Italian Treat: Amalfi Coast and Capri with Tauck
It’s the haunt of celebrities and the glitterati with an ancient past. Italy’s Amalfi Coast will delight the visitor.
Words and images Roderick Eime
The last time I toured Italy extensively, I was sleeping on trains, rummaging through my backpack for loose lire and generally travelling rough. Okay, at 17 you don’t know any better and it’s all just one great adventure.
Now, 35 years and several full passports later, I’m ready to surrender to the wisdom and experience of one of the world’s great tour companies. Tauck, a US-based family-owned brand, have honed their product to a razor sharp edge over 90 years of continuous operation and I’m joining them for their much-praised “Week in Rome, the Amalfi Coast and Capri” tour.
Our entire group of 22 fits easily onto a single coach, so there is no crushing or squeezing and our tour guide, Roberta, is as authoritative as she is charming, seamlessly taking charge of our cavalcade as we rollick through this most picturesque region of Italy.
Like wide-eyed school kids on excursion, we stood at the wharf at Naples waiting for the Capri ferry. This legendary island sits like a bejewelled apostrophe at the head of the Amalfi Coast, further to the east on the Italian mainland.
Our hour-long ferry ride deposits us and several hundred daytrippers at the Marina Grande on the northern shore and in the shadow of the towering cliffs of Monte Cappello and Monte San Michele, the larger of the two soaring to more than 500m. Capri (pronounced CAR-pree) has enjoyed resort destination status since Roman times, when Emperors Augustus and Tiberius erected their own holiday villas and gardens well before timeshare was ever a concept.
Even in June, shoulder season, the tourism machine is in full swing. Convertible taxis, the signature transport of Capri, are loading furiously at the wharf. Roberta ushers us into prearranged vehicles and we head up the steep, narrow laneways to the Piazzetta where the big brand names occupy niches and slots in the miniature shopping district, cheek by jowl with pizzerias and gelato stalls.
It’s no stretch of the imagination to picture Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida swanning about the designer boutiques as men swoon and collapse at their feet. There are no bargain shops here and neither is our hotel, the Grand Hotel Quisisana, where the bellboy challenges me to produce a room key, lest I be some lowly blow-in from the streets outside. A simple beer will set you back 8 euro.
Fortunately great pleasure can be achieved by simply walking the cobblestoned footpaths, taking the chairlift to the summit for a magnificent view or visiting any of the historic sites. Make sure you leave with a bottle of famous limoncello liqueur or floral perfumes from any of the eager vendors.
The Amalfi Coast looks for all the world like one big movie set. The serpentine roads twist and curl around the precipitous hills, each corner revealing a new and breathtaking view. Clearly our coach captain has driven these byways before, as he guides the big vehicle smoothly around the sharp bends and forks avoiding the self-drive tourists with one eye on their maps.
The city of Positano has had more leading roles than Brad Pitt, with notable appearances in ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ and ‘Only You’. In 1953, the writer John Steinbeck waxed lyrical about the town in Harper’s Bazaar, cementing the place forever in tourism folklore.
‘Positano bites deep,’ he wrote, ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone’.
Similarly, the ancient city of Sorrento can boast a modern history of more than 2500 years when the Osci people settled there before the Romans swallowed them up.
In a fitting farewell, we head back to Naples via the sea, watching the traffic squirm on the ledge-like roads that join the settlements perched on the impossible cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
In the distance, is that a whiff of smoke from the ominous peak of Mount Vesuvius? Let us not forget just who is in charge around here.
TAUCK’s signature tour is ‘A Week In The Amalfi Coast, Capri & Rome’
Call 1300-732-300 or your travel agent
All images by Roderick Eime