Amalfi Coast: a terrific week on foot
It was this time last year that we returned to Campania almost 16 years after our first visit. Then we cycled from Naples to Sicily, with me pulling my then 4-year-old son in a baby trailer. Now we had a week on foot to take another look at the gems of the Amalfi Coast from a different perspective: from the mountains.
Total distance walked: 100 km
Number of days: 7
Starting and end point: Naples
More practical information at the end of the article.
Day 1 – Naples
“See Naples and die,” says Goethe. Indeed, the capital of Italy’s Campania region is a fascinating city. You can spend days wandering aimlessly along the wide avenues or the narrow alleys. This time we only had an afternoon and evening to get a bit lost in this labyrinth. We had some arancini and pizza by the meter to keep us going. It was late February and we were in the middle of an unusually cold period. We had no plans. We just wanted Naples to enchant us and we weren’t disappointed. There were hardly any tourists but the streets were full of people, still celebrating the carneval. I hope these photos give you an idea about the atmosphere.
Our journey started on 26th February, just two days after the Russian army launched its shameful war against Ukraine. Whenever we could, we tried to follow the events and the Italians themselves also reminded us every day: when we were in Naples, there was a huge demonstration in the city centre and we could see the Ukrainian flag in the streets and houses of almost every town.
Day 2 – Pompeii
With little time on our hands, we had to choose between a hike on Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii. We had an overdose of volcanoes in Lanzarote so it wasn’t a hard decision. The morning we spent walking around the centre of Naples and then took a train to the present-day town of Pompei (the second ‘i’ was lost somewhere along the way). Even for the second time, the ancient Roman city was a thrilling experience for us. What really struck me were the little details of how those long gone people lived their everyday lives. The mosaic of a dog guarding the entrance to a villa. The containers of food in a fast food joint (I wonder what fast food meant back then!) The baker’s oven that could be used today. The ruts from cartwheels in the streets. The ancient “zebra crossings” made from raised stones.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the ruins and then looked for the apartment we’d reserved. While preparing our dinner we watched the news on TV and tried to understand what was going on in Ukraine…
Day 3 – Sorrento
The basic idea was to make our own little Camino on the Sorrento Peninsula in a week. The plain around the volcano is like a huge suburb so we started the walk from Castellamare di Stabia and ended up in Vico Ecuense (maps at the end of the post). Our accommodation was in Sorrento so we did the rest of the way by train.
There’s a signposted trail from Castellamare (white and red) that leads steeply up the ridge. You can shortcut some of the long bends but finally you’ll arrive at a viewpoint at around 510 metres. There we took another path going down along the ridge (yellow-green I think it was). If I did it again, I’d stick to the original trail as this one was poorly signposted and we progressed much slower. First we had the views of Mount Vesuvius and Naples and then the small bays and Vico Equense, both amazing. As it was getting late, we took the train to Sorrento but the trail continues to the south.
We only had the evening to walk around Sorrento and it was a bit rainy but the narrow alleys and the colourful shops enchanted us. Oh, and we had fantastic pistachio icecream!
Day 4 – Positano
The early bus took us as far as Colli San Pietro to start our hike to Positano. There’s a small shop at the crossroads, where we could get hold of some bananas and chiacchiere al cioccolato. From there it’s around 17 km up and down the mountainous interior of the peninsula to Positano. It was really steep at places, both upwards and downwards, but equally spectacular. We climbed as high as 880 metres, where there was enough snow for a dozen snowmen. The last few kilometres lead us down to the sea through hundreds of steps.
Positano needs no introduction as it is one of the most photographed towns on the Amalfi coast. We had sunshine, clouds and even rain on this day but, on the plus side, there were hardly any tourists. After a coffee in a posh confectionary we walked another hour before we took the bus. We’d booked a house in a village called Agerola and we had to change buses in a place called Bivio Lone.
That’s where we had a bad surprise: the second bus didn’t run due to some road construction. It was too late to walk, a taxi would have been way too expensive and hitch-hiking was out of the question (we were three and people still feared Covid). Then Anita had a great idea: we phoned our host, who promised to pick us up. Well, we waited for more than an hour in the freezing wind but the day ended well when we got our perfect pizzas in the village restaurant.
Day 5 – Amalfi and Ravello
We left the cozy house in Agerola after a quick breakfast, stocked up with some bakery in a local shop and started walking towards San Lazzaro. This part was easy but then we turned northeast and started panting. Our trail led up the mountain and around one of the deep valleys before descending to the quiet village of Pogerola. By the way, it’s amazing how you only need to walk a few kilometres from the most frequented tourist destinations to find yourself in a genuine local environment. This time, for example, we followed a man who was leading a mule up the street…
The highest point of the trail is around 850 metres and there are some stupifying views from up there. You can see part of the Amalfi coast with Minori, Maiori and Amalfi itself. Then there’s a long and steep stairway with huge steps that lead down to Pogerola. It’s a pretty little village with little life off-season but we loved the refreshing water of the spring just before the first houses, the small square with the church and the small streets with the old houses. Anita took a bus to Amalfi but Aron and I chose to run down the stairs. It was lots of fun!
Amalfi took our breath away as we looked down at it from Pogerola and when we walked along its narrow streets. Just like we did fifteen years ago when we rode into the town on our bikes. The walking path leads past orchards which were full of ripening lemons and I confess we picked one. We simply couldn’t resist the temptation! And then we didn’t know we’d soon get a lemony surprise…
Getting lost in the maze of Amalfi’s streets is a must and it’s a serious sports activity due to the steep hillside. We got our breath back on top of the stairs leading to the the Cathedral, a wonderful piece of Medieval architecture.
From Amalfi we could have taken another path above the coastal road or the highway – we felt a bit lazy so we chose the latter. Also, we hoped to relive what we felt when we rolled on our six wheels along this magnificent coastline. Shortly after that we had to turn uphill in pretty Atrani to reach our destination for the day. We spent the night in the equally amazing town of Ravello, right next to an age-old castle.
Day 6 – Limoncello to go
Early spring was unusually chilly in Italy in 2022 but we had a sunny morning in Ravello so we could enjoy our breakfast and coffee on the terrace. Then we took another picturesque path with great panoramas through the forests, mostly downhill, to the next bay. Minori is the name of the small town there, another gem with much less tourism than its better-known neighbours. And it was in this town where we had perhaps the most memorable moment of our trip.
We walked by a small limoncello shop and decided to go in and maybe find a nice souvenir. It was in fact a fully functional workshop where the fragrant drink was produced and then sold. A small team of the local TV station was shooting a promotional video of the business and the owner, Carlo Mansi was just demonstrating them the process. And then the reporter stepped up to us and asked me in Italian! And I could somehow answer most of his questions with the Italian I had learnt in just 3 weeks. (Thank you, Pimsleur! And I don’t get paid for this.) The video is available here (and we appear at 32:28). The elderly owner then surprised us with a huge bottle of limoncello! We kept drinking it during our stay and even left a little for our hosts in Naples.
Then we followed an old road leading north through the mountains to the basin of the Sarno river. We slept in a house in a small village, Carbonaro. It was the coldest night and the house had no heating but the huge library made up for it.
Day 7 – Back to Naples
Carbonaro is just a little under the pass that leads to the extensive flatlands around the river of Pompeii so our last day was quite easy. Partly footpaths, partly quiet secondary roads. And plenty of rural life around us. Then we reached the pass, which looked like a grubby truck stop, had a coffee in a bar and headed down to the railway station of Pagani. This part of our trip was the dirtiest: people seem to use the forest there as an illegal dumping area. Too many precious locations to care for, I guess, though this would make a nice hiking route for the locals.
We got back to Naples after sunset but had time to take another dive in the bustle of the centre. It was heartwarming to see all the blue and yellow flags, the signs of true solidarity. Had some pizza and ice-cream before we said goodbye to Italy.
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