The “Ahhhhhh/Oh My!” trip from Sorrento toward Salerno is one of the most breathtaking collection of views in the world.
The roads are a testament to the engineering skill of 19th century Italian engineering, and a true test for the skills of the 21st century drivers as they squeeze past each other (some places have a cop pushing in your mirrors for you) at the edge of a 500 foot drop to the sea.
We had a bit of luck that day as the weather provided some breaks of sun intermingled with just a few sprinkles.
You also have to understand that when places are as picturesque and stunning as this you are bound to get the vulgarity, the “rich” cheapness, and crowds of tourists gawking at the wrong things and spending way too much money on “designer goods”. We were also fortunate that we were there at the very end of the season, when the crowds are light and the weather still pretty good.
We quickly realized how smart we were using Paolo and his minivan for the four of us as opposed to a bus tour or (no, no, no) a self-drive car. Busses can only go one direction (south) on the coast roads. Paolo was able to get off and on at small towns and picture-worthy spots as he or we wanted. And, his vast local knowledge helped oriented us to the things in which we were most interested.
As we turned onto the coast road Paolo pointed out two small islands (Li Galli Islands) that are thought to be the home of the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey. The largest was once owned by Rudolph Nureyev and now is a luxury residence that can be rented for over $100,000 per week (bring your own yacht or helicopter).
The first stop was Positano, built on a series of man-made terraces. It’s a spectacular looking place with a lot of steep strolls inside. Known for fashion, Positano’s shops are primarily women’s wear. Only one street allows motorized vehicles, the rest pedestrian. Wish it was that way in the other towns as you have to be nimble and have eyes behind your head to get out of the way of scooters and little cars. There is not a heck of a lot to do here except eat, window shop and go to the beach. The views are it – and plenty!
Just outside of Positano is the tiny town of Praiano that is known for being the center of the region’s ceramics industry – a must stop for Marsha of course.
At the end of the town, just before the tunnel leading to Amalfi is this amazing presepe (manger scene) built right into the cliff face. The miniature was carved by one local man. Each house is filled with figures and lights. The only problem is what you see is the edge of the road, nary a shoulder…and couldn’t see any place to park nearby. I guess closeup viewing is a local secret we didn’t discover.
The next town on the way was Amalfi, but we decided to go on to Ravello, perched 1,000 feet above the sea, to have our lunch and a look at the stunning little “island garden” seemingly all on its own. The views have always attracted writers and poets like D.H. Lawrence, Gore Vidal, H.W. Longfellow, and artists including M.C. Escher (look at the complex backdrop in the next photo, and you’ll see why).
Probably our favorite place on the coast. It’s a haven for music, calm and quiet compared to the other towns – unobstructed views that could be Hollywood backdrops – you sometimes have to tell yourself that they are real. And, we had a great lunch at the Trattoria Pizzeria Cumpa Cosimo, run by the ultimate Italian grandma who cooks and serves and pinches and squeezes. A delicious stop in many ways!
We headed back and stopped in Amalfi town. In the early 14th century much of the culture of the region was driven by this town. After Rome fell it was the first major trading center between Europe and the East. In 1343 though, it was destroyed by an undersea earthquake and its resultant tsunami. It’s never returned to its original stature, and isn’t quite as picturesque as Positano, but it’s less touristy and gives a better sense of the “real” people who live on the coast. We spent some time climbing the steps to the Cathedral in the Piazza Duomo for some amazing views. We didn’t have time, but it’s a great place for hiking to the top and above the town.
Back Through the Setting Sun
It was getting late and we wanted to see views of the coast from a different perspective and in different light. Photos through the windshield of our van certainly don’t do justice to what we were seeing with our own eyes. But those “pictures” will remain preserved in our own minds and memories.
Back to Sorrento for dinner, just a few blocks from he hotel. A great day. A pleasant evening. Off to bed to make ready for our last full day.
Join us tomorrow for a walk to the local, outdoor market…and, finally, a walk downhill to Sorrento’s Marina Grande.