PATH OF THE GODS
It’s the place of myth and legend and the very definition of an epic journey
Perched on the tip of a razorsharp rock, isolated by an unforgiving drop on one side and steep mountains on the other, a lonely baby goat is stranded. Just metres away, the rest of the herd is madly scaling rock walls, thrashing through shrubs and defiantly dominating every inch of a narrow dirt walking track.
“Ciao,” an elderly shepherd says through a toothless grin as he goes about his daily business, herding goats across mountains high above the Tyrrhenian Sea.
I’m about 600m above sea level, hiking the Sentiero degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, along the Amalfi Coast. The 7.8km trail, which takes about three hours, links the small towns of Bomerano with Nocelle and is a rare part of the region completely removed from the crowds of nearby Positano.
Instead, the occasional passer-by, goats and donkeys dominate the space. For all the scrambling needed to manoeuvre the narrow dirt passages, hundreds of uphill stone steps and steep climbs, it’s worth it to walk along one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the Mediterranean. From up here, you tower over the mountainside city of Positano as the ocean down below looks like a blue velvet blanket tucked around the tight bends of the rugged peaks.
The pathway was once used by shepherds, farmers and mules to transport goods between isolated tiny villages. As the toothless old shepherd limps by on his walking stick, dressed in a scruffy white shirt and covered in dirt, I’ve been thrown into a different era. A donkey is loaded up on a nearby hill ready to start a trek, an old ruin lies abandoned on the clifftops and painted red and white symbols line the stonewalls for basic directions.
Wrapped around caves, deep valleys and steep cliffs, it’s astounding how crops and vegetable gardens grow in these seemingly impossible places. Tomato plants hang over cliffs, vineyards attach themselves to vertical rock faces and rosemary bushes line the track.
Waiting at the path’s end in Nocelle, like an oasis, is a tiny familyrun kiosk, stocked with pizzas, pastas and wine. It’s the perfect reboot for exhausted walkers. From here, you can walk the 1500 steps into Positano or catch the bus down the winding, narrow roads.
Legend has it the ancient pathway was the road the Greek gods crossed to save Ulysses from the Sirens in poet Homer’s ancient epic, The Odyssey, as they sang songs to lure sailors to their death on the jewel of the Amalfi coastline, Capri.
Capri is visible from the breathtaking walk and with its unparalleled beauty, it’s easy to imagine such tales coming to life.
With its towering cliffs, magical grottos and azure waters, you can almost hear the whispers of the island’s poetic past.
Since its mythical beginnings, the favourite holiday hot spot has evolved into a playground for the rich and famous and it’s by boat where you see its real beauty.
It’s a temporary stop-off for Sailing
Yacht A, the world’s largest sailing yacht, a £360 million (about $A616 million) 468ft monster owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko. We sailed past while on a private boat tour.
The three-hour private sailing tour of the island is the budget option to get a taste of Capri’s luxury, while taking in the dramatic coastline views with a prosecco in hand. It’s an ideal way to experience Capri outside the busy shopping streets, as we dip in the refreshing clear waters before touring the island’s famed landscape.
Among the must-sees are the underwater caves of the Green Grotto, where piercing green seas shine through a cave hole like a stainedglass window and the Coral Grotto shows off vibrant shades of orange coral which line the cave walls. But it’s the three rock towers of Faraglioni which are among the most iconic. As they tower 100m above the sea surface, it’s said couples who kiss as they pass through the stone archway will be happily together forever.
Back on the mainland, in Capri Town and its uphill neighbour, Anacapri, is where trendy bars, cafes and restaurants line the streets.
Among Italy’s most humble charms is how its ancient world still exerts such influence on the modern lifestyle. This isn’t just seen through legends and landscapes but through the country’s next greatest obsession, food. Even though the food culture is ever-changing, centuries-old recipes are still being used. And there’s no better way to get to the heart of this tradition than to make it yourself.
An hour north by train from Rome is the little-known Sabine Hills, a place blissfully lost in time in the Italian countryside, dotted with medieval villages.
I’m in the kitchen of husband-andwife team Sally and Guido who call this region home. Guido is an Australian expat from Sydney and an eighth-generation Roman.
They’ve been letting people in on their secret hide-out by hosting cooking classes for the past 16 years.
Out their kitchen window, I lose myself in the rolling mountains and the fields of endless olive groves.
We’re straight into it, making pasta by hand as Guido grabs flour, eggs and a rolling pin. After carefully stirring the eggs into the flour we take turns kneading and rolling the dough.
Making pasta from scratch isn’t just to add flavour but it’s a tradition which thrived when dried pasta was considered a luxury. It’s easy to picture a family in the kitchen
YOU CAN ALMOST HEAR THE WHISPERS OF THE ISLAND’S POETIC PAST
preparing the night’s meal as the room fills with animated conversations.
Guido, an Italian food writer, grew up cooking with his family and it’s his grandmother’s decades-old pasta recipe we’re attempting to recreate. The main is tagliatelle, a fettuccinelike pasta, with a tomato-based sauce, topped with pecorino cheese.
If the couple’s ingredients aren’t home grown, they’re from a friend or neighbour with 100 per cent of their food grown locally.
It pays to have talented culinary friends in this neck of the woods as they can exchange specialities.
Take the olive oil, for example, which has come straight from the farm next door; the pecorino, made from the sheep in the paddock down the road; and the wine, produced from nearby vineyards.
The menu of the three-course class includes veal lined with prosciutto and basil, ricotta tart with berry jam and endless local red wine. Simplicity is at the heart of these dishes with a basic less-is-more style.
As we sit on the terrace devouring our meals, the view over Farfa, one of the most ancient abbeys in Europe, caught my imagination.
The tiny Benedictine monastery town has a population of just 42 and is a place where time seems frozen in the sixth century. Nuns wearing habits tend to the plants outside their convent as we walk along the cosy cobblestone streets.
Hidden away down a peaceful alley is a linen shop, known locally as Tessuti Scipioni. The 100-year-old factory is one of four workshops left of its kind and still makes pieces for the Vatican and the Italian presidential palace. The warmth this stop radiates is reminiscent of my grandma’s prized sewing room.
As the centuries pass by in Italy, ancient life has comfortably found a way to forge on into modern times.
THE GREEN GROTTO
(Clockwise from main) Beautiful Capri, an island with mythical beginnings, grottos and azure waters; the iconic Faraglioni rock towers are said to be magical for couples; Green Grotto is a must-see; and at the path’s end you can walk the 1500 steps into Positano.