We’ve visited the Amalfi Coast before, during the brief time we were travelling with our friends Tim, Jen and Annie. We have fond memories, and didn’t really do it justice last time (that, and Katherine has been wanting to re-visit the wonderful clothes shop she found in Positano), so we decided to visit again!
Using my brilliant new-found POI database and Google Earth, I found us a caravan park (actually, a hostel, Beata Solitudo, with attached camping facilities) right in the thick of it, about 3km as the crow flies (but 16 switchbacked kilometers as the Nettle drives!) from Amalfi, in a town called San Lazzaro.
Google Earth suggested a drive up through the outskirts of Naples and back down into San Lazzaro, but I didn’t want a bar of it; it was only a tiny bit further taking the coastal road, and it would be infinitely more enjoyable, adventure on the narrow roads notwithstanding.
So off we went, taking the motorway back towards Salerno, then veering off along the road clinging to the steep hillside over Salerno, which sprawled prettily way below us. It was heavily overcast, a decidedly grey day, but something about the cloud cover made the diffuse daylight appear as it was coming from low in the sky, which made it seem like a perpetual early morning, even in the middle of the day.
Our luck stayed with us as we negotiated the few tricky intersections, squinting at the map on my iPhone, and picked the correct route each time — except once, when the map’s blue dot indicting our location wandered slightly off (I think it gets bored sometimes), and told us we were somewhere else. We make a wrong turn, heading towards a pretty-yet-narrow cobbled street on Salerno’s eastern side, but easily did a U-turn (with guidance from a friendly police officer who happened to be beside us) and continued on.
Almost immediately, the road took to the edge of the coast, following the buttress-like spits of land that jut out into the ocean, with the occasional hairpin or bridge over a river valley.
Every turn brought new exclamations from us — such a feast for the eyes. The coastline itself was extremely pretty — craggy cliffs and bits of exposed rock poking out of the lush greenery, precipitous slopes down to blue water (even with an overcast sky), the higher reaches wreathed in cloud. With the addition of the delightful little villages nestled into each valley, often with tiers of vines climbing the steep valley walls, the place was just amazing.
Last time we were here, we’d taken a bus along this road, from Sorrento (to the west) to Amalfi and back. At the time, we’d marvelled at the narrow roads that the big buses barrelled down, honking their horns at each hairpin to let oncoming vehicles know they were there. We’d decided then there was no way we’d be driving the route in Nettle. Ah, but we’ve come so far since then! In fact, it was quite relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable — it was certainly tight driving, and I was swinging the steering wheel around the entire time, often doing my don’t-look-at-the-oncoming-vehicle routine (the way I see it, it’s like throwing a ball — if I focus on what I don’t want to run into, I’ll probably veer that way). At once point while passing a large van, there was a thud as the edge of the right mirror flicked against a bit of a stairwell, but no damage. Piece of cake.
Once we had passed through Amalfi, we took a right turn towards our destination (which was actually quite close, high above us). We continued winding upwards and suddenly we were in an impenetrable fog. Oncoming cars would loom out of nowhere, twin points of their headlights the only warning. It was wonderful and atmospheric; white nothingness off the edge of the road, except the odd skeletal tree poking up. Once, we paused momentarily, staring out over the sea we could only just glimpse below us though the roiling clouds, and when we turned back to the front, we caught a glimpse of a whimsical looking tower poking through the mist before it was enveloped again. Magical. The whole thing reminded me of some of the scenery in Half Life 2, oddly (particularly Ravenholm).
We made a right turn onto a steep little side road, which we barely made it up, tires slipping on the wet surface the whole way, then picked our way though the maze-like villages, skeletal trees looming out of the fog, deep green grass beneath them, and lots of adorable brick cottages with red roofs. It was so damp and green and rural we felt like we were back in beautiful Ireland.
The trusty iPhone led us to the caravan park, and I met the owner who welcomed us in. We had lunch of tasty leftovers, and then I went and spoke with the friendly English-speaking owner about local activities — he gave us a huge amount of information on hikes we could do, which sound absolutely fantastic. Looks like we’ll be walking to Positano from here, a few-hours walk with great views along the coast, apparently. Can’t wait.
For now, though, we’re hanging out in Nettle, heater on against the cold, the wind howling outside, sometimes rocking us from side to side; every now and then, a church bell rings atmospherically, even in the middle of the night. To our chagrin, there’s no 3G here either, but the EDGE is very good, and the laptop has a night ahead of it of gathering new episodes of TV shows we’ve missed!
We love Italy!