Italy’s Dream Drive
It’s hard to keep your eyes on the road while zipping along the dazzling landscape of the vertiginous Amalfi Drive, an improbable 30-mile stretch of hairpin curves south of Naples. After visiting the Amalfi coast, a giddy Andre Gide wrote in The Immoralist that “nothing more beautiful can be seen on this earth.”
Vertical cliffs plunge into an impossibly blue Mediterranean, as a coastline of seaside towns unfolds among terraced olive and lemon groves, oaks, and umbrella pines. No longer as remote as when arrival was possible only by sea or pack animal, the cliff-hanging town of Positano is still the ultimate refuge.
Mercifully closed to traffic, the town’s jumble of converted whitewashed and pastel fishermen’s homes spills down a maze of narrow alleyways to the pebbly umbrella- lined beach, the only flat strip in town.
It is here that tanned, handsome Sergio will pick you up and spirit you away to Da Adolfo in his family’s motor launch (look for the boat with the big red fish), far from Positano’s crowded beach scene and past the Hotel San Pietro so you can revel in an afternoon of sybaritic indulgence on a secluded slip of a beach.
This is the region that gives the world fresh mozzarella di bufala; imagine how heavenly it tastes when it is grilled on a fragrant lemon leaf and served under the warm Neapolitan sun. Things only get better with the exquisite simplicity of spaghetti made with a sauce of plump baby clams and mussels.
Getting to Da Adolfo is half the fun; lingering well after lunch in a sun-induced torpor prolongs this outing’s delight. Pull up a beach bed and umbrella, and order an ice-cold limoncello liqueur squeezed from the area’s uniquely sweet lemons, the size of grapefruits. It’s enough to make you ignore the next boat back into town.
Hard to believe that tiny, picturesque Amalfi was once the heart of Italy’s oldest and one of its most powerful maritime republics. As early as the 9th century, this microharbor at the mouth of a deep gorge was dominating commerce with the Orient, which helps explain both the Moorish influence and importance of the town’s duomo, the Cathedral of Sant’Andrea.
Planned and built during the peak of the republic’s independence, it stands at the top of a steep flight of steps. The Baroque interior is reached through 11th- century bronze doors cast in Constantinople. The 13th-century Chiostro del Paradiso is a lovely Byzantine and Moorish cloister whose intoxicating aura of Arabian fantasy once infused much of the city’s, and coastline’s, architecture.
Experience Amalfi or any of the neighboring towns along the marvelously scenic coast when they are not besieged by tour bus caravans and sense something of the lingering Middle Eastern influence.