Amalfi Coast 2013

May 2-13th 2013


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Holiday Overview

In 1990 our friend Ugo had driven us from Bologna to Brindisi when we were en route from a conference in Bologna too another conference in Crete. On that trip he dropped us in Sorrento for a few days allowing us to visit Capri, Pompeii and Naples. When he picked us up, he introduced us to the coast by Amalfi, leaving us with a desire to return to that beautiful place.

During the darker evenings last winter, we saw an advert and then a video of Nino's B and B in Nocelle which talks about this wonderful B and B at one end of a track enticingly named the Sentiero degli Dei. This finally spurred us on to organise the long-deferred trip.

Another valuable unformation source was the Sunflower Guide Sorrento-Amalfi-Capri which describes the numerous possible walks in a very practical way. The book provides descriptions of about 40 walk sections each of which links a pair of villages, hamlets or even refuges, with the walk duration and difficulty as well as a description. The guide usefully points out that walks from points at sea level (e.g. Amalfi or Positano) to points at the top of the cliffs (such as Ravello or Nocelle) involve climbing hundreds of steps. This led us to pick the hill villages of Ravello as well as Nocelle as our walking bases.

We arranged to first spend two days in Milan with our friends Ugo and Christina and then a week walking on the Amalfi Coast. We travelled mainly by train and a couple of times by boat. As usual, we used Eurostar between London and Paris in both directions. On the way out, we took a TGV from Gare de Lyon in Paris at 14.42 arriving in Milan at 21.45. To continue the journey after our stay in Milan, we took the very fast Frecchia Rossa train from Milano Statione Centrale to Salerno, taking about six hours.

The station in Salerno is just 5 minutes walk from the port. A fast boat took us on to Amalfi for our first night in the south.

On the return journey we took the little Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Naples, then a Frecchia Rossa to Rome and a Thello sleeper on to Paris.

May 2nd Travel from London to Milan

We caught a Eurostar from London St. Pancras at 07.55, connected to a TGV from Gare de Lyon in Paris at 14.42 arriving in Milan at 21.45. We used up the spare time in Paris with a visit to Notre Dame Crypte Archaeologique and a meal in rue de la Huchette. The TGV passes through the Mauriennne Valley, Modane and after a tunnel heads for Turin and Milan. Until Lyon, the train runs fast on the high-speed rails. But after that the scenery is beautiful from Chambery, past Modane and into Italy. The seats are spacious and most people have tables.

Eventually we met up with Ugo (our train had unusually terminated at Garibaldi Station instead of the usual Centrale). After failing to get anyone to answer at the B and B we'd booked, Ugo took us to Hotel Europa.

Hotel Europa is a conveniently-placed and comfortable hotel close to where Ugo and Christina live.

May 3rd Exploring Milan

Met up with Ugo and Christina and walked along Corso Venezia to Duomo. We saw many Art Nouveau buildings (called Liberty style in Italy). The very fine gothic Duomo is as impressive as ever and we heard that the facade was finally completed during Napoleon's brief period of power in Italy (he was crowned King of Italy in Milan).

Next we visited the recently opened Museo del Novecento (a thirties modernist building with a new spiral entrance and galleries inside it). Its collection is very impressive, including a good collection of futurists: Boccione, Nalla, Severini, de Chirico - they started as cubists and then their work became more dynamic. The newly-added top level of the museum provides amazing views of the Duomo. We then crossed the Piazza del Duomo to the Rinascente building where we had an enjoyable lunch on the roof terrace while enjoying more views over the piazza and Milan.

After lunch we walked along Via Manzone to the Poldi Pezzoli Gallery. This 19th century building has interesting architectural features and contains a collection of early Italian paintings – Piero, Giovanni Bellini, Botticello, Pollaiolo as well as some interesting portraits on panels on the ceiling beams, all displayed in a very interesting building which still has the architectural features of the private house.

We continued on Via Manzoni, past the building where Verdi died and into Giardini Publici. The evening started with a visit to an exhibition of water colours: unusual forms which evoked quite definite images and executed by a young man from Ecuador. Finally we had a meal at Ugo and Christina's flat and enjoyed looking at their excellent collection of paintings collected by their families over many years.

May 4th: Vigevano and Morimondo

Ugo and Christina took us in their car for a day visiting two very interesting small towns near Milan.

Vigevano was a village favoured my Milanese aristocracy since the 11th century. It includes a palace and the Piazza Ducale a large and elegant square built by Ludovico Maria Sforza (Ludovico il Moro) the great patron born in the town, in the 12th century. Three sides of the square are formed from decorative buildings and arcades below. A baroque facade disguising an earlier church forms the fourth side. An arch on one corner leads via a big flight of steps and through a big tower into the Castello Sforzesco, summer residence of the Sforzas and Viscontis (symbol of serpent with child in its mouth). The big entrance tower was designed by Bramante. A set of red brick buildings surrounds a large grassy area. The most impressive building is the riding stables, a very large two-floor building designed by Leonardo to house hundreds of horses. These stables have white marble vaulted roofs supported by white marble columns.

Our visit to the second village, Morimondo, started with an excellent meal at Comenda – a 16th century farmhouse, run as a family business. Morimondo Abbey belonged to the Cistercians and has a big brick church which has big round brick columns inside. The cloisters are surrounded by rooms with various functions: chapter room and foresteria - which is nothing to do with trees - it's for foreigners to stay in. The last monks departed in 18th century. The visit ends with a set of models illustrating history from prehistory via Romans and War of Independence until recent times.

On returning to Milan we passed the 16th century walls with gates for routes to Geneva and Rome. Then to the 'best Pizza place in Milan' with Ugo and Christina. On the way we passed the bread shop that makes artistic bread.

May 5th: Train and boat to Amalfi

We ate an early breakfast and walked to Central Station in time to buy some picnic supplies and board the 8:10 train that stopped in Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples and eventually Salerno at 13:45. This Frecchia Rossa train is impressive: hard to say whether it beats the Spanish AVEs but it is as good. Plenty of space, tables, coffee bar and a display panel in each carriage giving speed, temperature, trains available at the approaching station. And the speed was often 295 km per hour (we didn't quite see 300).

Approaching Amalfi

On leaving Salerno Station, we walked downhill for about five minutes and found the port. We took the 2:15pm Jet Ferry boat to Amalfi arriving at about 2.45. This boat ride provides excellent views of the cliffs and bays with clusters of white houses along the coast. Maiori, Minori and Atrani seen on approach to Amalfi look particularly tempting. When we reached Amalfi we walked past the cathedral and through the little streets to B and B Palazzo Pisani which is up a few steps off the main drag. The room is good and the view from roof terrace spectacular.

We decided to familiarise our legs with step walking, so took a route that went up hundreds of steps, past the cemetery and then down to Atrani (Sunflower Walk Segment 2). The path by the cemetery gave us the first sea view with a mediterranean pine in the foreground and then a view of Atrani. Atrani beach is pleasantly separated from the road to Amalfi: we tested the water and decided we should have a dip the next day. We looked at the little 12th century church of Santa Maria above and to east of the centre. We returned via the pedestrian tunnel (Sunflower Segment 1). Evening meal at slightly pretentious restaurant in little piazza above the B and B, followed by enjoying night views from the roof terrace.

May 6th: Amalfi and on to Ravello

At breakfast, we were warned that as the Giro d'Italia was going to come through early afternoon, no buses would run until it had passed. This news enabled us to change our plans and fit in a swim and a visit to the cathedral before watching the bike race.

Although it was a dull morning, it was warm and the sea was warm enough for a good swim (maybe 18 degrees?).

Amalfi Cathedral is an interesting building. The facade is not original, having been replaced in 19th century after falling off. But at the top of a tall flight of steps, it is truly impressive, looming over the square below. The cathedral dates from the 9th or 10th century (like most of the churches in this area) but the interior is baroque. The cathedral is dedicated to St Andrew whose remains are supposed to be in the crypt. The white marble, moorish-style cloisters appear to be original and are really beautiful. The crypt houses some good carvings and some magnificent marble panels.

We collected food for a picnic and positioned ourselves in a good spot to watch the Giro riders come through. A breakaway group eventually appeared and then, what seemed a long time after, the main peleton with team Sky looking strong.

Eventually the bus to Ravello appeared and we were driven up the narrow zig-zag road to the end of the route just outside Ravello. Our B and B was (conveniently) by the bus stop: a big room with a balcony over the road and a good view of the sea. But it was ruined by traffic noise. We decided we would move the next day.

May 6th evening: Ravello

Spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Ravello as well as checking the hotels in the quieter part of town in preparation for moving the following day. Ravello is motor traffic free, with narrow pathways with steps radiating out from the central square which is overlooked by the cathedral. The terraces below are full of lemon trees hanging with ripe lemons protected by black net covers. Lemons are prominent in the shops too.

The Duomo (cathedral) dates from the 11th century: the simple facade illustrates the internal structure with a wide aisle on each side of the higher central nave. Some beautiful bronze doors, designed by Barisano da Trani, close the central arch. Each door has an array of little rectangles in each of which is a relief figure. The interior seems very open and the floor slopes steeply towards the eastern end. Straight ahead is a pair of ambone (pulpits) decorated with mosaic and dating from 11th-12th century.

We concluded the evening with an excellent meal at Figli di Papa which is in the 13th‑century Palazzo della Marra. The meal started with free bruschetta, the crespolini were tasty and Limoncello formed a good ending.

May 7th: Ravello walk to Scala via Minuta

Ravello from Scala

Soon after breakfast, we moved our belongings to Hotel Villa Amore . This is in a quiet location close to Villa Cimbrone – up a short floral alley from one of the main pathways/stairways. It has a beautiful view over the bay, down to Minori and Maiori from the breakfast terrace. It is run by the very helpful and friendly Silvio.

We planned a walk from the Sunflower book using segments 8 and 10 via Campidolio, Minuta and Scala. (Sunflower Walk Segments 8 and 7) There is a deep valley running down to the sea between Ravello and Scala: this path follows the edge of the valley at a high level (maybe 400 m). The walk started from the main square and followed a path (via steps) out of the town and into the farm areas and then through woods on mule track on the hillside. After quite a long walk we realised we had missed the turning down to St Caterina, so found a way down and over a dried up stream and eventually passed St Caterina and another church. Here we took another level path to avoid visiting Scala twice and reached Campidoglio where we sat down for a picnic with an excellent view of Ravello across the valley. On to Minuta – an off-road village accessed by steps with a magnificent church with a panel outside explaining its glories, but it is closed. From the church is a view of the ruined church of Sant'Eustachio.

We turned back towards Scala and had to walk along the road. Scala has another big 11th century church with facade similar in geometry to Ravello Duomo, but not so big, a sloping floor and three apses at the end. For the return to Ravello we followed a path with many steps that cuts across the chicanes in the road and then made a shortcut avoiding more road walking by stepping over barriers to access a closed extension cutting through a beautiful area of partially farmed hillside and across the remains of an old stone bridge.

In the evening we explored the little route to San Giovanni del Toro (another closed 11th century church), passing an attractive public garden with Busy Lizzies in big pots and a very good view and then a line of five star hotels. Meal at Cumpa Cosima: popular, good food, very busy, no bill or till, just cash payments.

May 8th: Ravello villas and Minori

Ravello contains two villas with remarkable gardens, both developed in the early 20th century by someone from UK, and enhanced by the spectacular views down to the little towns on the coast.

After breakfast we walked to the nearby Villa Cimbrone which was built by an English politician, Lord Grimthorpe over a few ruins and results in a pastiche of gothic, norman and moorish style buildings. But the cloisters and crypt are very well done and attractive. The gardens are fantastic: they contain several parallel pathways through, some with pergolas, running along parallel to the top of the cliff; Intensity Walk runs under stone arches and forsythia cover the pergola. Other paths run perpendicular to the cliff, resulting in numerous sections with different characteristics, each one visible to the paths on its side. Some contain statues (e.g. of David and Ceres), others have roses or interesting trees.

At the end the Terrace of Infinity runs beside the cliff top with a sheer drop below. It is bordered by a low fence between columns supporting 18th century marble busts. At the point at the far end of this terrace and then turning back towards the buildings we passed is Mercury's seat, Eve's Grotto and Bacchus' temple.

We stopped for sandwiches in a place with a garden beside the path to the square. Then we went into Villa Rufolo which is overlooks the cathedral square. This has the original 12th century buildings: an arched entrance tower and a bigger tower opposite The gardens on terraces below were developed by Scotsman Neville Reid. They are smaller than Cimbrone but contain very interesting plants such as cactus and palm tree. However there are some quite amazingly garish beds of petunia, busy lizzie and pansy.

While in Rufolo gardens, we observed a path that ran down under one of the buildings. On leaving the villa, we set out on a Walk to Minori accessed by steps beside the villa. (Sunflower Walk Segment 5). It passed two churches, miles of lemon groves, using hundreds of steps: down, down, down. As we entered Minori, we noticed a Roman Villa and stopped for a while to do round it (including the remains of a mosaic floor). Minori has an attractive sea front with a narrow beach. Pity about the road which cuts it off from the town. While hunting for a bus back (involving a change in Amalfi) we spotted the big yellow and white facade of a baroque church. Finally we decided to walk back up to Ravello which took about an hour; the climb was easier than the descent. The day ended with another meal at Figli di Papa.

May 9th: To Nocelle

Approaching Positano

We welcomed the warm morning which allowed us to have breakfast on the terrace of Hotel Villa Amore. We feel we would like to return to this calm and attractive hotel one day. We retraced our steps down to the cathedral square and out through the tunnel to the bus stop where we picked up the 9:35 bus to Amalfi.

We took the 10.30 fast ferry from Amalfi to Positano, passing spectacular views of the coast line. It's perhaps a little like the greek islands: rocky but greener, dotted with houses (mostly white) and a couple of forts by the waterside. Positano must once have been a lovely place: its position is perfect but its little alleys were stuffed with tourist tat. We had a quick look in the baroque church before heading for the bus stop at Bar International. The bus to Nocelle follows a narrow zig-zag road via Montepertuso. These two villages are perched on the hillside and are separated by a deep valley.

The bus stops at the end of the road, just outside Nocelle, where we were met by Nino Marroni of Ninos B and B. Nino led us via paths and flights of steps to his B and B. We are in a big room with a little balcony (with sea view). We have access to a little kitchen with supplies of coffee and tea. Although Nino doesn't officially provide lunches, he immediately produced bread, cheese, ham, cake and fruit.

After settling in and eating lunch, we went to explore Nocelle. It has about 4 B and Bs. The main path through the village passes a taverna, a tiny shop and a pizza place, then a square with a tree, apparatus for an abandoned hoist; it then descends westwards to the road just above the bridge across the valley. We understand that the road was built 10 years ago over the route of the path. We retraced our steps and walked to the eastern end of this main path where it accesses the Sentiero degli Dei. We walked a few hundred metres to check the state of the path for tomorrow – it appeared excellent.

Back to the B and B for a rest, then down to the restaurant Taverna of Sta Croce for a meal. We sat at a table by the window with view over the coast and enjoyed our starter of cold meats and grilled vegetables. But we began to feel that the style of the taverna run by two brothers is a bit out of place in a village (very meticulous with placing cutlery and utensils but didn't offer tools for dealing with lobster). Then up about 200 steps to Nino's.

May 10th: Nocelle: Sentiero degli Dei

At breakfast, Nino offered us lots of goodies for our picnic (hard boiled eggs, fruit and bread) and then we set off at about 9 am for the Sentiero degli Dei. (Sunflower Walk Segment 26 and 28). It took us about 3 hours to reach the end of the path at Agerola outside Bomerano. Some views were obscured by clouds but they were beautiful all the same. The path is clearly marked with red and white painted markers. At each kilometer there is a way mark with emergency phone number. The path is at about 500m and is fairly easy to walk: part of it is at two levels, we went out on the lower one and returned on the higher one. At first we passed through woods and past a waterfall and a cave. Coming out into the open, we saw a very wide range of wild flowers including pink rock roses, white rock roses, pink convolvulus, monkey orchids and big yellow umbelliferae (see our photos). On the lower path rosemary, holm oaks, arbutus. The top path was rich with a variety of grasses, bracken and small deciduous oak trees (turkey oak?). Views down to the sea below, terraces, then on approach to Agerola vines on trellises above beans and courgettes some houses – mostly ruins and finally some disused cave dwellings by biscuit rock.

After a coffee in Bomerano, we returned to Nocelle via the Sentiero degli Dei. We noted that websites tend to give bad advice about this route, e.g. start from Bomerano for a down hill route. It's true that Bomerano is higher than Nocelle, but there are plenty of ups and downs and the walk is not difficult. In the evening we went to the pizzaria which is in the side of a cave in the rock; tables are set beside the opening for viewing the coast as far as Capri while the sun sets.

May 11th: Nocelle- Montepertuso - Positano walk

After a slow start we did an excellent walk starting from Montepertuso, climbing up to the path that runs round high above the deep valley separating Montepertuso from Positano and then down again. (Sunflower Walk Segments 22, 23 and 24).

Montepertuso - Caserma Forestale. Montepertuso (the mountain with a hole in it) is a village below Nocelle on the road down to Positano. The path we took climbs up above the road just before entering Montepertuso. It is signed to 'Rifugio Caserma Forestale'. The path is mainly step steps at first, mounting beside houses and then entering the woods (mainly cypress and pine). After the steps, the path an apparently endless sequence of zig zags. On leaving the trees we had views of the hole in the rock and walked past numerous flowers (orchids, rosemary and pink rock roses which were now on big bushes instead of low plants). At about 740 metres and almost 1:30 pm we stopped for lunch on a rocky outcrop with marvellous views over the bay. Soon after lunch we continued on up, reaching the refuge at 780 metres. The refuge was closed and we couldn't find a water supply, but there was a big barbecue.

Caserma Forestale - Santa Maria del Castello. The refuge is on the path that runs round the valley below, like a sort of balcony. It ascends gently after the refuge. From the balcony are wide ranging views of the valley below and the sea. We were sad to find a very large area of forest that had been burned last summer. The trees look as though they will die, but numerous wild flowers have managed to return and are growing well. These included a beautiful strong pink gladiola. The path eventually leads to the church of Santa Maria del Castello (still at 680 metres).

Santa Maria del Castello Positano The path consists of a very well-managed wide stone path with quite a few steps descending about 500 metres. The path is damaged in places, but constant repair work seems to be taking place. The views are interesting: most of the time we faced the bay and then the roofs of Positano below gradually came into focus. The surrounding vegetation was amazing: giant bushes of pink rock rose, broom and others we couldn't recognise. The path reaches Positano by the Bar International where the bus stops.

View from Bar Internationale Positano

May 12th-13th: Nocelle via Rome to London

We were sad to have to leave Nino's hospitable B and B, but as there was some time to spare we took photos of view and of the house itself (in and out). We planned a few hours break in Rome before catching tje sleeper to Paris. We therefore had booked the 1 pm train from Naples.

It seemed that it wasn't possible to go by bus to Sorrento in time for the Circumvesuviana train that would catch the train we'd booked from Naples to Rome. Nino very kindly offered his taxi service to Meta where we picked up the narrow gauge Circumvesuviana. It is very popular since it serves Pompeii and Herculaneum and therefore was crowded. Although there are weeds on the line and most of the numerous stations are derelict, it seems to keep going. We should have got out at napoli Centrale, but instead went on to the end of the line and had to walk back.We enjoyed the short journey back from Naples to Rome on the speedy Freccia Rossa.

Although we had about 5 hours in Rome, it was all a bit of a rush. Deposited bags at the station and then walked to Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona (Bernini fountain, Borromini church) and the Pantheon. After an iced coffee we returned via the forum to the station catching a ve of the Colosseum. Of course there were lots of tourists! But we should have avoided the major attractions (e.g. we couldn't get near to the Trevi fountain)

The Thelo sleeper train departs at 7:30 pm. We decided to rely on the restaurant car for an evening meal. It's usually very pleasant to watch the landscape go by while sipping wine and enjoying a meal. But something was wrong! Maybe a strike? There was very little food and only one man to warm it up. We got the last bottle of white wine and were unable to buy a second course because we and they both had run out of change. We slept fairly well. For breakfast they had taken on some croissants and were able to provide coffee and orange juice, allowing us to pay by card. Arrived Paris Gare de Lyon about 1 am. Eventually to St Pancras and home by about 4:30 pm.

Copyright: George Coulouris & Jean Dollimore, May 2013

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