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The trip from Trapani to Amalfi Part 1

It's Friday morning, our third and last morning with Anna Maria's marmalade. We have plans to visit the Giaramidas for lunch, but first we decide to go to Erice. We had to fill up with gas which costs three times the price of gas in the USA and stopped at the garage that had been so accomodating as we arrived. The owner was there and greeted me "Ciao, Peter". Pretty good Customer Service.

Erice (Eh-reeeee-ch-ih) is a hill village that is very popular with the tourists. It is around 1840 feet up with a cliff to the sea. The village has steep, cobbled, pedestrian-only streets and was delightful. The views down to the surrounding coast were spectacular. We were in a hurry to get to our meeting with the family, so we did not take the time to do justice to the town.

Erice's church and the view from the top

After leaving the family at around 3pm, we headed out for the mainland. The freeway to Palermo was fast, but it became a somewhat controlled dual carriageway with traffic jams and the usual Italian traffic making three lanes into seven. This went on for quite a long time but we eventually got back to freeway speeds. Then the freeway ended.

Italian maps are very good at forecasting the future, but not too good at representing the present. We had expected freeway all the way to Messina which is the jumping off place for the mainland. No, The coast road is rather like the narrowest, windingest country road in the Hill Country, except with the traffic you expect on I-35.

We visited a wonderful little sea-side town Cafusco that was built on a tiny strip of land surrounded by cliffs. We were lucky enough to find an interesting funeral procession and shortly after managed to find a parking spot (!) for a walk along the promenade and a quick beer. Diane wants to get her picture in the San Antonio real estate newspaper called "NewsLine" and they are always interested in people reading their paper in out-of-the-way places. So she did...

A short stop on the beach in Cephalu

After almost another hour we decided to call it quits and stop for the night in the next town.

This was San Stephano. It is full of potters and the main road was completely lined with pottery shops. Beautiful stuff. We found a delightful little resort hotel right down on the beach. Swimming pool overlooking the beach, tennis courts, the whole bit. And only $80 including breakfast (that means 80 Euro = 96 US Dollars).

Our hotel balcony

We unloaded and went back up into town to wander around. The back streets were narrow and cobbled with shop after wonderful shop. It was only 8pm so they were still open. We listened to the local band practicing in the town hall (pretty rough), looked at the desert garden next door (dry and not particularly interesting) and the pottery shops (fantastic). We finally decided to eat and did not find much choice - had a pretty poor pizza. It was done off a hot plate instead of a real pizza oven. One of only two pizzas in three weeks that were Pizza-Hut standard.

The next morning (Saturday) we were off quite early, on the road to Messina. The coast road soon turned into the most imaginatively engineered freeway we had ever seen. It swooped along the cliff-side half in tunnel and half on spectacular bridges. The ramps had to descend about 500 feet from the freeway down to the coast road and would sometimes be like a spiral staircase.

Notice the spiralling ramp at the bottom of the picture

Messina was a large town with the usual lack of signs. We just followed "Centro" figuring that the port would be around there. It was and we parked in the line leading to the mainland and bought our tickets.

The port town of Messina, jumping off place for the mainland

The ferry loading was done on flimsy-looking ramps perched up on girders and the lower deck was filled with train carriages. The ferry was at least five decks high with full service for a half-hour voyage. The harbor was guarded by a beautiful statue and as we steamed toward the mainland we had our last view of Sicily as a hydrofoil streaked past. And then turned our attention to the mainland

A lovely statue guarded the entrance to the harbour
The last view of Sicily with a hydrofoil in full flight
The boat backed all the way out of the harbour, then turned round. This is a view of Scilla on the mainland.

Over on the mainland we hopped on the freeway for a short while and got off at Scilla. Remember the Argonauts and Ulysses had an adventure with a whirlpool on each side and almost got wrecked? That was Scilla and Charybdis. The straits between Sicily and the mainland form some rather fierce currents when the conditions are right. We had lunch looking out over the straits.

On to the Amalfi coast. Well almost. The long road got to us again and we decided to stop just before sunset on the coast at Fuscaldo. Getting there was by a sort of freeway or by a nice looking road that went over the top of the mountains. Spurred on by visions of wonderful views with a sunset from the top of a mountain we decided on the mountain road. Well, it was like trying to navigate the back roads of Texas when the only map you have is of the whole United States. The roads weren't marked, the towns weren't marked and, of course, there were no road signs. We got wonderfully lost in beautiful countryside surrounded by little villages and green valleys. Luckily, the mountains were prominent so we just followed a stream downhill until we got back to civilization and meekly took the sort-of freeway to the coast. Again we found a wonderful little seaside hotel for $80 right on the beach. We wandered down the coast for a few hundred meters and found a pizzaria with wonderful pizza.

Let's talk about trains. It seems that the train lines follow the road or the coast. Last night, the train line had been about fifty yards from the hotel. Luckily, since the trains run every fifteen minutes or so, the sound-proofing is good even with the windows open or maybe we were just sleeping very soundly. Tonight - the same. Another night, after Rome, the train line was so close we could literally spit on the roof of the train!

When we woke up (Sunday) we wanted to get to Amalfi in time to spend a couple of days there. The choice was to retrace our footsteps for a dozen miles to the sort-of freeway or to take the road shown on the map as a nice thick red line that went straight over to the main freeway. Peter is a very slow learner so we decided that finding the nice thick red road should not be a problem. After forty minutes of hill climbing on a road that was five feet wide, on a 20% gradient and with a hair-pin turn every ten yards we were in wonderland. The air was cool and smelled of pine. The church bells were ringing. There was a light mist in the little valleys. Absolute fairyland. On the far side of the mountain we found the freeway and continued North.

We had hoped to go up the coast but experience was proving conclusively that we would average less than 30 mph and get lost time and again so we decided to blast up the freeway and get to Amalfi early.

One of the better sights we saw in all of Italy was on the way to Amalfi - Paestum. This is an old site where the Greeks built a large temple, then the Romans took over and built their own temple and a large City surrounded by a splendid wall. No one knows what happened but the town was suddenly deserted 1500 years ago. It's still there, at least in foundations - the locals took all the stone for building materials but the temples were untouched and are magnificent

The roman temple was right next to...

...the Greek temple

We had lunch - the standard bread, salami, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, cheese and beer - parked by the beach. This part of the coast is one of the few flat areas and it's a little like Port Aransas, slightly seedy but charming. And on to Salerno, a fairly large port town just to the right of the map below and on to the Amalfi Coast.

The Bay of Naples (Golfo di Napoli) is a very large bay whose Southeast side is a high ridge. Maybe 1000 feet high and varying from a point at the left-hand end by the sea to maybe ten miles across from the coast to the A3 freeway at Amalfi. Off the point is the Isle of Capri, across from Sorrento, and on the side away from the bay of Naples is the Amalfi coast. The two main towns are Amalfi and Positano, but the whole coastline has picturesque houses. The coast road clings to the cliff and is sometimes wide enough for two buses to pass. Since it is spectacular there are hundreds of buses and there is a traffic jam every couple of miles while a line of cars backs up to allow a bus to get round a corner. Many corners have a mirror so drivers can see around them. It's astounding to realize that when you are driving, you spend almost as much time looking through the SIDE window of the car to see the road as you spend looking through the front window, there are so many hairpin bends. Many people think the road is dangerous because of the bends and the fact that it often overhangs a sheer cliff, but there is a substantial wall all the way along so it's really not bad. The drivers are something else - a straight piece of road that has ten car lengths before the next blind corner is ample to overtake!

Our introduction to the coast

The first town was Minori. We stopped off to walk up and down the promenade, look for dresses, although shorts were becoming more acceptable now, and get essential supplies like ice cream.

Minori for ice cream and shopping

We continued on to Amalfi beginning to look for a Hotel or B&B. Just beyond Amalfi we found Hotel Bellevue. They had seafront room for $140 or "garden view" for $100. Peter suggested that a seafront for $100 would be very nice and waited. We ended up in a complete sea-front SUITE for $120 including breakfast. This was the most splendid room of the whole vacation - a large sitting room and a huge deck looking straight out to sea. The picture below shows the view from our balcony which is just above the awnings in the alternate picture. We later discovered that the "garden view" looked straight out on to a cliff behind the hotel so we chose very well. The hotel was run by a group of gay guys who were absolutely delightful and VERY picky. The place was spotless and littered with signs warning that food was not allowed in the rooms. Of course, our second night there we brought pizza in and were accosted by a very stern, but very friendly, manager who eventually was talked into letting us eat on the balcony.

The first night we ate in Amalfi. The town is impossible for parking so we decided to walk down - it's less than a mile. Since Italians park anywhere they please, both sides of the very narrow road was lined with vehicles and where there was a footpath it was always blocked by parked cars. So the solution was to share the roadway with the hurtling Italian cars. After a short while there was a pathway leading up the hillside and we decided to try it - there were no cars. Great find. The path wound alongside the hill and then dived into the houses clinging to the hillside above the town. There was a warren of stone-flagged paths with houses on each side that extended out overhead so we were walking in a tunnel. It was very clean and very well-lit, and every other house had people cooking. Great walk. It took us straight to the main square which is where everyone congregates. The Duomo (cathedral) is on one side of the square at the top of 67 steps. We had a great meal and went outside into the square to have a nightcap. Diane was introduced to Limoncello which is the local liquer made from the lemons that are grown everywhere. Peter tried the local Grappa, a sort of rough peasant brandy. Then we stumbled back up through the maze of stone alleys back to our hotel.

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The next day we went to Pompeii. The options to get there are to go round the peninsula on the bendy road - about two hours, or to go down to Salerno and back up the freeway - about the same, or to go over the ridge - less than an hour, but a very "interesting" road.

We started off by a church on the coast road

And soon climbed above it

The hill was immediately very steep. The cliff bulged above us.

We surmounted the bulge...

We got higher......

We wound up a series of hairpin bends dodging hurtling Italian cars and trucks on each bend.

We got higher...

We got higher ... and higher......

We got higher and the view along the cliff got better...

Almost at the top we passed through the "artists' village"

Then we found the top. Quite a climb.

We wanted some lunch so Peter Italian-parked and walked away only to find out that that corner was particularly rife with very large trucks and very large buses. Of course the road was onlysix feet wide so after a lot of air-horn music he came back and sped away.

Continue with Amalfi 2

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