The high life
Discover the pleasures of walking and sailing Italy’s Amalfi Coast
THEYall came here, famous writers, artists and composers, seduced by a balmy climate and the extravagant beauties of nature. Henrik Ibsen was inspired to write part of Peer Gynt in Sorrento, the Bloomsbury group decamped to the mountain village of Ravello, as did Richard Wagner and DH Lawrence, and John Steinbeck eulogised Positano.
The images of a romantic idyll they left behind have been tarnished by mass tourism, which is why I have never had any particular desire to visit the Sorrento peninsula. A dramatic coastline and once sleepy fishing villages have little appeal amid traffic jams and streets inundated with tidal waves of tourists.
Yet there is a way to escape the madding crowds and discover the charms that lured early visitors. The answer is to sail along the coast and walk in its hills.
My base for a week is Maria Giovanna, a 70-foot wooden ketch built for comfort, with a generous aft deck and accommodation in suites of gleaming mahogany for a maximum of 12 passengers.
I find the boat lying in the Marina di Stabia, a short train ride from Naples, beneath the sleeping giant of Vesuvius. The last time the volcano awoke seriously was on the morning of August 24, AD79, when a cataclysmic blast darkened the heavens with the fine ash and noxious fumes that destroyed Pompeii.
This is our first port of call, by private coach, and even with crowds swarming among the ruins it is a memorable sight. Plaster casts of some of the victims show how quickly death overcame them. One is a small figure, a woman or child squatting on haunches, with hands to the face. Another is of a man lying face down, his hands covering his eyes in a vain attempt to protect them from the burning gases that would kill him.
There may be no immediate danger of another eruption, but I amhappy a few hours later when we are at sea, sailing for Sorrento. This is where southern Italy plunges into the Mediterranean in a succession of ver-
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The ketch Maria Giovanna off Amalfi