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Episode #122: Amalfi Coast Hikes – Alternatives to the Path of the Gods

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Nothing can prepare you for the jaw-dropping beauty of the Amalfi Coast coastline and one of the best ways to see it and experience it is on foot. There are over 120 trails along the coast and whilst the Path of the Gods might be the most well-known, there are many alternative hikes that are much less crowded, and even more stunning. Here, we find out some of the local’s favorites. 

Show notes

Lucy of Zia Lucy, one of the region’s favorite hiking guides tells us all about how you can get out of the crowded towns and into the stunning natural UNESCO heritage-listed environment. Lucy grew up in Positano and spent her childhood exploring its natural wonders and she, along with her team of passionate guides, helps visitors explore the Amalfi Coast from a local perspective. She tells us about her favorite places to escape to during the busy summer months and tips to make any hike you take on the Amalfi Coast, safe and enjoyable.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. When you think of the Amalfi Coast and a beautiful destination like Positano, it’s easy to forget that it’s the nature and the natural environment that provide the perfect stage for the town and its beautiful colored buildings that look like they’re tumbling into the sea
  2. Lucy grew up on the beach of Positano in the 1980s when it was completely different. There were lots of tourists, but they were mostly  artists or celebrities and it was generally much quieter
  3. Lucy named her business Zia Lucy after her aunt Lucy who emigrated to the US and who is Lucy’s lucky charm. She moved to New York and then to Florida and when Lucy was a little girl she would get these big packaging of shoes, clothes, candies, and money because Aunt Lucy was helping support her family and she visited whenever she could because she said that you simply can’t stay away from Positano!
  4. The lifestyle for those who live in Positano is rather unusual. They have six months of not doing so much (most of the people work in the tourism industry), where lots of businesses are closed so it becomes somewhat of a ghost town and it rains, the sea is rough and it’s generally difficult to get around. And then come Easter through to November, it gets crazy and overcrowded
  5. Fornillo Beach in Positano is considered the beach of locals. It’s quieter and there is a beautiful watch tower built in the 1400s. It’s a unique spot and completely different to the other side of Positano
  6. Positano is amazing to visit to go to the beach or to do some shopping, but it also has an incredible history that doesn’t so often get explored
  7. In 79 AD, when Vesuvius erupted it reached as far as Positano and covered a Roman villa, which was most likely built by a rich Roman Patrician in the first century BC. The center of Positano was built in the Middle Ages above this villa though they didn’t know about it – it was only unearthed in excavations beneath the church – where you can now see a room of this villa with its amazing frescoes
  8. Between the 9th century and the 1400s, Amalfi was a big maritime Republic called La Repubblica Marinara d’Amalfi, which means the Maritime Republic of Amalfi. It controlled all the area from the mountains to the sea along the coastal line outside Sorrento to Salerno. People from Amalfi were trading all over the Mediterranean and the Northern side of Africa. There were just four important republics at this time which were Amalfi, Pisa, Genova, and Venice. Amalfi was one of the strongest. The Republic of Amalfi was very important because they had the arsenals where people were producing wooden boats and so Amalfi had a huge fleet.  and they also asked the Vatican to fight against some pirates. So imagine how strong and powerful was Amalfi.
  9. The Path of the Gods
    • This is the most popular train that tourists head to – due to its fame, but this means you can find as many as 500 people doing it at the same time
    • It is not recommended for those scared of heights or for people who have problems with knees, heart, or legs
    • The biggest tip for anyone hiking this trail is to have suitable/good shoes to hike. Lucy has seen people coming with flip flops, ballerina flats, with Prada shoes but as she warns us ” this is a mountain hike, not a walk in the garden”. You need decent hiking/running shoes with a good grip so that they are stable for the mountains
    • Don’t go on the trail when it rains because it can get very slippery
    • When Lucy started hiking on the Path of the Gods about 15 years ago, there were just a few people and a few tour guides, so it was a lovely experience and everybody was friendly. But things changed – the Path of the Gods probably got promoted too much and the trail has become quite dangerous – because if you have 500 people walking there and there’s only one pass which is very narrow (about 60 cm wide), it’s difficult to manage and you need to be really careful. Sometimes there are even young people, teenagers running behind you and as well as the trail runners. So it’s beautiful, but it’s a little bit stressful as well, especially for the tour guides that are trying to take care of everybody
    • Lucy has had the police contact her to help as people can get lost.  Because all the trails on the Amalfi Coast are connected, if you don’t read or understand them properly and if you don’t know how to hike, you can easily get lost
    • Many of the tourist offices don’t give out information about hiking the Path of the Gods, so people are going there without understanding how dangerous it can be
    • The best way to do The Path of the Gods is from Bomerano, which is above Amalfi – to Nocelle above Positano. But many people believe that going from Praiano is easier. But going from Praiano can actually be very dangerous. You need to take 1000 steps up to a monastery and then a steep path with a lot of edges and cliffs without any protection to even get to the Path of the Gods
    • Another thing that catches people out is when you finish the Path of the Gods, in Nocelle, there is a sign pointing to Positano which people will follow and they will find themselves walking down 1700 steps!!! Be aware, that there is a bus to save this awkward last descent if you need to get back to Positano!
      two ways because nowadays there’s also a bus to go to Positano. But you should know about it because people just read 
  10. Other (better) trails and options
    • Lucy doesn’t believe it’s even the most beautiful of the 120 trails, there are many other choices
    • If you are a real hiking enthusiast you can do a week’s tour, hiking from town to town. Before the Amalfi coast road was built, the only way to go from one village to the other was through the mountains and those original trails are still there, so you can easily follow them
  11. Lucy’s favorite trails: Valle delle Ferriere
    • The first one is the upper side, and it’s for more experienced hikers –  people who like to do a more challenging hike because it goes on the upper side of the mountains and you even cross some waterfalls, so is quite technical.  The lower side is an easy trail. This goes from Pontone, a little village below Ravello, to Amalfi. It’s an amazing natural environment and also because there are ruins of old paper mills from the Middle Ages which used to produce a luxury paper made out of cotton
    • If you’re lucky, you can see the special salamander for the Amalfi Coast. This is called the Salamandrina dagli occhiali which means salamander with the sunglasses because it looks like it is wearing sunglasses. The microclimate in that area is so important. There are prehistoric ferns that are protected. When Lucy gets stressed, she loves to go there because being surrounded by the spectacular nature and the sounds of water is incredibly relaxing
    • The lowest side from Pontone to Amalfi is just about 5 km and it takes 2 and a half hours to  3 hours. Most of it is downhill on some steps and the path with some wooden bridges to cross
    • In the middle of the valley, you’ll find a farmhouse selling organic products. So you can maybe grab a lemon slush on a hot day or some delicious organic food
    • At the end, just before you arrive in Amalfi, you cross hundreds of lemon gardens and it’s also nice then to have a little time to explore Amalfi. If you’re traveling with children, Lucy recommends bringing a swimming suit so at the end of the trail you can stop in Amalfi and have a swim
    • For those that are brave enough, on the trail itself, you can try to dip your feet into the river there which is extremely cold. And the bravest of all can go under the waterfalls
  12. Lucy’s favorite trails: Montepertuso
    • Another amazing hike is in the area above Positano known as Montepertuso which means the hole in the mountain
    • There’s a natural arch and there’s a beautiful hike that takes you out there. It takes less than an hour and it’s on big mountain steps
    • Once up there you have an incredible view of Positano. There are also picnic tables, so it’s nice to have a light break
    • According to the legend, the hole in the mountain was made by the Virgin Mary during a competition with the devil. She had a competition with the devil and she won and protected the village of Montepertuso by creating this hole
    • In homage to this tale, there is a procession on July 2 that goes from the church to this hole in the rock. When the procession is over, the fireworks start – at around midnight. To accompany the fireworks they add amazing sounds and the fireworks represent the fight between the Virgin Mary and the devil. In the beautiful final scene of the fight – the devil is represented with red fireworks in circles and with whistles and then the Virgin Mary takes over with these white fireworks – everything turns white
    • If you are in Positano itself you can hear the fireworks but not see them, so it’s best to be up top – perhaps in a restaurant
  13. Lucy’s favorite trails: Punta Campanella
    • Another beautiful trail is Punta Campanella – on the other side of the Amalfi Coast, closer to Sorrento, right in the middle between the Bay of Napoli and the Bay of Salerno
    • The path is very easy and wide. When you go down there during a very nice clear day, you can see the Bay of Napoli and the Bay of Salerno and it looks like you are touching the Isle of Capri, because it’s just in front of it
    • The trail is easy with few cliffs and edges,  with beautiful nature and amazing views
    • You need to start from Termini, which is a little village outside Sorrento (about 30 minutes drive)
    • It is less than 5 km and takes around 2 and a half hours
    • If you go down to Punta Campanella and then back up to Termini to end your hike in the village, there are two restaurants and one of them makes the best Zucchini alla Nerano that Lucy has ever had
  14. There are other hikes that Lucy would recommend, but she iterates that most should only be undertaken by those who know how to walk in the mountains, otherwise it can be very dangerous. You need to have both the right gear and the right information
  15. The main reasons why we recommend hiring tour guides are for, firstly, safety, because guides always know where to go and can help you/tell you how to walk, because on the Amalfi Coast, you may need to know how to walk each step safely. The other reason is that you learn a lot of things about the area and it’s people and you can interact with the locals. If you run across a farmer on a trail and you are with a guide who can also be a translator, that chat can lead to going into that farmer’s house and them giving you some glasses of wine and telling their stories. If you go by yourself, t’s not likely you’d have this kind of experience, because if you meet a local, they won’t speak English and even if your Italian is decent, a chat, especially with the local dialects, would not be easy
  16. Nerano and Altrani (the village next to Amalfi) both remind Lucy of how Positano was in the 1980s. When she needs to escape Positano because it’s too crowded in summer, and she wants to relax, she goes to Nerano. You need to spend a lot of time on a bus or you have to drive to get there – or in the summer you can go by boat, but it’s very expensive. So as it’s a bit far out from the tourist hub, few people go there so it remains pretty quiet
  17. There’s a beautiful hike that you can do between the beach of Nerano and the other beach close by. If you are on Nerano beach, when you see the last restaurant on the left, you take a small path and this small path leads you to the other beach. On this walk, there are amazing Mediterranean plants, and the ruins of a watch tower that was built in the 1300s. The views are beautiful, nature is perfect and it’s a very easy walk
  18. When people contact Lucy to ask about walking the Path of the Gods, she always sends them information on the other trails with a little bit of a history of each path and the possibility to choose – she is always pleased if they choose an alternative to Path of the Gods because they can walk more easily without running into many other people, they can also discover more about history because Path of the Gods is beautiful, but with only a little history and mostly the same views every time – some vineyards, some villages, but you mostly see the same views on Capri. If you do the other paths, you can see something different such as lemon gardens or walking into forests and different kinds of mountains or maybe some villages that are a  very different style/vibe from Positano

About our guest – Lucy (Zia Lucy)

Lucy inherited her name from her great aunt (zia) Lucy, who moved to Brooklyn from Positano when she was young. She would
come back to visit them every two years and would say “you can’t stay away from Positano”.

Today Lucy herself has four wonderful nieces and two beautiful little cousins, who all call her Zia Lucy – hence the name for her business and though has traveled herself widely, she has found her aunt’s words to be true and having returned to Positano for good, loves to share her passion and knowledge of her home town. 

She comes from a family of fishermen and her grandmother was a seamstress who has known to welcome writers and artists from all over the world into her home, making wedding dresses and outfits for important and noble families. Her mother had a vast knowledge of the many legends and folk tales about the Amalfi Coasts which she handed down to Lucy. 

She studied for 7 years to pass the exam for Tourist Guide in Campania and as well as being a hiking guide, is also a licensed guide for Unesco Sites and for all the best places of Campania ( i.e. Pompeii, Naples, Paestum, Capri, etc). With Lucy, you will discover the real Positano and the beautiful nature of its surrounding areas. She now has a great team of guides working for her who are all passionate about what they do, professional, licensed, and true locals. Her intention is to make your stay unique and make you feel at home and love Positano and the Amalfi Coast, a land of history, traditions, and great food.

You can find Lucy on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Nocelle – small village near Positano
  • Fornillo – neighborhood of Positano with a beach
  • Valle delle Ferriere – national park featuring scenic walks among streams, waterfalls with historic ruins (Paper Mill valley)
  • Amalfi – town set below steep cliffs on Italy’s southwest coast.
  • Pontone – a pretty little hill village
  • Montepertuso – village in the mountain above Positano. The name means “hole in the mountain”
  • Punta Campanella a headland on the Amalfi Coast, the last tip of the Sorrento Peninsula
  • Termini – little village near Sorrento 
  • Nerano – village near Sorrento famous for inventing Zucchini/Spaghetti alla Nerano
  • Atrani – outside of Amalfi. The smallest town in Italy
  • Bomerano – a small village in the upper hills above Conca dei Marini and best to start the Path of the Gods
  • Praiano – town on the Amalfi Coast. The name derives from the praia, or beach

Resources

  • Roman Patricians – a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome
  • Golden Video – Harry Styles video with footage from the valley near Pontone and the paper mills ruins
  • Zucchini/Spaghetti alla Nerano – dish of pasta, fried zucchinis, and provolone del Monaco. The main attribution points to a restaurant owner named Maria Grazia in the mid-1950s
  • granita – semi-frozen sweet dessert
  • www.giovis.com – site of maps for the Amalfi Coast

Resources from Untold Italy

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