Friday, 26 July 2013

The Captain & The Coast of Amalfi

With anticipation and a touch of car sickness, we finally arrived in Positano. It was so good to leave the grime and congestion of Naples behind us and to break out into the countryside to eventually catch sight of the spectacular coastline of the Amalfi coast. Even though the narrow winding roads had some effect on Jules’ stomach, she was more than pleased that getting there had gone so smoothly. The place she had chosen for us to stay was not in Positano itself, but sat high on the cliffs facing the picturesque township, so it appeared to us daily much as it does on countless post cards, only better!

It was of course the height of summer, so we were anticipating huge crowds when we eventually made it into town. However, to our surprise it was relatively quiet, as foreign and Italian visitors alike had by that time taken up their position on the neatly lined rows of sun beds along the beach and most of the charter boats had already set off for the day. So, while local restaurants prepared their tables for the lunch time trade and the local shops owners hung out there tourist tempting trinkets, Jules and I wandered around the narrow streets taking it all in. It is hard to imagine such a picturesque coastal spot, with pastel coloured buildings staggering their way up the cliffs to overlook the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Having provided a backdrop to such movies as ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’ and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’, Positano has developed a worldwide reputation as the place to visit to experience a true Italian summer.

With memories of driving the coastal roads still fresh in our minds, we decided that the only way to see the rest of the Amalfi coast was by water. So the next day we booked ourselves onto one of the many smaller charter boats that head down the coast daily for a touch of swimming, sightseeing, eating and drinking… all the ingredients for a perfect day! Our tiny wooden boat was captained by Salvatore, an old Italian seafarer who was as tanned as an old sandal and with a cheeky sense of humor that comes with having one of the best jobs in the world! As we chugged along the coast, Salvatore would regale us with tales about the various coastal features and significant buildings we were seeing along the way. When he wasn’t doing that, he was handing out drinks or entertaining us with his repertoire of classic Italian songs. When he sensed that we were getting a little hot, he would drop anchor at a picturesque spot so that we could cool off in the crystal clear waters. One of these stops was at a secret ‘grotto’ where we could swim inside a cave to view the jade green waters. This spot was nowhere near as famous as the ‘Blue Grotto’ on nearby Capri, but it also didn’t have the tourist traffic either, so we could totally enjoy the experience alone.

Although we had been slowly meandering down the coast, it was early afternoon by the time we reached the actual town of Amalfi. This was quite a bit larger than Positano with a harbour bustling with boats, coaches and cars transporting tourists to and from the various scenic spots surrounding this famous town. It all seemed a little too hectic for us and at that point we knew we had made the right choice in basing ourselves near Positano. Salvatore also thought it was a bit too busy and as he was starting to think about lunch, he chose to turn the boat around and head back a little way up the coast to a tiny spot called Santa Croce Beach. Here we would enjoy a wonderfully traditional Italian meal complete with enough courses to see most of our small band of fellow sailors strung out on the deck like beached whales for the return journey home.

Today’s lunch was indeed bigger than normal with the addition of yet another course to the menu compliments of Salvatore, who had managed to catch a large fish (around 3 foot long) earlier in the morning and had brought it to the chef to cook and share. While each course just kept on coming, Salvatore managed to pace himself nicely, after all he was used to such banquet meals, indulging in them almost daily. In between explaining various dishes, how to eat the large local lemons and introducing himself to fellow diners, he managed a few mouthfuls of each course, then nicely broke it up with a glass of vino. This probably explains why he was in such fine singing voice on the way home as he stood at the stern of the boat steering the rudder with his foot. He had clearly had yet another great day and so had we!

In Captain Salvatore’s little wooden boat we had experienced all that the Amalfi coast had to offer compacted into just one day. Through his conviviality, the scenery and the sea air (not to mention the food and wine) Jules and I had momentarily tasted ‘La Dolce Vita’ and I’ve got to say it wasn’t half bad! It may sound a little cliché, but there is something in this intoxicating mix that repeatedly entices Italians, foreigners and romantics of the world back here each summer.

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