We were cruising along the Amalfi Drive (formerly SS 163 Amalfitana or Strada Statale 163) on our way back from Amalfi; the village after which the Amalfi Coast is named. As we sped along the perilous road from Amalfi to Positano, we drove past a man who was parked on the side of the road and having a conversation with someone. Now, if you’ve driven this stressful and treacherous road, you’ll understand why this is significant. There is not enough room on the road to park and barely enough to drive. Additionally, the blind hairpin turns, zigzags, and views of the beautiful sea make driving this road dangerously distracting. Precipitous cliffs and the Tyrhennian Sea are on one side, and sky-high jagged rock faces on the other. Again, there is scarcely enough road for two cars driving in opposite directions to pass each other. But, that is the Amalfi Coast Drive and that is the road we were on.
Nevertheless, as we sped past the parked car my wife says, “I think you hit that car.” I responded, “No, I didn’t.” She says, “Yes, I think our side mirror hit their side mirror.” “Meh!” I didn’t think that was possible because I had not heard anything, so we kept driving. Moments later, a man and a woman in a Benz came roaring up next to our car. A tiny Italian man was beeping his horn and pointing for me to pull over, so I complied. It was the person on the side of the road we had just passed (that’s a fast car). As my 6’ 3” 235 lb frame folded out of our rental car and as I looked down on this furious little man, he paused only for a second to look me up and down before continuing his yelling pace and gesturing that I hit his car. Now, neither my wife nor I speak Italian.
There was a clear communication problem because I am speaking English and he is yelling in Italian. However, we concluded that I indeed hit his car. There was no damage; not even a minor scratch on the side mirror, but the man says, to the best of my understanding, “You didn’t know that and should have stopped.” While this conversation was happening, I couldn’t help but observe his wife, girlfriend, or bored mistress who was sitting in the car. She never looked up from navigating her smartphone, uninterested, and oblivious to our conversation. It was as if she had witnessed this scene play out a hundred times. Anyway, I apologized for hitting his car and contented he went on his way. Welcome to the Amalfi Coast, I thought.
While that was certainly a memorable experience, it was not this event that left a lasting impression upon our soul as we explored one of the world's most beautiful and thrilling sightseeing coastlines.
Driving South from Naples
After landing in Naples Italy on our flight from Atlanta Georgia USA, we rented a car and began the drive to Positano, our home base. The drive from Naples and through the myriad of small Italian towns south of Naples was the craziest driving adventure of my life. It was almost as if they had no driving laws, only suggestions. I can remember one instance, on the outskirts of Pompeii, where we came to an intersection along with 4 other cars. I'm not sure how 5 cars meet at a 4-way intersection; but there was no traffic light, no stop signs, and a busy juncture. All five cars converged into the intersection and inched their way through. It was curious and laughable, but we made it through. This was typical, and we learned quickly how to manage situations like this because there were many more to undergo.
The First Sight of Positano and the Postcard Region of the Amalfi Coast
As we approached Positano, a town snuggled on the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian cliff-side, we experienced one of those special moments. A moment that is forever etched onto one’s mental canvas. Completely clear Azul skies, unique and magnificent topography, and a town caressing all of this. For centuries, composers, famous writers, and emperors have all praised Amalfi’s natural exquisiteness. The Amalfi Coast is beautiful and seductive. We were witnessing this in one small vision atop the road descending to romantic Positano. Little did we know that the entire coast was similarly dazzling and amorous. Thank you House Hunters International for introducing us to this region of Italy.
Stretching 30 miles (50 Kilometers), the coast offers idyllic beauty that is unforgettable. Driving its stunning, tight, winding seaside roads takes you to scenic beaches, charming coastal towns, dazzling gardens, and special moment vistas. This is the land where the acrid scent of saltiness harmonizes itself with the sweet aroma of orange blossoms. Here, brilliant colors of carnation encrusted pergolas, bougainville, and majolica domes give a colored touch to the pastel-washed villas that cling to the jagged cliffs like roses to a lattice. A vertical landscape characterized by a pretty labyrinth of narrow alleys, stairways, cathedrals, and villas connect the two major elements of this gorgeous landscape, the sea, and mountains. Our home base was Positano, which embodied all these characteristics into one picturesque town.
Positano was an excellent location for many reasons. Its beauty and proximity to amazing shimmering bays, craggy cliffs, mysterious grottos, fine restaurants, hotels, and the rest of the Amalfi Coast’s attractions made it the perfect home base. To the north of Positano is the historic and infamous city of Pompeii; which was buried under meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. We spent part of the day walking among the Roman ruins and then meandering within the modern-day city of Pompeii. To the west lay the magnificent gateway, Sorrento. This is a glorious cliff-top town, which has managed to miraculously survive the offensive blight of tourism and cruise ships. One of the more relaxing days we spent on the Amalfi Coast included drinking coffee and eating pastries outside of a Sorrento cafe. Afterward, we experienced a wonderful walk around the hospitable cliff-side town. To the east of Positano lay the town of Amalfi and a myriad of wonderful towns; each with their own uniqueness and peculiarities.
On another notable day of driving, my wife and I stopped in the historic town of Praiano, located half way between Positano and Amalfi. Aside from hypnotic seaside views, there was nothing particularly alluring about this lesser-known but beautiful Italian town. Still, I noticed few families spending the afternoon in a cathedral’s courtyard and we decided to stop. The small church we noticed was the Parish of San Gennaro; a Renaissance basilica-style church. We momentarily explored the exterior of the cathedral and then I played futebol with a 4 or 5-year-old Italian youth in front of the church. Again, we didn’t speak the language of the Italian heart, but there are other ways to experience, learn, and communicate. I'm sure the little boy tells stories of playing soccer with a giant African-American man.
The Amalfi Coast Experience
We have many memories of our Amalfi Coast experience. However, the natural beauty of the region is what drew us and kept us captivated. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Amalfi Coast is an incredible example of a Mediterranean landscape with enormous cultural and natural wealth. It is certainly one of the must-visit destinations in Italy and one of the more memorable areas in all of Europe. However, to fully appreciate the region one must drive the famously winding, narrow, and challenging Amalfi Drive and other roads of the region. It is requisite that you do so. Having said that, driving in this region of Italy is not for the apprehensive. It is adventurous and dangerous, but a necessary part of the Amalfi Coast experience. Only by driving can you sense the culture, people, and true flavor of the Amalfi Coast.