The Amalfi Coast

As I've mentioned before, planned sightseeing isn't really my thing. When I made my bookings, I decided to reward myself with interludes at beaches and villages after every stint in a big city. The Amalfi Coast was my first vacation within a vacation, and a welcome foil to the busyness of Rome, much as I'd enjoyed it.

Most people have heard of Capri and the other rich-people vacay spots in this area. I stayed away from those, and spent my time in Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello; places with official 'Slow City' status. In order to achieve this, the city needs to have less than 55,000 people, no chains, and local ingredients in all the restaurants, among other things. Out of a storybook or what? That totally captured my romantic imagination, Pinterest images fueled it, and reality was absolutely as advertised, in spite of the non-stop rain.
The Amalfi Coast has picture-perfect views - it's just as impossible to take a bad picture here as it is to take one that fully captures what you see. It's gorgeous.

I based myself in Sorrento, a coastal resort town 1.5 hours away from Naples (I did stop by Naples for the margharita pizza which was invented there, though). I'd heard horror stories about the local trains from Naples to Sorrento, and I'll admit the crowd was amusingly colourful, but it was comfortable enough during off-peak hours. The bus ride between villages was as harrowing as described - hairpin curves, frenetic honking, some swearing... but the views, my God. I fought against motion sickness and kept one eye open; it was so completely worth it. If you're ever considering going - do! Here's a quick summary of what you can expect where.

Sorrento: Views of hills and oceans, and, in the distance, Naples, as well as Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which erupted and wiped out the city of Pompeii. Sorrento is the ideal base for non-drivers, since the train/bus station have easy access to all the day trips you could want. Sorrento is probably big city compared to the other towns, but it's so charming, and you can walk through the entire city in about an hour (when you're walking slowly, stopping at bakeries and shopping along the way, as you should). 

Pompeii: The upcoming Hollywood movie will tell you all about the volcano eruption that froze an entire city in place. Archaeologists recreated molds of the bodies making it even more eerily haunting. You can walk through the old city and see life that's been, ironically, better preserved than if nothing had happened. 

Positano: Should be listed as a synonym of 'honeymoon' in the OED. Ridiculously pretty, has little shops and galleries tucked into steps as you walk down the hill to the beach, and boasts those quintessential postcard views you're probably hunting for if you're trying to find what you saw on Pinterest. The town was the first in Italy to import bikinis from France... the beach was a little too pebbly to be ideal sun-bathing locale, but I can see why you'd want to be at your best dressed here. My favourite shop was a shoe store where they hand-tailored customized shoes for you in half an hour. This was really the Amalfi town I fell in love with, though I may have been bored if I'd stayed just here for more than a couple of days.

Amalfi: Once a maritime superpower, now just a sleepy town after most of the old city and its population slid into the ocean during an earthquake in 1343. The city only houses 5,000 people right now. It was storming on the day I went, and looking at the black water and the dark skies, the tragedy was clearly imaginable. Head away from the sea though, and it has one of the most inviting looking churches I've seen. The marketplace feels like it belongs in Morocco! It also has the most scrumptiously buttery rustici I've ever tasted, which you'll be reading a lot more about when I do my food round-up later on. (Surely you didn't think I went all the way to Italy to look at the sights & rhapsodize over the views? I'm a glutton through & through).

Ravello: Considered to have the most beautiful view in the world by Gore Vidal, Ravello really is closer to the sky than the sea. I'd bought a pass, so I went to a couple of places I probably wouldn't have otherwise bothered with... thank God. Villa Rufolo is pretty nice, but Villa Cimbrone is the one you absolutely do not want to miss. It's an uphill walk, and the signs are confusing, to say the least, but you'll forget about all that when you see this view. I later discovered that the Belvedere of Infinity was what Vidal was referring to, and I couldn't agree more. It's hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins, and both seem within touching reach. Take a step forward, and you'll be walking in the clouds.

Fair warning: all these places are idyllic, but they're also frighteningly expensive. I guess you could call them special-occasion destinations. That said, life's kind of a special occasion, and it's nice to be impractically romantic some times. Here's some photographic inspiration, and here are my notes if you decide to go. 

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