Path of the Gods: Hiking to Positano
22.09.2009 - 22.09.2009
The day started off a little gray, so we weren’t sure what to do. We only had 2 days left, and we really wanted to do another hike and we wanted to go to Capri. We had to make a choice.
It wasn’t looking like a good day for Capri, so we thought we’d wait a bit and see if the skies cleared enough for the hike. The last thing we wanted was to get caught on the top of a mountain in Italy in a storm. We headed down through the morning flurry of Marina di Praia, waved at “Grandpa” as he opened the doors of Bar Mare, passed the cats perched on the boats, and gazed at the fishermen preparing for the day. We walked over to La Conchilia for cappuccino and cake before breakfast.
We had become like Hobbits. We ate cake and cappuccino for first breakfast. Second breakfast was bread and meat and cheese. We followed second breakfast with first lunch, a pizza maybe. Second lunch would be a pasta. Dessert? Sure. Then it was on to dinner….our days seemed to revolve around the flavors and smells of the savory dishes of the Amalfi Coast and we were loving it.
After a warm and foamy cup of cappuccino and a ridiculously moist slice of chocolate cake, we walked back over to Villa Michelina so that I could make “second breakfast.”
After croissants with jam and the usual assortment of breads, meats, cheeses, and fruit, we saw that the skies were beginning to clear. It looked like a great day for a hike.
With a name that conjures up mythical landscapes, the “Sentiero degli Dei” or “Path of the Gods” certainly lives up to all its name implies. A path connecting several villages high on the hillside, it was used in the days before the Coast Road was even a glimmer in some engineer’s eye. The path can be accessed from Praiano. From Praiano you go to the Convento San Domenico where you then take a trail that climbs until it intersects the path. The path crosses through grassy terraces that give way to an area rich with oaks, chestnuts, and bushes of heather, rosemary and rock roses. Following a winding route, with several ups and downs, you cross the imposing Vallone Grarelle and reach the tiny village of Nocella. From here you can walk down to the Amalfi Coast Drive at Arienzo (about 1500 steps) or continue on to Montepertuso walking first along a concrete path and then an asphalt road.
Croissants and jam heavy in our stomachs, we set out. Up at the road, we had seen a sign across the street from the entrance to Marina di Praia that showed a walking path going up the mountain. We had NO IDEA if this was the way to go, but the only other option was to drive to Praiano, so we blindly headed up. First, we had to make the STEEEEP climb up the drive from Marina di Praia to the Coast Road.
Once we reached the Coast Road, we crossed it and headed up the mystery path. It was a mix of ancient stone steps (seriously, the steps were getting humorous) and gravel path. It went straight up. When we were high above the road (and even higher above Marina di Praia), the path flattened out and angled toward the center of Praiano. Soon enough, we found ourselves in the middle of Praiano. We patted ourselves on the back for being so smart.
Unlike its rich cousins, Positano and Amalfi, Praiano is sleepy and quiet. It sits on the mountainside, a bundle of whitewashed villas, churches, hotels and restaurants miraculously clinging to the bluffs. For most tourists, Praiano is not considered a destination. It is a place that one merely drives through, admiring bright blue-and-gold majolica dome of the cathedral dedicated to San Gennaro set against the blue of the sea, and then moves on.
A misfortune for them. A delight for us.
Praiano is peaceful and authentic. It is a place where people live and work and play. Like most of the coastal towns, it is a vertical landscape of colorful stucco connected by long, steep flights of stone steps and ribbons of sloping roads. We wound our way through steps and roads and more steps, following the signs for the Convento San Domenico. There were lots of signs on the roads for it, so we expected that this “convento” would be right at the street. Once we found it, we expected to easily locate the path that would skip right up to the Path of the Gods. No problem. “It’s easy…..jus follow the white house.” Right?
Again, our initial success made us a little too smug to pay attention to fine details. We headed down a street that had a sign pointing “this way” to the Convento San Domenico. When we reached the dead end and saw no “convento” at the street, we were terribly confused. Wasn’t it here? Where was it? Little did we know, when I snapped this photo, that the “convento” we were looking for at street level was actually that building high on top of the mountain…..
Certain that we had made a wrong turn, we walked all the way back to the head of the dead end street. A young Italian woman was out in her yard. Matt decided to ask her for directions, despite the fact that he did not know one single Italian word.
“Excuse,” he said to her, pronouncing it “excusay.”
What the hell? Was that a word in any language? It certainly wasn’t English and it certainly wasn’t Italian. I groaned and hid my face in mock horror.
Still, it got her attention. He looked at her and said, “English?” She shook her head no. Matt scratched his head. It was then that Matt invented what I would later call, “Matt’s Universal Language.” No need to learn another language if you use the Matt-Technique. After some grunting, pointing, made up words, and a few dramatic charades, these two actually understood each other and we knew where to go. I was speechless.
Freakish, but remarkable.
We went back down to the dead end and headed into the brush, following what could barely be called a path, as it kept disappearing in the shrubbery. We clawed our way through, still not realizing the “convento” was up, up, up, still thinking it was just a short distance along this wooded trail. After more than a couple of wrong turns, one taking us to a rubbish heap and another taking us to a water station, we finally saw a clear, definite trail, with railings and signs. Ah-ha! It was then that we saw the sign that said, “Convento San Domenico…..25 minutes.” Huh? We looked up and there it was….high on the mountainside…..the convento.
Every 100 steps or so, there would be a wooden cross, maybe to urge our incredibly tired bodies and burning calves that God wanted us to continue. After climbing 10,000 steps, we saw a sign that said, “Convento San Domenico….5 minutes.”
We pushed ourselves up that final set of steps and found ourselves at the Convento San Domenico. It was beautiful and remote and had views that swept the coastline. We had been climbing for hours and we still weren’t even at the Path of the Gods. This was an aggressive hike, for sure.
We rested and refilled our now empty water bottle and continued pushing upward, now trying to find the trail that would intersect the Path of the Gods. Was it worth all this? We followed what was basically a goat trail, perched precariously on the very edge of the rocky cliffs. Matt hates heights and the sheer drop off on his left side was making him sweat. As we rose higher and higher, I could now look down on the convento. It looked so small. I could see Praiano, a tiny glimmer far below. I could barely make out Marina di Praia, now just a speck in the distance.
Just as we were starting to wonder if we had gone the right way or if we were actually following a mule path to some farmers olive grove, we saw a sign marking the Path of the Gods. We had made it.
The path stretch out before us, silent in the mountainous calm, a blanket of haunting panoramas, far from the coastal congestion and the asphalt highways. We climbed onto the trail and took in the panoramic view, feeling like we were sitting on top of the world.
We walked through jagged cliffs, abandoned farmhouses, and grassy fields. We stopped for a brief picnic of leftover meats, cheeses, olives, tomatoes, bread and pears. We watching the changing scenery that stretched out before us, a view of mountains and sea that stretched all the way to the island of Capri.
We hiked in bliss, awed by all that surrounded us. Before we knew it, we were entering the tiny village of Nocelle.
Our goal was to continue on to Montepertuso and then walk from there down to Positano. Directionally challenged that we were, of course we chose the wrong way and instead started the descent of 1500 steps to the Amalfi Coast Road. After a few minutes, we realized our error, and as we had already done so many times before, retraced our steps back up.
We walked the ancient path that leads from Nocelle to Montepertuso. By the time we reached Montepertuso, we were TIRED. Seriously tired. Feet dirty with trail dust, brows damp with sweat, faces weary with climbing, we still had to walk the long way down into Positano.
Finally, we saw it in the distance, Positano, beckoning like a mirage, wavering in the heat like an oasis in the desert.
When we dragged into Positano, we had been walking for six hours, most of it straight up or straight down. We were dying for something frosty when we saw the Granita di Limone stand. Within moments, sticky frozen lemonade was dripping down our chins as we slurped happily.
As a reward for all our hard work, we popped into La Zagara for second lunch. Or was it fourth breakfast? Pre-dinner?
After bellinis, caramel gelato, chocolate pie and chocolate cake, all was right with the world.
Somehow, we figured out how to catch the bus and had a wild, stand-up ride back to Marina di Praia.
After resting our tired feet, we cleaned up and headed to La Conchilia for dinner. I was so tired, I forgot to take any pictures (now, you KNOW I have to be really tired for that to happen). Dinner was outside on their little terrace, facing the sea. The same sweet little man that made my cappuccino each morning, brought us an antipasto platter of meats, cheeses, and olives; a side of peppers; and a spicy penne all’arrabiatta for me and a ravioli for Matt. The house wine was unlabeled, no doubt brought in on one of the tiny trucks I had seen delivering unmarked jugs of wine along with bunches of grapes, lemons, and fresh bread that morning. It was thick and sweet and took the ache right out of my feet.
Brought on by the sweet and heavy wine and way too many steps, sleep came quickly that night.