I came to and left from the town of Amalfi from two different directions and by two different means of transport. It was also at different times of the day—all of which contributed to making the overall experience that much more interesting.
Arriving in the early evening in mid-October, I traveled on a coach with the SITA service that took me from a major downtown area of Salerno to the coast in the south. Watching the occasional glittering lights along the seaside hills as the twilight darkened into night and we wound our way up the twisting coastline, the entire Amalfitana coast seemed like a magical corner of the universe. Small wonder that legend attributes the Sirens of mythology to have made their home offshore near here.
All of the regional SITA bus service’s in- and out-bound buses park right by the seaside plaza area in front of the town, and if you arrive here in the evening (or anytime, actually), make sure you’ve got your route figured out on foot. Otherwise, if you’re staying right in Amalfi town as I was, and not the outskirts, you’re likely to be doing more walking than you need to. For some reason, I didn’t follow this advice myself and wound up asking at least four friendly but Italian-speaking-only people where my street was. It took me about 45 minutes before I finally stumbled across the small but reasonably close street that led up to my hotel, just a three-minute walk from the Piazza Duomo. But exploring on foot and stumbling across the small, but memorable, treats of the town is part of the essential pleasure of being in Amalfi. The next day, I spent a good part of the morning just meandering further away from the congestion of the streets close to the Piazza Duomo, getting to see the "real" Amalfitan citizenry going about their daily work and chores. One of the smaller piazzas I came across that had a certain charm was the Piazzai dei Dogei, which had stalls set up at one end with vegetable and food vendors. It’s also home to one of the better-known seafood restaurants of the city, "Da Baracca".
Amalfi has become Lemon City par excellence. You can't get away from them, festooning every other shop in one way or another. The most famous and divine local lemon product has to be 'limoncello', a sweetish lemon liqueur, which is best drunk icy cold, straight from the freezer. You may also spot quite a few other items of lemon sweetness in the shop windows--miniature lemon babas in syrup, lemon biscuits, and all kinds of non-edible lemon soaps and scents. One of finest places to buy is Antichi Sapori di Amalfi (089 872062), off the Piazza del Duomo, where you can see the 'laboratorio' through the plate-glass window behind the till. But actually, you’ll find some of these lemon-derived products in almost any shop that is in the business of selling other commercial goods to tourists. Amalfi is also home to many stores selling the beautiful pottery and gorgeous ceramic designs that often reflect the lemon yellows and Mediterranean blues of the region.
Once you’re done exploring the streets and squares behind the main square, it’s also worthwhile to take time for a stroll along the oceanfront, headed south. This is a slight uphill walk at points; I walked about half an hour in this direction, passing the small Amalfi beachfront—which still had sun worshippers crammed onto the pebbly shore—and shops on the other side. It was interesting to stop along the way in the small shops selling newspapers and magazines and catch up with the world. But probably the most memorable getting-around experience was on the back of a vespa I rode, driven by an Italian guide I had met up with who worked during summer months for the local water sport club, Amalfi Windsurfing Club. He took me a few minutes north along the coast road to show me the club’s beach area, weaving the whole way through traffic and, at one point, a tunnel going through the coast, somehow making it past trucks bearing down on us at full speed, coming from the opposite direction.
When it came time to leave Amalfi, headed for Ravello, I neglected to find out when the SITA bus was arriving and opted for a car pickup from my next hotel in Ravello – a huge mistake for my wallet, and another hair-raising Amalfitana driving experience! But did I enjoy arriving, exploring, and getting around Amalfi? I’d go back faster than you can say "vespa".
Amalfi official website and information: www.amalfitouristoffice.it
Tel: 089 871 107