Amalfi Coast

15 April 2010

We've just returned from a week's vacation on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. For those contemplating a similar trip, here are a few scattered impressions.

It's a lovely part of the world. For a start it's in Italy, one of our favorite places to be on vacation: hiking, scenery, buildings, food, gardens, weather - all sorts of things we like. The Amalfi Coast also has that dramatic combination of mountains and sea that marks so many of my favorite places (Acadia, Côte d'Azur, Big Sur, Western Cape, West Coast of Scotland). Couple that with villages and farms clinging to the mountainside and it's all impossibly lovely.

On the way down from Rome we stopped at Caserta, which has a palace built to rival Versailles. We only took a look at the garden, which was a great example of formal French garden design. Well worth a couple of hours walking around.

We stayed for a couple of days at the Agristurismo Serafina. An agriturismo is a farm that provides accommodation. We were out of the way in the countryside and fed good local food. Some other Italian guests told us that Serafina was one of the earliest agriturismos and that many other agriturismos aren't farms, but really just hotels that have a few chickens or something to make them qualify. Here it was obvious that it was a working farm. The hosts didn't speak much English but were very friendly and helpful.

Were we to come back (which I certainly hope we shall) I'd consider not hiring a car. The local buses provide a good service, saving the hassle of driving and parking - the latter particularly awkward in the pretty coastal towns. The buses also make it easy to do one-way hikes.

The hiking was excellent. The trails we did were well marked, and the hosts at Serafina lent us some good maps. We also used the sunflower book that gave a good description of suitable walks.

The twisty, narrow roads, precipitous drops, and infamous Italian drivers make a very intimidating combination for driving. However I quickly got used to it as long as I got more laid-back, started to enjoy the antics of my fellow drivers, and lost my inhibitions about being on the wrong side of the road.

Ravello is a gem of a town with two lovely gardens. However I'm convinced that I'm neither rich enough nor beautiful enough to fit in there.

We spent a few days in Sorrento staying at the Hotel Mignon. It's the kind of hotel we like for vacation: simple, clean, friendly and right in the middle of town so we could stroll around the old town easily. Sorrento isn't as cute as places like Ravello or Amalfi, but makes a good base.

The boat trip around Capri is touristy but fun, the Blue Grotto extravagantly so. But once you get away from the boutiquey center there's some nice hikes.