It’s hard to imagine the small, picturesque town of Amalfi having a population of 70,000 people. Today there are less than six thousand full-time residents and it seems like there isn’t room for more. Amalfi rivaled Pisa and Genoa as a maritime superpower between the 9th and 12th centuries until a 1343 earthquake and storm caused the entire town to slide down the precipitous cliffs and into the sea.
Those breathtakingly beautiful cliffs are also what make parking so impossible there. When planning our week on the Amalfi coast, we were torn between staying in Amalfi or Positano. We were incredibly excited about either option until our research revealed that (because of the aforementioned cliffs) it was not possible to park anywhere in either town. This led us to stay in the quieter and slightly-less steep town of Praiano, halfway between the two towns. Anywhere you go on the Amalfi Coast you are going to be impressed with the scenery. The towns with their colorful stucco houses and bougainvillea vines, seem to cling to the steep mountains that drop straight into the impossibly blue Mediterranean Sea. The narrow road bends forever and at times climbs up to 1,000 feet above the water. Every square inch of land seems to be cultivated with lemon and olive trees and household gardens teem with fresh basil, tomatoes, artichokes, beans, butter lettuce, melons and many other fruits and vegetables.
I think this is what I like most about the Amalfi Coast: the fruits and vegetables. From our terrace we watched our neighbors lovingly tend to their perfectly-arranged and weed-less gardens. Below us, two septuagenarians raised a horizontal pole holding the tops of ten tomato plants. At the house below them, an older woman picked big, lumpy lemons from her terrace of lemon trees and placed them in her basket. Lemon trees were everywhere and the Amalfi Coast is famous for its cultivation of lemoncello, a delicious lemon liqueur that we had after every meal while there. To our right, another septuagenarian couple weeded and pinched basil flowers in their garden (see first photo). Seeing all this, it should come as no surprise that the quality of the foods in Praiano’s three tiny stores were excellent. Almost every night we ate pasta and fresh vegetables or salads for dinner while enjoying the stunning view from our terrace. Right about the time we were breaking out our nightly lemoncello, we watched the sun go down over the island of Capri.
When we weren’t enjoying our view and eating fresh foods, we were at the beach. We traveled up and down the coast and went to a different beach each day. My daughter combed the beaches and started a collection of pottery shards that frequently wash up on the area’s beaches (see second photo). Each of the shards were painted with colorful patterns and had smooth rounded edges sanded by the surf. Occasionally we’d find two that looked like they came from the same plate. “Maybe these are from the houses of that earthquake that destroyed Amalfi,” I said to her. “Maybe,” she said, probably realizing that 700 years would most likely reduce pottery shards to grains of sand. The shards were beautiful nevertheless…like everything on the Amalfi Coast.