“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” ~ Giuseppe Verdi
We headed to the Rome airport from Tuscany, where we were set to part ways with Winston, our leased vehicle. He had served us well, but after doing a little reading, we all felt it was time for someone else to be doing the driving for the rest of our journey. Given there is only one overland passage on the Amalfi Coast, the 25-mile Strada Statale 163, a winding, narrow road of 1,000 bends, this seemed like the perfect place to cut our ties with Winston. Sorry old chap. 😦
Initially I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend time on the Amalfi Coast, but since many consider this stretch of coastline to be Italy’s most scenic, I acquiesced. After wandering through the hill towns of Tuscany, five sun-kissed days ogling soaring rock faces, pastel-brushed villages tumbling to the sea, forested hillsides, and the azure waters of the Mediterranean sounded rather enchanting.
Artists have been drawn here for centuries, from the 14th-century writer Giovanni Boccaccio, the 19th- century composer Richard Wagner, to the 20th-century playwright Tennessee Williams. In spite of its glitz and glamour there is a rural side here also. Farmers still work small plots of steeply terraced land to eek out a living and their wives make cheese. All different sizes and shapes of lemons are grown, some that become part of the famous digestif, limoncello, a blending of lemon rinds, alcohol, sugar and water…quite tasty.
We chose a hotel in Sorrento for our base, a funky little inn perched atop a cliff, with sweeping vistas of the sea and Mt. Vesuvius. The entire town is clifftop, looking down on its two marinas, filled with narrow alleys lined with tiny shops and restaurants, and tenants living above. A 15-minute walk got us into the heart of Sorrento, where we spent most days exploring and sampling the local fare.
Here’s a glimpse of our time spent on the Amalfi Coast:
Sitting on a clifftop, balancing above the Mediterranean, Sorrento is an attractive place to spend several days. This town of 20,000 doubles in size during the summer, and was still quite active during our visit in October. The main drag changes depending on the time, allowing vehicles to move through, then becomes a pedestrian walkway later in the day. And just off this main drag is a street that goes back centuries before Christ…hard to get my head around such history.
“Sorrento’s name may have come from the Greek word for “siren”, the legendary half-bird, half-woman who sang an intoxicating lullaby. According to Homer, the sirens lived on an island near here. No one had ever sailed by the sirens without succumbing to their incredible musical charms…and to death. But Homer’s hero Ulysses was determined to hear the song. He put wax in his oarsmen’s ears and had himself lashed to the mast of his ship. Oh, it was nice. The sirens, thinking they had lost their powers, threw themselves into the sea, and the place became safe to inhabit.” ~ story told in Rick Steves’ guidebook
This same Rick Steves’ book suggested taking a day tour of Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello with Mondo Tours. It was great letting someone else worry about losing a side mirror trying to pass other vehicles on this winding, seriously narrow stretch of road that hangs off a cliff face like a grand balcony. But you exchange stress-free driving with little time in villages, making for a whirlwind day and finding out you may have missed the very best some of these villages has to offer.
In days gone by, Positano was famous for its fleet of ships and heroic sailors, but a tsunami in 1343 and Middle Age pirate raids zapped its power and wealth. It flourished again in the 1700’s and in the 20th century Positano became a haven for artists and writers wishing to escape the ravages of Communist Russia and Nazi Germany. Today this village is a mass of cafes and women’s boutiques, with a broad beach at her base.
It’s been almost impossible for Positano’s residents to get a building permit for the past 25 years, resulting in endless staircases that have become a way of life for her 4,000 residents. There is only one street that allows motorized vehicles, so this village has been spared the influx of big bus tourist mobs.
This town of 5,000 had its heyday back in the 10th and 11th centuries, when it was a major maritime republic, rivaling Venice and Genoa. The tsunami that struck in 1343 almost wiped her off the map, and today Amalfi relies on tourism. Her waterfront continues to be the coast’s biggest transport hub. Amalfi’s most important sight is the Duomo, begun around 1000 A.D., and is certainly worthy of a tour. The beautiful bronze doors, as old as the cathedral, were cast in Constantinople in the year 1066.
Sitting on her lofty perch 1,000 feet above the sea, Ravello is considered one of the most romantic small towns in southern Italy, attracting celebrities for generations. Those who have fallen under her charms and called Ravello home are Gore Vidal, Richard Wagner, D. H. Lawrence, M. C. Escher, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Greta Garbo. Visitors come here to visit her two magnificent gardens and estates. Unfortunately we had time for little except lunch and a quick walk through town. And I learned just last night from friends that Ravello’s flatware and beautiful hand-painted dinnerware were not to be missed. Darn! 😦
Next Up: A Cataclysmic Eruption – Pompeii and Herculaneum
35 thoughts on “The Grand Balcony Between Sky and Sea ~ Amalfi Coast, Italy”
So very much to see in each of these quaint little villages:) That is quite a masterpiece build up the side of the hill in Positano…amazing!! What a magnificent view in Sorrento from your balcony:)
The Amalfi Coast was pretty special but some of my fondest memories will continue to be hiking in Chamonix and the Dolomites.
Fabulous pictures. Sure beats working in res! Have fun
Sure beats working anywhere! 🙂
We just loved this part of Italy! We stayed in Positano for several days and one day took the local bus from there to Amalfi. I sat in the front seat – it was dizzying. We didn’t get to Ravello – it looks lovely! Your opening shot is fabulous! And the one of Positano from the beach, and I love the little street scenes.
Thanks so much Alison. I wish we had had more time in the villages, particularly Ravello.
What an interesting post! I love your pictures. I am imagining the lemon trees because I love lemons. 🙂
I do as well and wish I would have taken some photos of the various kinds they grow. Some were huge and shaped like a football, while another variety looked like it had warts all over it.
Again a post with wonderful photos that make the mind and heart wander and dream!
A very dreamy country indeed! And now I’m dreaming about where we will go next!
Those villages look so quaint and colorful. I’m glad you went to the Amalfi Coast so we could see it, too!
Just wish we’d had more time in Ravello, especially after I went online and looked at photos of the two villas there.
I am glad you gave in and visited this coast, it looks wonderful, heard so much about some of these places but never seen them up close. As ever your photos are wonderful and inspire the travel bug in me. Lovely weather too!
Other than one rainy day, the weather was gorgeous! And the beer we had in Ravello was very nice indeed!
You cannot know the depths of my jealousy right now.
Wow! Your trip just gets better and better and you look younger in every succeeding photo! Fabulous Amalfi, fabulous you.
Oh aren’t you sweet Gale. Thank goodness I won’t allow hubby to take any close-up shots any longer, or you might be thinking otherwise. 😉
Looks fabulous, like your entire trip! I see at least a few things there I recognize, though we had to squeeze it into a lot less time.
Oh the Amalia coast is spectacular. So great that you had time to explore it so well. Positano was our only stop and we loved it so. Your gorgeous photos transport me right back.
Positano was beautiful but Ravello was a real gem.
Next time for sure. 🙂
Wow, such a beautiful collage of photos. These dreamy images clearly show that we need to put the Amalfi Coast on the ‘Must-see-list’! -Ginette
It’s a beautiful little swath of Italy. 🙂
How beautiful—I missed the Amalfi Coast when I was in Italy. Your gorgeous photos make me want to return! (Love the slideshows you’re including, too.) It seems as though your entire trip was truly idyllic. Did you try the limoncello? I made some a few years ago, and it was almost too good. 🙂
Glad we did a trip to Amalfi, although I would have loved to spend some time at Villa Rufolo in Ravello. I have tried limoncello and I love it!
I can’t fault your decision at all LuAnn, for letting someone else take the responsibility and stress of driving along this coast but it’s a difficult compromise having to adjust your pace to another’s. Your gorgeous photos show that this is a place to slow down, linger and absorb. Truly beautiful! Anita
Thanks Anita. Definitely a place worth exploring in more depth.
There is no doubt this is a beautiful part of Italy, such gorgeous photos! It is amazing how they have built houses on the steep cliffs along the coast. And I have to say – I love that saying by Giuseppe Verdi:)
It is breathtaking Inger. I loved all our explorations in Italy.
Thank your for taking us with you in your European tour! Now I know who to ask for references and recommendations when our time comes to visit this beautifully captured cities. Some of the pics looked familiar from Rommels posts while he was there.
I’ve got more to come. Just got a bit derailed this past week, but I’m back!
South Italy Coast is one at the top of the best looking coasts I’ve ever since. And yes, the drive on the narrow streets was blissfully hairy. 🙂 I wish I had more time when I went there last year. Really a triad of places to get lost in.
Here is my post on “A” Greek story on the The Sirens – https://thesophomoreslump2.com/2015/03/24/aptera-without-wings/
We loved Italy. I still have a couple of posts to write about Rome, a place I truly loved. Thanks for the link Rommel. I am going there now.