More than 30 years ago, as a cash strapped student in London, short on entertainment, I developed an addiction to watching old Hollywood movies on the BBC and the ITV. This became worse in the winter months when going out meant facing wet, windy, and often foggy weather. Instead I feasted on a steady diet of 1950s classics ranging from World War II to the Westerns.
The ones that really caught my imagination were movies shot in Europe, especially Italy. Roman Holiday (Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn), It Started in Naples (Clark Gable/Sophia Loren), The Italian Job (Michael Caine), etc to name but a few.
The sight of sun-drenched rolling hills hugging the Mediterranean coastline dotted with pretty villages offered a mental respite from my bleak environs. Rome and Florence seemed like magical places where the historic, the cultural and the culinary sat comfortably side by side.
The Amalfi Coast, however, piqued my interest. It looked beautiful on screen and the most travel journals recommended it as one of the highlights of Italy. The drive along the coast, especially between the towns of Ravello and Positano, is considered as one of the most scenic in the world.
More than a quarter of a century later I finally had the chance to explore the area. I had several options. A train takes you straight to the heart of the Amalfi region, which sits on the western coastline of Italy. From there the choice is to drive along the famous but treacherous road or take a boat. The more intrepid can also walk this portion of the coastline through a well-marked route. As a family spoilt on the excesses of the Dubai lifestyle, we had neither the desire nor the fitness to consider this option seriously.
After time in Rome, Florence and Pompei, we had had our fill of history. The plan for Amalfi was to simply soak in the sun, culture and most of all, the food. Given it was summer and it was Italy, what could be more appropriate than renting a Mini Cabriolet to experience Italy. The idea being to have the cool breeze ruffle our hair as we sped along this famed route.
The word ‘speed’ here has been used rather liberally. It was summer and Italy was awash with tourists, the roads were teeming with cars and large tour buses. But I didn’t complain, we weren’t in a hurry and this only gave us more time to soak in, well, everything.
First, a day in the glamorous Capri – the playground of the rich and famous. For me, though, Capri was a little over the top with ultra-pricey restaurants and luxury yachts anchored off the harbour. That said, I had one of the best seafood meals overlooking the sunset in Bay of Naples (Restaurante Giorgio Al Cucciolo, you will thank me). The Mount Vesuvius towers over the Bay. It was Vesuvius’s explosion that destroyed Pompeii two thousand years ago. From Capri, we boarded a ferry to Sorrento to pick our car and headed towards our first stop: Ravello. This was the official start of the Amalfi tour.
Something would be amiss if one did not mention Italy and food. Every region has its specialities. Amalfi is mainly seafood cooked with panache and local produce. All fresh and delicious. Many restaurants have their own little patch of land where they grow vegetables, perhaps the fastest farm-to-table service.
Ravello is a small town perched high on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean. It is simply beautiful. The town is centred around a small pleasant plaza and a walk in literally any direction offers a jaw-dropping view. Ravello has been on the Grand Tour of famous writers and philosophers in the past. This town has hosted many luminaries including Virginia Woolf, Jacky Kennedy and Tennessee Williams to name a few. The John Huston classic Beat the Devil starring Greta Garbo and Humphrey Bogart was shot in Ravello. There are some pretty walks in its famous gardens and some amazing restaurants. We had dinner at Da Salvatore and the evening was spent deciding whether to focus on the delicious food or the stunning sunset.
Next two days were spent driving, slowly, along the narrow stretch of road that connects Ravello to the Positano. Along the way, there are innumerable stops in restaurants and cafes which offer, literally, an endless view of the sea. Many establishments have been around for decades and twisted vines cover their facade with magical effect.
Every few miles another pretty town comes up which entices you to stop and explore. Praiano and Amalfi are exceptionally nice. With small plazas and harbours full of restaurants and full of life. This was all pre-Covid of course.
Something would be amiss if one did not mention Italian food. Every region has its specialities. Amalfi is mainly seafood cooked with panache and local produce. All fresh and delicious. Many restaurants have their own little patch of land where they grow vegetables, perhaps the fastest farm-to-table service.
While the views, the food etc are amazing, a word or two about the tour bus drivers is merited. The road is two lanes with two-way traffic. There are sharp bends every few hundred metres. There are cyclists and ubiquitous scooters. With cars slowing down and stopping at various bars and restaurants along the way, patience comes in handy. I left Amalfi with deep admiration for the drivers of huge tour buses who handled these obstacles with aplomb. While the standard hysterical Italian gesticulation was always there, I did not have a bad-tempered experience.
Our Amalfi journey ended at Positano, the iconic town of the Amalfi Coast. A popular postcard and Instagram location with beautiful pastel-coloured buildings overlooking azure beaches. Inside, the town is a labyrinth of, again, picture-perfect lanes full of touristy bric-a-bracs.
We rounded off our trip with a boat ride to view the town and coastline from the sea. The area is full of small caves or grottos as they are locally called. A small boat can easily squeeze in and sunlight streaming through the crystal blue sea creates an ethereal effect.
Amalfi is a place to unwind and let go. No need to worry about visiting historic sites or seeing landmarks. Just walk and meander through small towns; a bite here and a sip of coffee there and time will just breeze by.
The writer is a finance professional based in Dubai. He tweets @Travelutionary1 and Instagram @Travelutionary1