The Path of the Gods is a 6 km trail along the coast from Bomerano, in the mountains above Amalfi, to Nocelle and offers amazing views along the Amalfi Coast.
So, for our last excursion before setting off again, we followed our now customary route by train and bus to Amalfi before catching the bus up to Bomerano, another hair-raising hairpin route into the mountains.
Legend has it that the Gods used this path to visit the Sirens who seduced Odysseus, but I think the name ‘Path of the Gods’ is a contraction of its full title ‘Path of the Oh my God look at that View!’
The path at Bomerano starts is at about 650 metres above sea level and ends in Nocelle 450m, above Positano and I am not even going to try and describe the views; the pictures don’t even begin to cover them. There is a warning that the trail is not for those who suffer from vertigo and some of the unfenced sections of the path are un-nerving. The trail is not overly challenging but does required a certain amount of clambering up and down rocks and some steep gradients, with steps, between the flatter sections.
Once at the end of the trail in Nocelle they say there are 1500 steps down to Positano. They lie. My knees were protesting at 2000 and I lost count at about 4500 and as we descended I couldn’t figure why Positano never actually got any closer; just an optical illusion I figured, just around the next bend sort of thing. And then, suddenly, all became clear, the steps actually lead to the coast road 2 km from Positano! To be fair there is a longer route leading to Positano and we opted for the steps. Big mistake!
Conveniently there is a bus stop there and we met a very helpful guy called Giovanni who gave us the Top Tip for flagging down the bus; as you buy your tickrts in advance and not on the bus you wave your tickets at the driver to show you have them. If you just wave, the bus drives by because there are so many knackered, but ticketless, tourists trying to pay on the bus and causing chaos!
Giovanni also owns the guest house at the bottom of the steps and was trying to show us his pride and joy just as the bus to Amalfi arrived. We couldn’t face walking around Positano, there were bound to be more steps and so returned to the boat. We never realised how many steps, stairs and kerbs there are between Salerno and Marina d’Arechi!!!!
The Path of the Gods was fantastic. It took us about 3 hours with a stop for a picnic and a few photo opportunities. This too is a ‘must see’.
Ravello is one of the ‘must see’ places on the Amalfi Coast, far more so than Amalfi itself, with views rivalling or exceeding those on Capri.
We took the Amalfi bus again then got a smaller one up into the mountains and immediately off the bus you find yourself on a promenade admiring stunning views east along the coast. You then walk through a huge tunnel into the centre of town.
The town is set around one main piazza in front of the Cathedral with the Vila Rufolo off to one side and views of the valley below Ravello on the other. This is obviously an old town and the main attraction is the Villa Rufolo originating in the 13th century
The older part of town is built on the mountain side around Villa Rufolo and doesn’t have streets as such, just a succession of stairways, some of which have been fitted with ramps for the electric baggage carts serving the hotels.
The Vila Rufolo is mostly ruined, although has been occupied with renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries but by the much of the original structure had dis-appeared. The composer Wagner was a visitor and fell in love with the place; as you wander around Wagner is played over a speaker system and seems very fitting! They hold concerts here and they must be really something, the orchestra is on an open air stage with the mountains as the backdrop!
It boasts an ornate Moorish galley and the shell of a 30 metres high tower. This now contains a rather meagre museum but leads up to the viewing area on top of the tower. Wow!
From there you walk through the garden terraces leading to even more magnificent views. Apparently the original gardener here discovered photography and spent 40 years photographing Ravello and you can see why. Every view is spectacular and those which aren’t are magnificent.
Capri was on our to do list, primarily because “you have to visit Capri dharling!” And I will admit to preconceptions; it would be over run with tourists, expensive, and probably endowed with magnificent scenery dotted with picturesque white houses. And we weren’t disappointed!
There are only a series of 8 o’clock ferries going and 5 o’clock ones coming back, some stop at Amalfi and Positano on the way. The journey was about an hour and a half and the return trip cost us €97! But at just shy of €25 each it was probably good value for money, not only getting us there but hugging the coast most of the way we had time to admire the fantastic scenery of the Amalfi Coast.
We arrived in Capri at just before 10. The harbour has a marina but it is reputed to be obscenely expensive and was crowded with boats doing some Rolex racing event.
The island is about 2km wide and 3 long with a mountain at each end and a high saddle of land between. Capri town is on that saddle of land and happily there is a funicular railway between the port and town centre. I was surprised to find that tickets for this and the buses only cost €1.80 each; however, we were brought back to Capri with a bump when we decided to have breakfast. We were up a 6, had a brisk walk to the station for the 6.50 train and then a 2 km walk to the ferry. We were peckish. And at €35 for a pair of the world’s smallest, meanest omelettes and a bottle of water it was just as well! Expensive had just become ‘overpriced’!
Capri is Tourist Central. But that is what the place is about and it is done very well. Watching the world pass us by as we enjoyed our hand crafted omlettes in Piazza Umberto was very pleasant. The streets are narrow and mostly pedestrianised and we took a walk across town to the south side of the island where the views are.
Our first stop was the monastery of San Giacomo. From the outside this is a rather plain building and quite extensive. Founded in 1371 the monks gradually came to own all the land and the hunting rights, making them quite popular with the islanders. Relations hit a low point in 1656 when plague struck the island. The monastery had been gradually fortified over the years and the monks sealed themselves inside and left islanders to it. In retribution the islanders threw their plague riddled corpses over the walls into the monastery!
Now the monastery houses an art Museum displaying the works of Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach. He painted massive, very dark, oil paintings. Up close it is almost impossible to make out the differences in ‘colours’, but from a few meters back you can make out the picture.
From there you move into the old church, empty now, but the walls were originally covered in beautiful murals, parts of which have been restored and give a glimpse of how beautiful the original interior must have been.
Then you go out into the gardens and the terrace over looking the sea offers amazing views of the south coast of the island. The Giardini di Augusto, just west of the monastery afforded similar views. This was exactly how I’d imagined Capri to be! Tree clad mountains, ravines, vertical drops and cliffs, dotted with white mansions and hotels. Beautiful, but pictures can’t do it justice.
The second town on the island, Ana Capri, is on top of the western mountain and the bus journey took us up a steep hairpin road along the cliffs above the port with just a fence between the side of the bus and oblivion; quite a surprise to suddenly find yourself looking out over the town a couple of hundred metres below and only the bus window in between!
Anacapri is similar to Capri, but a bit less crowded. Still wall to wall boutiques but a pleasant place to stroll around and have lunch. One of the ‘main’ buildings is the Casa Rosa, built by a Confederate Colonel who moved to Capri following the American Civil War.
We didn’t look around inside, lunch called, and this time we didn’t feel ripped off.
We also didn’t visit the Vila San Michele, but this was due to the time. It was 3 pm and we had 2 hours to get back down to the ferry, and it was just as well we gave ourselves that time. The bus back to Capri was easy enough but the world and his wife, and some of their kids were queueing for the funicular. But we had plenty of time, even enjoying a beer when we got down to the bottom.
Catching the ferry was, however, rather stressful as no one knew where it was going to leave from. The quays had numbered ferry berths and we were waiting at number 5 where we’d been dropped off, then we heard it was to be number 2, then 21, the other side of the harbour. So we rushed towards that ferry only to find an equally confused tour guide on the phone trying to find where to take her herd! Back to empty number 5 to wait for the ferry which was a half hour late!
At this point I was reflecting that it would have been nice to leave all the others playing ‘hunt the ferry’ as we strolled down to the marina and our yacht dharling for a Pimms. As we finally left Capri my delusions of grandeur we put firmly in perspective as 380 million pounds worth of Sailing Yacht A, newest and 9th biggest super yacht in the world, cruised into the anchorage fresh from Monaco.
On the trip back we called at Positano and Amalfi and arrived back at Salerno just before 7. A walk back to the station for the train and a walk back to the marina. Only 17 km walked today! Not bad visiting an island that is only 3 km long !!!!
Capri was nice, expensive with pleasant, if crowded, streets and some fantastic scenery. Worth visiting just the once and probably for a little longer than we did.
After our brief visit back to the UK it was time to start exploring the Amalfi Coast, starting with Amalfi itself, catching the bus from Salerno just after lunch on the 11th.
It is only a 25 km journey but it took the coach 80 minutes to get there. The road is narrow and has no straight sections whatsoever. I now know why the Italians created the Fiat 500; it is the ideal car for this road, even a Smart car lives up to its name here! So running 54 seater coaches on scheduled bus services is a fantastic idea; they spend almost the entire journey on the wrong side of the road and you cannot fit a fag paper between two of them when they meet.
The scenery was seriously impressive. There are a series of towns and villages in the larger valleys, although the term ‘valley’ is used in its most liberal sense; crevice would be more accurate in places and there are houses, hotels and vineyards clinging to every available cliff ledge along the way.
As we wound our way along the road we could spot where Amalfi was long before we could see it due to the presence of a cruise ship loitering off the coast. Arriving there the bus stopped in what was a massive bus park on the harbour wall. Amalfi seems to be the terminus for buses from Sorrento, Naples and Salerno, probably because it is the only place you can turn a bus around in!
The town itself is quaint, quite colourful and is geared up solely for tourists. It was busy now, in May, and I’m sure it will be heaving in the summer. The town is built in one of the larger crevices along the coast and once had a decent harbour, apparently destroyed by a tsunami in the 14th century. It has a small one now, home to fishing boats but there some yachts and boat moorings there as well. It doesn’t appear to offer much shelter though; it was a pretty calm day but the swell had the two yachts, on buoys in the harbour, rocking around like demented metronomes.
As far as things to see in town are concerned there is the Cathedral of Saint Andrew and the Museum of Paper; we just settled for a late lunch, a visit to the Cathedral and a wander.
Amalfi first appeared in history in the 6th century and by the 7th was an independent power trading with Syria, Egypt and the Byzantines. The first Duke was elected in 958 and Amalfi rose to equal Pisa and Genoa and by the 10th century the population was 80,000. The Normans arrived in 1073 and captured Amalfi and it continued life as an important Norman centre. Between 1131 and 1137 Amalfi had a hard time being captured by the Sicílians, the Holy Roman Empire and the Pisans and thereafter rapidly declined in importance until the aforementioned tsunami, in 1343, finished Amalfi off.
The Cathedral is quite a structure although you don’t see it until you are in the piaza directly in front of it. It is at the top of a huge stone staircase and heavily decorated with gold coloured frieze. It was built in the 11th or 12th century and the crypt, which is more ornate than the Cathedral itself, houses the relics of the Apostle St Andrew which were brought here on 8 May 1208. May was obviously a good month for moving relics, as you may recall that St Mathew was taken to Salerno Cathedral in May of 964. Much of the Cathedral itself is from the 18th century and little remains of the earlier versions.
Decoration from original pulpit
The main street is pleasant and retains a certain charm. It is a bit run down in places and is full of expensive shops and restaurants but we didn’t really get a distinctive ‘vibe’. Away from the main street and the sea front there is reaĺly little to commend Amalfi apart from the amazing mountainous backdrop.
Valeria reckons we are spoilt, I prefer to think of us as ‘objective’! It was a pleasant place but, for me Amalfi is similar to St Tropez , famous for being famous. It does sit in some stunning scenery and has a magnificent cathedral crypt.
Salerno is where we will be staying for a couple of weeks, allowing us to return to the UK briefly and will be our base to explore the Amalfi Coast before we move on south towards Messina.
There has been human settlement around Salerno since the Bronze Age. The Romans founded Salerno in 197BC and it became an important trading centre on the road between Rome and the south. After the Roman Empire fell to the Goths, Salerno was occupied by the Byzantines and then fell to the Lombards who held the town until the 11th century. During this period Salerno became a prosperous and important city and boasted the world’s first medical school. The Lombards Duke Arechi II began building the first castle on the hills over looking the city in the 6th century. There was a mint in the castle.
In 1076 the Normans, under Robert Guiscard who had married into the Lombard family, took the city and held on to it until the 12th century when the Germans took Italy and it became part of the Holy Roman Empire. From then the importance of the city declined in favour of Naples.
The top attraction on Trip Advisor is the Castle, but I think this ranking is based on altitude rather than quality. We took the bus up from town, which involved a lot of waiting around but only cost €2, which was just as well; we would have been seriously miffed if we’d shelled out for a taxi! The castle is quite massive and has been restored to an extent but there is nothing there to explain it’s history, other than a small museum displaying pottery and coin hordes found during excavations. On the plus side the views of Salerno were impressive!
The Cathedral was a differant story all together! This was built by the Norman Duke Robert and was consecrated by the Pope in 1084.
In the crypt are the remails of St Mathew, one of the 12 Disciples, brought to the original church of Santa Maria degli Angeli on 6 May 954, almost 1063 years ago to the day.
There is a large entrance court-yard which is over shadowed by an enormous tower. The court-yard is decorated in a rather Arabic style and that apparent influence appears to extend into the Cathedral. The Cathedral itself is huge with three Apse, the wall above them shows sections of mosaic decoration which would have looked absolutely magnificent if it could be seen complete!
The older parts of Salerno are typical narrow streets between tall buildings and have a ‘shabby chic’ sort of feel to them, the emphasis being on the shabby. The main roads beside and parallel to the water front by the port are bounded by huge impressive buildings from perhaps the 17th or 18th centuries but it is impossible to get a clear view of them!
We only spent an afternoon and early evening in town but think we’ve probably seen enough. Next time we’ll be passing through on our way to the Amalfi Coast and Capri by the ferry.