Thursday, April 28, 2011

To the Mountains

Easter has some beautiful and special traditions here. There are haunting walks on Good Friday, where men (I think it's usually men) carry a replica of the body of Christ, there are choir chants, special robes, candles after dark, the whole bit. We attended none of these. Why? I do not know. I wish we'd made more of an effort, and next year, we hope to do exactly that. Instead, we booked a last minute stay in the tiny, mountain town of Nocelle, located high above coastal Positano.
Scully at the lunch restaurant mentioned below - he loves vacation!
Our trip was due to one of Nathan's co-workers, who asked if we'd like to hike a 7km (4.3miles) trail known as the Path of the Gods, named for it's stunning beauty along the Amalfi Coast. We've wanted to hike it since our arrival, but have had the luxury of being Little Red Riding Hood about our time - not when it's too cold, and not when it's too hot, and not when it's raining. April is perfect. Unfortunately, Nathan's co-workers were going this upcoming weekend, when we're not available, but the seed was planted. At the last second, we found Residence Villa Degli Dei in Nocelle, a town we'd never heard of. The hotel would take our Crazy Dog...and it is located right on the Path of the Gods...and they have a parking lot (paid, but still, parking)...and it is above Positano, a town we both love. Sold!

Saturday morning, we loaded up and headed south, fighting all the other Amalfi Coast traffic along the way. Needing a break, we stopped at Grotta Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto). With only one spot left in their parking lot, we pulled in high above the water, then dragged Scully down a few steps to the elevator. He's terrified inside elevators, so that didn't go well, but it was a quick trip down to the the sea level, where the grotto is located. There, we headed into a tiny grotto, where we got into a five bench rowboat (with Scully - he does like boats, so no problems there). After some more tourists arrived, the rower shoved off and rowed us about five feet to get a better look at the glowing water. It's a beautiful color where an underground opening in the grotto lets in the light. The rower then rowed around the edges of the grotto, telling cheesy stories about the formations and showing us where an underwater nativity has been set up - probably to help us not feel ripped off at paying 5euros apiece. It was actually a really great stop, fun to stretch our legs and do something a little different, and it's quite a bit cheaper than visiting Capri's Blue Grotto!

Back in the car, we continued along the coastal road, my foot pressing the imaginary brake that sits on my side of the car at every turn - every single curve seemed to also hold a massive, tour bus swinging around it! We were starving, but thought we'd get on to our hotel, until we passed a restaurant right along the road but with sweeping views from it's outdoor tables. We've gotten used to beautiful views here, but this restaurant was really something special! After a nice lunch and back in the car for good, we continued on to Nocelle. We had to stop in Positano at another hotel, where we were to meet a man who would guide us up to Nocelle. He was already up in Nocelle though, so the hotel clerk gave us directions up into the mountains that ended with: "Follow this road until it ends, then look for a man in a black shirt." This was when I started to have second thoughts. And up we went. Climbing, climbing, climbing, with the two-way road getting smaller and smaller - and it did indeed end, right at a little parking lot, where not one, but two, men in black were there to greet us.

Good thing, too. What we didn't know was that Nocelle is a pedestrian only town, accessible from the parking lot via a bunch of stairs, then a tree-lined walkway over a gorge, then some little alleys to navigate. We're light packers, but had not packed for this type of haul. The men helped us carry our two weekend bags, two daypacks for hiking, food basket (it being Easter, we had no idea what sort of restaurants would be open), and Scully's bag with food, bowls, portable dog crate, and toys. Oh...and our six pack of 1.5liter water bottles. But our hotel - oh my! And the town! The weekend ended up being one of those perfect, getaway weekends that I didn't know I needed.

Nocelle is a real deal mountain town, but just gorgeous. Not a run down, country town, but charming and serene. It quite literally clings to the edge of the mountain, with lots of stairs going up and down to various houses and terraced development. Pathways are narrow and lined with hand-placed, stone walls, many with flower baskets spilling blooms down them. At the edge of town is a pizzeria (closed during our weekend) and a very, very small, salumeria (meat and cheese deli, light groceries). There is a trattoria, in which we had one of my favorite meals since we've moved to Italy, and a church. There you have it. The entire make-up of the town's commercial spots, other than a few Bed&Breakfasts or Villa hotels. So as far as things to do in town, options are relax or relax. No shops, no bars, no clubs, no nothing. It was perfect.

View in one direction from hotel balcony...
We were in a smaller room at our hotel because it had a larger bathroom - complete with tub and multi-jet shower, which we anticipated needing after our long hike. Since we were on the top floor, we had sweeping views of the ocean, with cliffs spreading out in either direction, the church steeple below our balcony (so we were in a beautiful spot to enjoy the Easter morning bells), a wonderfully appointed kitchenette to make our own breakfasts and lunches, and a bed that faced the french doors opening onto that gorgeous, ocean view. Just because we could, we'd planned to take a local bus (picking up back at the parking lot) down to Positano for dinner. The best thing that could have happened was that the bus never arrived. We'd had much discussion about the fact that we'd only have an hour in town before the last bus up to Nocelle...or face the 2000 stair walk back up to town. When the bus didn't arrive, we headed straight for the one trattoria in town, sat at yet another table with a view, and enjoyed an absolutely fantastic dinner. This restaurant got the portions exactly right - something we've never experienced here. We left full, but not too full, walked "home" along a quiet alley, woke up to the ocean view, and enjoyed our coffee while listening to the Easter morning to bells echo around the mountains.
...And view in the other direction

And then we hiked...

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