As we sipped the strong black coffee, I watched the play of clouds on the Naples skyline apprehensively. Breakfast was served on the terrace of our hotel amid lemon trees laden with fruit, making the experience more enjoyable. Now and then, a stray sun ray would light up the huge mosaic dome of the Basilica. Sunlight was important today. We had a visit planned to Costiera Amalfitana, arguably the most beautiful coastline of Italy, and bad weather would not do at all.
Luckily, the sun continued to shine as we reached our first stop, the gateway to Amalfi Coast, Sorrento. Founded by Romans as Surrentum in 600 BCE, it is now a neat mass of colourful houses encircled by a glittering ocean some 160 feet below. It looked magical, something out of a fairytale.
Our guide Marco, whose excitement was quite infectious, talked about how Sorrento is immortalised in legends by Parthenope, a siren in Homer’s Odyssey. Beautiful Parthenope tried to seduce Ulysses with her bewitching song but failed when he asked his oarsmen to seal their ears with wax and to tie him to the mast of the ship (that way he wouldn’t jump into the water when he heard her song) as they sailed past the shores. She died of a broken heart and her body, washed up on the shores to form Sorrento, as tantalising as a siren’s song.
Turns out the tale of Sorrento is as famous as its juicy oranges. According to Marco, Orangello, a liqueur made from the fruit is a must-try.
After exiting the tongue of land that stretched into the sea, we stopped by the wayside and Marco pointed to a pristine white villa surrounded by lush trees. The villa belonged to a real siren, the famous actress and singer Sophia Loren. The glittering coast is a huge draw for celebrities—reclusive or otherwise.
Bidding goodbye to sirens and celebrities, we explored the 75-kilometre stretch from Sorrento to Amalfi. The car turned and twisted along the ribbons of the road with cornice-like cliffs above the burnished blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
With little time to recover and reflect, Positano emerged as a kaleidoscope of ochre and orange. John Steinbeck once wrote “Positano bites deep” and it surely did. The city’s name is attributed to Poseidon, the God of the Sea, and to a legend of black Madonna.
The biggest draw to the village is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta and the rest is a confetti of coloured houses jutting out of the cliffs at impossible angles. The perpendicular steps, charming boutiques and narrow cobbled streets opened to great views of the sea. Apart from ceramic mementoes, one could get a custom-made Roman-style sandal with pastel straps and roam around Marina Grande, a beach favoured by the rich and famous.
A spine-chilling ride later we crossed Furore, home to exactly 10 inhabitants. The village is craftily hidden in a fjord and has a small private beach. Soon, the road broadened and we reached Amalfi.
For anyone wondering, the town looks exactly like the pictures that float around the internet. A glamour hotspot, the brilliant blue sea and the red-roofed houses make for a postcard setting. In the 9th century, it was a maritime superpower with a strong connection to sailors.
We stopped next to the statue of Flavio Gioia, who looked quite mysterious. The hooded statue gazed at a compass, an ode to the sailor who perfected the device with a suspending needle.
We headed up the steep road that led to the town. On our right, broad steps led to the 11th-century Cathedral of St Andrew, dedicated to the Apostle. Even my strong love for churches did not deter us from wasting precious daylight.
So we headed to the Piazza Duomo and hopped from one shop to another. We found lemon-shaped soaps, with distinctive knobs, twisted in chiffon that made for a popular memento. We settled to people-watch with limoncello gelato, a day spent basking in the subdued sun.
Soon it was time to leave for Ravello, the last stop of the day. We climbed up a narrow alley lined with shops. Delicate lace dresses and colourful ceramics graced the windows. When the alley opened, we reached Piazza Vescovado. Beyond the cafés, the piazza dipped in an incline, overlooking Amalfi that spread in hues of peach and white.
Later, we stepped through a stone archway to enter Villa Rufolo.
The villa was built by Rufolo in the 13th century and the family was “wealthy enough to put most of the wealthy to shame.” This Moorish villa was mentioned by Renaissance writer Boccaccio. It was also where D.H. Lawrence stayed at while working on Lady Chatterley's Lover. In the 19th century, it was bought by Scotsman Francis Neville Reid who put many efforts towards further beautification.
On our left stood the much-photographed cloister lined with white stone pillars. German maestro Wagner found inspiration to complete his opera Parsifal here. In homage, the city hosts an annual summer concert on a specially built stage jutting out onto the Mediterranean Sea on the lower garden at the villa.
The festival has earned Ravello the title of ‘The City of Music’. The view from the terrace is a signature image of the area, with a lonely parasol pine, magenta flowers and smooth honey-toned towers that frame a sapphire sea. It felt like we were standing at the edge of the world.
In the end, a pleasant sadness enveloped us, most feeling nostalgic already. As we drove back to Naples, I realised that the pictures of the shimmering sea and confetti towns seemed more real and alive than our memories of the place. For once, the mind’s eye did no justice to the gorgeous views.
Costiera Amalfitana is a Unesco World Heritage Site above the pointed toe of Italy. There are flights to Rome and Naples from major Indian cities (return from INR 40,000). There are trains from Rome to Naples for € 20 per head. From Naples, one can explore the coast using buses or hired taxis.
WHERE TO STAY
In Naples, stay at Best Western Hotel Plaza (from € 118 for two nights; bestwestern.com) which is five minutes from the Central Station. One could also pick Hotel Vergilius Billia (from € 130 per night; hotelvergiliusbillia.it) which is extremely luxurious. Da Bruno (from € 35; +39-334-9122837) is a cheaper alternative with a hearty Italian breakfast on offer.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
>Sorrento can also be made a base if one is interested in exploring the coast and Pompeii with time on hand.
>Praiano, lying between Positano and Amalfi, is an exclusive and less expensive option