Traveling in a group with the travel company Explore was new territory for us, but we were looking forward to the companionship. We arrived at Naples airport to wait for our group after getting off the early morning ferry from Palermo at 6:30, so we had plenty of time to wait until the 11am rendezvous. Naples airport by the way, is small, with only one terminal, and therefore quite user friendly. It was our first time in an airport since arriving in Glasgow last May.
We were introduced to our group prior to driving into the countryside to our accommodation in an agriturismo in a village called San Lazzaro, near the town of Amalfi. It was a small group, consisting of three Brits, including Pete, our leader, a Canadian, and Sam and I. Pete is very personable and we all felt very comfortable with him as our guide. He distinguished himself by being very proactive, practical, and also caring. He guides for various groups throughout the year, for different organizations, including French groups in Scotland, and first year University students in the Lake District, and teenagers in the United Arab Emirates. He told us many interesting stories about his travels, including a bike ride across the Southern States one winter. His most scary encounter of all, in spite of sometimes sleeping under bridges and on “private” land with gun signs along them, was treatment from the police when they searched a greyhound bus that he was travelling to the airport on prior to flying home.
Our hosts were a family of siblings, Valentino, the chef, Giovanna the housekeeper, and Ferdinando the business guy. They and their families live in a complex of houses, make wine and grow lots of fruit and veg. and also host groups of people in their guesthouse during the holiday season. Our rooms were spacious, with balconies with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and the agriturismo. They provided breakfast and dinner most nights….always starting with a pasta or ricotta first course, and made a packed lunch for our walking days.
Sunday: First walk around Agerola
Explore notes: “Setting off on foot from the farm this morning, we head up onto a ridge and gently ascend to a height of 900m. Continuing along the ridge, we pass through thick woodland and enjoy views of the Agerola Plain, Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. Today’s walk is circular and we descend to the small hamlet of Santa Maria before heading back to San Lazzaro”
Monday: Walking 2000 steps down the ancient stairway to the town of Amalfi (ouch!)
“Once again, we commence our walk from the farm, following a path that leads through steep terraces towards the coast. This is an ancient pathway and, before the coastal road was built in the 19th century, this was the only way to get from Agerola to Amalfi. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the sea-views as we descend down a series of steps and meander through ancient alleyways. We arrive in Amalfi in time for lunch and have a free afternoon in which to explore this stunning harbour town. Today’s six kilometre walk is graded as easy, with a total ascent of 90m and a 755m descent.”
Overall the walks were long, on rocky ground, with some ascents, and more descents, the most grueling of which were two days when we descended 2000 and then 1700 ancient steps down to Amalfi and then Positano. The views were varied, many, many seascapes, high cliffs, steep terraces with vines and fruits and vegetables. The paths when there were steep drops on one side, were very even, and often a bit rockier in other locations that were less vertiginous (as Pete said). There was bit of scrambling here and there. Mostly the walks were between 11 and 14 km.
Wednesday: “Once again, today’s walk sets off from our accommodation. We take a limestone stairway above San Lazzaro which leads us high above the village. There are great views towards Salerno and the villages and towns below. Contouring round, we pass pretty woodlands and small valleys, before crossing into the Vallone di Ferriere. Surrounded by high limestone cliffs, the four kilometre length of this valley has a unique micro-climate, creating a home for plants not normally found in this area. Our well-established path offers spectacular views of the valley and coast, passing small waterfalls and a pretty river. Descending to Amalfi, we catch the bus back to San Lazzaro. This moderately-graded walk will take approximately six hours, covering a distance of 13 kilometres with a total ascent of 360m and a total descent of 1015m.”
Our favorite walks were the first one on Sunday that went around the ridge above the valley of Agerola, and the walk on Wednesday, where it really felt that we had got away from “civilization”. Pete broke the walk up nicely, and we stopped a couple hours in while he treated us with espresso for a boost. Our lunch stop on Wednesday was by a mountain stream, and I was able to put my hot feet into the icy water, which was quite soothing.
On the Thursday of our tour we had the opportunity to visit both Pompeii and Vesuvio, which we took advantage of. After being in the mountains most of the week, Vesuvio seemed to be very commercial, which might sound like an unusual thing for a mountain, but with its hoards of tour buses in the car park two thirds of the way up, it’s very stony and barren path to the top, where you can find chintzy concession stands, and a myriad of souvenirs, it left a lot to be desired. The crater was intriguing, and the views were spectacular, even on the rather hazy day we were there. But the feeling of wonder we had felt every time we had seen Vesuvio from afar was not there.
Pompeii: it’s only possible to scratch the surface, and you really need to spend at least a whole day there to really appreciate it fully. However, with about 4 hours we did pretty well. We paid for a two hours guided tour, which was worth the 15 euros, although there was a bit of swapping around of guides until the guide got his quota of 10 people so he can make his money. His information was useful for the rest of the time that we spent there.
So, go to Pompeii if you ever get the chance. It might even be worth staying in grotty Naples to see it.
Friday:“Often a highlight of the trip, the Walk of the Gods is justifiably regarded as one of the greatest coastal walks in the world. The high cliff path contours west, with magnificent views of the Bay of Salerno and Capri. The trail passes under huge limestone cliffs and above picturesque stone farmhouses until it reaches the attractive village of Nocelle. From here, we descend down an ancient stairway, past pretty flower gardens, into Positano. A poor fishing village until the 1950s, Positano has grown into a chic town that is still a favourite with Hollywood stars. There is plenty of time to enjoy the town and beach before transferring back to the farm for our final evening. Today’s moderately-graded walk will take approximately five hours and will cover a distance of 11 kilometres with a total ascent of 330m and 900 m descent.”
One of the interesting things about being on such a tour was that we got used to spending time together as a group. Sometimes when we ended up with a little free time at the ends of walks we sat in cafes together, and enjoyed discovering the beauty of the Amalfi coast as a group. So, it felt a little like leaving summer camp when we had to say goodbye. It’s one of those unique experiences that you’ll never have again, and it’s heightened a bit because of the group dynamic. I think we all bonded as well because of Pete, and his open and friendly nature. So it felt quite sad saying goodbye at Naples airport a week later.
Sam and I were going to stay in Naples (supposedly to “rest” from our energetic week!) for another two days before going up to the Dolomites. Fortunately Sam had found us a nice hotel with a pleasant bar and roof-garden, so we used the first day just to relax there, and read. We did very little sight-seeing in Naples, except to go to the Archaeological Museum to see some mosaics and other artifacts from Pompeii. Sadly, Naples is overall very dirty, and quite unappealing. We did have a couple of nice meals, and enjoyed some good views of Naples from the roof garden, but we were both glad once we were heading out of Naples on the train, changing at Rome to take the train into northern Italy to the town of Bolzano, and then by bus to Ortisei in Val Gardena.
Paragraphs in italics copied from Explore.co.uk’s Trip notes.