Everything in the Amalfi Coast is lemony. The perfumes, ceramic tiles, cups and saucers, main courses, desserts, refreshing drinks and, of course, the prize winner, Limoncello are just lemony.
Up until now, I am oblivious to the amount of alcohol this pleasantly sweet digestive liquor, made from lemon rind, water and sugar, actually contains. But as I sit in a pretty restaurant over-looking Sorrento’s main piazza, downing my sixth chilled-ceramic-cup full, a throbbing headache and jelly legs give me the answer I need.
There is obviously more to the Amalfi coast than lemons. A ribbon of road, stretching from Sorrento to Salerno winds itself along dramatic cliffs with sheer drops into pristine waters. This super scenic road passes through the stylish villages of Amalfi, Positano and Ravello, as well as a number of pretty, bougainvillea-covered, white-washed buildings, which cling to the rock faces.
As I shudder at the chaotic traffic that greets me in Sorrento, I decide that the smoothest way to get around is by motorino. Plus it’s by far the most exciting way to experience the exhilarating drive round the hundreds of sharp hairpin bends along the coast.
Amalfi is a charming mass of backstreets and alleyways, I discover, as I stroll around the town inquisitively, doing my best to dodge the overwhelming masses of Japanese tourists that flock around the many quaint souvenir shops. Ornate arches and piazzas, stylish boutiques and suave, dark-haired men in white linen trousers chanting ciao bella, make me feel good in this place. This is Italy at its best. And I love it. I opt for a cozy tavern just off the vibrant, colourful piazza for lunch. The owner, proudly talks me through his menu –mozzarella di bufala, melanzane sott’olio, insalata caprese, gnocchi, lobster, sautéed shrimp. He insists on bringing me un po’ di tutto, and I spend the next few hours, stuffed as a Christmas turkey, slouched on my chair, singing incoherent stanzas of Napoletan songs with the owner, whose speech is almost as slurred as mine after a couple of bottles of rich red wine.
I just adore Positano. Characterized by pastel-coloured buildings and elegant shops, it is dominated by hundreds of never-ending narrow steps that take me up to dizzying heights as I climb breathlessly to the top. The views are definitely rewarding all the way though and I treat myself to a fresh lemonade and a generous slice of home-made torta di mandorla at the top.
The romantic hillside village of Ravello is a gem. Quiet and pedestrian, a pretty chapel sits in the middle of the main piazza, surrounded by stylish cafes, where I sit and sip the best espresso ever. The views of the surrounding hills and distant smaller villages are stunning. I wish I could spend a couple of nights here, but my motorino beckons.
In Capri I meet Paolo, a local who runs a restaurant in the summer months. He whisks me through the designer-boutique-lined streets to his favourite punta panoramica -I absolutely adore the views of the turquoise waters and rocky coves that this island has to offer. Paolo points out several houses, all owned by some of Italy’s richest and most famous. I could live here. This is paradise. Back at his very lemony restaurant, he treats me to a feast of the freshest fish imaginable, washed down with some smooth limoncello sorbet and several tots of the real stuff. I have never tasted such wonderful flavours, blended to perfection.
Fly to Naples and rent a car.
Use Sorrento as a base (one hour drive from Naples airport). There are hundreds of hotels to choose from (www.amalficoast.com)
To get to Capri, get the hydrofoil from Sorrento. There are several trips daily (www.capri.com)