Confessions of an unplanned traveler
Photos by Zack Hussain
Italy is romanticized in novels, magazines and movies with its rich culture, history, heritage, fashion, and food. It is a destination on everyone’s bucket list from the average tourist to a serious wanderlust. One could never boast of their travels without Italy in their repertoire of countries visited.
When I got the first opportunity almost 8 years ago to visit Italy, I didn’t realize that first visit would culminate into my sixth repeat visit to a country I call my second home.
One would think after six visits I would have explored the enchanting Amalfi coast either on my first or at least my second visit, but that was not the case.
I had envisioned and romanticized visiting the Amalfi coast, driving down its windy roads, exploring all the villages, eating to my heart’s content, and gorging on the amazing vistas, but year after year I would visit Italy and it eluded me. I promised myself every time I visited it would be the year.
The summer of 2017 was simply amazing, when I left I had no idea what to expect, and I came back with a treasure trove of memories, among them finally was my elusive trip to the Amalfi coast. It is everything I had dreamt of and more.
The dream started as I drove with a very dear friend from Rome leaving its unusually hot and humid weather to a slightly temperate climate of the southern coast. If you are a traveler, June/July is a much better time to visit Italy before the throngs of tourist descend upon it in August and the mandatory abandonment of the cities by the locals in favor of the sea as they take their summer vacations and the weather gets hot.
The skies were a deep indigo blue, the Mediterranean shimmered and glistened in the brilliant sun light, the coast line is jagged and steep with smattering of red tile rooftops, bougainvillea are in full bloom adding bright pink accents to a brilliant scenery unfolding before me. I see many ports and marinas below; boats and cruise ships are but tiny dots trailing a white streak in their wake. The excitement is palpable as we begin the drive through the winding coast line.
Anticipating my first stop in Sorrento, I look over to my friend Simone as he deftly navigates the roads as only a local can do and nods in silent affirmation fully aware of the excitement registering on my face.
Lemon and Olive groves welcome me to Sorrento as they flank the winding roads, big city of Rome a distant memory. We decided not to make Sorrento our base but a stopover. We drove into Piazza Tazzo lined with cafes and plenty of tourist. Older local men sought respite under olive trees in the main piazza as we sought to find long term public parking and then decided to stroll the idyllic cobble stoned streets browsing through shops and looking for the perfect lunch spot. Our exploration of the town took us through beautiful streets and storefronts and brought us to the seafront through an alleyway. The majestic Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria emerged in front of us and was breathtakingly positioned in front of the sea with sweeping panoramic views of the Gulf and Mount Vesuvius. Right next door, Foreigners’ Club Restaurant which had amazing views of the sea found us the best table, and lunch was in session.
As the evening rolled in, we reluctantly left our perch with the beautiful vistas and sea breeze and it was time to navigate the treacherous drive to Positano.
The road to Positano is not for the faint of heart as it is narrow, steep, and windy, there are passes where you could barely pass a single vehicle let alone two in opposite directions.
Positano emerges dramatically and suddenly on one of the many corners and stops us in our tracks. The sheer cliffs, the sweeping sea, and pastel colored houses with bougainvillea’s doting the hillside simply are breathtaking.
After checking into our sea front hotel with magnificent views and taking a slight pause to rest and enjoy the facilities, we embarked with giddiness to explore the village. A short walk downhill from our hotel en route to the center, we saw a sign directing us off the beaten path to the beach down below. Anything to avoid the tourists, we decided upon it and descended a series of stairs downhill through local residences, narrow and steep it offered us unbelievable vistas at every turn and no tourists. It is called Via Fornillo. We climbed down an equivalent of 93 stories leading us to a black pebbly beach, which was completely abandoned as most of the tourist I later found were congregating at the main port and beach where the center was. The stillness and emptiness of the beach was perfect.
We made our way from the black pebbly beach climbing more stairs and a windy pedestrian road called Via Positanesi D’America along the hill face to the main port and beach. Along this road and away from the main center we noticed “Ristorante Lo Guarracino” and had heard about it, so we made mental note to return to it later for dinner.
Having reached the Positano port and the main beach and the village center, we could see the hustle and bustle of the tourist everywhere. Standing at the water’s edge the entire village rises in front on the hillside like a grand crown studded with precious stones. It is a remarkable sight. The weather was pleasant and balmy, the evening found many tourists dressed in their very best catching private boats for a cruise along the sea front. We grabbed a couple of drinks from the sea side cafe and proceeded to spend the next few hours people watching and just hanging at the port, it was magical.
Positano is a picture-perfect village, you come here to relax, to romance or to simply get away from it all. You don’t rush through anything here, you can choose to just aimlessly meander through the picturesque streets shopping and visiting art galleries, or do something a little adventurous, such as kayaking or hiking up the many trails in the hills. You could also rent a beach chair for 10 euros and work on your tan along the pristine pebbly beach.
Continuing along the coast we head over to Amalfi. The views are simply spectacular, the never ending blue mountains, pastel churches, and colorful villas dot the pristine landscape. The scenic drive is breathtaking, and you don’t rush this paradise.
As I approach the Commune of Amalfi along the Amalfi drive, the stacking of the buildings, the jagged coast line, the revelry of beach goers, the pristine clear water presents itself with such aplomb and magnificence, I can see why there are so many tourists here compared to Sorrento and Positano.
Amalfi is very picturesque and touristy. Throngs of them can be seen on the beach which is the front door to Amalfi, the restaurants are packed, the streets are chockfull and the area around Duomo di Amalfi is literally a zoo.
I wish it was not so commercial, because the beauty of Amalfi is bastardized for the tourist. I found the 9th-century Roman Catholic cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo to be magnificent: it is predominantly of Arab-Norman Romanesque architectural style, and it has been remodeled several times, adding Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque elements. It is a must visit and can’t be missed.
After a few relaxing hours in Amalfi, we decided it was time to drive up to Ravello.
Three miles of twisty roads up from Amalfi brings us to Ravello. I consider Ravello to be the crowning glory of the Amalfi coast- it has attracted artists, writers, and celebrities for centuries. The 11th Century Ravello’s Duomo (Cathedral) and Villa Cimbrone along with the 13th century Villa Rufolo are a must visit. The sweeping views of the Mediterranean with the perfectly manicured gardens arouse my senses. I revel in Ravello- the air, the light, and the serenity is simply mind-blowing.
Ravello is a class apart from rest of the communes along the Amalfi Coast.
Lunch at Restaurant Belvedere in Hotel Belmond Caruso with its spectacular views was the highlight of the visit. If you happen to visit Ravello, please visit this establishment as they are known for their Margherita Pizza- they prove the dough for over 48-hours which makes it ever so airy with perfect chew, all ingredients are sourced from their own gardens and it is simply divine. We paired the pizza with Paccheri pasta and a medley of sea food, and washed it down with wine from a local winery.
I strongly suggest taking after lunch coffee in the verandah adjacent to the restaurant. They will serve you coffee and chef’s dessert tasting menu in a wonderful setting that is simply spectacular with views of the sea and manicured gardens below. I could have spent the rest of the day here day dreaming, and I did just that.
Article by Zack Hussain
Avid Traveler, Published Photographer and Commercial Real Estate Broker specializing in Retail with
CBRE, Las Vegas.