John Steinbeck, one of my favourite authors, once wrote that ‘Positano bites deep’. It’s been more than fifty years since he expressed his admiration for this tiny village, spilling down the cliffs along the Amalfi Coast, but Positano continues to earn it’s endearing reputation with visitors today. The streets are often little more than staircases, and most are lined with high-end shops, top-notch hotels and enticing restaurants.
It’s one of the most photographed villages in the world and though it appears immaculate from a distance, there are signs of neglect here and there for those who want to break the spell of perfection. Prices are high there. That in itself helps to burst the bubble for budget travellers, but there’s no charge for looking and the view is just as photogenic for those enjoying a picnic lunch in the sun.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
As soon as we arrived we inquired about travelling along the scenic Amalfi coast road and we were very disappointed to learn that the local buses that usually run from Sorrento to Positano, were suspended for the foreseeable future because of road repairs. The spring, summer and fall months are so busy with tourists that it makes sense that the repairs would have to be done when it’s quieter.
We checked with the reception desk every few days to find out if the buses were running, but no luck. We were informed that private vehicles could drive along the coastal road, but at first we weren’t too keen on renting a car because we had always heard that it was a hair-raising experience; with dizzying heights and twisting turns throughout the length of the road.
We asked about alternate bus routes to Amalfi and Positano and learned that we could get there by going inland and over the mountains on one bus to Amalfi and then changing to another bus to get to Positano. We would see a part of the famous road, but not the section with the most spectacular scenery, and we would have to return by the same route. It would be a long, and somewhat arduous day.
After three weeks of waiting for the repairs to be completed, we began to consider the option of renting a car and driving ourselves. We reasoned that if the bus and truck traffic was restricted, that there probably wouldn’t be too much traffic overall and we would be able to pull off the road periodically so that we could both take in the views.
We checked with a couple of car rental agencies in town and settled on Avis. The staff were particularly helpful and very friendly, and for less than 50€ we could have a small car for a full day. I volunteered to do the driving, because up till now, Anil has usually done all the driving when we’ve rented cars in Lebanon, Tunisia, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.
It was especially tough for him in Ireland because he had to drive on the left-hand side and the car had a stick shift. I expected Anil to override me and do the driving, but he was happy to be the passenger for a change. Besides, there wouldn’t be much call for him to do the navigating because it was just a narrow coastal road and there wasn’t much opportunity to get lost on the Amalfi Coast.
We got up at our usual time but instead of loafing for a couple of hours before breakfast, we hustled out and after a quick breakfast we walked along Corso Italia for about two kilometres to the Avis office. It was interesting to be out on the streets so early; all the children were heading to school and there was more action on the roads than we were used to seeing.
We picked up our little Fiat Panda and had to drive up a steep driveway to the main street. It was a bit tricky getting the feel for the clutch and I had to use the emergency brake on the slope to keep from rolling backwards, and I was immediately taken back 40 years to when I learned to drive a manual car on the steep streets of Valetta, Malta.
We zipped through town and began to climb up into the hills above Sorrento. We had one wrong turn and ended coming back down again, but we laughed about it and quickly found our way after stopping at a gas station to ask for ‘Positano’. To our surprise, we were over the peaks in no time at all and we could see the Bay of Salerno for the first time as we began to descend to the coastal road.
There was very little traffic and I quickly became comfortable with the car and the road. It was a bright sunny morning, a perfect day for our adventure. At breakfast we had learned that it was a very special day in Amalfi; something about an anniversary, and the fact that there would be a procession carrying the statue of the saint out of the cathedral and up the steps to the mountain. The process was scheduled for noon so we had plenty of time to get there. We couldn’t believe our luck!
What can I say about the drive along the Amalfi Coast? Amazing, stupendous, super-cali-fraga-listic-expi-ali-docious? A dream of a lifetime? All that and more! I was having so much fun driving on that road; it reminded me of driving go-karts when I was just a kid. I was actually laughing out loud.
We were in Positano before we knew it but we did manage to pull off the road high above the town so that I could take it all in. Anil was getting great views up and down the coast, but I had to pretty much focus on the road and all the twists and turns. We knew that we would be returning along the same route, so we decided to just drive through the town in the morning, but stop for a walk and more of a visit later in the day.
We turned right off the highway and made our way along a one-way street that took us down, down and down towards the sea. By now it was mid-morning and people were going about their daily business opening their shops or running errands. Some of the older men were out for a walk in the warm sunshine and were gathering for a smoke and a chat together.
Before we really realized that we were at the ‘bottom’ of Positano, we turned a corner and the road began to rise once again. We followed it up, up and up and then found ourselves at the coastal highway once again. I thought there might be more traffic once we passed through Positano and proceeded to Amalfi, but the road was virtually empty and driving was a breeze.
We stopped along the way a couple of times in order for me to take some photos of Positano and one of the beautiful church domes in a neighbouring town called Praiano. We did come across a couple of other cars carrying camera-toting tourists, but for the most part, we felt like we had the coast to ourselves.
It was just after 3:00pm when we returned to Positano, and when we turned off the highway, we found we were on the very same road that we had descended on earlier in the day. We had gone by so quickly that it was nice to have a chance to see it all again, and when we spotted a row of small tables along one edge of the cliffs, with a view of the setting sun in the distance we knew we had found our ‘sundowner’ spot.
We had to carry on for some distance before we were able to find a place to park, and Anil was more than impressed with my perfect parallel parking job. I found it very easy to drive the little ‘Panda’; it was easy to steer and to manoeuver into a tight space. We walked down the steep hill to our little row of tables and were about to order when I spotted the lovely tiled steeple of the church below.
I knew that Anil wasn’t feeling too spry, the twists and turns of the road had made him quite motion-sick, so I told him he could sit and order some wine while I hiked down to take some photos of the church. I have to say I was very surprised that he decided to come along with me. It’s really not a good idea for us to separate in an unfamiliar place. Besides, we left the main street and descended along a very romantic pedestrian walkway and it was great to hold hands and marvel that we were really ‘In Positano’! Pinch me, please!
Once we arrived at the front steps of the church it was clear to me that I needed to be higher to take the shots that I wanted to take. I could see a steep set of stairs on the opposite side of the narrow gorge, so I left Anil to peek into the church and I went bounding up the stone steps. Where was I getting all this energy from? I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t tired. It was clear that all the walking and all the steps we were climbing each day in Sorrento were improving my level of fitness. Yeah!
Photos taken, Anil by the hand once again, we returned to our little table and ordered two glasses of wine just in time to watch the sun set into the sea behind Capri. I’ve never really made what one might call a ‘bucket list’, but it has long been a dream to come here and do exactly this. Priceless.
The lights were beginning to come on in Positano as we pulled back onto the coastal highway. The sun was very bright in my eyes and I had to lower the shade. Luckily, we only had about 7km to San Pietro where we would turn north off the coastal road and head to Sorrento. The sun would be out of my eyes then.
As I’ve mentioned before, we encountered very little traffic, no large trucks or tourist coaches at all, but as we were leaving Positano two hot-blooded Italian men zoomed by us, taking little care about the upcoming turns and racing the engines of their cars like they were on a speedway. I was glad that I hadn’t seen them when we were just starting out, or I might have lost my nerve.
We plunged down into the height of Sorrento’s evening traffic jam and before we knew it, we were pulling into the Avis parking lot. It had been a great day; we had driven under 100km and used only 10 litres of gas. I’m so glad all went well, that I had the courage to tackle that infamous road, and that we were back in Sorrento in one piece with a camera full of great photos.
The only question I have is, ‘can I hold myself back from doing it all again before we leave’?