Don’t "Do" Amalfi – "Do" Agerola!
I have fallen in love with small green lizards, the shadows of leaves on stone steps, white walls and tiled red roofs, terracotta pots filled with geraniums, hillsides strewn with the colors of spring flowers – red poppies, golden nasturtiums, delicate violets and roses in wine-red and numerous shades of pink. From the window of our apartment, La Pennicella in Campora, the hills of Agerola, embrace the valley like folds of a blanket, caressing each rivulet as it follows the ravines down to the sea. Picturesque, and yet real, the terraces dance with the farmhouses through the clouds, appearing and disappearing to allure the walker and trekker alike. And the sun plays its own part, in a moment reaching through the clouds to reveal the ocean, the gentle merging of sky and azure water that forms an ethereal blue horizon high above the Costa d’Amalfi.
Here is the ultimate sense of place for me, accompanied by an authentic and local experience of Italian life.
It is easy to be drawn to the popular, the much touted Amalfi or the buzz of Positano, but the hills of Agerola draw up the atmosphere from the sublime coast, yet remain true to their roots. Homes are solid, built in the rock of the hills like the culture, anchored to thousands of years of tradition. We felt nourished by our stay. Our table was filled everyday with local produce including firm cherry tomatoes, delicious beans, tasty carrots, sweet strawberries, and stone fruit. Whereas the streets of Amalfi can be somewhat impersonal, the streets of Agerola are full of greeting – smiles, friendly dogs and loud exclamations about everything from the vegetables, traffic or weather. Walk to the mercato; buy ham, prosciutto, mortadella and Agerola bread, butter and mozzarella.
At La Pennicella, obviously our recommended stay, we were given bottled cherries from the larder, homemade tiramisu and Limoncello. We were treated to home-cooked lunch of lasagna, veal scaloppini in white wine and fresh garden salad. The homemade wine is organic and potent! The culture of planting, growing and preserving; cooking, eating and drinking define the way of life.
Walking, although perhaps seemingly treacherous on the narrow roads, is an easy way to experience the valley and its small villages of Campora, San Maria, Pianillo, Bomerano, Ponte and San Lazarro. The villages are separated from each other by small rivers, leaving the landscape a tapestry of bridges and enchanting paths characterized by stone arches, delightful grottos and punctuated by shrines to the ever-present Madonna.
A sense of peace is but a breath away at every step. And talking of steps; be sure to walk down the steps from Agerola to Amalfi! Prepare for a paced walk. We carried fruit and water. We didn’t count the stairs but are told there are perhaps 3000. The twists and turns of the path allow the vista to move throughout the descent, as if watching a slide show of unparalleled magnificence. There is no need to hurry to your destination because it is not Amalfi you are searching for, as with every iconic ‘must see’ place, it is the journey that matters not the destination. For this ancient stairway, this sentiment is profoundly true. Every step has character; each protruding chunk of hillside has vibrant colour; each curve of the staircase opens to a new descent and another laneway of stairs. The meditation of walking down thousands of steps opens the heart to everyone who has walked here before – Romans, Greeks, Italians, processional and recreational – there is an ancient rhythm not to be missed.
For artists, photographers and lovers of beauty, Agerola is a wealth of architectural line and form. Looking across the valley from La Pennichella in Campora, the lines of a thousand rooftops decorate the green hills. The streets are peppered with old doors and windows - a treasure trove of worn timber and colored patina – masterpieces of paint and plaster at every curve in the road; rusted locks and decrepit iron latches. For lovers of hidden entrances and walls with stories, there are doorways that lead to pathways that lead to more stairs and more doorways - a watercolorist’s dream.
Don’t be confused with the ethereal connotations of the label, ‘Land of the Gods’. Yes, it can be lofty and majestic but Agerola is earthy, verdant, fertile, and grounded in tradition and culture.
Forget Amalfi! Be sure to do Agerola! This is where the Goddess lives.