Posts Tagged ‘Amalfi coast’

Start with photos if you wish….


Three things brought about this 10-day trip to Italy. The first was seeing the Danish-English film Love is All You Need, set in Sorrento; I wanted to get on a plane there and then. A month later I went to the Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum, which made me want to return to Pompeii after c.30 years and to visit Herculaneum for the first time. Then a specialist wine tour company I’ve traveled with twice before emailed about an Amalfi & Cliento trip run by the wine guide who gave us such a good time in South America six years ago. I needed no further encouragement.

Sorrento is a great place to base yourself to see the wonders of The Bay of Naples – it’s less than an hour from just about anywhere and it’s a relaxing spot to chill out when you’ve finished exploring. Apart from wandering in it’s narrow streets and eating & drinking, I took two side-trips, one by train to Naples and one by hydrofoil to Capri.

Naples is a very lived-in city, rough & ready, a bit edgy – a city with attitude; I rather liked that. The Archaeological Museum was extraordinary, with so much wonderful statuary, frescos & mosaics from the hugely important nearby sites. Even though it seemed like half of the rooms were closed, it was still a feast of wonderfulness. The rest of my visit was wandering down Via dei Tribunali and back down ‘Spaccanapoli’, taking in food smells, kitsch tat & grot and churches! It’s a wild city without gentrification and few compromises to tourism, though they’d do well to deal with the graffiti (the worst I’ve seen anywhere) and litter – there ‘s a fine line between rough & ready and dump!

Capri provided a lovely Sunday diversion. From the Marina Grande port to the town of Capri by funicular and the much nicer Anacapri by bus, it was pretty, with stunning views wherever you looked. The highlight was undoubtedly the Garden of Eden ceramic tiled floor of the Santa Michele church in Anacapri, though I rather took to the Red House, former home of a US military medic, too.

I joined the wine group in Amalfi. The bus journey from Sorrento was spectacular and scary in equal measure. During the first half I was on the cliff side, so less scary and less spectacular, but the second half was full of turn-away moments as you got close the the edge of this steep, windy, narrow road. There were times, going through Positano, where I honestly didn’t think vehicles could get that close without scraping each other’s paintwork.

The first base for our wine & food tour was Furore, just outside but way above Amafli. The Hosteria Bacco was a Cuomo family affair with the son in the kitchen, a cousin with a winery just across the road, and the rest also involved in some way. When it wasn’t misty, the sea views were sensational, the food was simple & fresh – la cucina povera! – and the wines (a lot of them) lovely. Pietro taught us to cook the four dishes we ate on the first evening (well, I watched) and between tasting as he cooked and then dinner, I rather overindulged.

Our first winery visit was Sammarro in Ravello. It was an uninspiring location in a sort of cave cut into the side of the road, but the family were very welcoming and the wines more inspiring than the location. They couldn’t match the next location, though, which was Tenuta San Francesco in Tramonti in the gorgeous Lattari Valley. Again lovely people, but this time with such a gorgeous location and some nice simple food to accompany their delicious whites and reds. Back in Amalfi, we visited the extraordinary cathedral and wandered up the main street and along the beach. It’s a popular place, but even crowds can’t detract from the charm and beauty of its location.

Two visits en route to our next base, Santa Maria di Castellabate in the Cilento region, and both treats. One of the partners of De Conciliis wines is a jazz buff, so the names of their wines often reference this in some way. The sparking is Selim, an anagram of Miles (Davies), and Perella is ‘for Ella’ (Fitzgerald)! Fortunately, they also tasted great, washed down with a light lunch to stop them going straight to our heads. The next stop was a white fig producer which I frankly wasn’t much looking forward to. Santomeile’s premises oozed style in a modern spin on B&W Italian movies of the 50’s and 60’s and their inventiveness with a simple fruit was breathtaking – jams, syrups, chocolates….. It was the most professional tasting I’ve ever experienced, and the figs a revelation, presided over by the young dottoressa in her white coat!

Our next base was a lovely seaside town and Villa Soria was on the water’s edge. It was a good location for our remaining Cilento visits, starting with a buffalo farm. Now I hate buffalo mozzarella with a vengeance – tasteless and chewy – but the yogurt and ice cream were great and there was lunch with more wine; oh, and the buffaloes were rather cute, particularly when using their mechanical back-scratchers. Then time for some history and a visit to the Greek temples of Paestum and the excellent on-site museum. These didn’t have the setting of Agrigento in Sicily, but the temples themselves were the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.

Our final winery was on our doorstep but required switching to 4WD vehicles, such was its remoteness. Sitting on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on the site of a former monastery, Sangiovanni was paradise. Owned by a young couple, refugees from corporate life, the setting was spectacular and the wines matched this. This was our best visit and we had to be dragged away, but there was an olive oil co-operative waiting with lunch further south! Here we were taught (and I instantly forgot) how to make simple pizza and sampled their olive oils – not as much fun as wine tasting, or figs come to that. There was a great back story about how they rescued a declining town by setting up the co-operative and the people were lovely.

Our final day took us for more history to Herculaneum, once buried like Pompeii under the lava and ashes of Vesuvius. It benefited from being a fairly compact site that you could do justice to in a couple of hours and it gave you a real sense of the shape of a Roman town – roads still intact, frescoes and mosaics still in place and partially ruined buildings that didn’t require much imagination to envision as complete. We’d earned our final lunch in modern day Ercolano, sat in the wine store like kids in a toy-shop, and the food was great, washed down with six wines, bringing our total for six says to somewhere between fifty and sixty! Only the goodbyes and a short taxi journey to my next base Torre del Greco kept me from my afternoon nap.

My final day was split between Naples and Pompeii. The weather was the worst of the trip, so I decided to go to Naples first, which proved to be a good decision as I came across a palace showing a recently restored Caravaggio and got to tour the Teatro San Carlo opera house, which I thought was closed on Sundays. Galleria Umberto I was grand and Palazzo Reale faded and run down. but with spectacular interiors. A long walk along the seafront completed a very satisfying return to Naples before a funicular, metro and train trip on to Pompeii.

The site is daunting as it’s so vast and I found it hard to get my head around it and navigate what is effectively a complete city. The rain returned intermittently, which didn’t help, but I was glad I returned here – the only revisit of the trip – as it is awe-inspiring and it completed the circle back to my second inspiration for the trip at the British Museum.

What I liked most about this holiday was the variety – the combination of food, wine, archaeology, scenery and city / town wanders. I packed a lot into ten days, even by my standards, but it was well paced and I came home rested. Now it’s time for a couple of Scandinavian cities – Stockholm in May and Copenhagen in July – before a 30-day 3000-mile US road trip in September; well, for September…..

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