Italy 2014 Day 15: Amalfi Coast drive and Osteria Angolo Masuccio (Salerno)

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Fortunately it looked as though the weather was going to co-orperate with us on our last full day staying in Salerno, as our plan was to take a ride along the Amalfi Coast. Our host at Salerno Centro, Francesco, would be our driver and we were hoping to make it to three of the major cities along the coast: Amalfi, Ravello and Positano.

Some people may be brave—or perhaps crazy—enough to rent a car and try to do the drive themselves. Not us. You can also take one of the frequent buses that connect the Amalfi Coast towns, which is certainly cheaper than hiring a driver for the day, but we wanted to make the most of our time and also enjoy the freedom of stopping wherever we might wish for a scenic view, like this:

Along the Amalfi Coast, looking back to Salerno

Along the Amalfi Coast, looking back to Salerno

The Amalfi Coast is certainly one of the most scenic drives in the world. It’s also not for the feint of heart and if you are prone to getting carsick, well. Good luck to you. The road winds and weaves its way from town to town often with hairpin turns that take confidence and experience to handle safely.  And if you encounter any kind of road block it can easily take a half hour or more to figure out an alternative route (and you’d better speak good Italian to be able to ask directions!)

Looking toward Amalfi.

Looking toward Amalfi.

That said, we headed out just about 9:30 and after a few photo opportunities on leaving Salerno, made our first stop in Amalfi a little before noon. Once this town was one of the most powerful in all of Italy, an early sea power that dominated Italy as Venice was just beginning to establish itself. Today, it is mostly a tourist destination featuring lots of shops and small restaurants, hotels clinging to the cliffside, and a small public beach.

Amalfi town from the pier.

Amalfi town from the pier.

Most interesting to us was Amalfi’s magnificent Duomo, with its grand staircase and unique Byzantine-Gothic architecture.

Duomo di Amalfi

The Duomo di Amalfi

We also hoped to visit the papermaking museum in town but found it to be unexpectedly closed for the day. Oh well, we had a lot more left to see. So after spending no more than an hour in Amalfi we got back on the road to our next stop: Ravello.

The main piazza of Ravello.

The main piazza of Ravello.

Ravello is located high up in the hills above the town of Amalfi. You can hike it if you’re feeling adventurous, and in the summer time Ravello hosts a large music and arts festival. In wintertime, however, it is a very sleepy but incredibly beautiful town. The main attraction for day trippers like us are the gardens of two magnificent villas, the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone. We started with Rufolo as it was closest to the center of town where we arrived.

Villa Rufolo

Villa Rufolo

The Villa itself is lovely but the real attraction is the view from the gardens, one of the most famous in all of Italy (you’ll see variations on it on many guidebooks and calendars every year.)

The view from Villa Rufolo

The view from Villa Rufolo

After spending time taking in the view and the gardens, we looked around briefly for something to eat for lunch. Not much was open besides a small bar where we could get some hot savory pastries but it would do; we didn’t want to eat too much with more winding driving ahead of us.

In wandering around, however, we did find one fabulous ceramics studio and warehouse that was open, Ceramiche d’Arte. We ended up finding several pieces there to purchase for our home and as gifts. Without question this shop featured some of the most beautiful and unique ceramic art I have seen anywhere in Italy (and being off season the prices were right!)

Ceramiche d'Arte in Ravello

Some beautiful pieces at Ceramiche d’Arte in Ravello

After that, we decided to head on to Villa Cimbrone. This was a bit of a walk from the center of town, along a quiet road lined with beautiful hotel villas all seemingly closed for the season.

A "guide cat" leading us to Villa Cimbrone. We saw more cats than people in Ravello.

A “guide cat” leading us to Villa Cimbrone. We saw more cats than people in Ravello.

We finally made it to Cimbrone and found a lovely place with rustic, woodsy landscaping and gardens. But the real thrill was finding the villa’s Belvedere, known also as the “Terrace of Infinity”.

Is a caption really necessary?

Is a caption really necessary?

Don't look down.

Don’t look down.

I warned you.

I warned you.

The view is incredible yet also a bit dizzying—you really feel like you are perched up high and leaning out over the cliff with the rocky coastline just below. As magnificent as it was, it was almost a little scary standing there for too long…so we completed exploring the gardens and seeing the main attractions while we could, knowing we could not linger too long if we were going to still make it to Positano before dark.

In the gardens of Villa Cimbrone.

In the gardens of Villa Cimbrone.

Indeed, thanks to an unexpected road block the next leg of our journey took a bit longer than expected. It was coming up on quarter of 5pm when we finally made it to the legendary town, and on Francesco’s suggestion we first headed up high to a wonderful lookout point at the top of town, just in time to catch the beginning of the sunset.

Looking down on Positano

Looking down on Positano.

From there we headed down to the lower part of town, parked the car and started on a walk. Unfortunately due to either the season, the time of day or perhaps both it seemed as though most of the town was shuttered up tightly, although we found one or two shops open to explore. We also managed to make it to the beach just in time to catch the end of the sunset.

Wow.

Wow.

It was lovely and, dipping my hand into the water, I was surprised at how warm it still was for the middle of January. I can only imagine how wonderful it is in the summer season!

Positano at sunset.

Positano at sunset.

Before hitting the road again Francesco treated us to a local specialty known as the Delizia al limone:

Delizia al limone in Positano.

Delizia al limone in Positano.

Time to head back to Salerno once again. Because it was now dark outside we took a longer but in fact faster and more direct trip back, heading first to Sorrento and then getting on the A3 back to Salerno. We were back at the B&B by about 7:30 and after a brief rest ready to enjoy our final meal in town.

Now that my stomach was back in shape and we’d only lightly snacked all day, I wanted this meal to be special (and I was hungry!) Francesco had recommended Osteria Angolo Masuccio to us as a really excellent restaurant serving quality local cuisine at reasonable prices. It took us a short while to find the small restaurant on a corner not far from our B&B; it was a little before 9pm when we showed up and it was a tight fit getting us in to a table. But we were quickly greeted, asked if we spoke Italian or English better, and then read the menu options for the night.

This was really just the kind of restaurant I was looking for: chef-focused with a nightly menu based on what was fresh and available for the day. For antipasti there was a choice of seafood or vegetables, then about 4 different pasta and 3 or 4 different secondi available that day. We both went with the seafood antipasti, which was described as four small tastes including clams, baby shrimp, calamari with potatoes and anchovies with pickled red cabbage.

The clams came first and I was delighted that they were razor clams! I haven’t enjoyed them since being in Venice last time. They were excellent, perhaps one on my plate having a bit of grit that could have been better cleaned but otherwise no complaints.

Razor clams

Razor clams

The other three seafood antipasti came plated together. They were all very good, although my favorite was definitely the marinated anchovies. It reminded me very much of Venetian sarde en saor but the cabbage gave it an interesting and different flavor, a bit more rustic and earthy—like the lovely stewed calamari as well.

Trio of seafood antipasti.

Trio of seafood antipasti

Next were our pasta plates. I ordered the paccheri with a mixed seafood sauce while sweetie went for the vegetarian broccoli and cheese sauced bigoli. Both were wonderful; I was thrilled to see more of my favorite razor clams along with some small clams and shrimp. The broccoli pasta was vibrant and fresh, and sweetie really enjoyed it as something different from what we’d been eating for the past few weeks (it was also soothing on his tummy which was now suffering from the same bug I’d had a few days before.)

Paccheri with mixed seafood.

Paccheri with mixed seafood.

Bigoli with broccoli sauce.

Bigoli with broccoli sauce.

The pasta portions were just right to leave us room to share one secondi of grilled bronzino served over sauteed spinach.

Bronzino with sauteed spinach.

Bronzino with sauteed spinach.

I really can’t remember if we had any dessert (knowing sweetie we must have ordered something to share!) But I do remember it was an excellent meal start to finish, just bursting with freshness and really detailed care paid to every ingredient. I would definitely put Osteria Angolo Masuccio at the top of my recommendation list for anyone visiting Salerno!

All in all it was just a perfect day from start to finish. And we were very glad to only have perhaps two blocks to walk back to collapse into bed after such a full day and delicious meal.

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