If you have heard of the Amalfi Coast, then you are well aware of its highlights: Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Capri, of course. These are all splendid places to see and I have enjoyed each, immensely. What few people know about, however, are the wonders in between. These are the places where unique memories are created. Oh, how I would love to be there right now.
My friend and her husband were finally coming to visit me from the states and we were so excited to show them our land of adventures. I was afraid that they would want to see the touristy places, which would leave us less time for the absolutely extraordinary things that embed themselves in your soul. “We just want to have fun, we don’t care if we don’t even see the Coliseum!”, she said, to my relief.
As their arrival neared, my boyfriend would think up practical jokes that he wished to play on them, such as, offering them a plate of the traditional Roman dish, la pajata, which is pasta made with veal tripe, literally full of its excrement. “Its baby veal and they only drink milk.”, Romans would defensively explain. “Forgetting the fact that ‘baby veal’ is redundant, newborn infants only drink milk as well, and we’ve all seen what comes out of them.”, I would rejoin.
Their arrival would coincide, exactly, with our move from one side of Rome to the other. However, when the time came for us to sign the contract, a few discrepancies delayed our move, so instead of being able to offer them our new large living room, they had to sleep in our tiny spare loft of our old minuscule apartment. Luckily, it was a one-night’s hardship, for the next morning we were on our way to the coast.
We managed to fit into the itty-bitty Fiat 600 by sheer miracle. My friend and I were cozy in the back with all our luggage and the guys were in the front practicing each other’s languages while taking turns driving. The heat was sweltering and we had no air-conditioning during the entire four hour extravaganza, but somehow it made us laugh even more. Perhaps the heat had fried our brains to the point of insane bliss or just the idea of what awaited us kept us from getting cranky.
The beach house is on a lovely picturesque bay where the water is the color of a brand new swimming pool. We were starving so we ate at one of the excellent beachfront restaurants. “You have to try pasta al Nerano, it’s the dish of the region.”, we explained. Aside from all of the fresh seafood and other delicacies we had, they adored the pasta. It is made with fresh basil, loads of butter, three different cheeses and fresh grilled zucchini. Yes, it is absolutely fattening but its delicious decadence is worth every hated calorie.
After satisfying our hunger, we drove into the nearby village and picked up some lupini clams, which are tastier than regular clams; fresh fish, which our friends would cook up to go with my boyfriend’s pasta ai lupini; deliciously ripe peaches; crisp white Falanghina wine from the region; sweet red tomatoes; watermelon, to refresh our spirits; fresh crusty bread; delicately sliced prosciutto and a large braid of fresh mozzarella.
The beauty of this house is having the beach at your doorstep, the downside is the amount of people that crowd the beach on the weekends, late July and all of August.
However, this downside merely motivates us to explore other exciting options. A couple of our friends who have a house in a nearby town, also have a boat. We had all gone to Ponza with another couple the previous year. They would not be arriving until the weekend, so this gave us several days to explore little-known beach destinations.
“You see that mountain?”, we said.
“Yeah, it’s beautiful.”, they said.
“That’s where we’re going!”
“All the way up there?”
They were game for everything we threw their way and for that, we adore them, for it is such a pleasure to spend a vacation with fun-loving people as these. We already knew all of these places, but showing it to them filled us with extreme joy, especially since they were so willing to be adventurous.
We headed up the mountain, which awed us with its astounding vistas and frightened us just a bit.
It took us nearly an hour to reach our target but seeing it in front of us convinced us to continue. The last few yards are the hardest since that is when you need to climb down a steep, rocky jagged cliff. This is where I tend to get stuck, yet somehow, I manage. I suppose it is the promise of jumping into the refreshing azure sea which pulls me further. Ieranto is a Natural Reserve and can only be reached by climbing the mountain or by boat. Only non-motorized boats are allowed, otherwise you can also take the town’s ferry which comes a few times throughout the day.
The sand and pebble beach is not very large and faces a long narrow bay with the mountain that rises high behind it.
“There’s another beach just around that rock and it’s completely deserted, wanna see?”, we said.
“Is it far?”, they asked.
We had explored this beach the previous year when we illegally entered it by boat. All boats and swimmers are prohibited due to the possibility of falling rocks in addition to its preservation. We could not resist then nor could we again this time, so we put on our masks and they their swimming goggles and the day’s adventure continued.
“How much farther is it?”, they asked.
“Just around this rock”, I said lagging behind with them.
My boyfriend was equipped with deep-sea diving flippers which allowed him to swim three times as fast. I had my snorkeling gear, which permitted me to float easily but they only had goggles and one floating foam noodle that, at least, gave them a moment’s rest. I had not realized how far the beach actually was, but my boyfriend did and he was enjoying every moment as he watched them swim the distance.
The beach was completely deserted. All you could see were the turquoise sea and the rocky mountain which walled us in on three sides. This was where we had swum in the nude the previous year. It had felt so liberating to do so and not have anyone around whatsoever.
“You said it was just around that rock!”, they said.
“It was.”, we said.
“Yeah, but it’s frikin’ far!”, they said.
“Yeah, sorry about that, but otherwise you wouldn’t have come and isn’t it worth it?”, we said.
“Besides, now we’re even for you abandoning us in NY!”, we said and we all laughed remembering that night.
Two years earlier, we had all gone to dinner in the city with a group of friends. On our way to karaoke, these two disappeared. We had been worried thinking something had happened. They were supposed to be our ride home, but they had not realized this minor detail. Apparently, they had had a spat and went home not wanting to ruin our night…well, that is what they told us happened. We ended up staying with other friends and having a great time regardless, but we had jokingly promised revenge and they were well aware of it.
There are few places left where you can be alone on a gorgeous desert beach, especially in Italy. In fact, we were not there long when a boat appeared followed by a man in a kayak. We had enjoyed ourselves but we were also beginning to worry about our belongings, which we had left unattended. After regaining our strength, we set out again. I was on jellyfish watch. Ieranto has the most beautiful jellyfish I have ever seen.They resemble orchids and are black, white and red. The fresh clean water attracts them, but there are very few.
We were not on the beach two minutes when the guys took off on another adventure. They climbed on the rocks that lead to a very high platform from which they proceeded to dive off.
We girls remained beach-side and took photographs of their courageous feats. We spent the rest of our time relaxing on the beach, giving ourselves therapeutic sand scrubs and floating in the sea. Toward the end of the day, we gazed up at the ominous mountain, dreading the assent. Suddenly, like a superhero to the rescue, the town ferry appeared. We all instinctively gathered our things as there would be no argument on the subject, not one of us wanted to climb back. We happily climbed the ladder onto the ferry, relieved that that would be the last climbing we would do for the remainder of the day.
We enjoy cooking at the beach-house for several reasons: the area features some of Italy’s most prized ingredients; restaurants exclusively serve Italian cuisine and we like to go beyond it; we cook quite well and tend to fuse our influences by creating exceptional dishes, which satisfy our moods; and, it saves us money. The beach-house has a lovely terrace that overlooks the bay. It is a most exquisite setting for an enchanting dinner with friends.
The following day, the adventure continued. This time we set out to visit where the La Regina Margherita, who was once Italy’s queen, used to go for a swim. We parked the car illegally, of course; that is the norm in Italy. We stopped in at the deli and got sandwiches, chips and frozen bottled water, before heading down the slippery sloping stone path.
“Which way do we turn, destra or sinistra?”, they asked when faced with tall dry shrubbery in front and dusty dirt paths on either side of them.
“Turn? We don’t turn. We walk straight ahead. Did you really think it would be that easy? The adventure continues!”, we said, squeezing through as the scratchy branches brushed our skin from all sides. We continued down the twisting hidden path and walked through the various old ruins until we arrived at the old wooden staircase.
“That’s where we’re going!”, we said, with knowing smiles.
“Wow!”, they exclaimed with excitement. From our vantage point you could see the entire lagoon formed from volcanic rock. The different hues of blue swirled together and invited us in with its enticing waves.
“Just watch out for the snakes!”
“Just kidding! But there is some climbing to do, unless you prefer to cross through the water.”
“After yesterday, we’ll skip the climb.”
We reached the bottom of the rickety wooden staircase and walked through the shallow end of the lagoon to the small beach. The hear-shaped lagoon emptied out into the sea through a small tunnel under a rock bridge. At high tide, it would be completely enclosed.
There were very few people, due to the hidden path. It was a glorious location which only locals knew about and was still difficult to locate even for them. One would never stumble upon it unless you happened to sail by and stop to explore.
The sun painted the inside of the tunnel in hues of blue and turquoise, which matched the lagoon. The echo of our voices harmonized with the sound of the waves as we swam through and reached the sea. The vastness of the sea surprised us with its forceful waves crashing violently against the rocks.
We had to be careful and not get caught in its path. There were several people basking in the sun on top of the rocks including a couple with a Quechua self-mounting tent, who had obviously missed the meaning of stealth camping.
The day’s adventure was one of low impact. We had started with the most difficult in order to exhaust our energies right away, then settle ourselves into the caressing waves of the sea. It was relaxing to wake up and roll into the sea the following day. We went to Sorrento to shop and take advantage of the sale season that would soon end.
The weekend arrived bringing more friends along. We were eating breakfast when we heard the horn from the pier. They had sailed over to pick us up. We quickly grabbed our sunblock, hats, books and towels as we ran down to greet them.
It was a bumpy ride over and I was glad to be in the secret low-impact seat. No one ever tells you that the back of the boat gives a smoother ride. Most first-timers head for the front but it can be a very painful experience as the boat hits the waves full on.
Capri’s famous entryway of twin mountainous peaks, which emerge from the sea, greeted us as we threaded through its eye. We paused to explore them underwater before heading to the green grotto. No tours are given to this one, only private boats and over-sized yachts abound. It is an amazing underwater sight, watching the array of fish swim about you. The cavernous walls are brilliantly illuminated by the sun, thus allowing you to see into its entrancing depths.
Our visiting friends wanted to buy some souvenirs, so I went with them ashore for an hour while the others continued to bake in the sun on board. We picked up some dry sandwiches and cold refreshing drinks for everyone and were picked up in order to continue exploring Capri’s marvellous coast. The blue grotto was full of tourists in their little line of wooden row boats, which were tied together. Once they were gone, we swam in and were immediately embraced by the glowing blue reflection. It was even more amazing underwater, a view the boatloads of tourists will never see, unless they too, jump in.
Dancing was on the agenda for that night. So we dressed up in our city chic and I armed myself with my feet-saving flip-flops as we headed for Positano’s Music on the Rocks. We arrived and were immediately let in without having to wait with our heels sinking in the sand amongst the crowd outside. We were handed a magnetic plastic card as we were granted entry. There is a one-drink minimum which costs E25-E35, subsequent drinks cost E10. The cards work like a credit card, which you pay at the end as you exit. If you loose your card, you will be charged the maximum amount allowed on the card, which was E45 at the time. You must also ensure that the bartender charges each separate card for each drink, for each card will be charged for the drink minimum, regardless.
Music on the Rocks is located inside of a grotto on Positano’s beach. The blue lights reminded us of the day’s exploration. We danced with our men until we got thirsty, so they went to get us our drinks. They were barely gone a moment, when we found ourselves surrounded by sharks on all sides. Our men appeared with drinks in hand and amused grins painted on her faces as they watched the sharks swam back into the crowd in search of single ladies to enamor.
After hours of dancing in heels, I was pleased to slip out of them and walk to our car in my flip-flops. We had parked in the nearby garage, but there were still several flights of steps to conquer.
Our days were mainly spent on the boat, exploring and sailing and swimming and snorkeling. Friends, laughter and giant pitchers of mojitos with long colorful straws accompanied our nights. No tours, no guides, no plans, we just followed our instincts and trusted that we would have a great time. We did.