Last month, Ahmed and I did a road trip along the Amalfi Coast. Inspired by an article in National Geographic Traveler, for eight glorious days we chartered a course along narrow winding roads and bluffs overlooking the watercolour blue Tyrrhenian Sea. On one of our drives we stopped because the sea looked like it was melting into the sky. The hues of both had submerged the other so there was no more horizon left, just the infinite blue.
My mind immediately went to Michelangelo’s fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, The Creation of Adam, where Adam and God’s hands don’t quite meet. The breathtaking view at this moment felt like a defiant rebuttal of this painting, it felt like the earth’s fingertips were reaching out into the universe and making a connection. We did not visit the Amalfi Coast, we basked there, revelled in it.
Day 1: Conca dei Marini
After taking an overnight flight with Alitalia, we arrive in Naples mid-afternoon. Picking up a booked car is straightforward, hop in the shuttle bus from the airport terminal to the carpark where the car rental companies live. We get extra cover, I never thought you could put a price on peace of mind, but apparently you can, $20 a day to be exact. For the first night we’re staying at picturesque Hotel Le Terrazze.
The hotel’s calming white walls, cooling decorative patterns and scenic location are ideal for fending off jet lag. After checking in and showering, we clamber down 300 steps to grab dinner in a cove by the fishing boats, it’s not the best food but the ambience and echoing harbour on our first night make up for it. Back at the hotel, we ogle a little more at a view that’s now glittering with lights. I highly recommend a room with a balcony, leave the door open and fall asleep to the sounds of the sea.
Day 2: AGEROLA
There are some remarkable hikes and trails in the Amalfi Coast, the most famous one is Path of The Gods. The best place to access many of these hikes is from the small mountain village of Agerola. We booked two days at an AirBnb in the hamlet of Bomerano because our original plan involved two to three hikes from this location. Ahmed had sustained an injury from cricket a week earlier and I had a full on cold so we relaxed and indulged in some therapeutic cooking instead.
I love the romance of cooking in Italy and Bomerano has an adorable piazza where you can pick up some beautiful ingredients. Within minutes my arms were laden with speckled farm eggs, juicy cherry tomatoes, fragrant basil, pungent padano, blazing red chilies, onions, slabs of just-baked sourdough bread, fresh linguine and some local fior di latte. The produce is amazing, two days worth of meals for both of us cost about $20. Amalfi Coast isn’t the cheapest destination and we weren’t going to miss out on splurging on meals in Positano so this was a great way to save some some of our pennies!
I am always moved by how simple ingredients become a sensory trail in Italy. That dishes like omelettes, grilled mozzarellas, Caprese salads and pasta are transformed into memories. When my mind and body are gone, let my soul remember eating homemade meals under canopies of fruit, as the day turned to dusk or dawn and the Mediterranean air seeped into our skin.
Day 3: PATH OF THE GODS & AMALFI
We know for sure we aren’t making it all the way to Nocelle (Ahmed’s limping and I’m wheezing), but we still wanted to walk some of the trail. Finding the trail from the piazza in Bomerano is easy enough, there are plenty of signs that will point you in the right direction.
Path of The Gods will make you wonder. People often travel but do we ever voyage? Walking for a few hours is hardly that kind of passage, but on this path it’s like you’ve come across the mythical edge of the world. Perhaps it’s the edge of our existence and like Hamlet’s ghost, Michelangelo’s fresco was haunting me again. The magnificent scenery on this trek feels like the end of human experience and the beginning of something greater, that is what I was grappling with as we got within a good view of Positano and Nocelle.
We turned back after this because mortal things like limping, wheezing, heat and thirst brought us back down to earth, a reminder to pack plenty of water and compression tape. That evening we drove out to Amalfi for some pastries from Andrea Pansa and a passeggiata.
Day 4: POSITANO
After days of trying, Ahmed finally gets through to the restaurant Da Adolfo and secures us a reservation so we head to Positano around 9.30am. As we’re going to be on foot for the next couple of days we drop off the car at Hotel Vittoria’s carpark for €15 a day.
The hotel staff is amazing and assure us they will deal with our luggage etc. while we head to the beach and give us directions to the dock. This is probably the best way to spend the first day in Positano, chasing down the boat with a red fish and sailing away to a private beach for fresh fish, seaside lounging and more daydreaming.
Da Adolfo is a lovely little restaurant tucked away in one of the coastline’s coves. To get there you need to phone them relentlessly and get a reservation, after you’ve done that head to the dock and look for a boat with a red fish attached to the mast. Once you get to the restaurant, hire some deck chairs for the day and sip on some drinks while you wait for the kitchen to open. For lunch we had BBQ’d mozzarella on lemon leaf, grilled octopus and the sea bream for two. Everything is devastatingly delicious, except dessert, if in doubt skip it.
At sunset hit up Franco’s Bar. The view is insane, the vibe is wonderful and the only thing more popping than the bar itself are the sweet buttery olives they serve you with drinks. I lost count of how many times I sighed with bliss.
Day 5: STEPS TO NOCELLE
After breakfast on the hotel terrace we decide not to bother with Capri. Neither of us really wants to go but Positano is probably the best place to do it from. After a lazy morning we decide to take the 1700 steps to Nocelle because we’re from Toronto and views. Fuel up at Casa Bottega with fresh juices and coffee. If you do decide to take on the steps, give yourself a couple of hours and they begin at Arienzo.
The whole time we’re walking up I’m thinking of two songs. First, Stairway to Heaven and then Knocking on Heaven’s Door. There were a lot of fricking steps. When we get to the top, we don’t find Eden, but there is an angel selling organic lemonade and it tastes absolutely divine.
On the way back to our hotel we walk past Da Vincenzo, it’s one of the most coveted reservations in Positano and even though tourist season is winding down in the Amalfi Coast, the region is having an Indian summer. This gorgeous weather and Mimi Ikonn’s vlog featuring the restaurant means the chances of scoring a last-minute reservation are very low. The family that own Da Vincenzo are so nice and after cracking up with them in my broken Italian and asking them if there’s anything they can do for a cute Pakistani couple they tell us to come back at 9pm. We had a lovely dinner outside and spent time chatting to the family whilst eating their fantastic food. Kismet.
Day 6: SORRENTO
After breakfast we left for Sorrento. There is very little written about this seaside town, a few glimpses in Vogue, National Geographic Traveler and even Condé Nast. It’s a shame because we spent three hours wondering down towards the Marina Grande from Piazza Tasso.
We let the narrow alleyways compel our path, taking all the turns we wanted and and ended up in shops packed with leather goods. Sorrento’s market lanes are the perfect place to grab souvenirs, pick up lemon flavoured chocolate and try some fig, almond and bay leaf gelato.
Once you end up by the sea, Ristorante O’Puledrone is a great for an Aperitif with a plate of calamari and shrimp and tart coarse bread dipped in buttery sweet olive oil. Follow it with spaghetti and clams. This little restaurant is a cooperative owned by some local fishermen and the food is cheap and delicious and comes with a backdrop of Mount Vesuvius.
After a late lunch/early dinner, we made our way to Bagni della Regina Giovanna. It’s one of those hidden gems and a great place to see the sunset, perched on a craggy cliff side overlooking the Bay of Naples.
Day 7: POMPEII & MOUNT VESUVIUS
Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius fall on route to Naples. We arrived in Pompeii to explore the ruins around midmorning. It’s hard not to think about existence whilst wandering through a city that was destroyed and preserved by the very same thing.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson of all lies in the sulphuric fog at the top of one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes. Mount Vesuvius looms over the Bay of Naples, it will erupt again someday and though it’s monitored round the clock, no one really knows when it will erupt, just that it will.
It’s easy to wax lyrical about the uncertainties of life but the threat of Mount Vesuvius is a substantial truth, a circle of creation, life and death and beyond. After a volcano erupts and the lava eventually (and literally) cools down, it forms into rock.
This rock can take varying structures, shape, size etc. depending on how the lava has flowed. This preservation is similar to how humans form memories and just as much the rock is part of the the earth, the memories are part of us. Pompeii’s ruins are a potent reminder of how volcanoes assert birth, rebirth and transformation and that long after we are gone, some trace of us will be left behind and some memory of earth will be part of us.
Day 8: THE PIZZA FROM EAT, PRAY, LOVE
We arrived in Naples the night before and its the quintessential Italian city. It has the same energy as Karachi or any metropolis that doesn’t need your love but has it anyway. The clamour captivates you and leaves you wanting more without you ever really understanding why. I don’t recommend keeping a car in downtown Naples, one wrong turn and you’re in alleyway hell. Don’t let this put you off though, Naples is a great city to explore on foot.
We stayed in Naples for two nights just so we could eat pizza. The queues for the pizza places in Naples are ridiculous, but we tag-teamed the queue at Gino Sorbillo and got in fairly early after the concierge at Hotel Piazza Bellini told us not to shower but to head straight there if we wanted to beat the rush. Covered in volcanic dust we devoured two pizzas. On day two we take ourselves to L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. This is the famous pizzeria featured in Eat, Pray, Love. Thank God for Italians.