Lying Low on the Amalfi Coast

The first stop on our foray into southern Italy was the dramatically beautiful Amalfi Coast. If the south is a world apart from the rest of Italy, this coast is a world apart from the south. In the middle ages, the independent Duchy of Amalfi was a major maritime power, trading throughout the Mediterranean. Only a few vestiges of that era remain, such as several sets of 11th-century bronze church doors from Constantinople. But the area remains distinctive and very picturesque, as well as expensive and overrun with day-tripping tourists.

We found the perfect hideaway on the Amalfi Coast in Atrani, a quiet hamlet next to Amalfi and home to a wonderful, fairly inexpensive hostel (A’scalinatella). We spent four days in Atrani, exploring on foot and by bus, reading, writing, sketching, and relaxing.

The big pale lemons are much sweeter than regular small lemons
The bronze doors of the cathedral were made in Constantinople in 1066

Here are our impressions of the coast:

  • Craggy pine-covered mountains plunging down to the sea at 30- and 40-degree angles.
  • Houses stacked like legos in every cove.
  • Every possible bit of flat land carved into terraces over the centuries and covered with lemon and olive trees.
  • A stomach-churning drive of hairpin turns and dramatic beauty between Sorrento and Salerno.
  • Throngs of English-speaking tourists milling through the streets and wearing too little clothing for the weather.
  • Sun and sea and mountains and clouds and rain.
  • Melissa getting shoved off a bus in the rain when she was trying to exit (setting her almost-mended ankle back a few weeks).
The swanky, boutique-ish resort town of Positano
  • A series of towns with distinctive personalities: surly, crowded Amalfi; snooty Positano; Ravello perched up high, with views shared only by sea birds; quiet little Atrani (the smallest municipality in Europe, apparently), which looked rundown at first but grew on us quite a lot. It’s a maze of little covered alleys between tall whitish plaster buildings slowly crumbling in the salt air.
The 16th century belltower of Atrani’s main church
  • A small-world moment: meeting another U.S. lesbian couple, who happened to be staying at our little hostel for one night during a yearlong round-the-world bike trip. They’re from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Melissa grew up. It was one of the women’s birthdays, and the four of us spent a celebratory evening swapping stories over dinner in Luigi’s cafe on the little town square, washed down with limoncello, the sickly sweet lemon liquor for which this area is known. After so much of our own company, it was fun to meet some like-minded compatriots. The next day they climbed back on their bikes, while we (far less industrious travelers) slept late and then took a little hike.

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