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An Unhurried Hike along Italy’s Amalfi Coast

On the Path of the Gods.

Anthony Lanneretonne

Happy trails and soft landings on the Sorrentine Peninsula.

Time is relative, especially on Italys Sorrentine Peninsula. On this wedge of land jutting from the country’s western coast, any desire to capture it is met with resistance bordering on disbelief. Ask the grocer when she closes, and she shrugs and says, “A little later.” Inquire when the next bus is due, and “soonish” is the most precision you can expect. Even habitual greetings blend time: Everyone buongiornos from daybreak until some indiscernible point in midafternoon, when they switch to buonasera for the rest of the day.

Under such circumstances, I thought it best to have little to do and few commitments to keep during my six days on the peninsula, but I still wanted movement. The Amalfi Coast is best known as a place to let the day wash over you: beachy afternoons, opulent hotel gardens, maybe a post-lunch stroll along the seaside. It isn’t known for long-distance walking, but a scraggle of paths wend into the hinterland, including the CAI-300, a 46-mile trail connecting Salerno to Sorrento, broken into 11 stages of varying length and difficulty. A few stages of the trail per day – punctuated by cafés, trattorias, and those aforementioned gardens – made for my ideal jaunt.

The fruits of Italian hiking.

Anthony Lanneretonne

Like many of the country’s trails, the CAI-300 is administered by the Italian Alpine Club and demarcated with red-and-white paint slashes on rocks, trees, and garden walls. Connecting famed coastal towns such as Amalfi and Positano via the quiet paths of the Lattari Mountains, the trail stretches along green scrub, dry riverbeds, and grottoes so shaded and dark that, at the peak of the noontime heat, their grass is still beaded with dew. I passed alongside vineyards and citrus groves with baskets of lemons left outside gates, and through villages set into the pale cliffs like swallows’ nests. Every day brought new flowers to discover: morning glories, snapdragons, and snowdrops of pink and white.

Moving ever westward, the path led me into the high mountains, only to drop me again to the coast, landing softly in the comfort and pleasure of each village.

When I was high above the coastal road, the revving of Lamborghinis and rumble of tour buses were replaced with birdsong and laughter echoing across the valleys. Atop Monte Falerio, looking down over the village of Maiori, a group of hiking Italians fussed like a flock of beautiful birds, roosting only for as long as it took for a group photo before taking wing again.

The Amalfi Coast, as seen from the Path of the Gods.

Anthony Lanneretonne

If time is not godly, the landscape is. “This is our little slice of heaven,” a lemon farmer from Minori told me. The trail passed by his hillside patch, which overlooked the town and contained a thousand trees on an acre and a half. Given its physical beauty, it’s not surprising the area is a wellspring of creative energy – eminent artists of the twentieth century often decamped here for inspiration, surrounding themselves with what the Italian writer Francesco D’Episcopo once called “architecture for the soul.”

The trail was only sometimes a dirt path; often it was staircases that cut straight through the villages, where I was passed by nonnas with ankles of steel. The stairs had the quality of an M.C. Escher painting, rising and falling in perpetual tessellating waves. Escher visited the coast as a young artist, and his geometrical work was influenced by the area’s Moorish architecture. On my second day on the trail, taking what felt like one of Escher’s never-ending flights up from Minori to Ravello, I settled into the grace of Caruso, a Belmond Hotel. The gardens were a profusion of green, and the air smelled of powdered sugar. D.H. Lawrence, who wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Ravello, wandered these same hill paths and looked out over “that steep, muggy coast, with the crystalline mountains where the gods of today are abandoned and a lost, Mediterranean, anterior self is discovered again.”

What to Lawrence was crystalline seemed to me fuzzed. The air, diffused with light, made it difficult to tell time. There was a perpetual feeling of late afternoon, the aperitivo hour. There was, too, the sensation of the world tilted on its axis, such that I was never sure if I was looking down to the water or up into the air. The horizon dissolved behind a band of haze, and the sea and sky were so equally blue it was impossible to tell one from the other. Skiffs, fishing boats, yachts, speeders, ferries, and cruise ships left contrails in the sky; distant planes cut patterns through the gauzy Mediterranean.

Trail’s-end rewards.

Anthony Lanneretonne

The next day, I reached the Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi. I dove into the Mediterranean from its private crag of seafront, the water a rolling duvet that swept me along. The breeze carried the smell of almond and wafer from the earth out over the darkening water. Later, fortified with prosecco and scialatielli ai frutti di mare, I watched the night draw in. The cool air cleared as the light slipped away.

Each evening was different, like a phase of the moon. With the next day’s sweat of eight miles washed from me, I watched from a terrace at Casa Angelina as the fading light turned Positano from a pastel ziggurat into a vein of gold in the dark ore of the mountainside. The sea was calm and, under the moonlight, flashed like a sheet of ice, reflecting white into the blackness where the aura of the city did not reach. In the morning, I ascended to the Sentiero degli Dei, the Path of the Gods. Winding from Bomerano to Positano, its five miles are the path’s most well-trodden. Near rosettes of honeybush on the wayside, I drank from fountains of cool water under a cliff scalloped by a waterfall and covered with a fur of moss.

Beyond Positano, the peninsula becomes more rustic toward its western point. It was a reminder that this storied coast is not just about the high life. It’s also made of parents waiting in hot cars to pick their children up from school, ancient Fiats shuddering up steep hills, and farmers scrabbling through the heat and dust of their orchards. Here, the path was sometimes rough and exposed, courting a drop into the sea. Rocks half buried in the ground were worn smooth by footfalls and looked like exposed dinosaur bones. At this point, I had the best views of the Li Galli archipelago, also known as Le Sirenuse, the mythical home of the sirens from The Odyssey.

A major stop for Grand Tour travelers, who traipsed across Europe in search of culture and inspiration, Sorrento was the end of my trip. At the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, I raised a martini to my completed journey. Each day had been a small gift, free of constraint or obligation – and above all, beyond the reach of the gods of time.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Virtuoso, The Magazine (U.S./Canada edition).

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