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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The "Costiera Amalfitana": a dream place!!

Dear friends,

Today I want to take you to one of the most beautiful places in the world: a dreamlike landscape, with so many and truly breathtaking views: the Amalfi Coast.
I’ve been there several times to spend my family vacations and I can’t wait to go there again, hopefully this summer.
The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana ‘in italiano”, is undoubtedly one of the most stunning stretches of the Italian coastline. For 50kms the "Costiera” goes from Positano, in the west, to Vietri sul Mare, in the east, through a dramatically beautiful landscape characterized by great cliffs diving down in to a magnificent blue sea, clusters of white cottages clinging to the rock face and terraces brimming with brightly colored flowers. You can smell the lemon trees and the at night blooming jasmine in the air, you will feel a warm breeze caressing you and everywhere around you will see the most colorful breathtaking panorama you’ve ever seen. And you will never forget the magic of this place.
To drive along the panoramic SS163 highway, which links all of the towns situated along the Amalfi Coast, is the best way to see the Costiera. Also known as the “Nastro Azzurro” or “Blue Ribbon”, the road is much loved by motorcyclists who revel in the chance to experience the thrill of its succession of hairpin bends. I love to see the many tourists getting kind of nervous when the bus drives on the edge of it to allow the cars to pass by.
First stop should be Positano, arguably one of most enchanting and romantic places in the world, and a famous tourist destination since Roman times.
Positano has all the typical characteristics of the towns of the Amalfi Coast: the historic center being located in the higher part of the town, linked to the harbor and the beaches by a great series of steps and steep winding roads. The town's main beaches are those of Spiaggia Grande and Fornillo, both accessible by foot.
But there are also the wonderful beaches of La Porta, Arienzo and San Pietro Laurito but you will need to take a boat ride. But you won’t regret it!! They are wonderful.
Positano was a port of the Amalfi Republic in medieval times, and prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. But by the mid-19th century, the town had fallen on hard times. More than half the population immigrated, mostly to Australia.
Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his essay about Positano in Harper’s Bazaar in May, 1953: "Positano bites deep", Steinbeck wrote. "It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."

Even though the panorama will take you away from everything else around, there is also wonderful church worth a visit : Santa Maria Assunta. The Church features a 13th Byzantine century icon of a black Madonna, that according to a local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A terrible storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying "Posa, posa!" ("Put down! Put down!"). The precious icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated.

During the middle ages numerous watchtowers were built in the area so as to guard against attack by the Saracens''', frequent perpetrators of violent assaults on the coastal populations. One such tower is just outside the town of Positano, in Punta Campanella. If you can get there, go: you will be blown away by the view!!
Positano is not only an International tourist destination but also an important center for fashion design. Indeed, one of the town's major attractions is its vast array of boutiques, lining the narrow lanes and alleyways with their displays of colorful garments, typical of the town.
I stayed at the Hotel Il San Pietro Di Positano and I can tell you, that was one of the most beautiful Hotels I’ve ever been. The view from my room was impressive; you just can’t sleep and get enough of it!
When you are ready to leave Positano, nineteen kilometers from it, lies the town of Praiano. It may be less famous than its neighbor, but Praiano, which hosts a series of important traditional festivals and cultural events each year, is just as beautiful. Praiano is one of these small towns, a fishing village immersed in a peaceful landscape, once the resort chosen by the Doge of Venice in past centuries.
Traditional crafts still flourish in Praiano, from the production of silk garments to the embroidered pieces worked by the women of the village. It’s tiny area of land characterized by a dramatic scenery.
A procession of attractive little white houses lines the road leading from Praiano to the small towns of Furore and Conca dei Marini. Those are kind of  hidden villages that you won’t see unless you go deliberately there. Furore was a great discovery for me. Hidden away in the mountains, Furore is particularly striking because of its unique urban structure. The town is completely bereft of squares and open spaces, and is a maze of alleyways and flights of steps, which clings to the hillside.
It was built on terraces carved into the rock face. The town is divided into an internal part, where the village can be found, and a crevasse, which plummets into the sea known, as the "Fiord of Furore". The village is known as a small center of popular culture, characterized by legends and linguistic inventions ("nicknames"), and for being chosen as the set for films such as "Il Miracolo", "Paisà", "La Macchina Ammazzacattivi", and "Viaggio in Italia". These films brought personalities such as Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini and Anna Magnani to Furore. It is a town, which lives among the memories of the past and a love for cinema, within a landscape, which is itself a natural film set.
And if you like film setting place make a stop also to Majori. In the mid-20th century, Roberto Rosellini filmed some of his films here: "Il Miracolo" ("The Miracle"), the second episode of the movie L’Amore (Ways of Love, 1948) and Il viaggio in Italia ( Journey to Italy, 1953).
A film festival is held every November at which the Premio Internazionale Roberto Rossellini is awarded. The town is known for its cuisine which uses the local tomatoes, olive oil, potatoes and mountain herbs. Just stop there for lunch: oh boy what a delight!!
Just beyond Furore, there is also Conca dei Marini, a fishing village known above all for the Grotta dello Smeraldo. This Karst cave, partially submerged in the sea, is characterized by a 24 meter high ceiling and owes its name to the emerald tone assumed by the water which enters the cavity. The cave offers an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites, which, in certain places join so as to form columns as many as ten meters high. The Grotta can be reached by boat or accessed via the SS163 highway from where a flight of steps, but also a lift, leads to the entrance of the cave. Well I took the stairs….and that was a great exercise and what a view!!
Traveling onwards along the “Nastro Azzuro”, after just a few kilometers you will arrive to the historic town of Amalfi which, in 1997, was awarded the status of World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Legend has it that Hercules fell in love with a nymph called Amalfi, a love, which was cruelly ended by her death. The nymph was then buried in this, the most beautiful place in the world, and the city, which was built here was named after her. It is not by chance that Amalfi, an ancient maritime Republic, is the heart of this stretch of coast and an International tourist destination, attracting those lured by its uniquely colored sea. In the 1920s and 1930s, Amalfi was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy. Amalfi is what I like to call, a piece of Paradise!!
Worth a visit are the Church of St Antonio, the Convent of St Francesco, the Paper Museum, the Chapel of St. Giuseppe del Castrista and the sumptuous Amalfi Cathedral. And of course you can’t miss at the top of a staircase in the heart of Amalfi the Duomo, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral .

The Amalfi coast is famed for its production of Limoncello liqueur and the area is a known cultivator of lemons. The correct name is “sfusato amalfitano”, and they are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick and wrinkled skin and a sweet and juicy flesh without many pips. It is common to see lemons growing in the terraced gardens along the entire Amalfi coast between February and October.
Amalfi is also a known maker of a hand-made thick paper, which is called “bambagina”. It is exported to many European countries and to America and has been used throughout Italy for wedding invitations, visiting cards and elegant writing paper.
Three traditional events draw numerous visitors to Amalfi. First are the feast days of Saint Andrew (25-27 of June, and 30 November), celebrating the city's patron saint. Then there is "Byzantine New Year's Eve" (31 August) celebrating the beginning of the New Year according to the old civil calendar of the Byzantine Empire. And the third event is the Ancient Regata (first Sunday in June), a traditional rowing competition among the four main Italian historical maritime republics: Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and my own Venice.  This event is hosted at every year by a different city, so it comes to Amalfi once every four years. I’ve seen it Venice many time: what a wonderful colorful and joyful day!! Spectacular views and boats!!

From Amalfi up a supremely panoramic narrow road, which twists up from the coast towards the mountains you will arrive to the spectacular and world famous Ravello, Its dominating position on the hill top offers a spectacular view over the whole of the Amalfi Coast.
Breathtaking views of the Gulf of Salerno can be admired from the terraces of the elegant villas for which the town is famous, villas once chosen as preferred residence of many a famous personage, from J.F.Kennedy to Roberto Rosellini, from Federico Fellini to Winston Chruchill. Richard Wagner was another great man to be seduced by the charm of Ravello, and it was here that he found the inspiration for much of his music.
Every year in the summer months, the "Ravello Festival” takes place. It began in 1953 in honor of Richard Wagner indeed.
Although the original emphasis during the festival was on Wagner's music, the event has grown into an almost two-month-long presentation of a wide variety of music featuring large orchestras, chamber groups, jazz, art shows, dance, photographic exhibits, discussion groups and a chance to meet and talk with the featured artists, many of whom are of world renown. All in a breath taking setting! If I ever will get to sing there…you will have to look at my back cause I will be also watching the panorama!!
I hope you can see it once. Just magical!!

Ravello is a popular tourist destination and quit busy nowadays.
But the tranquility of the town greatly appealed in the past to poets and writers and international jet set. The wealth of art works in Ravello is preserved in numerous ecclesiastical buildings such as the Cathedral of St Pantaleone, Patron saint of the town, a building which is striking because of its marble work; the adjacent bell tower, the Church of St Martino, the Church of St Angelo and the Church of St Giovanni del Toro.
The heart of Ravello is the Piazza Vescovado, with the Castle ruins, the Cathedral and Palazzo Rufolo. Villa Rufolo should not be missed, a building, which is home to much of the art of Ravello and surrounded by splendid gardens, where numerous musical and cultural events are held and from the beautiful garden you can have a spectacular view of the Costiera. Villa Cimbrone is also well worth a visit.

If you are in Ravello and you are looking to have a unforgettable experience   and fun Mamma Agata is  the place  to go: : you can  learn how to cook authentic Amalfi Coast cuisine. I went there 1995, when she just started this adventure, with my mom and dad and some of their friends and it was nice to see my mom, a great cook herself, learning something new about cooking: the traditional southern food!!
A beautiful kitchen on a terrace in Ravello is one of the pearls of the Amalfi Coast where you can have a unique experience: a Mediterranean cooking lesson with Mamma Agata.
Agata's began at the tender age of thirteen to cook, when she went to work for a wealthy American lady who, struck by the young girl's culinary talent, put her in charge of preparing banquets for the starts like Fred Astaire, Anita Eckberg, Jacqueline Kennedy, Elisabeth Taylor and a stream of other celebrities including Humphrey Bogart, who gave her the nick name Baby Agata.
Today Mamma Agata shares her culinary expertise with all those wishing to learn about the traditional cuisine of the Amalfi Coast. Lessons start with a trip to the organic kitchen garden situated beneath the terrace, occasion in which Agata's husband Salvatore, teaches students about the seasonal fruits and vegetables grown here. The whole family of Agata is around!!
During the cooking lesson, Agata shows how to prepare appetizers, bread, pasta, vegetable side dishes, second courses and delicious desserts, including her legendary Lemon Cake, to die for.
And at the end the best part of the day: all the delicacies prepared during the lessons are then served, accompanied by the excellent wines of the Amalfi Coast and, of course, a glass of Limoncello, which I wasn’t aloud to drink by then. But I will next time, since I want to go back and take the lesson myself!! Do you want to join me?

While there I stayed several times at the HoteL Caruso Belvedere: what can I tell you…everytime I’m there I have problems to leave!! Look at those picture…how could you leave this place?
The last town of the Amalfi Coast, while driving the “Nastro Azzurro” is Vietri sul Mare, built in one of the most sheltered areas of the gulf of Salerno, is a town of Etruscan origin. A popular seaside holiday destination, Vietri sul Mare is perhaps most famous for its ceramics, displayed in the numerous workshops which line the streets of the town.
Overlooking the sea, Vietri Sul Mare is sheltered from behind by the Mount St Liberatore and Mount Falerio. The town is internationally famous for the production of antique ceramics which dates back to Medieval times and is still of prime importance to its economic prosperity.
Today the Ceramics of Vietri have their own protected brand name. Vietri is also a popular tourist destination with its beaches and the Saracen Tower. Other areas are Molina, Albori, Raito and, inland, Benincasa and Dragonea, from here one can take mountain paths which are much loved by nature enthusiasts, and by me.
The mountain paths of the Amalfi Coast are a journey, on foot, through the mountains of the Amalfi Coast and arejust amazing. The views are out of this world.
There are many paths, the only one I walked so far is The Sentiero dei Dei, the Path of the gods. It is the best known of the mountain paths, a route, which offers spectacular views of the Amalfi Coast and owes its name to the numerous temples, which, in the Roman era, were built here. Very tiring but worth the fatigue!!
Other location I have visited and I really liked where the village of Scala. This little village is located on a rocky hill c. 400 m over the sea level. This little town is famous for its cultivation of chestnuts. Every year, at the end of October, for two consecutive weekends, they have “La Sagra delle Castagne” (a chestnut festival) is their main square. I’ve never been to this one, but I’ve been told that it’s quit beautiful. And at night you will have trouble to fall asleep: the Costiera will be so beautiful and quiet and romantic like a dream!!

So dear friends all I can say is: when shell we go to the Amalfi Coast? I can’t wait to there again this summer hopefully!! 
Stay tune for my next week blog to hear about my unforgettable day and the great honor of receiving an Award from the Commission Of Social Justice of the OSIA .

Love always,


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