The Amalfi Coast Road
Oh dear – the editor wants me to write about the Amalfi Coast. But tucked away on the Amalfi Coast is one of my favourite places on the planet. Do I really want to tell anyone else about it? Why don’t I just talk about the rest of this glorious coastline and see if I can deviously omit to mention it? ,
The 43 mile stretch of Amalfi Coast starts just beyond Sorrento and swoops and soars along Homer’s ‘wine dark’ Mediterranean through Positano and Amalfi to Salerno. I’ve never been seasick at sea but the Amalfi drive has frequently left me feeling queasier than a cross channel hovercraft. And wondering whether my last sight of this world will be of tumbling magenta bougainvillea, languid jasmin, dark olive groves, Saracen watchtowers and mules carrying baskets of lemons down to sparkling white villages.
Positano is the first stop. American novelist and former resident, John Steinbeck, said of this chic little pink and white town that hugs the limestone cliffs, “You do not walk to visit a friend, you either climb or slide.” There are a few too many fashion shops for my taste but if you totter down the stairs to the sea, it’s a good place from which to take a boat to the nearby Emerald Grotto.
Another 50 tortuous minutes along the road is Amalfi itself . A heartier, earthier town, this was once great sea-faring republic but a tidal wave destroyed it in 1343. These days Amalfi is a tourist hub but with a stunning cathedral and good walks like the short stroll along the coast to the lovely unspoilt beach village of Atrani. If you are feeling really ambitious and fit you could make the big hike up to my personal favourite…no come to think of it stay in Amalfi and treat yourself to a sfogliatelle, the local breakfast speciality of puff pastry and orange flavoured ricotta.
Oh all right, here goes, I suppose I have to say it: A long hike or a fifteen minute bus ride above Amalfi, “suspended between sea and sky”, as French novelist Andre Gide once said, is the little town of Ravello. Attend a concert in the gardens of the Villa Rufolo that inspired Wagner to write Parsifal. Stroll along the headland to the ‘terrace of infinity’ and the Villa Cimbrone where Greta Garbo met with her lover, conductor Leopold Stokowski. Eat at the Cumpa Cosimo trattoria where Jackie Kennedy was once a regular. And after a while a strange buoyancy will come over you – a sense of euphoria from being constantly surrounded by absolute beauty. Ravello holds a magic that few other places on earth possess but please don’t say I said so. And whatever you do, don’t tell anyone else.