The Amalfi Coast from Capo d’Orso to Atrani

We leave behind Capo d’Orso and its beautiful beaches to reaquaint ourselves with the curves before reaching the long beach of Maiori, the largest in this part of the Amalfi Coast. Today the city is very well equipped for the tourism industry, which has of course distorted the original beauty a bit, but there are still opportunities to take a step back in time to when, with the birth of the Amalfi Republic, the city was home to several arsenals and the Admiralty, as well as the Customs House and Salt deposit.

Click HERE to read the first part of our mini-guided tour to visiting the Amalfi Coast.

Maiori, the beach - photo from flickr user Adrian Scottow

Maiori, the beach – photo from flickr user Adrian Scottow

It seems among other things that it was in the arsenals themselves that the name ‘Tramontana’ was born, the word used in Italian to indicate the wind coming from the north, taking the name from the nearby town of Tramonti, from which the wind came funneled by the valley. And if you want to extend your visit, here is a proposal among many of a visit created especially for those wishing to explore the castles and fortifications of Maiori: HERE. Another curiosity about Maiori is linked to the film “Paisa” by Roberto Rossellini, which was shot mainly here, in spite of the fact that it is a film that traces the advance of the allies from Sicily to the north. In the Norman Tower the Sicilian scene was filmed and the street urchin from the Neopolitan scene was actually a boy from Maiori who happened to be wandering around the set in those days. It was Federico Fellini, then assistant director, who chose the local boy to star in this particular scene.

Maiori, Norman tower - photo from flickr user pululante

Maiori, Norman tower – photo from flickr user pululante

But it’s already time to leave again, and a few turns later, proceeding in the direction of Amalfi, you will see Minori, which once upon a time was just a small fishing village.

Minori, the 'spiaggetta' beach - photo from foto flickr user Uljana Egli

Minori, the ‘spiaggetta’ beach – photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

In the past it was an active center of production of handmade pasta, before everything was transferred to Gragnano, but the memories of the bounty of the land are still alive here today. From the famous lemons growing on the terraces, which were sculpted from the hillsides by the tenacity of the local farmers, to the sweet delicacies of the area, led by the well-known confectioner by the name of Sal De Riso (taste the eggplant with chocolate at least once before you die!) and the typical ndunderi, a sort of giant dumpling with ricotta cheese in the dough that still are one of the specialties of Minori today, you will not find it hard to understand why the city is the proud owner of the title of City of taste (Città del gusto). Do not miss a walk through the charming narrow streets, a visit to the Basilica of Santa Trofimena and the splendid Roman villa dating back to the 1st AD, a confirmation of how even the wealthy Romans knew how to appreciate the beauty of these places a couple of millennia ago.

Minori by night - photo from flickr user Eugene Regis

Minori by night – photo from flickr user Eugene Regis

By continuing for some kilometers, and turning right climbing your way up the mountain, you can enjoy some clear examples of the splendor of these places throughout history. Just take a trip to Ravello to breathe the history and culture, and enjoy both the stunning scenery and the architecture of its beautiful villas.

The gardens of Villa Rufolo, Ravello - photo from flickr user Greg Willis

The gardens of Villa Rufolo, Ravello – photo from flickr user Greg Willis

From the 11th century Cathedral to a tour of incredible palaces, like Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, you can breathe the same air that has fascinated and inspired artists throughout history, and still makes Ravello a place which attracts celebrities of all kinds, as well as crowds of future husbands and wives who select it as the “beautiful setting” for their special day.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello - photo from flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello – photo from flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

And if you are not lucky enough to dine at one of the two Michelin-starred restaurants located in Ravello – ‘Rossellinis’ and ‘Il Flauto di Pan’, who along with four other Michelin-starred restaurants in the area make these 40 kilometers of Amalfi a real oasis of gastronomic taste – you can console yourself with the many other proposals that this place has to offer. Here you’ll find every thing you need: the beauty of nature, the wonders of the architecture and works of art, so all you have to do is let yourself go, relax and enjoy.
Let’s go back to the coast, and head towards Amalfi. We will stop just before, Atrani, where you can find the house of the maternal family of Masaniello, and a cave that was apparently used by the hero of the Neapolitan revolt of 1647 to hide from soldiers of the viceroy of Naples. Here you can see very tangible signs of the fishing village that it was in the past, with the town square that still has direct access to the beach, well protected from storm surges, which was used to keep the fishing boats safe.

Atrani, view from the sea - photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

Atrani, view from the sea – photo from flickr user Uljana Egli

Atrani is an ideal place to stop before diving in the uber-tourist hotspots of Amalfi and Positano. Just a short visit will conjure up images of the past when the inhabitants of these places mainly supported themselves by fishing and crafts: Atrani was particularly known for its precious fabrics. Today it is a village well worth preserving: a little gem, and it’s a real pleasure to stroll through its narrow streets, between the houses resting one top of each other.

Originally published in Italian

Translation and adaptation for English by Ciarán Durkan

A trip around the Amalfi Coast: from the hinterland to Capo d’Orso

One of those trips that can only be called unforgettable is a trip around the Amalfi Coast. The beauty of the landscape and views, has been carefully preserved in this area, and not only in the smaller, more unknown and difficult to reach coves. The journey outlined in this mini-guide to the area, is designed for those who have decided to take a trip around these parts, during the summer holidays. However, it should be mentioned that during the off-season, these places take on a different kind of magic, equally worth experiencing, with the added benefit of being able to do so without the crush the masses who flock here during the summer months.

We will start the journey a few kilometers before the junction that leads to Vietri sul Mare, the gateway to the curves of the Amalfi coast, and specifically from Cava de’ Tirreni. A walk under the shady porticos of this town, which is steeped in history, accompanied by a visit to the Cathedral and the Abbey dating from 1011, are only some of the possible ways to discover the wonders of this part of Italy, and are a good warmup before facing the many curves ahead before we reach the heart of the Amalfi Coast.

The porticos of Cava de Tirreni - photo from flickr user Chiara Marra

The porticos of Cava de Tirreni – photo from flickr user Chiara Marra

Here, until a couple of decades ago, you would have found in the grounds of the town hall, a cart that sold paper cones filled with nose of pork and boiled corn on the cob, and in all likelihood they would have been our ‘what to eat’ recommendations for the place. Now that the old traditions have given way to new habits, the city boasts more than one proposal to stop and eat, with a good attitude to street food, to sink you teeth into as wander through its alleyways.

And if  there are some keen walkers among you, from the mountains surrounding Cava de’ Tirreni it is possible to set off and explore the Amalfi coast with a backpack and a great desire to walk, to see the scenery from the top down and have the opportunity to appreciate a hidden, but no less impressive side of this dramatic landscape. There is no shortage of proposals and itineraries online, selected according to the distance you feel you can manage, but it will certainly be a unique way of experiencing the area.

Driving by car in the direction of Salerno, after a few kilometers you will reach Molina di Vietri, a small village where you can stop to enjoy a hot ‘zeppola’ (Italian style donut), before getting lost among the many proposals that you will find for traditional pottery stopping in Vietri sul mare, a UNESCO world heritage site, as are all the other towns along the Amalfi Coast. Here, after a walk in the upper area of the town and a stroll down again, as far as the Marina, you will start to breathe a holiday atmosphere. And once you’ve re-energized yourself with a slice of thick crust pizza with sliced tomato (according to tradition it should be more than one fingers’ width high), and cooled off with an italian Gelato, you can enjoy a legitimate break dedicated to finding the hand-painted china set you’ve so often dreamed about.

Vietri sul Mare - photo from flickr user Elicus

Vietri sul Mare – photo from flickr user Elicus

If you suffer from the car sickness, hold on tight, because from here on there will be curves a plenty, all the way Positano, the end of our mini-guided tour, located approximately 40 km from Vietri.

Taking the state road 163 (strada statale 163 Amalfitana), from the very first curve you will be able to enjoy the magnificent scenery, stretching from the port of Salerno, in the background, to the points that can be seen beyond the bends, with mountains that descend steeply down to the sea.

Cetara by night - photo from flickr user Alessandro Bonvini

Cetara by night – photo from flickr user Alessandro Bonvini

After a few more hair raising curves we arrive at the small port of Cetara, with the town that extends behind it, at the foot of Mount Falerio. Once a place dedicated solely to fishing, Cetara today deserves its status as a tourist attraction, thanks to products such as Colatura di alici (a traditional, salted anchovy sauce), a real gastronomic gem of this place, which is none other than the modern version of the “garum” much used by the ancient Romans in their kitchen. A stroll along the arms of the port is a must, with fishermen preparing nets for fishing, and a wander through the lanes of the village, to discover small bars that have sprung up just behind the Via Marina. From Cetara itself you take a boat to explore the beaches and coves in the area, which are difficult to reach by land. From the ‘beach of lemons’, so called because it is surrounded by lemon trees that grow on terraces on the mountainside, to that of Cauco, in Erchie, there are plenty of distinctive places take a dip surrounded by beautiful scenery, admiring from the sea the breathtaking landscape of these very special places, with the Lattari mountains that plunge straight into the sea and the small towns that dot the territory.

Cetara, the tower - photo from flickr user Paolo Salmaso

Cetara, the tower – photo from flickr user Paolo Salmaso

After rounding the promontory headland of Capo d’Orso, we will take a visit to Maiori and Minori before arriving in Amalfi. But we will continue our mini-guided tour in part 2. If you want to book your next vacation on the Amalfi Coast, please contact Personal Travels HERE.


Originally published in Italian

Translation and adaptation for English by Ciarán Durkan

The Giant of the Medici Park at Pratolino

Love is one of the driving forces in great art. How many times in history have we come across works of art dictated by the desire to celebrate a romance or to impress a loved one? The Medici Park of Pratolino (Parco Mediceo di Pratolino), in the town of Vaglia, in Tuscany is no exception, and what remains of today tells the story of a passionate and turbulent romance, that propels us back to the mid-sixteenth century, when Francis 1st Medici bought the estate in 1568, entrusting the building works of the beautiful villa to the multi-talented Bernardo Buontalenti.

Parco Mediceo di Pratolino

The Medici Park at Pratolino

The villa and the park, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were indeed dedicated to Francis 1st Medici’s lover, and later wife, Bianca Cappello, and everything you encounter was designed, with no expense spared, to evoke the fantasy world of the imagination, through ornamental water features alternated with ancient statues, paths and grottos, to immortalize the guilty passion, which blossomed from two failed marriages. A colossal passion, as is the size of the colossal structure, the symbol of the Medici Park at Pratolino: the Appennine Colossus the masterpiece of the Flemish sculptor Giambologna.

Il Colosso dell’Appennino

The Appennine Colossus

And if most of the structures have been destroyed over time (the house no longer exists), or have been stolen, the Giant is still there, fresh from a recent restoration, to welcome the many visitors, towering over everyone at 14 meters in height. A sculpture which has a saying attached to it that runs, “Giambologna made the Appennino / but he is sorry he did so in Pratolino“, to emphasize that the same work of art, perhaps built in the center of Florence, would certainly have raised a much greater clamor, and would have been celebrated with several honors. Even as it is, the park and its Colossus still remain a place that is well worth a visit, which is full of surprises.

Inside the statue there are rooms, decorated caves and internal corridoors, as well as two working fountains and a room inside the head, which was lit by sunlight coming in through the eyes and could hold a small orchestra. Through the mouth of the serpent, under the left hand of the Giant, a stream of water flows down into the pool below.

Colosso dell'Appennino

The Appennine Colossus

Today only a few elements remain of all the original architecutral magic of the park. However, they are sufficient to conjour up a romantic and visionary atmosphere for the visitor. As confirmed by the director Gennaro Giliberti, when asked why this is remembered in history as the “park of wonders“: “It would be enough to take a look at the famous “lunette” by the painter Justus Utens from 1600 to get a sense of the wonder that would have enveloped the visitor of the time, or read the famous “Journal de voyage en Italie” by de Montaigne: an impressive carousel of sculptures of famous personages, animals, gods and epic heroes; grottos, fountains and waterworks; theaters of propelled automatons powered by water, hydraulic equipment that reproduced music sweet, automatic machines that reproduce the birds singing; “Magnificent inventions”, “miraculous works”, “stupendous artifices”, which Buontalenti was able to create with unparalleled mastery. Not surprisingly, the park of Pratolino was one of the most imitated parks in the world. ”

La lunetta di Justus Utens

The ‘lunette’ by Justus Utens

In closing, we leave you with a 360 ° navigable photo of the Fountain of Jupiter, another of the wonders of the park. Click HERE.

Candy in Marseille: a delicious travel tip for people with a sweet tooth.

Connoisseurs from all over the world: in Marseille there is a travel itinerary for lovers of delicious candy. If you go to the French town, please let me know! I need you to do me a big favour. And before you ask, no, it’s not to bring me back some Marseille Soap or a bottle of Pastis! I went to Marseille in November, it was nice, I enjoyed it. However, as a local a shopkeeper admitted to me, it is true that in the evening during the winter there is not much to do. His exact words were: “It’s quite dead!”. But what I am still haunted by is the terrible mistake I made during the holiday. And it was a big one, like when you go to play soccer and you forget to put a towel in your gym bag.
Let me explain: I arrived at the airport and took the convenient shuttle bus (there’s one every 10 minutes, which takes you to the Gare Saint Charles in no time, the station for trains and buses going to the center of Marseille). And during this short journey I was enlightened. From the highway I received a heavenly vision, for me at least, as I love candy. In Marseille there is a Haribo factory with adjoining shop. I felt like little Charlie Bucket, the protagonist of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”: I had found the golden ticket to visit an enchanted place.

Charlie Bucket (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)


But I had come to Marseille with a prearranged travel itinerary: a day trip to the countryside in Aix-en-Provence, a night at the stadium to watch a soccer match (the new Velodrome is fantastic, if you have time you should go to watch a match with the Marseille team (Olympique de Marseille) who, by the way, are doing very well in the league this year) and an evening or two sampling the local food and drink, which particularly involved drinking rather too much Pastis (an anise liqueur that is produced in these parts, it’s 40 % alcohol (80’ proof) and is served as an aperitif). So, what with one thing and another, you’ll understand me when I say that I managed to completely forget the vision I saw in the bus. I got an unexpected shock when I set off on the return journey. I got back on the convenient shuttle bus and from the window I saw the Haribo factory.


Homer Simpson

No factory, no candy, DOH!
Remorse tormented me and so, once back in Italy, I made the situation worse. I did some research on the internet and found out that the factory was easily reachable from the center of Marseille by public transport (9 Boulevard Gay Lussac, 13014 Marseille, France). Not only that, but I then discovered that if I had remembered while still in France, I would have had the time and the opportunity to go to Uzes, a small town 150 km from Marseille, where Haribo has also opened – listen to how good this sounds – the “Musée du Bon Bon” (Candy Museum).
So there you have it, if you go to Marseille, please make me happy! Go and visit the shop, or the Candy Museum. At least my golden ticket will not have been wasted.


Original in Italian by Alessandro Giannace

January 15, 2015

Translation and adaptation into English by Ciarán Durkan