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How Not To Walk Amalfi Coast Trails: An Unexpected Adventure

Jan 21, 2008
Last September I based myself in Praiano mid way between Amalfi and Positano so I could hike Praiano to Positano one day, and Praiano to Amalfi another day. Years ago I'd walked down paths from Ravello to Atrani and from Scala to Amalfi, on series of stone steps and paths heading down. Easy, pretty walks!

I love hiking, have good hiking boots and go to the gym three times a week, so no problemo!

I looked at local Praiano to Positano maps. Too vague. Not much info on the Net either. At my Praiano hotel I asked the desk clerk how long the Praiano to Positano hike took. "Oh, a couple of hours", he said.

"I'm going alone", I said, "how much traffic is on the path?" "Around 50 people a day", he assured me. It sounded like a southern version of the Cinque Terre paths. I'd be fine.

I looked at my vague map. Maybe it'd take four hours, not two. The sun went down at 7:00 p.m, so I'd be down in Positano by 6:00. I started out at 1:00 p.m. so I'd make it back well before dark. It was hot and sunny, not my normal hiking time or weather, but I had lots of water, a sun hat and sunburn preventer lotion.

I asked in Praiano where the path started. Just past Hotel Smeralda and up a street. At the end of the street, I saw no signs for Positano, just a fork with three paths. I took a rough looking path up to where I could see stairs running up the hill.

On my map, my first destination was Santa Maria Convent, but as I slowly climbed the steps, signs said, "San Domenico 40 minutes", "San Domenico 30 minutes". Where was Santa Maria?

Between the San Domenico signs stood crosses set in cement and benches in the shade. I sat on every bench on my way up just like pilgrims may have in the old days. Still no signs for Positano.

I stopped often to look down at the ever farther away coast, wide blue sea, white town of Praiano, wild, dry, green and beige hillsides of Mediterranean scrub and scrawny trees. Beautiful!

Arriving at a second unmarked fork. I looked up and saw a grotto. On my map I saw a grotto. Off I went past the sign "San Domenico 10 minutes" and reached a closed up monastery and church. Santa Maria and San Domenico were the same place!

In the little piazza at the church, an Italian guide appeared with three tourists on their way down to Praiano. He directed me up a path ahead and pointed high up the hillside to a deserted farm house. The path for Positano. "Take this path ahead of us for 20-30 minutes to a junction. It's not marked. Take the stone steps to the left. You'll see a farmhouse on the right. Then go for about 1 an hour and 15 minutes to Nocelle and you'll see signs for the road to Montepertuso and Positano."

The path from the church turned into steps carved out of rock, so I lost my way for a few minutes.

The junction was hidden a bit by branches, but I saw the farmhouse to the right. I walked up and down steps and flat dirt paths along the cliffs, ever higher up the hillside, looking ever farther down to the sea and coast road. Nobody in sight. No houses.

Not much shade, so I walked slowly, stopped in shade under the few trees, sipped water. One false step and I'd roll all the way down to the sea. Would my cell phone work way up here? Would anyone find me?

At one point, I saw a red arrow spray painted in the rock. The first direction sign on the path!

The vast panorama up there awed me: the church way below, some vineyards, white towns, sea stretching to the horizon and coast of mountains falling to the sea.

Finally about 5:00 I reached the quiet hamlet of Nocelle. A sign pointed down a staircase, "Positano". I was almost there!! Thankfully the steps winding down through olive trees and scrub were gentle and shady.

Walking down, I saw a sign, "Arienza". I looked on my map. 3 km before Positano! Never mind, now I just wanted to reach the road and a bus. After 40 minutes on the steps, I wobbled to the road. My legs couldn't carry me one more step, so I took the bus from Arienza to Praiano.

Next day I read in a brochure that 1500 steps went from Nocelle to the road. I figured I must have walked about 4000 steps in total.

Next morning my legs ached all over. Enough hikes for now! On my map the path for Amalfi looked much longer. I'd walk that path with a guide on another trip! I'd taken a calculated risk once. That was enough.
About the Author
Margaret Cowan of Vancouver, BC owns a tour company, Mama Margaret Italian Cooking Holidays at http://www.italycookingschools.com.

They ran their first Italian cooking, wine and walking tour in 1995. Margaret and her local Italian tour partners offer tours all over Italy.
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