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.

A visit to the Lagoon for Venice Carnival 2015

Rosalba is from Pescara, and when, by chance, she finds herself catapulted to splendid Venice she cannot but be impressed, partly because this city where she’s spending a period away from the maddening normality of everyday married life, is far removed from the tourist stereotypes that surround the masterly Lagoon City. In a very tangible way, she experiences the “real” Venice that throbs in its “calli” (the typical Venetian streets) and its districts (the six divisions of the historic part of the city).

Pane e tulipani

“Pane e tulipani” – Licia Maglietta as Rosalba

In fact, the eyes of the director of “Bread and Tulips”, the film to which our introduction is dedicated, discover something of the purest essence of the City that was declared a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1979. The director’s eyes dig into the soul of a place that intoxicates and stuns us from our first sight of it. “Venice is like eating an entire box of liqueur chocolates all at once”, is how Truman Capote described the impact the Lagoon had on him.

Photo by flickr user Igor

Photo by flickr user Igor

The 118 islands that make up Venice are connected by more than 400 bridges, many of which are real masterpieces, to be admired during a tour of the city. To take in the wonderful Cà Venetian houses of the noble families, the best way is probably to walk the streets or take the public transport boat. One should always keep in mind, however, that in winter the weather may be particularly cold.

But it’s only at this time of the year that the lagoon rhymes with Carnival of Venice, whose inauguration is scheduled for January 31 along the Cannaregio Canal. A magnificent show starts from 6 pm entitled: “The magical banquet – A tale of food in Venice.” And after the opening show, on Sunday 1 February the Coordination of Venetian Rowing Clubs Associations water parade will set out from Punta della Dogana along the Canal Grande, to the popular Rio di Cannaregio, where it will row past a blaze of public thronged on the banks.

Here are our proposals to stay in Venice:

Photo by flickr user Frank Kovalchek

Photo by flickr user Frank Kovalchek

That’s just the beginning of a hectic program of events, including the not-to-be-missed Competition for the Most Beautiful Mask, or the Flight of the Eagle, before the “Svolo del Leon” concludes the Venice Carnival.

Before Personal Travels

It was a bold man who ate the first oyster” – Jonathan Swift

Gulliver breaks free

When I left my full-time job at booking-dot-com to start a project of my own, it did feel a bit like being the first person to ever try oyster. I still don’t know if it’s really my thing, but I will never forget that flavor. The idea is to make the world of travel easier and smoother, more democratic even, by bringing together those who travel and those who host travelers for a living.

On this blog we will discuss traveling under different perspectives and points of view. What do people who travel experience and feel during their trips? What do hoteliers or other hosts have to say about it? The aim is to try and define best practices and useful tips to enjoy at best on of the great gifts of humanity, however it involves you.

Before I further introduce the features of the blog, let me tell you more about myself and how I defined my own way of traveling. Being born in Italy in 1976, I’m old enough to remember what it was like when households did not have any form of personal computer. But thanks to my father the first such machine to enter our home was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and that was early in 1983.

Around 10 years later it was time for dad’s first ever-so-bulky mobile phone. In those same years I was already becoming a frequent flier, mainly to visit my mother’s side of the family in the ‘Ole Country, every given summer. Back then the No-Smoking sign would go off while airborne and you could happily light up on your regular Aer Lingus or Alitalia flights.

Of course traveling is always the same, magic experience that expands the lives of millions of people today as it was at the time. Only we had to deal with a totally different way to organize, enjoy, and remember our trips. Let me just hint at what I mean by crucial differences by recalling some aspects of the one trip that forever defined my way of traveling: the InterRail trip of summer 1998 with the girl who was to become my lifetime companion.

Photos:

At the time not every hand-held device had an incorporated 12 megapixel digital lens. There was no such thing as a digital camera, at least not at consumer level. People had compact cameras that required actual film to deliver photos, like Serena’s Pentax camera we had with us.

souvenir shop in Granada

You brought tons of film with you from home, bought from trusted shops where you hoped they wouldn’t give you expired stuff. When you ran out of it, it was time to retort to souvenir shops like this one in Granada, where you could buy your Kodak Gold films and pay for them like they were actually made of the precious metal. During the trip, you shot blindly at your subjects, hoping to have pressed the button at the right moment. The adrenaline kick when you came back home and sent the film to develop hoping to have at least a few good photos in the batch is something still unsurpassed. As is the disappointment of finding out that you had completely burnt the film by accidentally exposing it to light, and would have to do with no visual memories for that particular vacation.

Calling home

As I said, mobile phones weren’t exactly portable back then, nor were they very affordable. Needless to say, we didn’t have one with us while travelling through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. When you had a chance you called the old folks from a public phone booth and reassure them that all was well, like I was doing from this cabin in Barcelona’s famous Barceloneta.

calling home from a phone box in Barceloneta

Another option was to inform your relatives of the phone number of the place you were staying, but this meant that your mother-in-law would have had to find out how to overcome the language barriers of the case and get the clerk of a dusty old posada to get her daughter on the phone ASAP.  She didn’t really use that word.

Accommodation:

Booking a stay somewhere before you actually got there was almost impossible during youth travels. Business and leisure travelers succeeded by calling days in advance, and providing a credit card number or a bank instalment as a guarantee. But generally the rule was: Reach a destination, find a place to stay.

sleeping out in Faro train station

A trail of youngsters following a hotel owner to an available alternative nearby was a typical sight in many European cities. Sometimes though the task was unsuccessful. You could spend most of the day wandering from one to another place on your list, only to find them fully booked or unavailable.

That’s when you retorted to literally anything, like the night we spent on the hard stone floor outside a godforsaken train station in Portugal with a bunch of German youths.

Friends:

Those guys were the funniest bunch of kraut aficionados I’ve ever met, and together we spent a couple of fantastic days. My memories of the time spent with them include a sick joke on Lady D, and the weirdest ever train journey. Between the stops I had to pick out the thorns of juicy cactuses from the unexperienced hands of those who had obviously never seen what the Italians call Indian figs.

dinner in Portugal (why pizza?)

Needless to say we did not have social media back then. If you wanted to keep in touch you had to commit to becoming pen pals. Provided you never lost the addresses scribbled on random sheets of paper or at the back of your phone book.

I always lost them. That’s why none of these beautiful people are my facebook friends today. I wish they could recognize themselves in the photo and contact me, to share more memories of that fantastic summer traveling around Europe.