Rupert’s description of Amalfi Coast

This was written by my son, Rupert Scarfe.  It shows his feelings about the Amalfi Coast.

THE AMALFI COASTLINE

WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A BEAUTIFUL AREA WHERE ONE OF THE MOST FANTASTIC ROADS I KNOW OF, UNWINDS BETWEEN HIGH ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND A BEAUTIFUL BLUE SEA.

EVERYTHING HAS ALREADY BEEN SAID ABOUT THE DIVINE COAST, AS MOST PEOPLE CALL IT. SIMPLY A UNIQUE PIECE OF LANDSCAPE. BUT TO BE ABLE TO CATCH THE REAL EMOTIONS OR SENSATIONS THAT THIS ENSEMBLE OF BEAUTY, COLOURS AND SHAPES, IS NOT AN EVERY DAY THING.

IF YOU ARE DRIVING ALONG THE COAST, THE MOUNTAINS ABOVE YOUR HEAD MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE ONE OF THOSE GUYS THAT LIVE WITH LIONS, OR SWIM WITH SHARKS. YOU ARE SHARING VERY SMALL SPACES WITH BIG THREATENING SHEER DROPS, THAT STAND JUST A FEW METRES ABOVE YOUR HEAD. THE AMERICAN TOURISTS, (I SOMETIMES TOUR GUIDE AROUND THE AREA) SAY :

‘-GEE, I SURE WOULD NOT LIKE DRIVING THROUGH HERE EVERY DAY’ – AND THAT’S WHEN I FEEL KIND OF SPECIAL AND THINK TO MYSELF ‘I DO! I TRUST THE BIG ROCKS!’ I KNOW THEY COULD HURT ME ANY TIME, JUST LIKE A WILD ANIMAL, BUT THEY ALSO GIVE ME A SENSATION OF PROTECTION, ESPECIALLY WHEN I’M CYCLING PAST THEM AND COULD FEEL VERY VULNERABLE.

THERE ARE A FEW SPOTS WHICH ARE MY FAVOURITES, AND NO MATTER WHAT’S GOING ON IN MY DAY, I JUST NEED TO LOOK AT THEM TO FEEL AT PEACE AGAIN. WITH AN INCREDIBLE CONFORMATION FALLING INTO THE SEA, THEY JUST GIVE ME A SENSATION OF, I DON’T KNOW, I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR THE CORRECT WORD FOR THE LAST TWO DAYS – CAN’T FIND IT! BUT THEY ARE WATCHING ME IN A VERY RELAXED WAY, NOT STARING AT ME – A BIT LIKE A MOTHER WITH A CHILD THE FIRST TIME SHE LETS HIM GO OUT ON HIS OWN –

‘YES, YOU’RE FINE, DON’T WORRY! – BUT I’LL JUST KEEP AN EYE ON YOU -‘.

AND THE DIFFERENT LIGHTS –

YOU WANT TO SEE THOSE DROPS COMBINING WITH THE SEA AT DAWN WHEN YOU’RE DRIVING IN THE DARK TOWARDS THE ALREADY ILLUMINATED SIDE OF THE COAST –

THE LATE SPRING AFTERNOONS WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN ….WITH THE PERFUMES IN THE AIR ;

THE BOUGANVILLEA, OR EVEN THE WARMTH OF THE AIR ITSELF ARE SO FULFILLING – WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A PERFECT COMBINATION OF COLOURS AND FORMS.

THE HUGE LAST PART OF THE APPENINES, CALLED ‘MONTE LATTARI’ (MILKY MOUNTAINS), THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA, THE WHITE VILLAS COVERED IN FLOWERS BUILT JUST BELOW THE ROAD A FEW METRES FROM THE WATER, THE ROWING BOATS, THE INCREDIBLE TUNNELS DUG THROUGH THE ROCK, THE FANTASTIC LITTLE BAYS WHICH EACH HAS ITS OWN SMALL BEACH ……

I’M ACTUALLY NOT ITALIAN AND WAS NOT BORN IN THE AREA, SO I’M LUCKY TO BE A ‘GUEST’ IN SUCH AN ENVIRONMENT.

DON’T THINK OF IT AS AT IT’S BEST ONLY IN THE SUMMER – DURING THE COLDER PART OF THE YEAR, WITH GREY CLOUDY SKIES AND ROUGH SEAS IT’S ONE HELL OF A DRAMATIC, PICTURESQUE SCENE AND JUST TRY TO IMAGINE A SUNSET ON A CLEAR DAY . WHEN HALFWAY DOWN THE COAST NEAR POSITANO YOU LOOK DOWN TOWARDS THE ISLAND OF CAPRI, OFTEN SEEN CLEARLY, THERE IS A HUGE ORANGE FIREBALL SINKING IN THE OCEAN (AS SOME CALL IT) ……….

IT’S BREATHTAKING!

THE LAST BIT OF THE COASTLINE IS ITS HIGHEST PART, WITH NO VILLAGES EN ROUTE, ONLY A FEW HOUSES SCATTERED AROUND……….YOU COULD BE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. YOU JUST SIMPLY GET LOST AND FEEL COMPLETELY PART OF THE SURROUNDINGS, WHICH MOTHER NATURE HAS SO KINDLY (AND I MEAN IT) LET ME BE PART OF.

SO, WHAT CAN I SAY TO YOU? IT’S JUST A VERY PROFOUND KICK TO YOUR EMOTIONS AND SENSATIONS AND BRINGS OUT ALL KINDS OF FEELINGS AND REALLY, REALLY PUTS YOUR HEART AND MIND IN PEACE WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD.

MY ADVICE TO YOU IS WHENEVER DRIVING ALONG THE ‘DIVINA’ (IT WOULD BE BETTER TO WALK OR CYCLE) STOP AND PARK SAFELY, TURN OFF THE ENGINE THEN LEAN OVER THE WALL, LOOK ALL AROUND CAREFULLY, LISTEN AND SMELL..

YOU WILL BE LOST, AND AT ONE WITH IT ALL – ONLY THEN YOU CAN SAY

‘I’VE SEEN THE DIVINE AMALFI COAST’.

Rupert Scarfe

1980 Earthquake

23rd November 1980 – it had been an unusually hot day but that gave us no warning of what was to come.   In the evening, as I was preparing for my boys’ bedtime, I was dumbfounded by what happened from one moment to the other………..

“I had said I’d get the boys’ bath ready and as I walked towards the bathroom there was a shattering bang. The shock of so loud a noise stopped me and for a moment I thought a jet had broken the sound barrier above us, but within only a second or two, the floor began to undulate beneath my feet; it felt like trying to balance on a slow roller coaster. All our windows shook and a chandelier trembled violently. The word ‘earthquake’ jumped into my mind but I didn’t want to believe it……………..

soon, it seemed the whole town had gathered on the sea-front, where we all tried to understand what was happening………………

“I had been wrong to expect scenes of panic; people were gathered in hushed groups; several were crying, some stood still in dumb shock, others were praying. Everyone had someone to be afraid for. Clearly there had been a catastrophe somewhere but with the electricity off again, there were no radios or television sets to give us news. We waited, not knowing what to do and people tried to comfort one another. Friends I didn’t know I had saw me with my children and offered us refuge in their car, or to share some food with them……………………”

Amalfi’s Annual Regatta

Regatta procession

To celebrate the history of Italy’s Maritime Republics (Amalfi, Pisa, Genova and Venice) each of them take turns in staging an annual regatta.  When it’s Amalfi’s turn the town is full of colour and excitement;  flags wave from numerous balconies, music is played, invited guests take their seats for the best views, medieval costumes are brought out from the local museum, to be worn by those who make up the  glorious procession from Atrani to Amalfi.   The sea becomes a living Canaletto with the countless local boats of all types, yachts, rowing boats, fishing boats, rocking gently in the waves, before moving away from the channel where the race will take place.

 During the race, the town is animated with cries of encouragement to each of the team’s supporters.   I have seen the reaction when our team won;    there was a temporary hush before the explosion of fireworks, applause and cheering, supporters jumped fully-clothed into the sea, many of the competitors wept with joy and within minutes cars and scooters took to the roads, tooting their horns all the way to Positano.

Amalfi’s Cathedral

DSCF0567

 

“I can’t claim to have seen all the main European cathedrals but of those I have seen, the cathedral of Sant’.Andrea in Amalfi is unique. It’s style is chiefly Byzantine, with brightly coloured mosaics decorating the tympanum and slender, striped pillars in front of the atrium, but what really makes it unique is the sweeping, steep staircase by which it is approached  – a symbolic stairway to Heaven.”

where else is there so impressive an entrance to a cathedral?   Not only the beautiful mosaics above the building, but also the superbly carved door, sent back to Amalfi from Constantinople.   People spend an age sitting at bars in the Piazza, coffe or Prosecco in hand,  gazing upwards at this wonderful sight.

Minuta

“The best feature of this house was its spacious tiled terrace which looked straight across to the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello.  When Andrea set out for work in the morning, I could watch from the terrace until his little blue Fiat 500 was far away down the road, then Rupert and I usually ate our breakfast in that magnificent open space, looking across to the Bay of Salerno, the rooftops of Amalfi below us and the sea stretching away to the horizon.   When we first arrived, breakfast had been only bread or cornetti with butter and jam, but one day we were both delighted to find a shop that sold Kellogs’ Cornflakes and we were able to have a ‘proper’ breakfast at last”

 

view from Minuta, Scala

 

What a view and how we loved it.   In the morning it was a treat to have breakfast with all that beauty around us.   Later, we’d walk down to the main piazza to take the bus to Amalfi, for lunch with my in-laws.   At the end of the day, we’d come back in the car with Andrea, usually bringing pizzas which we’d eat sitting on the terrace wall, looking down at the sea sparkling in the moonlight and the bobbing lights of the fishing boats.

Some facts about Amalfi

Amalfi, home of the Sirens, one-time Maritime Republic with settlements throughout most of eastern Europe, in modern times one of the most desirable destinations for tourists and, more importantly, for  many years my home.   Its rich history is celebrated throughout the year in processions with participants wearing copies of brightly coloured medieval costumes and musicians playing ancient themes.   For more serious, religious occasions, walls are lined with flaming torches in place of electric light, making the whole town appear once more as it did centuries ago.   At night-time, fishermen’s lamps bob on the waves  to attract local tuna fish whilst the days filled with sunshine invite everyone to lie on the beaches or take their boats out to sea, where  they can perhaps snooze, read, or chatter quietly with their companions.    The more energetic will be swimming, diving or even just paddling.

For those who prefer the countryside, there are the mountains bordering the coastline.   Overlooking Amalfi from the highest nearby peak, is a delightful little  community founded by the Romans and called Ravello.   Despite its description in the famous writings of Bocaccio,this charming location was made famous by two British ex-pats – Norman Reid, a Scottish botanist and Ernest Beckett,the second Lord Grimthorpe, a Yorkshireman.   Reid built a superb formal garden for his Villa Rufolo, which has become the setting  for the now world famous Festival of Music in the town;  Beckett brought English intellectuals such as the Bloomsbury Group to Ravello and also designed another incomparable garden.   Both villas and gardens are a must to all visitors.

With the Island of Capri visible from the Amalfi Coast and the  unique ruins of Pompeii only one hour away, the area offers a chance for serious study and absorbing historical facts.   Add to this the once highly powerful position of Amalfi with the largest ship-building activity of its time, its ancient trade with distant lands, the delightful climate, excellent food, smiling, friendly inhabitants and beauty all around, it appears to have everything.

View from the Bussola

“Beneath my hotel balcony, cars are parked all along one side of the road, leaving room only for a single line of traffic to pass on its way to or from the port;   to the left it stretches up the hill before turning right towards the ancient watchtower, some hundred yards away on the other side of the Bay.   Alongside that road lies the wide tree-lined pavement where benches provide comfort and rest for those who want to sit in the sunlight gazing out to sea, gossip together or just watch the passers-by”

DSCF0565-lighter Bussola

Our ‘private’ road

DSCF0663Yes, I’d fallen in love with Amalfi within hours of our arrival, but it was only when we finally found our own home there on the hillside, that my dream was realised. From those windows we looked down to the coast road, the beaches, all of the Bay of Amalfi, the open sea beyond and the hills of Cilento on the horizon.  All of life seemed to pass there;  horses pulled their carozze, people strolled, stopped to chat, ate their ice-creams, sat to take in the views and note who was walking with who.  My boys could play with all our neighbours’ children on that ‘private’ road with almost no outside intrusion.   Our neighbours became such good friends, always with a smile, always ready to help.   Every day was a good day.

“On the floor below us lived Don Biagio with his wife and four children.  Every morning he set out for his work as a guide to the island of Capri.   In those days there was only one ferry to take passengers from Amalfi, but how impressive it was!   This long, white-painted boat called the ‘Faraglione’ came from Salerno and would loom into sight around the curve of the Bay, giving a loud salute to the town from its siren before sailing majestically into the port.  There were always onlookers at various windows, waving hankies to greet this familiar visitor, who was an old friend to many of the townspeople, but a figure of mystery and adventure to some old- timers who had never ventured on the hour-long cruise to Capri.”

You’d never find so much as a cigarette-end on this road, swept and scrubbed every day and when it was freshly washed no-one was allowed to walk past until it was dry. DSCF0553

Hotel Luna and San Francesco plaque

“On the east corner of the bay, in front of its own 16th century watchtower, is the Hotel Luna. This was originally a monastery, founded as long ago as 1222 by Saint Francis of Assisi and built directly into the steep rock face. There were numerous small cells for the monks and a still-present cloister in the centre of the building where St. Francis meditated and prayed. It was in the 1800s that the Barbaro family bought it for their own home and they still own and run it today. Now we know it as the Hotel Luna Convento, slightly confusing to English speakers as it was in fact a monastery, not a nunnery. In 1857 the arrival of a road to take traffic made the Barbaros realise that where there had previously been very few visitors to the coast, there were bound to be many more now that it was accessible and they set about establishing what was the first hotel in the area.”

DSCF0653-cropped……and what famous names have been written in their guest book – Wagner and his wife who rode mules from the hotel up to the Villa Rufolo in Ravell, Henrik Ibsen, who wrote part of his ‘Dolls’ House’ at a desk in what is now known as the Ibsen Room and even Mussolini, who wrote a very kind letter thanking his hosts for his wonderful stay.