Amalfi Reflections

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I love it when the Amalfi Coast takes me by surprise. Sometimes the surprise is just how often that still happens, even after being here for nearly 10 years now. While the typical colors that evoke the Amalfi Coast are the pastel hues of Positano’s houses or the brilliant yellow of the Amalfi lemons or the many shades of blue of the sea from turquoise to cobalt blue. While walking along the port in Amalfi recently, I glanced down into the water and caught these incredible red and white reflections dancing across the water. Somewhat hidden in the center is a white mask that reminded me of something you might find during Carnevale in Venice. The striking and powerful colors felt like they were of another place. Yet the reflection came from something that couldn’t be more traditionally Amalfi Coast – a local fishing boat!

 

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In a Landscape Surrounded by Lemons

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If there’s one symbol of the Amalfi Coast that brings together the historical, cultural and gastronomic identity of the Amalfi Coast, it would have to be the lemon. Not just any lemon, a unique variety called the sfusato amalfitano that is only grown on the Amalfi Coast. This special citrus fruit has left its mark on the area, its economic history and quite literally has transformed the landscape of the Amalfi Coast. Where once the mountainside dropped uninterrupted to the sea, there are now terraces of lemon groves, each one painstakingly constructed stone by stone and cultivated in the most extraordinary manner.

This one glorious fruit brings the history and culinary traditions of the Amalfi Coast directly to the table. It is a symbol of the Amalfi Coast that is very close to the hearts, or should I say stomachs, of the locals. Let’s take a look closer at the lemons of the Amalfi Coast. You’ll never look at the terraces of lemons quite the same way again!

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The sfusato amalfitano lemon takes its name from the word “fuso” meaning “spindle” due to its distinctive long and tapered shape. They are prized for their thick and highly scented skin, the low acidity of the juice and few seeds. Due to the limited and unique growing area, the sfusato amalfitano has been awarded the IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) recognition, which means Amalfi Coast lemons are only authentic if grown along the coastline.

While the sfusato amalfitano lemon is so strongly tied to the Amalfi Coast, it isn’t in fact native to this area. Originally from the Himalayas, the variety as we know it today was primarily cultivated by Arab farmers. In today’s world of global trade and travel, it’s humbling to think of the epic journey the first lemon plants took to arrive in Sicily and then later to Amalfi. In the Middle Ages, the Republic of Amalfi had trading ships crisscrossing the Mediterranean and to Byzantium. That’s a long journey for a lemon tree!

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Yet lemons have been cultivated in Campania for much longer. Frescoes preserved at Pompeii and Herculaneum reveal that long, tapered lemons much like the sfusato amalfitano were grown by the ancient Romans since the first century. While it seems they were more interested in the plant for its decorative features, it’s clear that lemons loved the temperate climate and fertile soil of this area. That long journey was worthwhile!

Intense cultivation of lemons on the Amalfi Coast began between the 10th and 12th centuries, primarily between Amalfi and Cetara. As you can imagine, finding room to grown anything on the Amalfi Coast is a significant challenge. Over time the landscape of the area has been transformed by this tradition, with entire swaths of mountainsides cut into the now distinctive terraces supported by stone walls. They’re especially easy to spot in the winter when the terraces are covered with a black netting to protect the trees from freezing rain and also to control their growth.

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Harvesting the lemons of the Amalfi Coast has always been backbreaking work. So, naturally, before the days of trucks, the lemons were hauled to the closest beach to be loaded up on ships to be exported. Around Minori and Maiori, which was once the largest production area along the Amalfi Coast, the lemons were carried down to the beach in Maiori where they were painstakingly packed in crates and loaded on to ships to be sent all around the Mediterranean and even as far as North America.

In the historic photograph below, taken in 1915, you can see woman carrying crates on the beach in Maiori. If you’ve thought climbing the steps on the Amalfi Coast was tough, just imagine doing it with a crate of lemons on your back. Incredibly, that is still the way lemons are harvested today!

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This was 1915, in the peak period of lemon production, where steam ships would arrive and carry the Amalfi Coast lemons even further than ever before. The terraced lemon gardens are still quite active since the cultivation of lemons remains an important part of the local economy. One of my favorite walks this summer was along the Sentiero dei Limoni, The Pathway of the Lemons, a stone path surrounded by terraces of lemons that leads from Minori to Maiori. From those very terraces 100 years ago lemons where carefully harvested and carried down the mountain to the beach far below. While the method of transportation has changed, the landscape and atmosphere of the quiet lemon terraces high above Minori could easily be a century ago.

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Naturally, it’s not just the landscape where lemons have left their mark. They have worked their way onto the table and into the culinary traditions of the area. From the antipasto to the famous lemon-infused liqueur limoncello, there isn’t a course where you won’t find the lemon. Squeezed over fried calamari, dressing salads, creamy risotto with a zest of lemon, provolone grilled on lemon leaves, served atop fish, lemon cakes, lemon gelato and the list could go on and on. In Amalfi, you can even get a small slice of lemon rind added to your espresso.

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Of course, the most noted and also widely exported lemon specialty of the Amalfi Coast is limoncello. This strong liqueur is traditionally served at the end of a meal straight from the freezer in chilled glasses. It is made by infusing pure alcohol with the rinds of lemons and then blending it with a sugar syrup. Many families and restaurants produce their own, so it is often served with pride to visitors. If you can stand a bit of a punch, it really does capture the intense flavors of the sfusato amalfitano.

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Goethe captured the allure of southern Italy when he described it as “the land where lemons grow.” They have certainly left their mark on the Amalfi Coast, one that is appreciated just as much today by locals squeezing lemon juice on top of a dish of lemon and shrimp risotto and travelers sipping their first limoncello. I hope that lemons will continue to be cultivated here according to the traditional methods for many more centuries to come. That depends upon the continued appreciation of its unique properties and integral role in uniting the best of the Amalfi Coast’s culture and traditions – all in one tart, deliciously yellow lemon.

 

Italy Blogging Roundtable

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This blog post is part of a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Every month our group of Italy based writers takes on a new theme, and you can read about this month’s topic – From Farm to Table – at the links below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please share the stores if you’ve enjoyed them!

ArtTravEat Local: Farm to Table options in Florence

Bleeding EspressoFrom Farm to Table: The Sila Potato

BrigolanteFrom Tours to Tables: Umbria’s Farm Bounty

Girl in FlorenceGourmet Tuscany: Restaurants that Embrace a Farm-To-Table Philosophy

Italy ExplainedPacking the Perfect Picnic in Italy

Italofile – Yogurt in Paestum

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Georgette from Girl in Florence to The Italy Blogging Roundtable!

Book Review | Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

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Given my passion for reading and great love of the Amalfi Coast, as soon as I saw the title of Katherine Wilson’s book Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from my Italian Mother-in-Law I knew it would be a book I would enjoy. And I certainly did! With Katherine’s engaging writing style and lighthearted yet perceptive look at her experiences in Italy, it was the perfect beach read this summer.

The book follows Katherine from her arrival in Naples as an intern at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to meeting her husband and being welcomed into his family. As the title suggests, there are many lessons along the way, and I enjoyed seeing how her relationship with her mother-in-law grew and developed over the years. Naples has always fascinated me, and I loved the glimpse behind the scenes of family life and the author’s impressions of the city over the years. She captured the spirit of Naples when she wrote, “I should have realized by then that in Italy, and particularly in Naples, anything is possible. Magic happens.” Some of that magic filters through her stories and fills the pages with that intoxicating blend of light, chaos and vibrancy that is Naples.

The “Lessons in Food” part of the title carries through the entire book, and will most certainly have you hungry along the way. Knowing that readers would be tempted the stories of her mother-in-law’s cooking, Katherine painstakingly documented some of her best recipes that she lovingly writes about in the book. So as soon as you’re done reading you’ll be ready to tie on your apron and get to work whipping up the dishes in your own kitchen!

While sometimes the Amalfi Coast feels very different from Naples, some of Katherine’s stories really resonated with my life here and had me laughing out loud. For those of you Amalfi Coast fans, there are even some stories about the author’s summer holidays in Positano.

If you love Italy, and especially the Naples area, put this book on your reading list. Food, family, Naples – what’s not to love?

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An Amalfi Coast Yoga Retreat in Paradise

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Love the Amalfi Coast? Love yoga? If you answered yes to both of those questions, then I’ve got something you’re really going to love. I’ve always known that the Amalfi Coast was a paradise, but I didn’t know just how beautiful it could be when my passion for yoga and for the Amalfi Coast came together. It’s a match made in heaven! That’s how I felt when I joined my friend Shari from Sole Yoga Holidays earlier this summer at her Positano Yoga Retreat. This incredible yoga experience takes place at the eco resort La Selva, set high in the mountains above Positano. I couldn’t imagine a more stunning location for learning more about yoga, making new friends, enjoying fabulous organic meals and, of course, those panoramic views of the Amalfi Coast.

When most people think of Positano, they think of the pastel hued homes spilling down the mountainside to the sea. That certainly is Positano and is a huge part of the experience on this retreat, but what I particularly enjoyed about Sole Yoga Holiday’s choice of La Selva is that is highlights the other side of the Amalfi Coast. That’s the rugged and wild natural beauty that you find in the mountains, an incredible side of Positano that many visitors miss. I love that Shari has designed her Positano retreat to highlight the best of Positano – the quiet beauty, the hidden away beaches and all the fun Positano has to offer.

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It was quite a hike up to La Selva, but while chatting and making new friends it passed in no time. This place blew my mind! Following the pathway up to the main buildings, we passed the glass enclosed yoga studio where we held our morning and evening yoga classes and also a wooden platform where we had an evening meditation session with a view that stretches down the coastline all the way to Capri. The pathway leads eventually to La Selva, where they have rooms and a beautiful terrace where meals were served – with windows flung open to feel even closer to that stunning view.

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I woke up early one morning and crept upstairs with my tripod to capture the morning light, the reflections and view. It’s such a peaceful area, and surrounded by such natural beauty it feels natural to spend some time reflecting. I do that while taking photos, so off I went for an early morning exploration through the terraces of La Selva.

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From all the walking and yoga you naturally work up an appetite! That was taken care of by La Selva with the most creative and delicious meals by chef Francesco Nicolai, which were all vegetarian and incorporated ingredients grown on their property. So fresh, so unexpected and so very good.

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I met such interesting people who were part of the yoga retreat, which meant that dinner at the long wooden table naturally led into conversations after dinner over fresh lemon verbena tea with a dollop of La Selva’s own honey.

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Just outside the view was captivating day and night. During quiet moments I could just sit and get lost in the view of the mountains and the sea, including the Li Galli islands off Positano.

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Come along and enjoy some of the photos I took while exploring La Selva and enjoying some quiet moments before and after the yoga classes.

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While the location of yoga retreat meant lots of nature, every once in awhile a reminder of modern day Positano would appear. At night the lights of massive yachts dotted the sea around Positano. Like I said, there are two sides of the Amalfi Coast. I loved being surrounded by the side much more comfortable to me – quiet, natural cooking, spectacular scenery.

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Everyone … including the cats … were peaceful and happy at La Selva! They have resident cats, dogs, chickens and even two extremely cute donkeys that you can stop by and say hi to while out exploring. I was pretty sure that cat had it all figured out.

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While walking to and from the yoga studio, I loved catching little glimpses of the familiar Positano, like the Li Galli islands suddenly popping out from behind the olive trees. Do you see them in the photo above?

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And, the best part, there was yoga! While I’ve never had much experience taking yoga classes, both Shari and her assistant instructor Melissa both made me feel comfortable right away. It was also my first time with Ashtanga yoga, which I enjoyed as well. Given that my yoga practice takes place in my living room, it was wonderful to get some time with experienced teachers who were able to help me see quite a few new things that I remember every time I get on the yoga mat now. I just wish I could continue to take classes from Shari and Melissa … and I wouldn’t mind having that platform and incredible view, too!

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If you love Positano and love yoga, I couldn’t recommend the Sole Yoga Holidays yoga retreat in Positano highly enough! You can experience it yourself next year from July 30th-August 5th, 2017. Find out more about Sole Yoga Holiday’s Positano Yoga Retreat here … and don’t forget to enter my code “CIAOAMALFI” when you book and receive a €100 Euro discount plus a natural cosmetic gift made right at La Selva!*

*Not to be used with any other offer or discount. please review Sole Yoga Holidays policy for information.

DISCLOSURE: If you use the CIAOAMALFI code when booking your retreat with Shari, I will earn a small commission. I only make recommendations that I have experienced firsthand, and all the opinions expressed here are wholeheartedly my own. You will not pay more when booking with my code. Thank you in advance for your support!

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The Cure for Everything

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“The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

Have you ever needed to go to the beach? I mean really needed to go to the beach? By the time September arrived last week, that was the point I had reached. Being on the other side of August—this August this year—felt like a minor victory. Life has that way of making everything happen all at once, and sometimes in the mess of that “everything” the balance of challenging things becomes overwhelming. That’s when the beach calls me the most.

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While I’m not one who needs to spend a ton of time swimming, I do need to be near the sea. It refreshes my soul, washing away the tension in my shoulders and replacing it with the rhythmic sound of my breath mixed with the waves crashing against the rocky shore. Yesterday, after over a month of work frustration, my sweet cat Toulouse not being well and a variety of stress from situations outside my control, we made it to the beach. And not just any beach, but the isolated and beautiful Santa Croce beach just west of Amalfi. I felt already easier in my spirit just climbing into the little boat in Amalfi for the short ride to the beach. I was thinking of Dinesen, about salt water being the cure of everything. She was onto something.

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Once there we meandered along the rocky shore to find a pair of sun beds right at the water’s edge. I could sit on the end of the sun bed and dig my feet into the dark sand, feeling the water rush back and forth and watching the sun sparkle across the sea. I have a new idea of heaven and it’s this.

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Of course I grabbed my camera and went off to explore while taking photos, another way that Santa Croce relaxes me. I get lost in the heat of the rocks, the incredible turquoise color of the sea and all the textures and hidden treasures. Had someone put that piece of green sea glass in those holes carved by nature? Or had it just happened to end up there? Was I looking at the hands of children playing a game that was now stopped in time or was this another work of nature creating beauty out of chance?

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I returned to my sun bed and listened to the sea. For the rest of the day, even after returning home, I could close my eyes and see the sun sparkling and hear that sound in my ears. I imagine my mind will be there for some time to come, if given even the slightest chance to wander away from everyday tasks. What a place to wander to though! Santa Croce is tucked away in a rocky cove that used to be accessible by a steep staircase from the Amalfi Coast road high above. Years ago, however, part of that staircase fell into the sea during a winter storm, leaving the beach only accessible now by boat. There are two restaurants that offer sun beds and beach service, Ristorante Da Teresa and Ristorante Santa Croce. Both offer boat service from Amalfi if you’re coming to their beach to rent a sun bed or go to the restaurant. During the summer there’s also a paid boat service from Amalfi for a few Euros each way.

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We always go to Da Teresa, which is the restaurant with the bright orange umbrellas. They have a dining terrace with incredible views and equally incredible food. This is the place to go for seafood – so fresh since it’s just been caught from the sea a few steps beyond the restaurant.

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The day at Santa Croce always goes too fast, but it felt especially so yesterday. Summer this year seemed to slip by so quickly. I know there are plenty of beach days ahead before the season ends, but as I left Santa Croce I looked back and hoped I would indeed be back soon.

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I’m not ready for summer to be over yet. Not the intense heat, not the massive crowds—those have been enough—but that feeling of knowing that the days of relaxed summer fun are ahead. I want to hold on to that just a little bit longer!