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Watching Over Amalfi’s Legends

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There’s something captivating about an old watchtower, isn’t there? Even if it’s crumbling or half ruined, its very nature tells us that there are stories – something to be protected, something to be taken, conquests, danger, mystery. Sitting in the mountains above Amalfi is a watchtower that certainly has its share of mysteries and legends to protect. Called the Torre dello Ziro, this watchtower dates from 1480 when it was constructed on the ruins of a 12th century tower. When the tower was built, Amalfi was a wealthy feudal duchy that was run by Antonio Piccolomini, the first Duke of Amalfi. This takes us back to the time when the legends of the Torre dello Ziro began. Antonio ruled Amalfi until his death in 1493, when his son Alfonso Piccolomini succeeded him as the second Duke of Amalfi. Just a few years before, Alfonso married a beautiful woman named Giovanna d’Aragona, whose name will forever be hauntingly connected with the Torre dello Ziro.

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Postcard of the Torre dello Ziro and Amalfi from 1965 (Author’s private collection)

As the daughter of Enrico d’Aragona, half-brother of King Frederick of Naples, Giovanna d’Aragona brought royal family connections to her marriage and her role as the Duchess of Amalfi. However, it was a role she was destined to play for only a short time. Her husband’s early death five months before their son was born left her Regent of Amalfi. As if that wasn’t enough drama, Giovanna’s story continues as she rules the Duchy of Amalfi and looks after the education of her children, Caterina and Alfonso – the future Duke of Amalfi. Sounds fine, right? Well that would be until Giovanna fell in love with her steward, Antonio Bologna, who she later secretly married. Too much of a shock to the social rankings of the day, they kept their relationship, marriage and three children together secret. Or so they thought.

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Old postcard of the Torre dello Ziro with inscription about Giovanna d’Aragona (Author’s private collection)

When Giovanna’s marriage was discovered by her brothers, Cardinal Luigi d’Aragona and Carlo d’Aragona, Marquis of Gerace, her story comes to a tragic end. Antonio fled Amalfi to escape the vendetta of Giovanna’s brothers, eventually meeting his death in Milan. Giovanna was captured with her children, and local legend says that they were all killed in the Torre dello Ziro watchtower. And you probably thought Amalfi was all sunshine and lemons, right?

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Postcard of the Torre dello Ziro with photograph by Ernesto Samaritani (Author’s private collection)

With its royalty, power, loss, ill-fated love and tragic ending, Giovanna’s life and mysterious death have inspired many stories, starting with  Matteo Bandello’s Novelle from 1554 and later the better known Duchess of Malfi by John Webster in the 17th century. The legend of her stormy life and sad ending have lingered with the fate of the Torre dello Ziro. While searching for some vintage postcards to illustrate this blog post, I happened across the two above, likely from the 40s or 50s, that bear the inscription: “Amalfi – Torre dello Ziro ove nel 1500 fu rinchiusa ed uccisa dai suoi fratelli la Duchessa di Amalfi Giovanna d’Aragona.” (Translation: “Amalfi- Torre dello Ziro where in 1500 the Duchess of Amalfi Giovanna d’Aragona was imprisoned and killed by her brothers.” Over 400 years after her death the legend of Giovanna’s death was being sent around the world by visitors to Amalfi who perhaps had that family member or friend with a sordid sense of humor.

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If you’re curious to find out more about this fascinating tale, track down The Mystery of the Duchess of Malfi by Barbara Banks Amendola. This detailed book by writer, art historian and Amalfi Coast local delves into the life of Giovanna and the legend of her death.

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Despite its connection with Giovanna’s tragic ending, the Torre dello Ziro sits peacefully above Amalfi and offers an incredible viewpoint of both Amalfi and Atrani. While it cannot be reached from Amalfi, it’s an enjoyable hike from Pontone in Scala to the watchtower. Just imagine what that watchtower has seen in over 500 years of looking over Amalfi. How many secrets does it hold? What really happened to Giovanna d’Aragona and her children? Those are questions we won’t be able to answer and secrets that will remain in the Torre dello Ziro for centuries to come.

 

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 – Myths & Legends – at the links below. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please share the stores if you’ve enjoyed them!

At Home in TuscanyOf Starvation and Cannibalism in Pisa

Bleeding EspressoNatuzza Evolo: Calabrian Mystic

BrigolanteCommon Myths and Misconceptions Regarding Italian Culture Fostered by Guidebooks

Girl in FlorenceHow Not To Learn Another Language As An Adult

Italy Explained4 Italian Myths Debunked

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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!

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How to Enjoy Summer on the Amalfi Coast

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August has arrived and with it the peak summer season on the Amalfi Coast. The beaches are crowded and colorful, the water is refreshing and the days perfect for heading to the beach. Whether you’re packing your bag for a summer holiday on the Amalfi Coast or simply dreaming of your next getaway, here’s a look at some of my favorite ways to enjoy this splendid time of year on the Amalfi Coast!

 

Grab A Beach Chair

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The beaches of the Amalfi Coast are justifiable famous for their dramatic shores and incredibly blue sea that changes in color from deep cobalt to brilliant turquoise and every shade in between. Yet there’s another thing you should know about the beaches before you arrive ready to relax – they are rocky. It’s better to come prepared, which definitely means packing a pair of flip flops (preferably a pair you don’t particularly love) or beach shoes. A lot of people wear them just to the edge of the water to protect their feet from the hot hot hot hot stones that are for some people (even locals!) uncomfortable to walk on.

So with all those rocky beaches, just throwing a towel down isn’t always very comfortable. The way around that is to rent a sunbed and umbrella for the day. It’s very much worth it! The local beaches all are well equipped to ensure a comfortable day at the beach. The other advantage of renting a sunbed from a stabilimento balneare is that it generally means you can take a shower and take advantage of the changing cabins as well. They area also usually attached to restaurants or have a beach bar where you can get sandwiches and drinks. Very handy!

Not sure where to go? Check out my guides to the Beaches of Amalfi and Beaches of Positano for some ideas!

 

Bring a Good Book

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Got a sunbed? Got an umbrella? Perfect! Now all that you need is a good book and you’re set. Why not make it a book set on the Amalfi Coast or nearby to really immerse yourself in the area? I made a list awhile back of great Summer Reads for Amalfi Coast Lovers. You can dip into that list for inspiration, but it does need a bit of updating. For instance, I just finished reading Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from my Italian Mother-in-Law by Katherine Wilson. And I didn’t want to put it down even to take a swim in the sea just steps away! Put it on your summer reading list if you love the Amalfi Coast, Naples, Campania, Italy … or all of the above. You won’t regret it!

 

Get Out on the Water

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(Image courtesy Exclusive Cruises)

A day (or two or three or four …) spent relaxing by the sea is a must while visiting the Amalfi Coast during the summer. Yet if you’re here this time of year there’s another way to enjoy the beauty of the Amalfi Coast – from the sea. One of the best ways to get around is to take the ferry on the Amalfi Coast, since you get to see the epic coastline and avoid all the traffic and crowded buses. However, if you have the time and love the sea, there’s no better way to see the Amalfi Coast than by getting out on a private boat.

With a small boat you can cruise along very close to the rocky cliffs, discover little coves and beaches only accessible by boat, go into stunning caves and grottoes and swim in the most incredible spots like around the Li Galli islands. All at your own pace! If this sounds like heaven, you’ll want to drop my friend Valeria at Exclusive Cruises a line. They know all the best spots and can help you plan an incredible day out on the sea on the Amalfi Coast or anywhere in the area!

 

Dining By the Sea

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If your normal idea of going out to eat means getting in your car and driving to a restaurant, then there’s something fun you can do on the Amalfi Coast. There are a lot of amazing restaurants near Amalfi, Positano, Conca dei Marini and other towns that are only reachable by boat (or sometimes a ton of steps). This is a fun way to get out on the water and dine right on the beach overlooking the sea. Most restaurants have complementary boat service from the largest town nearby. You might like to try Da Adolfo in Positano or Santa Croce in Amalfi – two of my favorites!

 

Don’t Miss White Wine with Peaches

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Perhaps you’re thinking that you can put peaches in your white wine at home, and that’s certainly true. But what you can’t quite capture is that delicious combination of Amalfi Coast Falanghina wine with ripe peaches mixed with the salty breeze from the beach and sound of waves tumbling onto a rocky shore. Heck I can’t even recreate it in my own home here! While you can find this heavenly concoction at many beachside restaurants, my favorite is at Ristorante Da Teresa at the Santa Croce beach just west of Amalfi.

 

Evenings Are Magic

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After the summer day tripping crowds reluctantly leave, something magical happens. I love the Amalfi Coast any time of the day, but during the summer when the days are long and hot there’s nothing quite like heading out in the evening. Sunset is particularly gorgeous from Praiano and Positano, but in Amalfi the evening hours are very special, too. The town turns pink, families bring their kids out to play along the the waterfront and the sea becomes an Impressionist painting of shimmering colors. Most of all, compared to the hustle and bustle of the day, there’s a peace that settles over the villages. These are the long, languid days of summer that we never want to end!

 

What do you do to enjoy the best of summer on the Amalfi Coast?

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The Best View of Ravello … is From Scala!

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A picture perfect view of Ravello from Scala

Of all the towns on the Amalfi Coast, perhaps the one most noted for incredible views is Ravello. Situated on a promontory about 1,200 feet above the sea, there are indeed amazing views in every direction. Yet, one of my little secrets is that the best view of Ravello is from the town of Scala. Located just across a deep valley, Ravello’s sleepy next door neighbor isn’t a spot that many of the day tripping visitors get a chance to experience. It’s peaceful, it’s traditional, it’s charming and it’s got awfully good views, too.

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Looking across the valley to Ravello

Earlier this year, Scala inaugurated one of the town’s newest civic projects – a brand new terrace overlooking Ravello. The new little piazza that has been created is appropriately called Piazza San Lorenzo after the Duomo of San Lorenzo that borders one side of the terrace.

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The Duomo of Scala is right next to the new terrace

A small flight of steps, a great wheelchair ramp and even an elevator lead down to a large terrace that looks across the valley to the center of Ravello. There are benches to stop awhile and enjoy the view – a must! I love strolling by and watching kids kicking around the soccer ball on the new terrace – safe from cars nearby yet still close enough for their parents to keep an eye on them while shopping or running errands in the center of Scala just a few steps away.

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Scala’s new Piazza San Lorenzo

The new terrace opens up a great deal more space for people to hang out, relax, talk and enjoy the view. After all the time that I’ve spent sitting in the main square of Ravello admiring Scala and thinking that I’d like to do the opposite, now there’s finally a great spot to take in how beautiful Ravello is from Scala!

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Sit down and rest awhile …

If you walk all the way to the edge of the terrace and look down the valley, you can catch a glimpse of the very tip top of Atrani below. You can also see the very end of the promontory of Ravello where the Villa Cimbrone is located. It’s all luscious green on the Ravello side to the left and a mountainside of chestnut trees on the Scala side on the right. There’s even one cute little pony that meanders around munching on grass, seemingly oblivious to the incredible view.

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Looking down the valley between Ravello and Scala

So next time you’re in Ravello in search of beautiful views, don’t forget to head over to Scala to discover this beautiful little town and enjoy the views from the new Piazza San Lorenzo!

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5 Incredible Aerial Videos of the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast Travel Aerial Photo Atrani

It’s those quiet winter months on the Amalfi Coast when everyone is dreaming of the sweet scents of spring and those lazy, hazy days of summer days to come. This is the time of year when comments start pouring in on Instagram and here on Ciao Amalfi from people around the world dreaming about upcoming vacations to the Amalfi Coast. So since we’re all in the mood for a bit of travel dreaming, I’ve put together a collection of the most stunning and inspiring aerial videos I’ve seen of the Amalfi Coast. Set them full screen, sit back and get ready to dream!

 

Aerial Footage of Sorrento, Capri & Positano 

Be prepared to be swept away by this incredible aerial video that starts in Sorrento, continues to Capri and then goes along the Amalfi Coast to Positano. The view on Capri as the video rises over Monte Solaro is breathtaking! The peak of Monte Solaro is the highest point on the island of Capri and visiting there one of my favorite things to do on the island. You can easily reach the top from Anacapri thanks to a super fun chairlift. (Read about it here.) I’ve never seen anything that comes so close to capturing that incredible vista or the feeling of standing up there, peering over the edge with the sea breeze blowing in your face.

 

Aerial Drone of Positano by Alfonso Longobardi

With sweeping views over Positano and the ever so catchy “Volare” by Dean Martin to accompany it, this is a video I could watch over and over again. It’s no secret, I have. However, if someone who knows Positano even better than me could let me know which hotel is having that wedding in the video I would love it. (Is it L’Ancora?) I shared this video last week on the Ciao Amalfi Facebook page and got such a great response that it inspired this blog post!

 

Amalfi Coast Boat Rental Highlights from Exclusive Cruises 

My good friends over at Exclusive Cruises made this fabulous video that captures how much fun it is to rent a boat on the Amalfi Coast. I particularly love the scene that pans up the Duomo of Amalfi. And, yes, you simply must experience the Amalfi Coast from the sea on your next visit. Exclusive Cruises can show you how!

 

Amalfi Coast Aerial Video from Salerno to Amalfi

I shared this aerial video from Salerno to Amalfi a couple of years ago, but it’s too good not to share again. It covers Atrani and Amalfi especially well. So combined with the other videos in this blog post you can take an aerial tour from Salerno along the Amalfi Coast to Sorrento and even Capri!

 

Drive & Drone Along the Amalfi Coast

This beautiful video was created by Citroën, so naturally it features the Amalfi Coast drive as well as incredible drone footage. Love the aerial shot of the Marina di Praia beach in Praiano!