Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast

In all my visits to Italy, I have never spent much time exploring the coastal gems of Italy: Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast or the Italian islands of Sardinia or Sicily. That is, of course, until last week when we went for a short getaway to the beautiful Amalfi Coast. 

We based ourselves in the cute little town of Sorrento and made ourselves comfortably at home at the Magi House, a lovely B&B/apartment wonderfully located in Sorrento's historic quarters, just a stone's throw away from the seafront promenade. We stayed in the "Mediterranea" flat at Magi House, a comfortable ultra-modern loft apartment decked out in white decor, even the frame of the "tellie" was white with a splash of pink and purple. The flat had an open floor plan with the living room bleeding into the efficient kitchenette, and a spacious granite-clad bathroom. Upstairs was the bedroom with a California king bed featuring glass floors and a view of the living room. The decor was on the feminine side, but we very much enjoyed the Magi House, thanks to the gracious and helpful reception staff and convenient location.

As it was mid-November, Sorrento wasn't terribly busy, which was great as we really got to enjoy this lovely town without fighting the hordes of tourist. We loved strolling through the alleyways, browsing through little shops selling nativity scenes, limoncello liqueur, and local crafts. While the weather was mild, it wasn't quite beach weather either so we spent most of the sunny days sitting in cafes or  exploring hilltop towns along the coast.


On Saturday, we took a spectacular drive along the narrow and windy road up to Ravello, a ritzy jet-setting resort town perched between Valley del Dragone and Valley della Regina with spectacular views of the rugged coast. Both Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone are worth a visit if only for the amazing views and gorgeous gardens.


Back on the twisting, switch-back roads, we drove through the town of Amalfi and then to Positano, another picturesque resort town built on the slopes of the hill. It had a more sophisticated feel than Sorrento with elegant boutiques, upscale hotels, and beautiful pastel-washed homes overlooking the sea. Down below, the beaches were near empty and all we saw was a large blanket of black-sanded beach and the endless blue sea. If it was summer, you may just find me on one of those orange-clad lounge chairs on the beach and I may never leave, but alas it was starting to get chilly as the sun was starting to set. It was time to head back to Sorrento.


The drive along the Amalfi Coast was probably one of the scenic and rewarding drives, ranking high up with the drives along Chapman's Peak in South Africa and Highway 1 in San Francisco. I am a sucker for views and this one certainly did not disappoint. 

If we weren't taking in the panoramic view of the Amalfi Coast, then we were certainly indulging ourselves in local cuisine. We had several enjoyable meals, my favorite being the Inn Bufalito in Sorrento, a fun and lively mozzarella bar and taverna serving up traditional Neapolitan dishes with a modern touch.

Its speciality is buffalo and bufala cheese in all forms. We started off with mozzerella di bufala with a drizzle of Campania olive oil and fresh baby cherry tomato, which was the best mozzarella I have ever tasted, followed by a buffalo ragu pasta with bufala ricotta, a hearty and tasty dish that paired well with local red wine. At this point, I was so stuffed I wasn't sure if I could polish off my main course of mussels sauteed in white wine and herbs. Keenan somehow found a third stomach and devoured his third and final buffalo dish, a stew this time. The crowd was young, the staff was energetic, and food was delicious -- all for 60 euros including tip.  Overall a great evening.


We also went to Ristorante La Basilica in Sorrento, which had a more formal, old world feel than Inn Bufalito and the cooking was more traditional. We both ordered the veal, which was nothing special. The wine list here was huge, some 30 plus pages of wine from Italy and beyond, and a lot pricey than other restaurants in the area. Complimentary bread basket and a limoncello (they love lemons in Sorrento) as an digestif.

While in Ravello, we had lunch at Cumpa' Cosimo, a family-run restaurant popular with locals serving homemade Sorrentine dishes. I had a regional speciality of gnocchi alla sorrentina, a gnocchi with a smoky bacon tomato-based sauce topped with mozzerella cheese, and Keenan had the vegetarian ravioli. Generous portions, pleasant owners, and no views of the coast, but good value. 

The weekend was too short, as they always are.  We wished we could stay for another night, but alas we had to head back to London. The Amalfi Coast is such a beautiful corner of Italy. The geography, terrain, and ruggedness is unbelievable and pictures don't do it justice. I look forward to future visits to Cinque Terre and Piedmont, home of the famous truffle festival and the Barolo wines.  Until we meet again. I will keep the amazing scenery in my mind...