Amalfi Coast

One of the most beautiful and relaxing places to visit in all of Italy is hands down, the Amalfi Coast. And the best place to visit on this coast is the little village of Positano, famous for its square, little houses and hanging gardens overlooking the ocean. You are justgoing to love it. In fact, the whole Amalfi Coast has so much to see along its little windy roads, we’ll put the pedal to the metal and see what this place is all about.

In the heart of the Sorrento Peninsula, with its panoramic views and charming houses perched along the cliffs, Positano is as glorious a paradise as you can imagine! The dazzling colors of bougainvillea, the dizzying aroma of jasmine and the blissful rush of the ocean waves are a delight for any of your five senses. What could be better?

Once a tiny fishing village, life in Positano revolves around the sea. All of the buildings face it and all roads (or should I say the one road?) in town lead to it! If you listen closely, you’ll hear the waves beckoning you down to the waterfront…and that is where the action is!

The beachfront cafes are the place to be in Positano. Let me stage it for you. Ok? The front tables the ones with the ashtrays, those are for drinks only. Those are the primo spot. This is the orchestra. You get here a little bit early and you sit and don’t move. That’s where everybody watches the show. Now, the ones in the back, they’re the ones for the food. That’s where you want to come to eat. Now, what I like to do, is come a little bit early. I check the menus at all the cafes. I decide where I’m going to eat. I pick my table. The front row of the food tables, that’s the mezzanine, that’s where I’m gonna be. Ok, then I make my reservation with a big smile.

Secreted from intrusive gaze by a golden bluff, Positano has long been a celebrity hideout for fashion models, film and rock stars. Author, John Steinbeck, was the first to discover the allure of Positano, starting the trend of artists and celebrities descending upon the village when he built a villa here on a neighboring hillside. Today, artists continue to thrive, inspired by the natural beauty of the village. Here, the enchanting array of colorful houses, pleasant shops and quaint fishing boats provides unlimited inspiration year round. Artists are on the streets, painting the sea scenes daily, it usually takes 5 to 6 hours to complete one and they are available to visitors for sale. Usually 100 Euros will secure a small one to take home.

If the art scene doesn’t inspire you, perhaps the shopping scene in Positano will. It’s a shoppers dream – you won’t believe the amazing stuff you can buy here. Go ahead…have a look….you’re on vacation, remember!? Well, come on!

So many colors, so many choices so many ceramics! There are tiles for tiling or to use as coasters and trivots, spaghetti bowls, soup bowls, vases. Don’t worry if it’s too big or too breakable…they’ll ship it home for you! Have you heard of the Moscow rule of shopping? You see it, you buy it, cuz you may not ever see it ever again. Well, that’s not true in Positano. The ceramic-ware here is well known. It’s in all the shops and all the patterns are here; so you don’t have to worry about not going home with your favorite piece.

A refreshing change from some of the larger European cities, most of the shops here feature local arts and crafts, as well as locally designed clothes and shoes. You know, Positano’s also known for fashion. That’s a big industry here. You remember the Capri pants of the 50’s and 60’s? Well, it started in this area. Color is still big. Linens, cottons, anything with bright colors, and flowers, you gotta have flowers. And speaking of color, one of the colorful plants here makes a local specialty in this part of Italy. It’s the lemon flavored liqueur called lemoncello….It’s sweet and refreshing and deadly potent! I loved it! It will definitely unplug your arteries!

Feeling “unplugged” is one of the perks of Positano, but if you just gotta get your “net” fix, they do have an internet café. A little cappuccino with your email? Mmmm. One of the things you have to try several times here in Positano, is the zeppoli or Italian doughnuts. Handmade in little shops like this one all over Italy, they are a national treasure. Ummm. What was I saying about unplugging my arteries? But trust me, they are worth every calorie and every gram of fat.

No problem, I’ll just walk it off….It doesn’t matter what direction you head off in, everywhere you look, it’s like a painting! I love it here! I promise you, once you’ve experienced Positano, you won’t want to leave! But then, what’s your hurry? I have just the place for you stay! Where? In a small hotel that doesn’t feel like a hotel…more like a villa….but is one of the best hotels in the world! Le Sirenuse is absolutely the most exquisite hotel you’ll ever stay in and they have the awards to prove it! You’ll think you’ve died and been re-incarnated into royalty, as this is like staying in a palace. Built on terraces cut into the hillside with breathtaking views from almost every room, Le Sirenuse is a haven for the discerning traveler.

It’s in the perfect location to set off and do a little exploring! Road trip, anyone? oh, I’ve always dreamed of zooming down the Amalfi Coast in my Italian sports car. Zoom, zoom, zoom! Oh that’s the car commercial, sorry. Diving along the Amalfi coast is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, and something you just have to do! They say this is one of the highlights of your visit to the Amalfi coast, to actually take the drive. The road’s really easy to navigate, because there’s one road between Positano and Amalfi. You just pay attention, watch the curves, and definitely watch the guys coming in front of you. Whee!

What is it about a road trip? You get in the car, you, you drive ten minutes, you get hungry. Let’s see…We could go to a trattoria for a sit down meal, (word has it they have really good Italian food here) but why eat pasta when you can have gelati!!!!! Mmm, tastes like a real fruit with tons of sugar on it. It is so good. That’s another thing I love about Italy, this creamy ice cream you find everywhere. Now this is what a vacation’s all about!

Refreshed and full of sugar, we’re ready for another little drive along the coast road to see what else we can discover! One of the great things about driving the Amalfi Coast are the discoveries you make, the little secrets of the Mediterranean, and one of those are right here, or should I say, down there below? Set in the bay of Conca dei Marini, about halfway between Positano and Amalfi, the emerald grotto is a charming and unexpected pleasure.

You can see it on a tour, given by some of the locals who also speak English. Discovered by a sailor in 1932, the grotto measures about 200 x 100 feet and goes to a depth of about 80 feet at its deepest point. Named for the dazzling color reflected in the water, the emerald grotto has fascinating geologic structures… like stalagmites rising from the sea, indicating the cave had been on dry ground at one time. Also in the grotto is an underwater ceramic crib, resembling a scene from the nativity. The cave can be reached by road using an elevator, or by a boat ride that allows you to see Positano and the nearby town of Praiano from the sea. It’s a nice diversion from your drive, and a great way to cool off for an hour or two!

When are we gonna get there? Relax. In Amalfi, getting there is half the fun. We’re going to Amalfi, another delightful village along the coast. According to ancient legend, Hercules loved a young nymph named Amalfi who tragically died. He chose to bury her in what he considered to be the most beautiful place in the world and gave the town her name. Well, I can see what he was talking about, because arriving in Amalfi is kind of like landing in the middle of a fairytale.

Whitewashed villas, old-world fishermen’s huts, merchant townhouses and little hotels stumble chaotically over each other, clinging to the sheer cliffs that overlook the sapphire tinted bay. Bring good shoes, because Amalfi is best discovered on foot! It’s a lot of steps, come on. Come on! Get up here! You can do it! I know it’s a lot of steps, but it’s worth it to see the main cathedral in Amalfi…St. Andrew’s!

Originally built in the 9th century, additions were made in the 13th and 18th centuries, rendering the original structure forgotten and useless. While repairing damage to the front a few years later, workers uncovered the original roman arches, columns and mosaics. Lo and behold, they decided to re-build the cathedral the way it originally was. When in doubt…it’s back to the drawing board, as they say!

Souvenirs, savories, sodas, sweets and seashells are just some of the stuff for sale. And will you look at that seashore – it’s simply splendid! Some say, the sound of those crashing waves reminds them of a Wagner opera. And speaking of Wagner, he was so inspired by the glorious gardens here in Amalfi, that they erected a plaque in his honor and host concerts of his music here. Now that’s impressive!

Oh, what’s a girl to do in the afternoon in Amalfi when the shops are closed? You eat, you drink, or dine al fresco, now that’s Italian! Or, how about you go behind the scenes at one of the popular bakeries? The Italians are very proud of their world famous pastries and are only too happy to show you how they make them. The only catch is, after they’re done, you have to eat some of them! Let me think about that for a second. Well….ok!

This bakery is in Ravello another one of the lovely little villages on the Amalfi Coast. They say that Ravello is suspended between sea and sky – the singular beauty of this quiet little town has left its impression on many artists, musicians and writers over the years, and it’s sure to leave an impression on you. Just down from Amalfi, on top of Dragon Hill, arranged on terraces overlooking the sea, Ravello offers a setting of unrivaled beauty and peacefulness. Once the site of castles and monasteries, Ravello is rich in history and art. But it is perhaps best known for its charming little streets with hairpin bends, its tile-roofed homes and its gardens.

Like the gardens at the Villa Rufolo. The villa is actually a group of buildings dating back to the 13th century. Originally built by the wealthy Rufolo family, the villa was once the home to several popes and more recently to composer, Richard Wagner. But it’s the gardens that are the main attraction today. Even in the fall, everywhere you look, you ‘re surrounded by beauty. With its ancient arches and loggias – remains of 11th century cloisters, the renowned Villa Rufolo Gardens and Villa Cimbrone Gardens are full of exotic plants, trees and brightly colored flowers overlooking a panoramic view of the coast line. Perfect for quiet meditation and reflection.

Let’s head into town for the other thing Ravello is famous for, handcrafted coral jewelry. The entire region is known for its cameos and beads carved from coral and shells. And jewelry shops pop up on almost every street corner. Artists use very sharp steel tools to carve intricate “relief” designs into the shell using the shell itself to provide shadings. The art of cameo carving originated either in ancient Greece or Rome, but it’s definitely become an Italian tradition, even though the shells they use actually come from the Bahamas, the West Indies, and Madagascar!

Like most works of art in Italy, the designs all tend to have religious themes as these local artists pour their heart and soul into their creations. Of course they’re all for sale! The cameos can be expensive, so check your pricing and what you can afford. For a less expensive but just as beautiful a souvenir, consider taking home some coral beads. Also handmade from red, salmon and pink corals, these necklaces are common in all the shops on the Amalfi coast and are very inexpensive. Authentic and beautiful – just like the people who make them and the countryside that surrounds them!

After dark, the moon over the Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast casts a whimsical glow, touching everything and everyone with a bit of fantasy and frivolity! It’s time to party! And while stopping in the town of Praiano, I discovered the whole town comes out for the wine festival, the yearly harvest celebration in the fall! And every festival has a pile of delicious food, because a party in Italy always means food. There’s pasta figioli,, o h delicious! Hey, dolce. That means sweets. Yum! Stromboli? Zeppoli! Ooh, it all looks so good, and fattening! Ah what the heck, it’s vacation and I’m worth it!

In Praiano, they eat, drink and are merry until the cows come home. Or is it until the cow jumps over the moon? Remember that moon? Magnificent. Good music, great food and even better vino combine to create a festive ending to a fantastic vacation on the Amalfi Coast. You know, I used to think Venice was the most romantic city in Europe, but I think the village of Positano is a new contender in that competition, don’t you? This has to be a ten in anyone’s book, so make sure you put a visit to this picture perfect destination on your list of ideal vacation destinations. This is one visit you will not forget!