In our research prior to our vacation, one thing that we heard from a lot of people was that we should visit the Amalfi Coast. If you don’t know where that is, I’ll do my best to give you an idea:
Naples is Europe’s most dense city and it sits on the western coast of Italy just above a little nub of land that forms the Gulf of Naples. At the end of that nub are the isles of Capri and Ischiia. The Southern part of the nub is what forms the Amalfi Coast. It is a group of towns that stretches from Positano at the far west to Salerno on the far East.
Driving to the Amalfi Coast was an adventure unto itself. We arrived by train in Naples and met our driver, Claudio, who would take us the hour-and-a-half ride to our final destination. I was quite glad we had Claudio because driving from Naples to Amalfi would have been treacherous. For those of you who have ever driven Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, consider the road that we were on to be that…times about 100.
Heading out of Naples, you drive along a normal highway along the coast in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that buried Pompeii in 79 A.D. You drive past a couple of towns before you reach the mountains and then you drive through a tunnel and all of a sudden, you are staring directly into the Mediterranean Sea.
A quick turn onto a road and you find yourself on the only highway that connects these coastal towns. You drive from town to town and see the beauty of the ocean on your left and the magnificence of the mountains on your right. As you travel west from Salerno, you begin to wonder if there is a more beautiful place in the world.
The roads wind and undulate, passing through towns that date back to the 11th century. Each town has a large church at the center, a testament to the far reach of Rome and the Vatican.
After an hour or so of that, you start to get a little carsick and you can’t get enough air. However, arriving at our location was worth it. Villa Scarpariello Relais sits between two towns on the Amalfi coast – Minori and Amalfi. It is a beautiful property that was originally inhabited in the 11th century by the prince of Amalfi and over the course of its existence has had such visitors as the reigning pope and Jackie Kennedy. And why wouldn’t they visit?
The Amalfi Coast is beautiful. We were so thrilled to have 6 days of just relaxing. We didn’t have a lot we wanted to see… just the intention of some serious rest and relaxation, which would be welcome after the madness of Rome.
However, we quickly realized that it was going to be much more difficult to relax than we thought because our resort, while beautiful, only served breakfast. We had to go into town for any other meal. Fortunately for us, the resort’s sister property, Villa San Michele (which was just down the road), served dinner every night for only the customers of the two properties. Unfortunately, you have to either call a cab, which costs around 10-15 Euro or you can walk, which we chose to do. The thing is that walking looks a little like the picture at right.
You have to walk along the single road that we arrived on in an area that can’t be classified as a “walkway” just as the road can’t be classified as a “highway”. Walking along the road is taking your life into your own hands. It’s a scary endeavor in the daytime (which is what it was on the way over) and is even scarier at night (which is what it was on the way back).
We found a small market just outside the hotel and we stocked up on some essentials for the week – water, cookies, crackers, cheese, etc. – and then had a wonderful dinner. Even though it was life-threatening to get there, the dinner really was worth it. They had a house white that was fantastic and the food was quite good. The view was the best of all. Every table in the small restaurant was arranged in the ideal romantic angle, facing the sea through windows covered in beautiful, colorful flowers. The restaurant was manned by three men in front and I believe 1 or 2 cooks in the back. They were jovial and the one who seemed to be in charge reminded me of Jean Reno from LÃ©on (The Professional).
The next day was nice…we relaxed by the pool and the ocean, took a nap, and did a whole lot of nothing. It was a wonderful start to the day and that evening, we braved the crazy road again and walked to the closest town, Minori, for dinner. We made reservations at the restaurant that Claudio had recommended called L’Arsenale. Unfortunately, we could not eat when we wanted to at 6 and had to wait until 7:30. We walked around the small town and ended up people-watching near the beach for about 45 minutes. There, we saw perhaps the porkiest little kid we’ve ever seen in our lives. I would post pictures, but I should probably protect the innocent.
Our dinner at L’Arsenale was wonderful – for me. Claudio had not told us that the restaurant was a seafood joint, difficult to find a vegetarian meal on the menu for my lovely wife. I ordered the sea bass, which was baked in about an inch of salt. On the menu, I had read that fresh fish was only 5,50 Euro, which was great by me – I was all about some fresh fish. In all my American-ness, I failed to understand that the 5,50 was per 100 grams. Once I realized that the fish was 700 grams (do the math, then the exchange), I wasn’t so psyched.
However, the sea bass was incredible, the best I’ve ever had. But Alli started to feel iffy when we began eating and barely touched any of her food. As the meal went on, she felt more and more sick and the waiters at L’Arsenale didn’t seem to be in any hurry to let us leave. We kindly paid our check, the most expensive meal of the entire trip, and left to find a cab to take us back to our hotel because walking wasn’t really an option considering how Alli felt.
Man, did we ever pick the wrong night to go to Minori! It was some festival that night and was totally crazy in town. Finding a cab was impossible, so we ended up having to walk anyway. It was such a relief to arrive back at the Villa, where we promptly cranked our air conditioning and laid down on the bed to cool off.
Alli had a rough night. Not only were we awakened at 12:30 a.m. by fireworks from Minori (which was much closer by water to our room), but at about 3 a.m., she started to feel very ill. From this day forward, that night will be referred to as “The Night Alli Puked in the Bidet”. It may eventually be remembered fondly as a part of our larger adventure, but I’ll tell you right now that it was absolutely dreadful. I felt really helpless. As much as I wanted to make her feel better, I could do nothing.
The rest of our week was not exactly what we intended, but still wonderful. The food may have tasted good, but we are convinced that the first night Alli got either food poisoning or salmonella from the linguini carbonara that she had. We took it easy the next day. And the next day. And the next day. We took a couple of small day trips once Alli started to feel a little better, going to Ravello (which is a small town up high in the mountains with a beautiful garden called Villa Cimbrone) and also to Capri (which is totally overrated and overpriced).
The picture above is a view from Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. The small pool that you see is actually the pool at our resort. That should give you a decent idea how high above sea level we were.
The best thing about Capri were the Caprilu di Limone cookies that we found. I don’t know how to make them…all I know is that they smell and taste like lemony heaven. Outside of the cookies, Capri was not worth the trip (60 Euro by boat for two of us).
Seemingly, every major trip that Alli and I take, we get a little crazy near the end. The final morning we were in Capri was evidence of that craziness. I think that by the end of the trip and having to deal with everything it involved, particularly the hassle it was to get just normal food during this leg of the trip, we were totally ready to come home. That contributed to the madness that was our last morning. These pictures probably say it all…
The return home really deserves its own post because it took so long. As much as I’d like to cover it in this post, I realize that I’ve been loquatious as it is. So until then…
UPDATE: Alli’s Amalfi post.