In the heat of the summer, our thoughts tend to wander and places like the prized Amalfi Coast along Italy’s western coastline come to the forefront of our minds. There probably isn’t an aspiring traveler on earth that hasn’t either heard of it, dreamed of it, or actually been there. It is truly a dream.
The Dream of Amalfi
It is also exactly how it’s pictured in the movies from the era of Vittorio de Sica and Sophia Loren to those of late such as Under the Tuscan Sun and The Talented Mr. Ripley. So, where I am going with this? It is paradise… right?
Well, almost (sigh). The hoards of tourists that make their pilgrimage to the well-known Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, and Positano during the high season (mainly July and August) have somewhat ruined it for the rest of us.
By “the rest of us” I mean those travelers that are looking for a more authentic experience; those of us who would like to get into a lengthy, (although botched) conversation in Italian with a local at the bar in the piazza; those of us who would like to know the name of the signora who painstakingly made the homemade pasta at dinner. For “us”, if we have the possibility, the months of May, June, and September are going to be a far more rewarding experience.
The Little Haven of Maiori
The town of Maiori in the month of May was the “off the beaten path” type travelers’ dream. From Salerno (a major station well connected by both the Italo high-speed trains as well as the Trenitalia Frecce) one can easily take a bus (SITA) and reach Maiori in about an hour. The bus routes are basically Salerno-Maiori-Amalfi and then Amalfi-Positano-Sorrento. Private taxis are available but very expensive.
The bus ride in itself is an almost guaranteed adventure straight out of a movie scene! Our ride included infinite treacherous curves and passing other buses with literally a few centimeters in between. Of course, there were a multitude of locals that hopped off their Vespas or stopped their work only too happy to direct the drivers with excited gesturing and yelling as only Italians can do. It’s all part of the marvelous experience that is so truly unique to Italy.
Maiori offers a lovely town center with numerous shops and restaurants run by locals. You’ll immediately notice the abundance of lemons. They’re everywhere! From lemon-shaped soaps to perfumes to olive oil to the famous limoncello liqueur– they are the pride and joy of the entire coast.
I had been to Sorrento years before and fondly remembered eating a spaghetti al limone dish that I had tried to recreate multiple times since. I began my quest asking at various shops if they knew of a good place that served it and low and behold, a friendly shop owner handed me a business card of a restaurant that she knew served it. It was late that evening so we decided to go the following day for lunch.
As soon as we walked in and I asked the server if, in fact, they did serve spaghetti (actually tagliolini) with lemon, her face lit up and she proudly exclaimed, “Oh! You’re the one! They told me you’d be coming in today! Sì! We have it!”
Dumbfounded- I contemplated how it could be possible that the shop owner from 11 pm the night before could have already contacted the restaurant and told her about us. Then I remembered- this is Italy. Not just Italy, but southern Italy. The climate is warmer, the people are warmer, and anything and everything is possible.
We dined on the most delicious lunch of the entire trip that day: warm focaccia bread with oregano and lemon-infused olive oil, spaghetti al limone, the seafood catch of the day, a sliced lemon salad (surprisingly amazing!), and a delectable lemon sorbet. It felt good knowing that our smiling server would tell the shop owner from the night before that we had come and dined and enjoyed her spaghetti al limone and that the tradition would continue. We would not be the ones to break the chain of this wonderful heritage.
Of course over the course of our short, three-day stay, we did visit the inevitable Amalfi, Positano, the island of Capri, and Ravello- all breathtaking and totally worth it. But every evening we were relieved to return to our little haven of Maiori where the locals smiled and nodded their heads as we strolled by them along the promenade and where there is still an authentic piece of Italy left for “the rest of us”.
photo copyrights: positanonews.it; thatsaleaf.com; vesuviolive.it; lonelyplanet.com