

By Chris McBeath For Travel Writers Tales

Seduction is fast affair on the Amalfi Coast and invariably, its legendary scenery and so much more, will linger in your heart for years to come.

Limone Abbondante

Picturesque villages cling to high cliffs that drop into a cobalt blue sea. Narrow roads wind precariously around the rugged Tyrrhernian coastline. And lemons larger bocce balls are everywhere: hanging beneath rustling green leaves on terraced landscapes. Painted on ceramics. Carved into walls. Printed onto tea towels. Styled into haute couture. Crafted into perfumes. Distilled into limoncello, and flavoring almost every local dish, be it scialatielli ai frutti di mare or linguini. And, being Italy, food is a serious affair deserving of its own celebration.

Magnifico Leggenda

If lemons are one Amalfi treasure, then its legends are another. Folklore suggests it was the Roman god Hercules who named the coast for a nymph who had smitten his heart. When she died, he buried her in what he considered the most beautiful place in the world, surrounded by sea and rocks. Hercules then built the town of Amalfi over her tomb, which he believed – correctly I might add, would embody her beauty forever.

Pilgrim Pathways

But Amalfi’s appeal goes beyond its majestic Duomo di Amalfi (Cathedral of St. Andrew) and its pedestrian alleyways. It reaches up to neighboring communities straddling along the coast, over undulating hills, and even across to the Island of Capri. Although much of the region is accessible by car, exploring it on foot will offer much more. Before the coastal road of hairpin switchbacks was completed in 1854, the well-worn mule tracks and precipitous cliff-edge paths were the only viable routes between towns. They weave around ancient hermitages and convents, past shells of former paper mills, over wooden bridges, and beside moss clad waterfalls, shepherds huts and stone houses carved into the limestone. Tales of pilgrims and smugglers abound. As do the panoramas that quite literally take your breath away …. especially if vertigo is an issue.

Then there are the stairs – various corridors of many hundreds of steps that fall vertically down to the shore, and leading to some of the most picturesque towns of all. Take the fabled Walk of the Gods from the mountain towns of Bomerano, or Agerola, and your reward will be picture perfect Positano.

The Syrens Enchantment

But be warned, the list of artists who have fallen helplessly in love with the beauty of Positano’s pastel-colored homes, silvery pebble beach and wisteria covered walkways is endless. Escher, Steinbeck, Picasso and Liz Taylor have all defined themselves as “willing prisoners of a legendary landscape”. Perhaps they were equally enchanted by the Syrens nearby – those beautiful sea creatures who would lure sailors to their death with their sweet song. Or perhaps it was the story of the Turkish boat that went aground in the bay. It was carrying a painting of the Virgin Mary who whispered ‘posa posa’ (set me down) to the captain. He dutifully threw the image overboard, his ship miraculously floated and the locals, believing that the Virgin had chosen their town as a resting place, built a church on the spot where the painting washed ashore.

Mythical Treasure

Ravello, too, is a masterpiece, much favored by the likes of Wagner, DH Lawrence and later by Virginia Woolf and other members of the Bloomsbury set. Today it still hosts the chic and wealthy — it’s not unusual for Russian oligarchs to arrive by private helicopter on the main piazza.

Ravello’s most colorful tale is that of Landolfo Rufolo, a 14th century wealthy merchant-turned-pirate who, after surviving a shipwreck, returned to Ravello with a treasure chest. Over subsequent centuries, stories evolved that the fortune was buried in the Villa Rufolo and by the mid 1800s, locals sought the answer to its whereabouts through holding séances. The spirit reportedly told them that all would be revealed if they would first sacrifice a young child. To this day, the myth continues and sadly, all that was found in the walls of the Villa were the remains of a two-year old boy. But please don’t let this deter you from walking the Villa Gardens. They are nothing short of spectacular, with views that are among the finest. And when you look over the valley to Scala, consider this. One of its patricians, Gerard, was an active Crusader who not only founded the Order of St. John of Jerusalem as well as a Benedictine hospital, he and his compatriots also founded the Order of the Knights Templar. The rest, as they say, is history but like this story — indeed like those lemons, it’s an Amalfi ‘jewel’ that is larger than life.

PHOTO CREDITS (in the order they appear):

Trail Along Cliff Edge; photo credit: Jannes Glas
Hanging Basket of Lemons; photo credit: Diana Larcom
Old Paper Mill, Valle delle Ferriere: photo credit: Chris McBeath
Rocky Trail, photo credit: Monty VanderBilt
Steep Stair Descent, photo credit: Chris McBeath
Positano View, photo credit: Alberto Alba
Ravello Piazza, photo credit: Chris McBeath
Coastal Tree, photo credit: Diana Larcom