The stillness surrounds, save for the scrunch and soft thump of my boots on the edges of the scorched summer earth. The scent of lemons fills the air, along with sweet rose dust, some rosemary, a hint of thyme and a brush of silver leaves every now and then as I weave around the edges of the deserted olive grove.
Somewhere, sometimes, I hear the zippy buzz of a vespa. Or perhaps a sugar-smothered bee, drunk on syrup and skitting through the air, and sometimes I hear the thoughts that sweep and sashay through my mind.
There is sunshine, stone and soft summer rain. Cream-coloured cliffs that dip into sparkling seas and spiked tufts of grass that scratch the skin above my ankles.
I’m on the road from Amalfi to Sorrento, well, one of the roads at least. This one’s a road come windy path come slippery mud track come moss-soaked track and then back to start all over again.
I’m on the road from Amalfi to Sorrento, well, one of them at least.
The Amalfi Coast is a popular part of Italy, as each stop in a coastal town reveals. New to me, the pastel-flecked, clifftop-caressing villages have long since made acquaintance with the world and his wife, her tennis coach and his gang of mates from down the pub.
Sorrento knows the power of the tourist crowd as it basks in the shadows of Vesuvius and has the barefaced cheek to serve unsuspecting visitors chips cooked on top of pizza. And, yes, it tastes as bad as it sounds.)
Amalfi, my first stop in the Bay of Naples, was rather more forgiving. Limoncello and tumbling lemons adorned the shopping baskets amid the teacloths, soaps on ropes and ceramic trinkets. And as the sun set , it washed a soothing amber glow across the 9th century cathedral steps where just below children splashed through the fountains.
Perched high on another cliff (Amalfi is not the place for you if you don’t care for bendy roads,) the Luna Convento Hotel jutted out int a physics-defying move above the churning Tyrrhenian Sea (or so it felt on the balcony. And on the walk to the restaurant. Truly, actually breathtaking. And a little whiteknuckling if you’re unsure about the health and safety records of medieval builders.)
Then there was Positano, a sneaky Italian beauty. Along the seafront and curving main road, the place showed its well-heeled, glitzy side, a town with international aspirations that would wear kitten heels as it teetered down to its compact little beach.
But in hiking boots on the back roads, things were different.
More than 1000 steps separate the soak-into-my-bones-how-can-such-a-place-be-so-beautiful Pathway of the Gods from the quiet white back streets of Positano.
Now, 1000 steps going down may not sound like such a challenge (and believe me, I was grateful I wasn’t going up) but, oh trembling thighs and creaky knees, it showed me another side of
my ageing body Italy alright.
One of farm houses and steepled churches, purring cats and serene scenery.
A world as far away from the “beaten track” as a pair of boots can be, and yet this track did so amidst one of the most visited coastlines around.
In short, this walking route fulfilled my favourite travel writing cliché: it fulfilled its promise to get me off the beaten track.
And for all the peace, for that near silence, the sound of sirens filled my mind.
The Greek sirens (although I suppose I should call them Roman while in this part of the world.)
…those ancient sirens, those mythical women who lured lusty sailors to their untimely demise through their seductive songs, apparently hailed from these parts.
In fact, you can still see them today
On the crescent-shaped outcrop that looped to our hotel set in a secluded cove (yes, really) a glance over my shoulder revealed the sirens in all their briny glory.
Behold! There were those temptresses who drove men to distraction over a period of thousands and thousands of years: three greyish humpy rocks protruding like the bellies of the morbidly obese from the otherwise resplendent blue sea.
I thought of the beauty of the Path of the Gods, of the Bay of Naples, of the shadow of Vesuvius and the voluptuous outline of a lemon. The beauty of the crunch of feet on waiting paths and the slurping of spaghetti fresh in chilli and virgin olive oil. I remembered the sonorous violins in family-run pizzerias and the thrilling vertigo on the swooping coastal roads.
Those memories made me think of beauty.
And then there were the sirens, these shapeless lumps of stone.
I stood still, in the silence and drank in the sight of the sirens.
I can only imagine they knew some very good songs…
I returned my thoughts to my boots, and walked back around the cove.
FACTBOX: Walking Holidays with Headwater
Headwater run a number of different activity holidays. On this trip, walking from Amalfi to Sorrento, they handled the flights, hotels and luggage transfers leaving us to just walk around and enjoy ourselves. We shared transfers to the starting points for the walks with two or three other couples but each couple then drifted away and we all took the route at our own pace.
Headwater provided in-depth maps of the area (which we barely needed) and detailed step by step instructions for the walking routes as well. Although the Path of the Gods was an established walking route, many of the other days saw us walking through farms and hidden pathways as well as the odd time on the side of a road. This enabled us to well and truly get away from the crowds and was a wonderful, sensuous experience.
There’s supposed to be a rep somewhere on the ground (we received a phonecall on day one to check that all was OK) but you never actually meet anyone. To me, this was perfect, as I love the feeling of independence when I travel and this was a hybrid, the best of both worlds. Other hikers, however, wanted more of a personal touch and more involvement.
Tips for Italy Walking
One of the joys of the routes is getting away from it all. That, of course, means you need to bring some of it all with you – things like water, snacks, basic first aid & sunglasses. You’ll pass through beautiful hamlets – but many places don’t accept cards so do make sure you have some cash before you set out.
You can either carry a picnic and trail mix with you – or stop off for a three course dinner with wine on most days (check the itinerary first.) Just remember that it’s hot and hard work walking and (whoever thought I’d end up being a killjoy?) it may be better to save the wining and dining until dinner.
Disclosure – I paid a reduced rate to travel with Headwater on this walking holiday along the Amalfi coast for review purposes. All opinions, daydreams, photos, scribbles and all the rest of it remain my own. As always, as ever, otherwise there’s just no point. Thanks for reading!
Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com