On the string bean of a road on the Amalfi coastline, it is imperative that you shall be caught in the midst of substantial traffic jams. You will hear a fair bit of Italian cursing or laughter — depending upon the mood of the driver. You will also peek out of your window, curious about the ado, till you spot the troublemaker. A man in a blush pink blazer getting into his ramshackle car with a sheepish smile and a few scusas and molto bene grazies. But he has had his coffee, thank you. Such important matters of life are not to be bypassed in Italy even if it means that you park your car on a ribbon of a road, okay?
We were on the way from Positano to Amalfi. After the essential coastal drive drama we were back on the road, with a stop at the fishing village of Conca Dei Marini for coffee. The driver wanted it, we wanted it, and we had a parking spot. The stars were aligned. From the coastline we had a spectacular view of its claim to fame – the Grotta dello Smeraldo — a cavern that glows shades of emerald inside as the sun shines through its fissure. It all seemed unreal at the time and even now, yes. If you have been a part of the Amalfi dream, you know what I mean. If you have not, what are you waiting for?
Then turned up the romantic town of Praiano. The brilliant white, yellow and blue colours of its majolica tiled domed church beckoned to us very invitingly indeed as it towered above a maze of pretty pastel houses, azure blue waters its immediate backdrop.
How to Get There: For any of these towns on the Amalfi Coast, opt for a water taxi or local shuttles. There are options for hiring private car/bus tours depending upon the depth of your pocket. I would steer clear of hiring a car because it would give you a few nerve-racking moments, guaranteed.
Things to do in Praiano: Relax on its beaches such as the Marina di Praia, scuba/snorkel or work off the pasta by taking steps down to Torre di Grado, one of the 16th-17th towers built by the Spanish on the Tyrrhenian Coast for defensive purposes.
If you are staying in Praiano, hop over to Africana Famous Club, a club which sits inside a cave. While dancing look down. You would be thrilled to feel that you are dancing upon water (’tis a glass floor). But this is a club which has received the likes of Jackie Kennedy, so beware of the prices of drinks.
Jump onto the local bus to Furore, a tiny village that is quipped not to exist because you cannot see it from the coastline. You know what that means. More steps. Who can complain about a little workout after a gelato? Head for the Fiordo, a narrow gorge.
Where to Stay: If you want atmosphere look out for the three-star hotel, Hotel Torre Saracena (http://www.hoteltorresaracena.it/en/). Standard rooms range between €80-€150.
In Amalfi, a plaque on the Porta Marina declared: “The judgement day, when Amalfitans go to Heaven, will be a day like any other”. It is not a swollen-headed claim given Amalfi’s scenic home in the valley of the Lattari Mountains. For all its small stature, it was a naval powerhouse in the 11th-12th centuries, drawing out codes of marine laws that were followed by medieval kingdoms and minting its own gold and silver coins known as tari. In the 11th century, a chronicler, William of Apulia, noted of Amalfi: “No other city is richer in silver, cloth, and gold. A great many navigators live in this city… famous almost throughout the world as those who travel to where there is something worth buying.”
From its busy harbour, we took a boat ride that gave us an eyeful of Amalfi’s landscape – pastel coloured houses, gaping caves in cliffs and well-perched convents, not to miss out on a certain white villa with green window shutters that belongs to actress Sophia Loren.
The stars of Amalfi are the glazed majolica dome of the cathedral with its stunning Arabic and Norman architecture and the basilica. Souk-like streets run the length of Amalfi, taking you past lattices of dried red chillies and baskets of Amalfi lemons, shops selling fresh seafood, gelaterias that charge you horrifically for a cone of gelato, but by and by, there are not many old structures around. In 1343, an earthquake brought down old structures in towns such as Positano and Amalfi and most of Amalfi’s old buildings along with its people were swept into the sea. Amalfi never recovered from its bad fortune after. Newer trading routes had started opening up with discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Amalfi became a wallflower of sorts till it drew the attention of the Grand Tour-era travellers.
What to do: Vallone delle Ferriere hike. Take the steps that lead up from the main street of Amalfi, through the hamlet of Pogerola. Make your way to Pontone that is a another scenic hamlet in the oldest town of the coastline, Scala. The hike will lead you into chestnut and fern woods through charming waterfalls, rivers and lemon groves.
Where to stay: I fear that if I did recommend staying here you might pick up lemons again. The town is just too crowded.