PATH OF THE GODS

It’s the place of myth and leg­end and the very def­i­ni­tion of an epic jour­ney

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION ITALY - JANE ARMITSTEAD

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.

ANACAPRI

THE GREEN GROTTO

POSI­TANO

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, ERICA NASCA

(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.

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