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Exploring The Amalfi Coast & Dining In Style. (TIK Tour Day 5)

TheInternationalKitchen

With a delicate pop, an intense burst of flavor unlike any I’ve ever known splayed across my tastebuds. My eyes opened wide in shock, my hand gripping the ridiculously tiny spoon while, dismayed, I side-eyed the small test tube-like glass that sat on my plate. I tried to assess whether or not it would be more effective to just pick it up and stick my tongue down into its depths to quickly access more of whatever it was I just ate.

No, I reprimanded myself, glancing down at my little black dress and strappy sandals — the first new outfit I’d worn after recycling the same tank top/sweater/cardigan combo I’d been sporting since we’d arrived, sans bags, in Italy 5 days earlier. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant. You don’t lick the cups in Michelin-starred restaurants. Just to be sure, I looked around my table to make sure no one else was.

They weren’t.

I resignedly dipped the spoon back inside and emerged with the perfect portion of a creamy mousse-like substance, dotted ever-so-sparingly with speckles of real Italian truffles. It didn’t take me long to realize that these were very different from the flavored extracts that had been pandered to me as oils and the flecks of fungus that dotted the “truffle” cheeses I’d bought at my grocery store. This, I thought, gazing around the gaudy pink dining room, must be Heaven.


 

Earlier that morning, I’d stuffed myself full of Nutella-laden breakfast rolls and a couple of Chef Carmen’s delicious cappuccinos before all six ladies of The International Kitchen’s Women-Only-Week Mediterranean Cooking Experience piled into Tony’s van for an excursion to Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast.

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Photo by Alaina Barth.

While this was the day I’d most been looking forward to, I felt a bit bedraggled as I adjusted the top my friend Alaina had generously loaned me for the day and tried to smooth out my frizzy hair, longing for the conditioner and straightening iron I’d so callously packed inside my checked bag nearly a week before.

We’d been trying our best to stay positive. One night, while the hotel generously washed our few belongings, all of the ladies from our tour gathered in the kitchen in our bathrobes for wine and chocolate in an overwhelmingly gracious act of camaraderie.

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Attempting to explain the intricacies of a camera phone to a confused older Italian woman results in some interesting photos.

Even so, sporting the same socks day after day can get a little tiresome.

So, just for that day, I decided to leave my clunky DSLR camera at the hotel in order to travel light and enjoy every moment. And while I only have grainy iPhone photos and one piece of street art purchased from a vendor in Positano to commemorate the beauty of the coast, the whirlwind experience would’ve been far less enjoyable with my face stuck behind a machine.

 

The beauty of this place is unparalleled.

Since the hotel where we were based was right at the crest of the range of hills that divides the northern and southern portions of the Sorrentine Peninsula, it was a relatively short jaunt to get to the cliffside panoramas of the stunning southern Amalfi Coast:

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The Amalfi Coast, which is accessible only by foot, boat, or a single, cliff-hugging highway contains 13 municipalities, we only had time to visit 3: Positano, Ravello, and Amalfi.

Along the way, there are ceramic stores and souvenir stands for those brave enough to stop.

 

Positano

John Steinbeck once wrote, “Positano bites deep.”

And that, it does.

While the jarring natural landscape rivals that of two of the most gorgeous scenic places I’ve ever stepped foot, Kauai and Formentera, the most striking aspect of Positano was the man-made additions — pastel buildings cascading down crumbling cliffs like melted frosting.

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It took me some time to adjust to the sheer, human audacity to build on such cliffs. And they rarely used cranes — the main beast of burden for such precarious construction was the donkey.

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There’s only a single, one-way road winding through Positano, so I recommend hiring a driver to take you there or research in advance where the parking garages are located because if you miss one, it could take hours to turn around — especially in high-season traffic.

The charm here clearly lies in the pedestrian paths meandering through town and the smattering of adorable gift shops along the way. Be prepared, though — the paths can be steep.

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We only had an hour to peruse through town, and we spent most of that time down at the beach. Most of the shops sold much of the same — limoncello and Positano linens. (TIP: I’m all for supporting a local economy, but I’m also big on supporting my wallet, and you can find the Positano linens much cheaper in Sorrento. Instead, I dropped some coinage on a unique piece of local street art.)

I do wish we’d had more time in Positano, for the simple fact that the crowds made it hard to explore all of the interesting nooks and crannies! Though if crowds make you exceedingly apprehensive, an hour is plenty of time in what’s arguably the most touristy town on the Amalfi Coast. (A bit surprising, considering it was featured as the quaint beachside village in Under the Tuscan Sun.) The beach, though, was fairly quiet:

Steinbeck wrote, “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

And that’s the thing — tourist attractions are touristy for a reason. It’s great to travel “off the beaten path,” but show me a path that’s beat like Positano, and I’d happily go back again and again.

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Ravello

Soaring high, high, high upon the cliffs of the coast sits the town of Ravello. Far less crowded than Positano, Ravello boasted views of terraced farming hillsides and even more sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

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A bit famished, we stopped for lunch at the first place we saw just outside of the city walls, the Hotel Ristorante Garden.

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Although it’s the only place we ate, I’d say it has the best views of the sea.

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The hill views weren’t too shabby, either:

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I loved Ravello’s quiet, village feel. There was a band playing in the square near the ancient church, and everything felt more rustic and real. This video clip gives a really good idea of the vibrancy, compared to the seaside atmosphere of Positano:

We didn’t have much time, but we had fun meandering amongst Ravello’s quiet shops medieval buildings.

I wish I’d had more time to spend there.

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Amalfi

Our final stop on the tour was the town of Amalfi. By this point, Carmen had called from the hotel to let us know that our bags would be arriving before we returned, and I’ll admit — I let my excitement over finally having luggage after 5 long days and general exhaustion override my time in this beautiful town.

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Probably the most accessible of the Amalfi Coast towns, Amalfi has a lot to offer — plenty of shops, restaurants, and space to walk around. Easily the most impressive sight was the cathedral, with its intricate facade and impressive gothic archways.

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And while my limited photos don’t do it justice, this is a town I’d love to re-visit and explore for much longer.

There’s so much I didn’t see!

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What I will remember about the Amalfi Coast:

I will remember sunshine. I will remember beauty. I will remember clinging to the edge of cliffside streets and house numbers printed on colorful ceramic tiles. Sometimes I see a place and think, There. Now it’s done. Let’s cross that one off the list. But here? I feel like I’ve only begun to explore.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel…

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Don Alfonso 1890

Our day didn’t end with some of the most spectacular scenery I’ll see in my lifetime or a make-out session with my luggage. Instead, it ended with some of the most spectacular food I’ll likely ever eat.

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From a truffled amuse-bouche to a decadent dessert tray adorned with dry ice, I took the time to truly eat and experience my first Michelin starred restaurant rather than take photos.

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Blurry group shot — Carmen came to join us at the end of dinner. I’m the one in the middle, thrilled to be wearing new clothes, even though for some reason it looks like I’m topless.

The part I did take photos of, however, was our surprise tour of their 6th Century BC wine cellar.

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Think about that for a second, guys.

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This was built 600 years BEFORE Christ.

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And some of the bottles looked like they’d been there that long.

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Of course back then, it was likely some kind of escape route rather than a storage place for spirits. The tunnel was 30 meters long, and a few of us were brave enough to venture down to the bottom.

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I cannot describe to you how 2,600 year-old hand carved steps feel beneath your feet. It’s just something you have to experience.

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View back up towards the top.

At the bottom was a dark, spiral staircase that we later learned leads down to where they store cheese. I wish I’d ventured down there, but at the time I was fairly well convinced that’s where they stored the bodies. Or zombies. Or both.

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How about you? Would you have climbed down?

 

Need to Know:

The International Kitchen
Mediterranean Cooking Experience
Women-Only Week
800-945-8606

Good to Know:

  • It’s best to either hike (outside the heat of summer) or hire transportation to get to the Amalfi coast — especially if you’re only planning a day trip. I can’t imagine navigating those congested cliffside highways myself or perched on a gigantic tour bus.
  • If you make it to the 2 Star Michelin Don Alfonso 1890 in Sant’ Agata, do not leave without a tour of the 6th Century BC wine cellar. It was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.
  • Only one day is scheduled on the Amalfi Coast as part of this International Kitchen Tour. If you think you might want more time there, you might want to consider extending your trip!

Disclosure: My Women’s Only Week Culinary Vacation was provided for review by The International Kitchen. Rest assured, though, that all opinions — as always — are entirely my own.

Katie

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Comments

Kelly Page
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Oh man, thanks for transporting me while I ate breakfast. You captured the spirit so well – so well that now I really need to go! I’ve never been to the Amalfi Coast, but Positano reminded me of Cinque Terre with the beautiful, multi-colored building perched on the side of the hill. Ahhhh, now to chair-dream until I get there again!

Katie
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I’ve heard that the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre are pretty similar, except Cinque Terre has more backpackers hiking through. I wasn’t too far from there on the second half of my trip and regret not going to see it! There’s too much to see in Italy, though — hopefully next time. :)

Jenna Francisco (@thismyhappiness)
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Wow, what a beautiful place. I haven’t made it to that part of the Amalfi Coast yet. My dad used to live in Naples, so I saw some of it. I love that old cellar and the photo of the steep steps down.

Katie
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Wow, how cool that your dad lived in Naples!! I know it doesn’t have the best rep among tourists, but the best food I had in Italy was in a Naples suburb with our Airbnb host, and I found the people there to be colorful, passionate, and really just incredible. That cellar was AMAZING — if you ever go back, you will have to check it out!

Andi
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I had my first bite (yet to write about it) of Italian white truffle on my trip this year and I am ruined FOREVER. I so want to go to the area of Italy, it is killing me! I was unaware of the tie to John Steinbeck, I adore his work so I love the connection. On a trip to Rome one year with my hubby and mother-in-law we went to eat dinner in tiny restaurant and befriended the owners – mama, papa, and grandpop – they barely spoke any English and we had the best time, the serenaded us and more and at the end of the meal they took us back in the kitchen and down to the cave the seem to go for miles (and felt very unsafe) – it was the same deal, rooms and stairways that went on forever – so fascinating! And the best memory!

Katie
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Want. More. Truffles. And yes, Steinbeck wrote about Positano in a pice for Harper’s Bazaar: http://www.jackthedriver.com/positano-by-john-steinbeck.asp. It’s pretty funny. I LOVE your Roman restaurant story! I wish I’d been there! Those are absolutely the best kinds of travel moments — when strangers unexpectedly come together over good food and realize we’re not so different after all. :)

tgruber
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First off, I love your writing and descriptions! Next, this post is transporting me back to our trip to Positano this summer. We spent three days there between time in Rome and Capri and we had plans to take a ferry one day over to Amalfi and explore Amalfi and Ravello but we ended up just wanting to stay and relax in Positano. We rented an apartment so even though the town was so crowded during the day with day trippers, we still felt like locals with our long climb up and down to the town/beach. I really fell in love with it there and can’t wait to go back. Oh, and the wine cellar experience sounds amazing. We had a similar experience in Rome stepping into a wine cellar that was older than the Colosseum — amazing to think about.

Katie
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Thank you!! I’m envious you were able to actually stay in Positano overnight. Next time I find myself in that part of Italy, I HAVE to see a sunset from the Amalfi Coast. I definitely know why you fell in love with it, and it must have been wonderful to be able to get to know the town a bit more. And aren’t those old wine cellars crazy??

Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez | girlichef.com
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This is just so breathtaking, I’m rendered speechless. I was totally transported through these gorgeous photos (and the more personal ones, too) – you can’t even begin to understand how badly I want to step inside one of them!

Katie
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Just think if I’d taken my DSLR! ;) (This seriously is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. Buy the ticket, Heather!!) :)

Jennifer
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Wonderful photos. I love the wine bottles, red and dusty. Also, the hugging suitcases!

Katie
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Thank you! At first I couldn’t get past how dusty those bottles were, but then I was like, why *should* they dust them? It adds to the ambience. :)

estherjulee
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i feel that way with most coastal places. almost like i could live there a year! we haven’t been to amalfi coast yet.. it was between there and cinque terre, and we chose to go to CT.. but this is next on our list! i think italy is the only country where i feel like i have to keep coming back whereas most other places i can just check it off the list. :)

Katie
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Especially breathtaking, European or tropical coastal places. Coastal places like the Redneck Riviera and the tundra are good for just a short visit. ;) And you’re so right about Italy!

Diana
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BEAUTIFUL photos! So glad you got your luggage! :)

Katie
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So was I!! :)

Annie Bosche
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Thanks so much for your wonderful review of this area of Italy. I first heard of the Amalfi Coast in a novel I was reading and wanted to know more. The more I learned, the more intriguing it became. I have vowed to take a trip there since then (about 4 years ago). I haven’t made it yet but it is most definitely at the top of my list. I’m 61 now and my goal is to visit before I turn 65 so that I’m able to trek around and look at everything I want to see. I’ll make it. Just sit back and watch me. Again, my thanks to you for all the handy tips you’ve provided.

Katie
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You’re very welcome, Annie! But why are you giving yourself so much time?? Go this spring! Just buy the ticket. That’s always the hardest part. You never know what life’s gonna throw your way, so just get that dang ticket booked and worry about the rest later. Otherwise it’s too easy to keep putting it off. :)

Colleen Brynn
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Sounds like you did the day right and enjoyed living in the moment, as they say! Sometimes I admit I do enjoy a place less when I bother myself with snapping photos (but I always regret not having the photos, so catch 22, etc). Your photos are still marvellous, so win! I want to see the art you bought!!
And as for that staircase, I have nightmares about this kind of thing, yet I probably still would have gone, but I would have dragged you along behind me.

Katie
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Haha, I was far too lazy to take a picture of my art for this post, but if I can get it framed sometime soon, I’ll probably show it in a kitchen reveal post, since that’s where I plan on putting it. ;) And yeah… those stairs were crazy! I didn’t actually go down that narrow one showed — I took that picture from the van! Ha! It was really nice not lugging my camera that day, but at the same time I’m like, *WHY* don’t I have any high res shots of the Amalfi Coast? Wah.

Engred
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Lovely post. Glad you enjoyed my favorite spot in Italy, although you certainly should return and stay a few days in Positano. We rent an apartment in Positano each June for a week and it is a magical place when all of the day trippers leave and you can watch the sunset on the beach with a glass of wine.

Katie
Reply

I would LOVE to stay a few days in Positano — or any of those lovely towns along the coast, really! But yes — watching the sun set from one of those gorgeous cliffside villas or that serene rocky beach sounds absolutely divine!

What Solo Travel Is Really Like. - Domestiphobia
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[…] getting chauffeured to the top sights around the peninsula — wine tasting on Mount Vesuvius, ceramic shopping on the Amalfi Coast, Michelin star dining in Sant’ Agata, clothes shopping in Sorrento — and our nights […]

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