As I stood under the clear blue sky watching the hazy sunshine making its way above the mountains, I felt my shoulders drop by about an inch. It was the peace and quiet I’d been craving for months – I just hadn’t realised it.
Italy had been on my travel list for as long as I could remember, but even I couldn’t have envisioned the scene in front of me. High above the Amalfi Coast, nestled away in the hills of Tramonti, I found myself stood on a private terrace surrounded by lush green hillside, and for the next 7 nights it would be our home. The trip was to celebrate Ian turning 40, and as I looked out into the hazy afternoon sky, I instantly knew we’d picked the right place to stay.
There were two houses next to each other that shared an open plan terrace, and even though two different couples visited throughout our stay, we only briefly saw one of them. Our stay was pretty much private and I loved the feeling of being so secluded, hidden away from the busy Italian coastline just a few miles away.
The houses were attached to the main house where the owner Daniela, lived with her partner, new born baby, and two adorable cats Porcelain and Titanium. The crazy cat woman in me was suitably satisfied. Privacy and cats: this may give you a small indication about my personality. Although Daniela lived on site we barely saw her, and when we did she was the perfect host – offering advice and listening to stories about our day.
I started each day standing on the terrace watching the morning sun slowly light up the sky. There were two days where it rained and my ritual was broken, but even then, a little water couldn’t dampen my spirits. I was in Italy, and I was determined to soak up as much of it as possible.
The first place we visited was Maiori. Needing an evening meal and supplies for our stay, Daniela said it was the closest town with a supermarket.
After a pretty hairy drive along the winding hillside roads, we were relieved to reach our destination in one piece. We creatively parked the car and spent the next 10 minutes figuring out how to use the parking meter. Finally, on foot, we wandered along the front until we felt brave enough to go into a restaurant and practice some very (broken) Italian. Apart from going to Austria on a school trip when I was 15, I’ve never visited any foreign speaking countries, so I was pleased to find that some things hadn’t changed. If we made the effort to (try and) speak the language, people were very happy to help us along, teach us new words and switch to English when the going got too tough. We found a friendly restaurant on the main road where we sat people watching while gorging ourselves on Pizza, and I have to say, kudos to the chef. Italian pizza tasted good.
After eating enough pizza to feed a small army we headed out into the cool night air. As we meandered along the sea front it soon became apparent that exploring the streets under the cover of darkness would become one of my favourite things to do. There was something about seeing each town lit up at night that made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. It was a different way of life and something I could definitely get used to. Listening to the waves gently lapping against the shore and seeing the twinkling lights of the restaurants light up the main road made me a very happy bunny indeed.
With our first night in Italy drawing to a close, we headed back to the car ready to experience our first night time drive of the trip. Twisting and turning along the dark and winding roads, we found ourselves being overtaken and beeped at, but somehow, we made it safely back to the peaceful hills of Tramonti.
In my naivety, I’d imagined Amalfi to be a quaint seaside village, but instead, we were met with tat filled souvenir shops that could rival any on Blackpool Prom. I was shocked by the sheer volume of people and wasn’t prepared for the amount of coach trips and crowds – a small detail that my Lonely Planet guidebook had failed to mention.
But away from the main piazza, we discovered the swarms of tourists gradually became less, and in an evening after all the coach trips had returned to their neighbouring towns, it felt like a different place altogether. Sitting outside on a warm evening, drinking coffee after a hearty meal felt good and I found great joy in watching the world go by. We drank at Bistro F.lli Pansa on several occasions and found the staff really friendly. They even started to remember us: perhaps because they thought we were ruining their Italian coffee by asking for soya milk lattes.
A few late afternoons were also spent eating dairy free gelato from Pasticerria Gelateria, sitting on the harbour wall in our spot people watching, and generally taking the time to just be. I love being by the sea, and taking a walk along the harbour wall watching the boats bob up and down on the water was something I found really relaxing.
One night, due to hunger, which then led to bickering, we couldn’t decide where to eat, so out of sheer desperation we ended up in Royal Resto Wine Bar. We instantly regretted it. The staff couldn’t have cared less. The food was mediocre and the price was high compared to other places we’d eaten. They shared some toilets with the gelato shop a few doors down and if you’re familiar with Trainspotting, no further explanation is needed. It’s an experience I’m happy not to have again. Needless to say, we didn’t leave a tip. If you ever visit Amalfi and hunger gets the better of you, I suggest eating anywhere but here.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Amalfi is the cathedral. Conveniently located in the Piazza del Duomo, it draws crowds all day long, and with an entrance fee of only a few euros – it doesn’t break the bank either. The outside is quite impressive, with a staircase leading up to the entrance, and to be honest, I found this more impressive than what was inside. But that’s just my opinion. If you’re interested in religious buildings and looking to soak up some history for half-an-hour or so, then this would be the place to visit.
If you prefer to be at one with nature like we do, then hike Valle Delle Ferriere instead. Taking in lemon groves, woodland paths and eerie abandoned buildings, the nature reserve sits high in the hills above Amalfi. Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets below, it provides a place of much needed peach and quiet. This was one of my favourite things we did while we were in Italy. You can find a full blog post about it here.
I also loved the whitewashed buildings pressed into the mountainside.
One afternoon we took a walk over to the neighbouring town of Atrani. We wandered around the white washed streets before heading down to the sea. Having arrived slap bang in the middle of siesta we were met with scores of people, all lay on sunbeds bright red and catching rays. Lying on a beach isn’t of any interest to us, but I was desperate to test out the water. Not quite brave enough to go all the way in, I was still determined to have a bit of a paddle. Ian held my Birkenstocks while I waded in up to my knees, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as warm and inviting as it looked. Not wanting to get sand stuck to my legs and feet, I dried myself off with a tissue out of my bag. Really. It wasn’t my finest moment!
After we’d booked our flights to Italy, we found Sorrento coming up in conversation again and again. People told us how wonderful it was, how much they loved it, and how we should visit it while we were away. After doing some research I decided it wasn’t somewhere we would like to stay, but put it onto our itinerary as a definite place to visit. To be honest, I struggled to see the appeal. The hustle and bustle of a busy town, being pushed and shoved in hot crowds wasn’t fun for either of us and we only lasted a couple of hours. Maybe we should have stayed a little a longer to explore more, who knows, but it just didn’t feel like the right place for us. We bought some gelato, ate it on the way back to the car and decided to drive the Amalfi Coastal road back to Tramonti instead. Like a lot of driving in Italy, it was pretty hairy at times, made worse by the fact that the light was starting to go. But it was worth it. And even though we didn’t get the sunset we were hoping for, we were still treated to a dramatic evening sky.
When we reached Minori, there was a band playing on the sea front, so we stopped, had a wander around and then found somewhere to have something to eat. Again, we sat outside enjoying the warm evening air watching the world go by. We had a post dinner wander down to the sea front and then headed back to Tramonti, our little home away from home.
Look out next week for part II: Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone.