Okay, I’m going to sound a little hippie-ish here. The best vacations are holistic vacations.
\hō-ˈlis-tik\ characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole
I’m not talking meditation and acupuncture...but rather looking at the balance of travel. To me, a perfect vacation has contrast, a yin and yang.
City and country. Site-seeing and relaxation. Touristy and living like a local.
We started vacation in Rome, pushing ourselves to see and eat everything possible. And then after a quick train ride and taxi ... a gear shift. Something calmer, brighter, just as stunning but in a different way.
Why Amalfi? Well, it wasn't up to us. Dave's friends decided to forego a wedding in favor of a stunning villa on the Mediterranean with 20 of their closest friends (cue: face palm and wedding planning regret).
The place was incredible. In the photo on the above left, the villa is the taller building, from the top roof deck to the in-sea lounging area to the terraced patios gilded with fig trees, bougainvillea, herbs, succulents, and more.
Relaxation took many forms. Napping on the roof deck. Crosswords on the main entertaining deck. Bocce on the...activity deck. Reading in the lemon grove. You get the point. You can even contract a boat to pick you up at the foot of the villa (but alas the sea was too choppy so our boat days were cancelled--twice).
We did some site-seeing, but at a more leisurely pace than our Roman look-and-leave. One thing a day instead of seven. On our first day, we went to Hercalaneum, a smaller, more well-to-do city than Pompeii that met the same fate when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
Italy is impossibly beautiful, but not just because of the manmade. After ruins aplenty, we hiked the Path of the Gods from Agerolo to Positano, a walk that combines everything you could want: sky, sea, greenery, flowers, mountains, forest and wildlife.
The contrast extended to food, too. There are a zillion ways to slice this, but here's a start. Casual and high-end. Traditional and experimental. Planned and spontaneous.
In some ways, I think living in Rome wouldn't be that different from living in NYC. But the Amalfi Coast felt more relaxed, possibly by necessity. You can't rush anywhere on those hairpin turns on the coast. The photos above are from Amalfi, a 40-minute walk from our villa. I was ready to do a day of market-ing and cooking, but alas the walk was a bit far and more importantly, harrowing, given there's no sidewalk and every turn is a blind turn.
And unsurprisingly, possibly the best meal of the trip wasn't at some Michelin-starred restaurant, but a home-cooked meal at the villa by Marguerite, the villa's mamma-bird and housekeeper.
We had: eggplant parmigiana, stewed zucchini, panzanella, bruschetta, lemon pasta, shrimp risotto, sea bass en papillote with olives and capers, and cake with custard cream and fresh fruit.
(Side story: when we asked if the eggplant had cheese, Marguerite reassured us, no cheese, only mozzarella!)
Did I love it because it was homey and personal, that I didn't have to look it up on some blog or Google Maps? Did I love it because we were sitting with friends, new and old? Did I love it because it was a refreshing change, a contrast? Yes, yes, yes.
A common term you'll hear in Italy is tipico. As in, typical. To foreign ears, this may sound like an insult. "Typical frat boy", "typical boss rant"... something like that. But in Italy, it's a label of pride.
Up in the hills of Nocelle, the last point on the Path of the Gods until you make the 1,700 steps to Positano, we had an unlikely hike pit stop at Ristorante Santa Croce of meats, cheeses, fish and soup, all served on white tablecloths and the prettiest of plates. Of note: the tipico fiordilatte, a type of mozzarella prized in this region.
The famed Amalfi (aka Sfusato) lemon is everywhere: in orchards on the way to limoncello, in backyards, on servingware, in granita (so good), and in cakes, yogurt, pastries, you name it. I picked lemons from the villa's grove for multiple pitchers of mint lemonade and can attest that these fresh lemons are something else: more fragrant, more delicate, less acidic than our American ones.
Cheese and carbs were our common thread in Rome. Lemons, arugula, and seafood were the refrain in Amalfi.
We enjoyed our last dinner at Il Giardiniello in Minori.
And what do you know, the salad was nothing more than arugula, spicier and more herb-like than what we have here, and a wedge of Amalfi lemon.
We followed in Amalfi tipico fashion: fried anchovies stuffed with smoked mozzarella, fish wrapped in eggplant like a present, seared Mediterranean tuna, and great mounds of Minorese gnocchi, made with flour, ricotta and eggs.
Naturally, we had to get the lemon delight, a vanilla-lemon sponge covered in a dome of lemon cream. And of course, tiramisu. Again. For balance.
AT A GLANCE
Where to stay:
Dimora di Mare
Via Carusiello, 28, 84010 Ravello
Perfect for a large group and/or special occasion. They even host weddings. But otherwise, there are plenty of smaller villa options here.
Where to eat:
Corso Vittorio Emanuele, 17, 84010 Minori
Ristorante Santa Croce
Via Nocelle, 19, Nocelle 84017 Positano
any lemon granita stand in Positano