Matt and I looked at each other and smiled: we were in Italy less than an hour and had procured a heavenly cappuccino, a smooth double espresso, and some of the most divine focaccia I had ever tasted, all within the confines of a gas station on the A16. I was ready to reject my Irish roots and embrace "la dolce vita" right then and there.
We made the trek from Bari to Ravello, breath-held, with white-knuckle grips on our circus-like Smart car. We bobbed and weaved along the famed Amalfi Coast Drive*, gently navigating the spectacular cliffs, falling rocks, and impatient Italian motorcyclists who are as insane as their reputation. Thankfully, the coast's views live up to their reputation, as well, and we arrived in Ravello starstruck.
Over the course of the week, we enjoyed the best pastries (and views) that we ever had in Ravello, tasted yogurt and gelato in Amalfi, bought linen in Positano, ate incredible pizza at Franco's in Sorrento, and had a delicious picnic in Capri. Save for the pastries and a few highlights (like our Easter dinner at Villa Maria in Ravello, with organic vegetables from their garden) I wasn't blown away by the food. But the best part of the Amalfi Coast is just being there, soaking in culture, hiking the hills, enjoying the views, and breathing the sea air. One gets the impression that it would be the perfect place to disappear for a few months to write a book or learn Italian.
One of the greatest surprises came on our way back to Bari with an off-the-beaten path stop in Matera. Known as the white city, Matera is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its Sassi di Matera (stones of Matera), though not famous enough to make it into Fodor's Italy guidebook. But part of the city's charm is that it remains largely untouched by tourism. Walking through the stone streets of Matera is like stepping back in time 9,000 years. Apparently, it looks like biblical Jerusalem, so much so that Mel Gibson chose it as the location for The Passion of the Christ.
For two Americans who have recently taken up the nomadic lifestyle, Matt and I frequently talk about the best way to travel, and specifically the difference between visiting a place and knowing a place. Having been introduced to Italy, I can say wholeheartedly: this is a broad I want to know. She's complicated and unrelenting at times, but the absolute beauty of the place is transformative. I think Beppe Servergini said it best: "It's the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the
space of a hundred meters, or in the course of ten minutes. Italy is the
only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and
Grazie, Italia. We can't wait to come back.
*Shout out to our fellow foodies at Due Spaghetti for their life-saving tips on navigating the Amalfi Coast Drive.