Hiking the Amalfi Coast
by Michele Knapp
Il Sentiero degli Dei – the most famous footpath to trek in all of Scala, Italy – an incomparable stretch of coastline also known as the Amalfi Coast.
My husband, Dave, and I actually trained for this one. Three months of stair master, elliptical and treadmill on max incline in order to respectfully trek the path.
We turned in early at the NH Collection Grand Hotel Convento di Amalfi, originally a monastery built in the 13th century. The pristine white edifice, seemingly perched within the mountainside, sits about 300 feet from sea level overlooking the Gulf of Salerno. Our alarm was set for sunrise with backpacks packed for a hasty departure.
Not entirely able to sleep, I tiptoed to the balcony and watched the sun rise from behind Mount
Soprano. Casting its fiery hues on the plate glass waters, the entire cliffside turned from pitch dark to glorious color. An inspiring sight; one etched in my mind for eternity and caught by my camera too!
Waking up Dave with a gentle kiss, I reached over to prevent the alarm from sounding. Ten minutes of prep and we were in the elevator headed down, down, down to meet our driver, Lorenzo, at the greeting desk. We introduce ourselves with greetings of a fine morning. “Bon giorno! Piacere!”
Thankfully, Lorenzo does speak good English and is able to give us some history lessons, side-hikes and good old fashioned stories of his personal experiences while we make our way up, up, up to the trailhead to a town named Lazzaro.
Amazingly, the Path of the Gods trek had been an old communication route, used for centuries by the locals enabling them to get to their arable lands, terraced orchards and vineyards as well as to get from Agerola to Positano and vice versa.
At the first scenic stop on the way up, we disembarked and walked to the edge. We paid close attention to Lorenzo as he described our landmarks pointing out the faint likeness of a footpath high above, the terrace farming and a mountain jag which is the “side-trek” to a convent more ancient than our hotel!
The height from here was dizzying. Lorenzo acknowledged so and apologetically asked if either of us suffered vertigo, as he would be happy to drive us back to the hotel.
Dave and I caught each other’s eye and simultaneously laughed assuredly that we would be okay.
As the final ascent was made, our guide shared a romantic story about he and his wife who also grew up in Positano. Lorenzo smiled, “My wife and I still hike these mountains; we love this!”
Looking at us in the rear view, he made sure he was engaged by our gaze and interest and said, “My wife was the school teacher in the town of Nocello. Every day she would walk from her home up the 1,700 steps to her classroom.”
“Oh my goodness, Lorenzo, your wife must have the most amazing legs,” I proclaimed unabashedly.
“Yes, but of course she does!” he agreed. “When we were courting, I walked those steps, too, everyday meeting her after school to walk with her the way home,” shaking his head now at the
This was said so endearingly, there was no doubt that this was a true love which had endured all those steps. My romantic contemplation was then interrupted as Dave attested, “Well, Lorenzo, that means your legs must be something special too!” We all enjoyed a good laugh. He was wearing long pants, but I would bet my bottom dollar his legs were in great condition.
We drove on into a sleepy little village with a tiny traffic circle and a big old tree set in the middle. Edging off to the side, we began our goodbyes. As Lorenzo pointed out on the map where we were being dropped in relation to the trailhead, a small horse, with perforated metal baskets hanging on either side of him, was being walked on a long rope by an elderly man. Lorenzo simply suggested, “Just follow him; he is going the same way.”
So, we were on our way. That feeling of exploration had taken over, creating a nice flow of adrenaline and plastered smiles on our faces. Eventually we passed the man and horse with a friendly nod. Passing a couple of guided hikes, we now felt confident we were on the authentic Sentiero degli Dei.
The name of this path expresses all the wonders that you can possibly imagine. From both a botanical and geological point of view, it offers a spectacular vista of coastline and mountain landscapes from Positano to Capri.
The path as we walked it in late September was dry and hot, which was the reason for the early departure. Additionally, water is the vital component of one’s trek, a good camel pack is recommended along with some hydrating fruit and salted trail mix. Lightweight equipment, camera, etc., also important, I could have used a Sherpa halfway in just for my camera lenses. Choose wisely!
The first lift brought us approximately 500 meters above sea level. Here we found ourselves plunged in the Mediterranean Marquis among rocky ridges and Holm Oak woods.
Ascending higher, we lose the woods but gain terraced vineyards, olive and lemon groves. We even pass a couple of teeny tiny houses tucked up into the mountainside still utilized today despite their age and precarious positioning.
An hour or so in, Dave and I came upon the marker for il convento recommended by our driver. Peering over the edge on tippy-toe I reported, ”No sight of the convent; I wonder if it’s still there?”
Dave, with twinkle in eye replied, “We won’t know unless we follow the trail.”
With a superficial smile of agreement I shouted, “Let’s go! We can say our prayers on the way down; no need to hold off until we are in the chapel.”
This portion of the trail was “expert” and very challenging. In some spots, handholds and foot holds only, intimately hugging the face of the mountainside. It’s no wonder Mother Superior had chosen this location; there is no way to escape, especially in the long habits of the day.
The effort was worth the reward as we came around a hairpin bend. A beautiful ancient chapel, simple and steeped in good spiritual vibes as it has stood sentry over the sea and this mountain for hundreds of years.
We stopped inside the coolness of its semi-frescoed walls and quietly said our prayers of thanks and gratitude. Deep in contemplation, a dog strayed in to greet us, and behind him his master who somehow knew we were American and offered an espresso from his café just below the chapel.
“A café up here? How?” I exclaimed. Dave did not seem to care how or why. “Show us the way – I could use a good pop right now.”
The gentleman explained on the way that this was not so difficult to do. “Anything is possible” is the Italian refrain. He went on to inform us that the people he serves help contribute to keeping the chapel from falling into disrepair; a worthy reason to order a double.
The vista from here was heavenly; this truly was the Path of the Gods and I felt very close to mine all day.
The trek back up to the main trail was significantly faster, credit the added espresso jolt in comparison to our way down.
The temperature had increased significantly almost three hours in; the sun higher and bouncing off the white rocks and path. No breeze to speak of up here but some occasional shade from niches in large rocks or caves which we took advantage of to sip the precious H2O. A couple of oranges from the complimentary bowl of fruit in our hotel room were what the doctor ordered.
Another hour in brought us the sighting of our destination – Positano in all its colorful glory perched over the sea – a beehive of activity hugged by the Monti Lattari mountains.
“A Peroni would be perfect right now,” Dave commented, hand over brow trying to ascertain just how to get down there. A short cut maybe?
The hike down to Nocello was fascinating as the flora began to change, homes popped up, lemon trees with lemons so big they appeared to be grapefruit, chickens, goats with bells and all sorts of signs of civilization which were very welcome by this point.
The small piazza di Nocella had a nice big shade tree with a fresh squeezed lemonade stand beneath it. Ah, yes! We shared only one of these and stayed steady on our commitment to the Peronis to quench our thirst.
Making a left out of the piazza toward the water, we discover the famed One Thousand Seven Hundred steps to Positano! At the first step stood a very old man from the hillside, wrinkled and tanned by many years of weather, sporting a big smile hawking for a kiss and a picture with him. How could I say no? Lots of fun even though neither of us knew what the other was saying.
Our steps down, better than taking them up, still came with some effort. We settled on the first hotel/restaurant with tables under some big lemon trees situated on a terrace looking over the sea.
With hands held high wrapped around two cold Peronis, we toasted our incredible journey, the treasures gifted us, the breathtaking grandeur and the awe-inspiring and spiritual essence of the Path of the Gods.
“Would you do this again?” Dave asked. “Hell yeah!” wiping the foam from my top lip. So we shook on it, then unlaced our boots and settled into a leisurely lunch high up on the hill.