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The Amalfi Coast ~ Italy in a roundabout way – part 2

Italy in a roundabout way Part 1

Stretching about 30 miles or 50km along the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, most famous for the town of Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) is one of Europe’s most breathtaking. Cliffs terraced with scented lemon groves sheer down into sparkling seas; whitewashed and pastel colored villas cling precariously to unforgiving slopes while sea and sky merge in one vast blue horizon. (© Daryl Hunter's "The Hole Picture"/Daryl L. Hunter)

Stretching about 30 miles or 50km along the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, most famous for the town of Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) is one of Europe’s most breathtaking. Cliffs terraced with scented lemon groves sheer down into sparkling seas; whitewashed and pastel colored villas cling precariously to unforgiving slopes while sea and sky merge in one vast blue horizon. best sellers – Amalfi Coast photographs prints for sale

The long and winding Amalfi Road

The long and winding Amalfi Road

South of Naples or Napoli as the Italians know it, is a landscape not unlike the Big Sur Coast of the USA except the Tyrrhenian Sea instead of the Pacific Ocean slaps against the craggy rocks beneath a road, impossibly high above the deep blue sea. Like Big Sur its cliff side road hooks and cork screws on the edge of what appears to be nothing on one side and a monolith on the other. Just to remind you that you haven’t stumbled into a beautiful heaven, motor scooters, thousands of them, buzz at you like mosquitoes followed by their posse of Peugeots and fiats all hurrying to get nowhere fast. Welcome to the Amalfi Coast.

The winding road thousands of feet above the beautiful deep blue sea are where the similarities end. Big Sur has very few people living on its cliffs; the Amalfi Coast has tens of thousands. Big Sur is nearly wilderness and Amalfi has been heavily settled for thousands of years. Any cliff side slope less than 60% grade has been terraced and cultivated for centuries. Best of all, for centuries villagers have been building awesome looking buildings into the cliffs and Michelangelo or some other renaissance genius suggested to everyone to paint them pink, red, and powder blue, creating a photographer’s dreamscape, part landscape, part cityscape.   The icing on the cake is the village’s precarious marriage to the vertical landscape. I was finally here and nearly ready to shoot.

The over crowded Amalfi Road, stretching about 30 miles or 50km along the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, most famous for the town of Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) is one of Europe’s most breathtaking. Cliffs terraced with scented lemon groves sheer down into sparkling seas; whitewashed and pastel colored villas cling precariously to unforgiving slopes while sea and sky merge in one vast blue horizon. (© Daryl Hunter's "The Hole Picture"/Daryl L. Hunter)
The over crowded Amalfi Road

After a 2 hour crash, I awoke in a panic knowing afternoon light of this exotic local was slipping by uncaptured. I retrieved my Fiat from the parking garage malaise and headed west into the marvelous antiquity that surrounded me. My reverie lasted about 30 seconds, reminded by a honking horn, that I had to increase my speed and vigilance as I was forced to abandon my desire to look around, concentrate on not angering local drivers and shear survival.

It isn’t that you are able to drive at high velocities of speed on the Amalfi Coast; you rarely get you car into third gear. That said; the road is so windy and skinny that even at that speed it takes all the attention and diligence you can muster. I would have rather designated this diligence to visually scanning the landscape but that was not to be.

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy; synonymous with romantic getaways and honeymoons, a string of small towns hugging cliffs linked by hair-raising road journeys. This solo trip would not be a romantic getaway, but it was a trip of love: the love of photography. Despite being one of the most tourist-choked parts of Italy, the Amalfi Coast is a stunning photographic destination.

Positano the best know town on the Amalfi Coast

A beautiful day in Positano Italy on the Amalfi Coast.

Inhabited since very early times, these unlikely coastal villages were a crossroad for Mediterranean sailors who had set up businesses anywhere they could moor a boat, from the 15th century BC onward. Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.

The Amalfi Coast’s popularity has skyrocketed since the 1950s, and it’s one of Italy’s biggest tourist attractions. Drawn by the beaches of Maiori, the cliff side views of Ravello, the terrace restaurants of Positano adjacent to infinity pools of the plethora of hotels and the timeless cultural landscape of the alleys, and harbors attract tourists by the millions.

Outdoor cafe, Amalfi Italy

Outdoor cafe, Amalfi Italy

I marveled at the old buildings of Maiori, Manori, and Amalfi as I passed through, I was eager to get to Positano to scout for sunset landscape opportunity before heading back to the hotel somewhere south of dark thirty.

Along the way I would pull off at the rare overlook providing a small gap for an even smaller car, this was more possible in the small gaps between villages and near impossible in the villages. These villages with histories over a thousand of years weren’t built for cars nor should they be altered to accommodate them.

defensive rampart tower that used to protect the Amalfi Coast has been repurposed as a hotel.

Defensive rampart tower that used to protect the Amalfi Coast has been repurposed as a hotel.

There are about 30 medieval looking defensive ramparts, built in several stages, along the coastal strip going from Vietri sul Mare to Positano. Every protrusion into the sea has one, and still tells us the story of eight hundred years (from the IX to the XVII century) of struggles incurred by local people against Saracen bloody raids. Saracen was a term for Muslims widely used in Europe during the later medieval era

There are two types of coastal towers: the first and oldest ones are cylindrical shaped and go back to the Angevin period. They are tall, thin, with a few small windows, they had mainly an alarm function. Their purpose was to signal imminent danger to the population, by lightning of fires, allowing people to find shelter into the woods or other fortifications.

In more massive square-shaped towers had thicker walls and were built after the advent of artillery that necessitated a change in the design of the fortifications. They had function of sighting, signaling, shelter and active defense, by weapons whose range allowed to hit a ship near the coast. The impressive archaeological samples of the coastal towers, are today part of a priceless natural heritage. These have fallen into private ownership and have been converted into hotels and restaurants.

Sunset, sailboat, Amalfi Harbor

Sunset, sailboat, Amalfi Harbor

After scouting Positano, and a stroll through the village, I decided, due to my continued fatigue, it would be better to backtrack and do my sunset shoot from Amalfi Harbor, much closer to my hotel as I feared driving here at night. The sunset from Amalfi harbor was amazing.

The Amalfi Coast remained isolated until recent times, and could only be reached by sea. It became more accessible to visitors from the construction of the Amalfi Coast Road which was started in 1815 by Ferdinand II of Bourbon.

The Amalfi Coast remained the favorite haunt of, artists, composers, writers, and celebrities who were still attracted by its relative remoteness until the 1950’s when John Steinbeck wrote an article for Harper’s Bazaar entitled “Positano,” the Amalfi Coast was now on the map. Steinbeck once wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” I believe what Steinbeck said applies to the whole Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi Harbor Sunrise

Amalfi Harbor Sunrise

Up before dawn, I was again off and running after a hasty shower and lukewarm water faucet instant Starbucks coffee fix. Minutes before sunrise I was still fumbling with my Lee Filter system attachments as my hasty coffee ingestion hadn’t worked its magic yet. I rushed to where I had shot the previous evening leaving the Fiat unlocked, I realized this 100 yards away but there was no time to return, I reasoned, thieves and the reasonable are still in their beds. I was revisiting Amalfi Harbor and was treated to a stunning sunrise over the ancient landscape.

After the warm colors of sunrise escaped the sky I pointed my Fiat up the coast to explore in more depth the nooks and crannies of this place nearly lost in time with the exception of the honking horn of the harried local drivers trying to make it to work, ten kilometers up the coast in less than a half an hour.

Grape Arbor, Amalfi Coast, every inch of dirt is used in the ancient land

Grape Arbor, Amalfi Coast, every inch of dirt is used in the ancient land

Roundabouts as well as intriguing paths into abysses’that called for first gear descents or climbs the tested my shifting ability from first gear to second. This provided me with endless opportunities to climb up the mountains and descents to the sea in a dozen villages along the way. All apart of midday scouting for the golden hours of the evening and the following morning. With only 2.5 days on the coast, I had to make good use of precious light in this amazing place.

I was hoping to make it to a harbor with ferry service to the Isle of Capri early enough that I could cruise around the island and still return in time to photograph an Amalfi village at sunset. Positano was short of affordable parking and even at that, parking attendents insisted on keeping my keys for a car full of photo and computer gear. It would not happen. I decided to head all the way to the top of the Amalfi coast to Sorrento; their busy harbor would have many ferry departures to the popular Isle of Capri.

Sorrento and Naples Bay just beyond the  west end of the Amalfi Coast

Sorrento and Naples Bay just beyond the west end of the Amalfi Coast

I stopped at several beautiful vantage points along the way then I dropped into the picturesque city of Sorrento, another amazingly busy place with signs I could not understand.   I knew which way the harbor was so I started zigzagging my way through a series of roundabouts that seemed logical but weren’t. I hate one-way streets when I am exploring them from the wrong direction, but they were part of my journey and traffic cops were few.

Of course with the aid of my faulty dead reckoning I had to head into some cubby hole alleys that started off as what must be Italian boulevards, I found it, “skill polishing” to back out of streets in reverse that were tough to navigate forward. All part of the adventure.

Sidewalk parking, Skinny street, Sorrento, Italy

Sidewalk parking, Skinny street, Sorrento, Italy

Eventually after failing to recognize a couple of “port arrowsà–>” off a couple of roundabouts I saw an underground parking area and I should have parked, but I mistakenly thought I could find a parking lot where I could see the ocean, the next roundabout took me in the opposite direction. The $300.00 dollars Avis wanted for a GPS unit was starting to sound like a reasonable price.

Well it was getting to late to go to Capri so I decided it was time to backtrack through the gauntlet of Sorrento. I wish I could have found a place to park, so at least I could have taken a few photos of this beautiful city. I did momentarily park on a sidewalk that might have been a café to take a few shots of skinny city streets. I didn’t hit any tables. As I exited Sorrento up the hill, I found some good vantage points to photograph the city and Naples Bay. Good-bye Sorrento.

The Royal Clipper, a  tall ship sails past along the Amalfi Coast.

The Royal Clipper, a tall ship sails past along the Amalfi Coast.

I was delighted upon my return to Amalfi to find the five-masted schooner Royal Clipper moored off the Amalfi Harbor. The Royal Clipper is the fastest; hence, sleekest, sailing ship in the world, and boy oh boy was serendipity smiling upon me today. A tall ship from yesteryear could make some great photo fodder. I started looking for vantage points to merge seascape to the landscape hoping to achieve a photo that would appear to be from another century. The Royal Clipper looked cool moored off shore, but it surely would be a lucky break to capture her under sail. It was again time for bushwhacking back roads that really couldn’t be qualified as roads as we know them in the USA. Soon it was time for a brief nap.

The Royal Clipper, a  tall ship sails past along the Amalfi Coast.

The Royal Clipper, a tall ship sails past along the Amalfi Coast.

After awakening from my abbreviated nap, I was experiencing separation anxiety because I didn’t want to miss the departure of the Royal Clipper. Sporting my nap fogged head, I hurriedly headed again to Amalfi and was at first panicked that the Royal Clipper was already under sail, I hastily revisited a couple previously scouted locations and achieved unreal foregrounds to compliment the “days of yore” look that splendidly seemed like another time.

Extraordinary light eluded me for the rest of the day but a light overcast provided opportunity to shoot Fumore, a tight canyon/fjord with fishermen’s houses built into the cliffs that wouldn’t shoot well on a bright day. Sunset was a bust.

The Amalfi Coast is region of village steps leading to tiny walkways, terraces farmscapes, and, stunning sunsets. . These amenities have attracted beautiful hotels with exceptional restaurants overlooking across forever pools that seem drop into the rich Mediterranean landscape, all rich ancient legends and history. From Positano to Amalfi to Ravello, the jewels of the Amalfi Coast have been a popular setting for movies from great film classics to Hollywood blockbusters. The Amalfi Coast is known as a hot spot for celebrities and actors, but it has also starred itself as the backdrop to countless films set along this gorgeous coastline. The legendary composer Richard Wagner visited the town of Ravello in 1880, and was so impressed by the gardens of Villa Rufolo that he used them as the model for the enchanted garden in his opera Parsifal.

Stormy Sky, Artani, Italy

Stormy Sky, Artani, Italy

Despite the flat light of the previous evening, I found a village/seascape I wanted to shoot in the morning and it didn’t disappoint.   I was gifted with a predawn thunderstorm that created dramatic skies, if not the brightest sunrise –I’ll take the dramatic sky.

At sunrise and sunset, I often shoot with a split field neutral three-stop density filter. This morning in the village of Atrani I was facing straight into the eastern horizon that was extremely bright against the predawn dark landscape and dark thunderclouds above.   The dynamic range was huge, and I put on a second 3-stop split-field neutral density filter and it brought the highlights under control with the added benefit of greatly enhancing the drama of the sky.

Alfonso an Italian artist in courtyard in Atrani Italy

Alfonso an Italian artist in courtyard in Atrani Italy

I worked Atrani beach until I had wrung out all possibilities of this cool place then took a deep breath and was thankful for an extraordinary morning shoot; it was now pushing 7 AM and it had already been a successful day.

I had a nice overcast so I decided to explore the village a bit; the overcast sky was perfect for shooting courtyards, alleys, and stairways. Atrani was devoid of people except a shopkeeper or two and as I was shooting an empty courtyard a colorful character walked into the scene.

Alphonso was an artist who didn’t speak a lick of English, but he was a ham it up kind of character and walked into my photo arms wide open as if he were walking onto a stage. I put the photo bomber to work; he understood my sign language as I directed him to stand in different spots for photos. Suddenly we had a downpour and while standing under a bit of shelter, Alphonso conveyed he wanted me to follow him. With a bit of trepidation, I did.

As we slowly walked up the steep street, he pointed out points of interest he took pride in, the church on the hill and the rocky escarpment above. We reached his apartment, and he signaled for me to leave my camera backpack in the public hallway but I refused.   We entered his home which was a testament to an artist/collector with very eclectic taste; the place was amazing.

Alphonso, and Italian artist in his Atrani Italy garden

Alphonso, and Italian artist in his Atrani Italy garden

We passed quickly through the apartment to his garden which was amazing. It was a tight little path between building that he had covered with polished rock, and many other things that amused him, scattered among his cultivated space he had many trinkets of interest scattered through the area. My trepidation had been replaced with awe. After the garden excursion, I took a closer look at the collections of stuff in the apartment and I was very glad I had come.

After sharing his space with me, I gave him ten euros and took him to the nearby café his friend Marco owned for an espresso and pastries. After a couple of coffees in cups almost to small to find on the table, I bid adieu to Alphonso and Marco. These are the type of encounters that happen along when you are traveling alone. After a morning of fantastic light and serendipitous encounters, It was time to wrap up my time on the Amalfi Coast and head to Naples for my contracted event.

Fumore is a fiord on the Amalfi Coast and is an old fishing village with quaint homes built into the cliff

Fumore is a fiord on the Amalfi Coast and is an old fishing village with quaint homes built into the cliff

Take away

For the photographer, the Amalfi Coast is rich with opportunity if you can find a parking place. Many times I wish that I had someone along to drive who could drop me off and pick me up in a designated amount of time. I think two photographers could work this out, and both could switch off. Public parking when they keep your keys gives me angst. These places stack cars and bury them with others and have to move them around.   Plan to only have enough gear you can carry with you so you leave the car empty of valuables. The Italian coast in summer is humid, and in May I had regular thunderstorms and high humidity. I speculate that the Amalfi Coast in winter would have crisper skies, more weather and places to park. I wish I could afford the time Steinbeck invested here, I would love to spend months here as there is plenty of photo fodder to keep busy for years.

Part One • Italy ~ in a roundabout way ~ Rome to the Amalfi Coast

Part Three • Italy ~ in a roundabout way ~ Naples & Capri

Part Four • Italy ~ in a roundabout way ~ the Dolomites & Austria

Part Five • Italy ~ in a roundabout way ~ Cinque Terre

My Italy Photo Gallery

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