Amalfi takes a bite out of the tourist’s wallet, especially given this Italian coast’s popularity with the jet set who ply its seas in their yachts during the summer months.
I visited in December and a pony took a bite out of my calf … and I have a black and blue goose bump on my leg to prove it. My tussle with a pony in a fenced garden on the steeped path descending to the town of Amalfi started so innocently. Our guide seems to know all the four-legged residents—mostly dogs—which turn out to greet us as we walk past their gardens or doors this morning. This barking choir follow us down the steep steps that were carved into the mountain terraces over 100 years ago. Suddenly we turn a corner and see below a Shetland pony. He looks like a toy horse that a toddler would carry around upside down. Our guide hops over the brick wall to approach the pony. He speaks words of welcome to the pony who apparently is a good friend. The pony even mugs for the camera to take a selfie. This is when I get the dummest idea in the world. I want a photo with My Little Pony. Little did I know that he will turn out to be My Little Devil . . . because when I approach the pony to pet him for my photo, he proceeds to turn around and bite my leg.
I am so caught off guard that I fall back and run for the wall. Everyone is laughing until I roll up my hiking pants and they see the big bump where my leg is swelling below my knee. Luckily his teeth did not puncture my skin as I was wearing hiking pants. Our guide comes back quickly to hand me an alcohol wipe so I can clean the area. I have learned a valuable lesson. Don’t try to take a photo with the natives (if they are furry)! With the excitement (and pony behind us), we proceed to walk down (approximately 5.5 miles) from our hotel in Bomerano to Amalfi. From our height 700m above the sea, it is a miniature city. Our path is a combination of mule tracks and steps. We pass by a deserted stone house that looks carved out of the mountain. It is surrounded by forest. Around one turn, I discover a waterfall. I imagine its swirling pool would be a haven for hikers during the blistering hot summer months. Right now, soaking in the rays of the winter sun, I think it would be heaven to simply place a blanket on a boulder and waste an afternoon reading a book. (A novel by Virginia Woolf would be sublime since Amalfi was a haunt of the Bloomsbury Set—a group of prominent British writers, artists and philosophers in the first half of the 20th century.) Indeed, Woolf believed “. . . heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading.”
I think hiking in Italy during my Christmas vacation is heaven . . . until my knees and calves begin to ache. But still it is a glorious route in winter on this sunny day in late December. I tear off my ski coat within an hour of our departure. The sun douses me in heat. I feel as free as a bird darting over the vast Mediterranean waters below. I still see flowers in bloom—red and pink roses as well as the bewitching hibiscus that Marco Polo brought back to Italy from his travels in China.
Our winding route will take us through woods as well as a few houses. (Above us, we glimpse what was once the vacation home of Mussolini.) We spy a former 17th century convent that has been turned into the posh Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel. Terraced gardens grow lemon and orange trees. Even in winter, bright yellow fruit hang provocatively from the gnarled tree limbs. The lemons sleep beneath a blanket of black gauze that protects them from attack by birds. The air is scented with verbana perfume. Dogs behind fences bark furiously at the hikers who wind their way down (and occasionally up) the steep path. I do not see a single cat which makes me very sad. At one juncture, we see a home that raises roosters as well as sheep on its tiny tiered farm. A striped rooster walks a rope like an acrobat at the circus. It is hilarious to watch his webbed steps. On our approach to Amalfi, we walk single file on the road. Cars race past us. Vespa scooters line driveways. Buses trundle past. We enter the city through a gateway that reveals the beach below. Today only one swimmer will brace the icy waters. Two random boats bob around on the sea. It is warm enough to enjoy an Amerol spritzer sitting outside on the terrace. The Duchy of Amalfi once rivaled other Northern Italian states (such as Venice, Genoa and Pisa) as a maritime center from the 10th to 11th century. But its power weakened when it lost its independence to the Normans. Today the Amalfi Coast (which is distinct from the town of Amalfi) still draws superstars from sports, television and publishing. In fact, it is a magnet for the wealthy who want to hunt for treasures hidden in the seas below. I prefer to hunt for the staggering views of Amalfi and its mist-shrouded sea lying as I wind my way down the mountain.