Discover the Authentic Amalfi Coast
Writing, photography & tales from daily life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, through the eyes of Laura Thayer, an American writer, blogger, photographer and art historian.
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The first sunny weekend on the Amalfi Coast and everyone … and I mean everyone … hits the road for a drive. When there’s only one road, that can be problematic. But with the Amalfi Coast road, it’s always best to pack a little extra patience … and your camera! Fortunately, there are the views and the sheer magnitude of this road carved out of the mountainside to keep one company. The colors in the springtime are a nice touch, too!
A couple of weeks ago we had a Sunday lunch invitation with family in Salerno, so we hit the road along with everyone else. The scooters and motorcycles were out in droves. After the rainy spring, I can’t blame them for wanting to enjoy a ride on a sunny Sunday. What a view!
Spring was in full bloom and the scent of wisteria and lemon blossoms filled the car with all the windows open. What a heavenly scent … I wished I could just roll up the windows and keep it inside. Looking at the photos brings back the memories of that warm, spicy scent and the sunshine on my arms.
After passing Capo d’Orso, the Cape of the Bear named after a bear-shaped rock, the road climbs higher and twists and turns as it winds in and out of ravines in the mountains. Before long there’s a quick glimpse of the harbor at Cetara, which is an absolutely charming little fishing village.
The road curves through Cetara just above the level of the rooftops of many of the houses and about eye level with the colorful majolica tiled dome of the church. If you’re driving along the Amalfi Coast road and have time, do stop off in Cetara and explore the village, enjoy lunch and the pretty beach.
One of the most captivating parts of the drive is just barely catching a glimpse of an incredible panorama and then a moment later it’s lost between the trees or around another curve. It’s one massive temptation … curve after curve!
It took me quite a few attempts to get a clear shot of Vietri sul Mare, above, with its beach area called Marina di Vietri. The beach wasn’t packed like it is in the summers, but it was definitely a popular spot on this sunny Sunday. Around a few more curves and I tried to catch a clear shot of of Vietri sul Mare with the dome and bell tower of the Church of San Giovanni Battista. There it is … can you see it?
The Amalfi Coast road never fails to impress me, with it’s intense beauty, crazy curves and views that make you want to drive it again and again. If you’re lucky enough to be the passenger … bring your camera!
Earlier this week I arrived back home in Italy at Naples’ Capodichino airport, the closest airport to the Amalfi Coast. Anyone who has driven on the autostrada through Naples knows that the stress of international travel is nothing compared to simply surviving the short drive from the airport to the exit for the Costiera Amalfitana. Jet lag does help to keep one calm though. I always breath a sigh of relief when we reach the exit at Angri, because I know that shortly the road will start winding its way slowly up the the mountains toward the Chiunzi pass leading to the Amalfi Coast. My fiancé said I was in for a surprise, because the autumn colors were still beautiful up in the mountains. Boy was he right!
Around every curve in the road there was another beautiful view of the autumn colors up close or covering the mountainsides.
As we reached the top of the pass and started over toward Tramonti, the colors reached their peak. I didn’t get any good shots, but you can enjoy the colors from an autumn drive to Tramonti from a couple of years back.
While hauling (and occasionally dropping) my suitcases down the approximately 60 steps to the house, the gorgeous colors were much appreciated. After much experience with it, I can safely say that 50 pound plus suitcases and ancient stone staircases don’t go well toegther. I stopped often under this terrace of bright red grape vines. What a sight!
While the autumn colors are more striking up in the mountains on the Amalfi Coast, I did find this stunning bit of color in Amalfi’s Piazza Duomo.
On a beautiful summer day recently, we piled into the car and set off to toward the very tip of the Amalfi Coast. Past Positano the road widens slightly and begins to climb higher and higher. At Sant’ Agata sui due Golfi, where you can see both the Bay of Salerno and the Bay of Naples, we followed the narrow road that winds down through olive grows toward the village of Nerano. Our goal was even more specific, the beachside part of town called Marina del Cantone.
Nerano was one of the few villages on the Amalfi Coast that I had only seen before passing by on the ferry to Capri. But it always looked so charming and quiet, and it turned out to be exactly that. Here is the small, colorful harbor of Marina del Cantone in Nerano.
The view the other direction shows the rock formation that is the distinctive marker of Nerano. Just beyond those mountains, it isn’t far at all to Capri.
The beach was lined with these large terracotta vases full of beautiful red flowers. (Anyone know what kind they are?)
We stopped for lunch first at one of the seaside restaurants to try pasta with zucchini, one of the traditional dishes of Nerano. They make it in a slightly different way there, heavier, more Parmigiano cheese and a touch of something extra. It was lovely – a beautiful lunch with a beautiful setting!
After that it was time for some sun and a quick splash to cool off in the sea. This is the spot we picked out, although there are plenty of options for renting beach chairs and umbrellas.
With the beautiful surroundings (& big lunch!), I was more for exploring with my camera than swimming. This shot is truly Nerano to me:
Nerano still has the feel of a sleepy fishing village, with some beautiful buildings down by the sea. Here are some shots I took along the waterfront.
As the sun fell behind the mountains and the sky took on a soft pink hue, we packed up our bags and headed back toward the car.
An afternoon in Nerano wasn’t enough. This was one of the most peaceful spots I’ve experienced on the Amalfi Coast, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Next time we’ll leave early in the morning and plan an entire day here relaxing on the quiet harbor, watching the small boats come in and out, and trying out another one of the lovely restaurants. If you’re looking for a truly quiet spot on the Amalfi Coast, consider staying at one of the hotels or bed and breakfasts in the area. There’s even a small campground! Although it is possible to reach Nerano by bus, I’d plan on arriving either by car or boat as it’s quite far out of the way. That’s part of what adds to the lure of Nerano – peace and a chance to truly escape from it all on the Amalfi Coast.
Last Friday morning we set off early for the hour and a half drive to the newly opened IKEA Salerno / Baronissi. There are currently 18 IKEA stores in Italy, one of the newest being the store that opened just outside Salerno at the end of February. With a big long list of items to furnish an apartment, I held my boyfriend’s hand as we walked in for his very first IKEA experience . . .
. . . and six hours later, two very tired people walked out. Two exhausted, but relieved, people who had found just about everything on that long shopping list. Thank goodness for IKEA! For those of you who have experienced IKEA, this store was just about like the others I have been to in Minnesota, Virginia and Maryland. The main difference was the kitchen section, which was much more elaborate here in Italy where furnishing a kitchen is more common than it is in America. The wall of oven doors stretching out in both directions is what really hit that difference home for me!
The IKEA Salerno is the second store to open in Campania. I remember once spotting the other store in Naples from the airplane as I was landing at Capodichino airport. Yes, it’s that big!
One of the most memorable moments of the day was in the morning when I noticed a sign on the autostrada outside Salerno to watch for cows. “On the autostrada?” I asked my boyfriend, describing the sign. Given how Italians drive on the autostrada, the last thing needed would be cows wandering across the interstate. On the way home passing by the same area, we noticed an extremely steep hillside right next to the autostrada with cows precariously climbing up and grazing. “Wow, look at those cows all the way up there!” I said leaning forward to gaze up out of the front windshield. Suddenly, and at the same moment, we both realized that perhaps that yellow warming sign wasn’t at all about cows crossing the autostrada. “Watch out for falling cows!” my boyfriend laughed as we zoomed by. Quite an end to quite a day!
Today we are going to take a road trip from the Amalfi Coast about an hour south to the city of Paestum, where you can see stunning Greek temples and a lot of water buffalo. Wait, water buffalo? While these less than lovely looking beasts certainly don’t rival the beauty of the Greek architecture nearby, one taste of the locally made mozzarella di bufala and you will enjoy a culinary moment nearly as divine! Last week I came across this entertaining article on the Los Angeles Times website called Campania region is where fresh mozzarella roams. A visit to Campania is not complete without enjoying at least a taste of the world’s best mozzarella. I wanted to share this fun and informative article, which has some great facts about mozzarella scattered throughout. I found these tidbits particularly insightful:
Mozzarella fact No. 1: Fresh mozzarella made from unpasteurized buffalo milk does not belong in the refrigerator. It is best kept at room temperature and optimally should be eaten within two days of production.
Ahem, yes. I can personally guarantee if you make the refrigerator mistake while living with a Campanian that you will only make this mistake once. Moving on . . .
Mozzarella fact No. 2: Caprese salad (mozzarella, tomatoes and basil) is delicious, and leftover cheese is fine for cooking. But when purists get their hands on a lump of real, fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, any accompaniment is superfluous.
True true! The tomatoes are definitely for the side when you have the best mozzarella. I am always fascinated by the table talk that goes on at family meals when there is mozzarella present. While I am still trying to pick up the subtle differences in flavor, it seems everyone has an opinion about whether it is too salty, not salty enough, a little too soft, too dense, or the ultimate compliment – buonissima!
Mozzarella fact No. 10: Eating the cheese promotes intelligence and good looks.
The author notes that although this hasn’t been proved it certainly does make people happy. And that I agree with!
The photos in this post were taken during a fun mozzarella tasting visit with my Mom at the Tenuta Vannulo, which the LAT article covers on the second page. Known in the area for making some of the best organic mozzarella and ricotta in Campania, Vannulo is a great way to finish a day in Paestum area. The fresh products are made daily and only sold on site in order to insure freshness and quality. While there you can explore the sprawling estate, see the approximately 500 buffaloes soaking up the Campania sun or munching away on a pile of feed, watch the mozzarella being worked and formed by hand in the dairy, and enjoy fresh tastings of mozzarella, ricotta, and buffalo milk yogurt and gelato in the tasting room and shop. (The apricot yogurt is particularly tasty!)
“What are you looking at?”
I wasn’t planning on mozzarella today, but I think I have to now! In case you are wondering, in my opinion the best mozzarella on the Amalfi Coast comes from a man named Ferdinando who has a small dairy in a fraction way up at the top of the city of Scala. I don’t have any contact information, but if you happen to find yourself in Scala, ask around for the mozzarella di Ferdinando and you will be shown the way. Deliziosa!