Continued from my earlier post Rome -The first stop Part II
One of the most romanticized and popular tourist destination of Italy is the Amalfi coast – Described once as “The Playground of the Rich ” , this Mediterranean Destination was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1997 . Many a car chase has been filmed on the Amalfi coast Writers such as Ibsen and John Steinbeck found inspiration here . More famously John Steinbeck’s quote is used in many a travel brochure
“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real when you are gone” John Steinbeck, for the Harpers Bazaar in 1953 (Positano is a small and beautiful village on the Amalfi coast)
And so from Rome we set out on the next part of our journey through Italy- Amalfi Coast. We arrived at Rome station for an early morning train on our way to the Amalfi coast . Italy has two train services -Trenitalia, the government run railway with an extensive network and the ItaliaRail which is private run network on select routes . The Platform at Rome and the concourse are showpieces by themselves resembling some high end shoppers paradise . Entry on the platform is prohibited till the arrival of the train on the platform and passengers wait in the concourse .
We took a Frecciabianca fast train out of Rome Terminii (Rome Central) and in less then two hours we were in the Port town of Salerno on the Southern extremity of the coast .To our delight the train touched speeds as high as 295 Km per hour.As a comparative marker the Gatiman express between Delhi and Jhansi now touches 160 km / hr. Enroute Salerno we touched Naples and got a glimpse of the active volcano Mt Vesuvius – it last erupted in 1913-1944 but is more well known for its eruptions which wiped out the ancient town of Pompeii .
The Amalfi coast is a scenic 40 odd kms along the Mediterranean sea stretching from Salerno in the South to Sorrento in the North and is part of the Campania Province of Southern Italy .The capital of Campania is Naples about 250 km from Rome.
We did have a rough time negotiating our bags across the staircase of Salerno station and soon made our way to the Piazza Concordia , a short walk away – The start point for local ferries as well as Mediterranean cruise ships.The coastal hill road Strada Statele 163 or (State highway 163) which runs entirely along the coast to Sorrento at the other end also takes off from here . Many believe that The Amalfi coastline is best viewed from the Strada Statele – A narrow road carved out of steep hillsides with a sheer seaside cliff on the other. The opposite view is that the coast looks more serene and awe-inspiring. We chose to do both but first the sea route – by ferry from Salerno to Amalfi The pic alongside shows the Marina at Salerno – Notice the Strada Statele cut from the hill in the back ground .
We took a ferry run by the European ferry company TravelMar and were introduced to some of the places we would hear over and over again for the next five days .There are 13 distinct municipalities(villages) along this stretch of the coast. By the end of our trip to the coast we got to visit nine of them-Notice the alluring blue colour of the Mediterranean sea . So enthralling that it warrants a cruise through the placid waters -Maybe another time
We occupied the seats on the front of the boat which gave us the feeling of being on our own private Yacht. The Ferry has a snack bar on board and I picked
up a Perroni beer (bira in Italian) and some pretzels. Perroni is the largest beer brewing company in Italy with Perroni being the lower end beer priced around 5 euros. The top of the line brand is Nastro Azzuro which retails around 8-10 Euros. We had an unhindered view of the Amalfi coast line and went past the municipalities of Vietro Sul Mar, Maiori, Minori, Atrani and finally our to destination Amalfi town from where were driven to our hotel a few kilometers away along the coastal route.
Amalfi town is the only place on the entire stretch of Strada Statele where the road touches the coast. Like most of Italy, Amalfi traces its history back to the days before Christ. Amalfi over the last 2000 years was a great maritime principality and the hub of shipping and commerce.It went through various periods of Autonomy, and periods of subjugation variously under the Pope’s, dukedoms of Naples and Salerno and other rulers of the Italian empire. Amalfi was an acclaimed leader of its time in ship building and even laid down its own maritime code. Around the 12th century a massive earthquake swallowed much of the coastline including the prosperous ports . However many of the churches and cathedrals survived as these were built on higher ground which remain even today. Then began the decline of Amalfi and the population was completely wiped out in the plague of the 1600s. It was sparsely inhabited since then till the early 1900s when its beauty and serenity was rediscovered. It was initially a playground for the rich nobility of Italy but slowly transformed into a popular and over crowded tourist destination.The picture above shows a panoramic view of Amalfi town -Note the jetty in the foreground and observe the crowded buildings on the coastline – most of which are hotels and restaurants. Amalfi while most centrally located and easily accessible by both land and sea is by far the most crowded part of the coast .Look closely at the picture above and note how many deck chairs are on the small stretch of sandy beach.
Selecting a location to stay on the Amalfi coast proved to be a very challenging task . Nearly all hotels, thousands of them, boasted of a grand sea view of the Mediterranean sea , exceptional food and rave reviews. Price was not the main driver as all of them were equally expensive compared to what we saw in the rest of Italy. Should we stay amidst the crowds at Amalfi or at Positano as John Steinbeck did, or the smaller towns of Furore and Praiano half way between Amalfi and Positano or at Ravello, Maiori and Minori high above the coast line but with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean – (Gulf of Salerno) or the larger towns of Salerno and Sorrento, which locals does not consider part the Amalfi Coast. The Strada Statele connects all these towns and there are regular bus services known as SITA Buses .(SITA is an abbreviation for the company that runs these buses) Taxis are a rip off and cost as much as 6-8 Euros per km and are generally best avoided. So much for the Amalfi coastal road but I would also recommend a drive down the quiet road from Visakhapatnam past Rishikonda to Bhimli( Andhra Pradesh India) for the same effect or the East Coast Road from Chennai past Mahabalipuram to Pondicherry (Tamil Nadu , India). Again unexploited partly due to lack of development and also partly because the Bay of Bengal is not safe for swimming at most places.
We finally zeroed in on the fishing village, Marina De Praia, a little off Praiano, far from the crowds but close enough to Amalfi. Situated in a cove off the sea with a grand view of the Marina and the fishing village is the Hotel La Conchiglia.(check out my review on Tripadvisor). The marina boasts of a trattoria , a few small hotels all with names starting with Albergo (italian for hotel) The photo shows the approach road to the hotel off the Strada Statele.
We had planned a lazy trip by the sea and kept up this routine for the next five days.We had found a niche with a bench on the Marina and spent hours watching the activities of the local seafarers and the motor boats and launches discharging their cargo of eager tourists. My photographs do not do justice to the beautiful stretch of beach and the activity on the Marina –