When my husband and I decided to visit Italy in 2005, our first trip to a European country, one
of our friends told us ‘Do Italy as though you would never return’. As we travelled through Rome,
Florence, Venice and the classic tourist trail of Italy, we revelled in the grandiosity that came in the form of timeless works of art and majestic historic monuments, at the same time consumed the simple joys of Italian life like a Vespa ride, a pizza slice and a Gelato in the street corner.
Italy was more than a 7 course meal. After we had been through everything there is to see or we thought so, we were surprised by the little hidden messages that came to us like fortune cookie notes. Most of these notes tucked at my heart in a manner that no other country has managed to till date. Whether it was Michelangelo’s David and its sheer beauty that had me rooted to my spot in silence, making my heart beat in a funny way or the flirting Italian waiters who brought a blush to my face, Italy won me over very quickly. I fell in love oh so easily. Of course, I couldn’t say the same for my husband, who had to hear ‘Ciao Bella’ from every other man who met me. So, secretly, I dropped a few extra coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome, much too believing in the legend that you will return to Italy. Our friend’s advice was long forgotten, my wish granted and we returned to Italy again.
The wait had felt excruciatingly long, but totally worth it. We decided to spend 10 days in the Amalfi Coast, on the coast of Sorrentine Peninsula in Southern Italy and the jewelled island of Capri. Stretching from the coastal town of Positano in the west to Maiori in the east, the Amalfi coast is characterised by Mediterranean blue waters, vineyard clad cliffs, scenic winding roads and colourful fishing villages, all together forming a stunning natural landscape that I feel words cannot do justice to. No wonder this region ravished many a European artist, who came here to draw inspiration.
We based ourselves in Amalfi, the nucleus town of this region and visited the other towns like Positano, Ravello and Furore on day trips. There is a legend that Hercules, son of Jupiter, settled Amalfi to give it as a present to a girl, who has beautiful blue eyes the same colour of the sea. These days, Amalfi is centre of maritime activity in this region, busy with the ferries and the regular luxury yacht, still characterised by the magnificent blue waters. While the port bustled with life, it didn’t take us too long to escape the crowds and walk down the quaint alleys, where the aroma of ‘spaghetti marinara’ and ‘limoncello liqueur’ intoxicated us. While we were not neck deep indulging in the local gastronomy, we spent time lounging on the stairs outside the Cathedral and watched time move slowly, a pace that only Italians are familiar with.
Such an extraordinary setting and one cannot imagine it being devoid of tourists. But, we were lucky. Every tourist around us was Italian and that made us the only real tourists in this land. The loud ‘Mama’ or the crooning ‘Mio Amore’ filled the air. Little children jumping from cliffs, tanned Italian men with their characteristic sun glasses and slick black hair, the women in their bikinis and baskets filled with food all brought to life the classic Italian family holiday.
As the beaches filled up with the locals, we heard them proclaim their love for everything. Bright sun, calm waters, good wine, great food and beautiful women – everything brought the romantic Italian to the forefront. They took joy in declaring their love, at any given moment. And, it was infectious, almost contagious. When we spent one of the days in a quite beach away from them, it felt unnatural not to have the Italians around. Only the the graffiti and the etching on the cactus made us feel at home, ‘Ti Amo Realmente’.
Next, we headed to the the island of Capri by ferry and took the funicular to the historic centre. Greeted by white arches and pink bougainvillea, framing the crystalline waters that stretched into the horizon, we were truly taken aback by this paradise on earth. We decided to stay in Anacapri, in the west of the island, tranquil and less touristy. The bed & breakfast we stayed at had cosy rooms with antique furniture, walls decorated with intricate tile work and a perfectly manicured garden with lounge chairs, all the necessary ingredients for a romantic getaway. The owner Gianluca was a chatty Italian, who gave us a Capri induction over a cup of coffee and packed us away.
We first explored Punta Carena, a picturesque inlet situated to the west of the island, set in a typically Mediterranean landscape. Home to the lighthouse, which was built over a century ago, the second largest in Italy in terms of size and power after Genoa’s, this point has beautiful paths to walk around and soak in the atmosphere. This is a must visit for anyone visiting Capri, before you head to the crowded beaches of Marina Grande or Marina Piccola. Between all the sun and sand and splendid wine, take time out for a walk down the panoramic road Via Tragara, that leads to the Faraglioni rocks, majestic rocks that intimidate you from the ocean and bring memories of Greek colonisation.
As you walk down the path, you can’t help but notice the signs that pay tribute to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Famous for his erotically charged love poems and songs of despair, Neruda was known to have stayed in a Villa in Capri in 1952. This was indeed the inspiration for one of the best Italian romantic films, ‘Il Postino’ or ‘The Postman’. The film tells the story of a simple Italian postman who learns to love poetry, after he finds a friend in Neruda and wins over his love. If you cannot make it to Italy for a romantic holiday, Italian cinema and a good bottle of wine is the next best alternative to experience the passion that Italians depict.
The more time we spent in Italy, the more we fell in love with it, the more we wanted to stay and not leave. To fall in love is a contradiction here. On one hand, it almost feels like you are driven to it as an obligation, with all Italians around you flashing their tag as the world’s greatest lovers. On the other hand, it is as natural and smooth as the wine that goes down, wine that you don’t remember ordering in the first place. The place, the people or just yourself, Italy teaches you to love ‘to love’. And, that’s exactly why Italy isn’t the destination for people in love. It is the destination for anybody and everybody, who are open to love.
And for those who think it’s too much mush, the Italian love story does offer some flexibility. Like they would say in Italian, ‘Ho scritto una storia d’amore senza inizio e senza fine, per scriverla con te’. (I have written a love story without a beginning or ending, so that we may write it together.)
Go and write yours in Italy.