Agerola to Nocelle: Walking with the Gods

4 04 2012

Il Sentiero degli Dei connects the valley town of Agerola with the teeny mountainous section of Positano called Nocelle. Our plans today take us directly westward from one end to the other, our steps accompanied by local guide Ana. There are various side routes one might take were one inclined to sweat profusely, but we decide that the three hour trek will likely prove satisfying enough.

The sky-high pathway is not recommended for those who suffer from vertigo.

Stomaching the sheer drop is rewarded with the most far-reaching, spectacular views of the Amalfi coast that one could possibly ask for. We hit it on a particularly clear morning, and can easily see all the way out to the Isle of Capri in the distance.

Much of the land along the path is terraced; some traditional locals still use it for cultivation – meaning they walk the path multiple times a day, every day.

There are a few intact “summer houses” – one apparently rented out to a trio of German hiking fanatics – but most of the scattered dwellings up here have long been abandoned.

Civilization seems impossibly far away.

But wait — what’s that just there?

There’s something quite pleasing about staying in a landmark.

Guide Ana bubbles over with enthusiasm and expertise, explaining bits and pieces of history, regional customs, linguistics, geological curiosities, and the uses of wild herbs.

Ubiquitous pebbles of pumice are the result of volcanic eruption. They’re a nutrient-laden gift from Monte Vesuvio that enriches the soil here, making it possible for the huge diversity of plants to take root.

All sorts of herbs sprout determinedly from cracks in the stone walls; many are edible or medicinal. We sample wild rocket and dandelion greens. Ana also points out rosemary, thyme, heather, and asparagus.

The walk is lengthy but certainly not grueling. There’s a handful of steep steps, but mostly downhill, and the path is extraordinarily well-kept. Memories of my time spent on El Camino de Santiago flit through my head; walking this way invites a rhythmic peace found through step after step surrounded by natural wonder.

Nocelle is a miniscule neighborhood in the far reaches of Positano; as far as I can tell it’s home to a scant handful of residents plus exactly two restaurants.

Trattoria Santa Croce is a functional oasis for walkers, ourselves included.

We’ve noticed exceptional ceramics at every restaurant we’ve tried thus far – Ana explains that custom dictates a distinct plate for each dish and diner. Obviously, this includes a jug of house red.

We open with a plate of charcuterie and cheeses. The fresh ricotta is remarkable, and we do remark, and repeatedly.

Porcini e provola: smoked provolone cheese, locally grown porcini mushrooms, slices of boiled potato, and fat heaps of fresh pasta. MP’s favorite.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca (literally “whore’s style” – tee hee): bits and pieces of seasonal fish caught in the bay below, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, parsley, and a chile flake or two. My favorite.

Tiramisu, tiramisu, tiramisu, tiramisu. Janet’s favorite.

Post dolce, limoncello, and espresso, we are faced with a pressing decision: take the SITA bus from up here at Nocelle, or walk down into Positano by way of a 1,000 step staircase? We rally around the fatal combination of booze, sugar, and caffeine, and announce that we will give it a go.

It helps also that it’s the most beautiful afternoon yet. Nocelle’s craggy walls are replete with blooming flora.

The walk is 95% downhill from this point, winding its way alongside a roadway. It takes a good twenty minutes to reach the famous staircase, during which we enjoy fly-bys of lush stepped gardens. Ana points out leafy fava bean plants, which have just come into season.

When we do reach the stairs, I’m prompted for a “before” photo. Then, descent.

The 1,000 stairs feel pretty much exactly like what you would imagine. An “after” photo is not requested.

Toll taken on our joints, we’re overjoyed to catch the SITA bus at the bottom precisely on time, even though it means standing in the aisle and gripping on for dear life around the coastal curves.

When we reach Praiano, the bus screeches to a halt. Another big blue bus has approached from the opposite direction at precisely the skinniest bit of the city road, coincidentally also just where a Vespa has chosen to park. Lesser drivers might have attempted backing up in order to thread the needle one by one – but we’re talking Mario Kart experts here. Both buses scoot forward inch by sweaty inch, passengers eyeballing each other in pressed-together disbelief across the parallel windows. There are definitely fewer than ten centimeters between the two lumbering vehicles. The walk I found wonderful – up to and including the stairs – but I nearly lose it in the heat and the crowd and the jerking of the brakes.

An eternity later, the bus miraculously pulls free. Do they do this every day? We applaud.

A nap is necessary.

Less fretting. Praise Jesus.

I Skype La Strada to inquire about the possibility of pickup, and am cheerfully told si signorina!

Our driver doubles as waitress, and we quickly hone in on wine, salad, and seafood.

The cold: shrimp and radicchio, marinated ‘chovies, unjustifiably good smoked salmon and arugula, squid and parsley, and a carpaccio of something very sweetly mild that the waitress claims is swordfish.

The hot: langostino, shrimp, squid, swordfish, and a reddish local catch served whole, from whom I pick each and every morsel.

The salad: leafy, and just what we want.

The dolce: gelato. Absolutely everyone’s favorite.


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