Monday, 27 July 2009

Amalfi in a new light

Amalfi, its picture-perfect port backed by 300-meter-high cliffs, its narrow, uphill main street bordered by crumbling, pastel-coloured buildings, its water so clear the anchors of the boats bobbing on the marina can be seen glinting several meters below.

But Amalfi also has a darker side, the one not flaunted on the brochures: its steady stream of screeching scooters, its swarming tourist shops, shelves caving under the weight of a hundred cat-shaped bottles of overpriced limoncello (a sweet lemon liquor), its long lines of buses clogging the main piazza, disgorging fazed, exhausted passengers aching for a gelato.

It’s one of the first places in southern Italy where the Neapolitan took me. On our most memorable visit we trekked all the way up the main road, along a small brook, to reach an antique printing shop where we had heard they still hand made paper we used for our wedding invitations. At the time I grudgingly agreed to it, observing only that it didn’t look very different from regular quality paper but cost three times as much. But when I stumbled upon the leftover invitations during our recent move, I was struck by the softness of the paper, its irregular edges, small details I didn’t appreciate four years ago, when despairing to finally do away with the party planning .

We were back in Amalfi on Monday, by chance. A missed flight to Sardinia and a day to kill on the coast brought us there. And am I glad we went back because, finally, I got it. I fell in love with it. Not in the head-over-heels way in which I succumbed to Sardinia after one look at its long stretches of beaches, one breath of its centuries-old pines, but in the way a previously dismissed suitor suddenly catches your attention and holds it.

In season, get there before noon and park on the pier (3 euros an hour), then head for the port and get on a boat to Santa Croce. It’s a 5-minute boat ride but it makes a world of difference. Once you arrive on this rocky beach inaccessible by car you can rent a parasol and two sun beds (15 euros for the day during the week). Call in advance if you would like to reserve one by the water and while you’re at it, make your lunch reservation at the shaded bar ristorante Santa Teresa.

Once your decollete has reached an appropriately pink shade and you have tired of slathering on the sun cream as you flop around your sun bed, go up the rickety wooden stairs to the open-air terrace of the restaurant. Order vino bianco con percoche. Trust me. You can’t go wrong with fizzy white wine in which a particular kind of bright orange peaches (percoche) have been left to marinate for a few hours.

Then it’s your call, of course, but before you make up your mind, take a stroll to the little carriages on which the fish and the vegetable appetizers of the day are laid out. On our visit, ensalata di polipo (octopus salad), cozze (mussels), little fried balls of dough speckled with sea weed and salt were all on offer.

We then polished off a steaming plate of spaghetti alle vongole (cooked very al dente,with clams, cherry tomatoes and a drizzling of olive oil), followed by a large sea bass on the grill and for dessert, a black forest cake and a ricotta and pear tart.

1 comment:

  1. I am drooling.

    And I'm coming with you next time.