THE AMALFI COAST
And A Gastronomic Delight
By Francesco Luise
Cruising the Amalfi coast is a ritual that has been undertaken by uncountable numbers of seafarers over the centuries, many as a part of their everyday working life but in more recent years by pleasure seekers as they relax and enjoy their Italian summer Superyacht break. But what has the coast to offer other than those unbeatable mountainous views. A short look at the history books tells us that Amalfi has always had its links to the sea that it nestles alongside, is one of four historic Italian maritime republics and also the location where, in the 11th century, the first maritime laws were compiled. These were known as the 'Tabula Amalphitana', which became for centuries the international mercantile code, used as a model for laws created throughout the entire Mediterranean. The Amalfi coast’s raw natural beauty has also been the home and inspiration for poets, philosophers and artists for centuries and in fact the restaurant La Caravella in Amalfi hosted one of the first exhibitions ever staged by Andy Warhol.
'Located in Amalfi is the garden which we seek out as one of the perfect places of our youth. A memory that becomes tangible as it rises above the depths of the sea, suspended by the orange groves and sumptuous lemon trees in the hanging gardens of the convent,' said the Nobel Prize winner for literature, Salvatore Quasimodo, describing Amalfi in 'Elogio'. And it is in fact this image which enchants visitors today.
Pastel colours, calm seas and terraced gardens, both accented by the aroma of citrus trees makes the Amalfi coast the ideal location for a tranquil cruise to the Blue Grotto or the multitude of small islands in the area. The small archipelago of Li Galli, composed of three islands, today continues to protect the secrets and memories of the world-renowned dancer and choreographer, Rudolf Nureyev.
The Li Galli islands, located in the waters of the Positano region, have been inhabited since Roman times. The Greek geographer Strabone, in the first century, referred to the islands as the Sirenuse, a reference to the mythological sirens who are said to have lived there. In 1924, the Russian choreographer and ballet dancer, Leonide Massine settled in the area, building a magnificent villa among the ruins that were enhanced by the work of the famed architect Le Corbusier. The property passed in 1989 to Nureyev. In mythological times the archipelago was connected to the return of Ulysses from the Trojan War.
Among the must see locations in the area are the Amalfi Cathedral, the tailors of Positano, the artisans of Vietri, the cuisine of Antonio Mellino at the two Michelin star eatery, Quattro Passi, the gardens of Villa Rufolo in Ravello and the breathtaking panorama from Palazzo Avino.
The Majestic Amalfi Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle. The front of the building was re-built in 1891 by Errico Alvino and an elite group of architects. The church was built during the early Middle Ages and restored during the Baroque period, and then again in 1931 and 1996. From the left side of the building, you can reach the Cloister of Paradise, a wonderful 'Oriental space' set in the south of Italy. It features slender double columns and Moorish-style arcades made of pure white marble. In the center is a Mediterranean garden; with surrounding walkways full of notable historic art typical of the Egyptian-Norman Age.
A part of the coastline falls under the protected area of Punta Campanella, a perfect location with limpid waters best cruised at low speed, and the ideal location for some of the most incredible diving in the world, diving set among Roman ruins and an eco system of beautiful underwater flora and fauna. The Amalfi coast also offers panoramic views of its mountainous regions and the ancient town of Scala. Excursions can be organized that will take you to visit Scalas historic streets containing old churches, monuments and walkways. In the Lattari mountains can be found the beautiful waterfall, Valle Dell Ferriere and citrus groves that change their character throughout the seasons. On your return you could visit the Museum of Paper in Amalfi, the Museo Della Carta, where the history of handmade paper began in Europe,
The Blue Grotto of Smeraldo is located in the bay of the Conca dei Marini. The sea cave was discovered in 1932 by a fisherman who was looking for an alcove for a short rest, and is one of only several sea caves in the world famous for its bright blue emerald waters. The impressive interior is 24 meters high and its name came from the strikingly clear colour that is created as sunlight passes through the caves underwater entrance.
History and romance are everywhere in the town of Ravello, and in particular in the gardens of Villa Rufolo, known by many as the Gardens of the Soul. The two levels of the garden are accessible by a tree-lined avenue, which dates back to the 1800s. The antique walls of the avenue, hidden behind cypress trees and citrus groves, lead visitors towards the Moresco Cloisters where there is an atmosphere rich with the opening verses taken from the 13th century writer Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron.
When you hear locals mention 'The place of great natural beauty', they are talking about Furore, a small town between Positano and Amalfi, well known as 'The Painted Country' because of the high number of murals on the walls of the houses. The murals recall some ancient farm traditions such as field work and the production of wine. Furore is also renowned for its beaches and a natural fjord which became famous thanks to Roberto Rossellini who decided to shoot the movie 'Amore' in 1948 here that starred the actress Anna Magnani. Furthermore, the fjord is a reference point for sport, thanks to the famous event 'MarMeeting' which today is celebrating its 30th anniversary. This event is based on extreme sports such as the acrobatic diving of the Red Bull athletes from the 28m bridge that crosses over the fjord.
The immense natural beauty of the area extends to the area’s food culture and in the bay of Nerano, between Capri and Positano sits a small fishing village where the famous, two Michelin star, Quattro Passi restaurant, established in 1984, is situated. It is set in the resort of Marina del Cantone and is blessed with easy access from the sea. The history of the restaurant is linked to the passion for cooking that world renowned chef, Antonio Mellino was born with and where his mouth watering dishes are able to delight the most discerning palates. Antonio (Editors note, I have been lucky to have eaten with Antonio, unbelievable Italian cuisine and a wonderful man) has transformed the local cuisine into an art form.
The name Quattro Passi (Four Steps) was given to the building as it is four steps away from the bay and four steps away from the little village that it compliments. The spot was chosen so that visitors could taste his culinary delights as they sit on an exclusive terrace that boast some of the best sea views in the area.
As Antonio mentioned, 'Our restaurant is dedicated at the promotion of Italian cuisine and local specialties into a modern form. In this paradise, taste the raw fish, scampi a pot of artichokes, lobster salad with wild flowers as appetizers. Among the first courses the paccheri sauce with mussels and potatoes or chicken, ravioli stuffed with monkfish, risotto with scallops and broom flowers. The fish, which comes from the bay is quite extraordinary: red mullet, paranza fried in tempura with vegetables, delicious parcels of curly endive and pine nuts with pezzogna. Local cheeses are served with citrus preserves, sorbets and delicious hot and cold desserts (mousse ricotta sauce with wild berries, wild strawberries in the Bavarian raspberry sauce, crispy dessert served with hot chocolate). The restaurant also has a fantastic wine cellar, dug into a Tufo rock, where you can find 1200 different labels of the best domestic and foreign wines.
A very tough restaurant to pass by and not stop for a memorable Italian lunch or dinner and without doubt a high note to end any cruise.