Mountains & Sea: Between Two Worlds on Italy’s Amalfi Coast
Postcard images of seaside villages with pastel houses climbing up steep mountainsides, rocky beaches with unimaginably blue waters, beaches lined with brightly colored umbrellas—these are the picturesque images that define Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Those of you that have visited this beautiful part of Italy will agree with me when I say that it’s even more extraordinary than any photograph could possibly capture.
The mountains soar—rocky edges outlined against the blue sky— forming a seemingly unreal backdrop high above the famous seaside towns of Amalfi and Positano. The Lattari Mountains form the backbone running down the Sorrento Peninsula separating the southern coastline, called the Amalfi Coast, from the northern coastline on the Bay of Naples. Home to wild boars and rare plant species, these mountains are lush, rich and mysterious. They are the other side of the Amalfi Coast – a landscape of strong contrasts where the scent of pine trees lingers in the fresh, salty breeze.
When winter storms come rolling in, they cling to the top of those mountains as if afraid to continue out to sea. Yet, the sea welcomes those mountains, with sharp edges plunging into the blue waters. Somewhere in between, the sea and the mountains meet to create the unique landscape and lifestyle of the Amalfi Coast.
High above Amalfi, the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills) climbs into a magical and completely unexpected mountain landscape. Hiking up from the center of Amalfi, you soon pass the ruins of the town’s once thriving paper mills, which supplied fine quality paper all over southern Italy in the Middle Ages. Soon you enter another world, where pure, ice cold water from the high mountain source rushes through little pools. Then you’ll reach a point where the waterfalls bring to mind tropical rainforests rather than the rugged Amalfi Coast. At that moment the nearby sea and rocky beaches seem a world away.
These two sides of the Amalfi Coast are also represented in the regional cuisine. In the villages along the sea, specialties are based on mare (sea) and the abundant seafood, while up the mountains you’re more likely to find dishes based on terra (earth). As you drive higher in the mountains to the villages of Scala, Ravello and Tramonti, you’ll find a landscape covered with chestnut trees and traditional dishes featuring salsicce and locally foraged funghi.
When people ask me for advice for visiting this beautiful part of Italy, I encourage them to try to experience both sides of the Amalfi Coast. Spend time swimming in the incredible waters and looking up at the towering mountain backdrop. But, if you have time, get up in the mountains, go hiking and experience the other side of the Amalfi Coast. For me, I feel as if I truly began to understand the Amalfi Coast’s beauty, culture and lifestyle when I began to explore the mountains and looked down on the tiny villages overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. She is currently co-writing a novel set in Italy with her mother and writes about life on the Amalfi Coast at her website Ciao Amalfi. Photos © Laura Thayer, Ciao Amalfi!
Grazie mille Laura!
Tomorrow we’ll be headed to Florence, so be sure to come back!