Thursday, July 08, 2010

Guest Blogger: Laura Thayer

All this talk of house, friends and famiglia has made me a little homesick.  Since I can't run back to Lucanella as I long to do, I decided to take the week off for a trip to Ohio.  I'll be hanging out with my sister and visiting my grandfatherIn my absence, I asked my friend Laura of Ciao Amalfi to share one of her secret spots on Italy's most famous coastline.  She proves there is real life among the tourist towns!

Authentic Italy on the Amalfi Coast

Tourists flock to the Amalfi Coast during these warm summer months in search of the paradise and refreshing cool of the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, living in a place always brings a different perspective, and these are the months that I retreat into my own oasis – everyday life on the Amalfi Coast.

I write often on my blog about the places you can experience the feel of real life on the Amalfi Coast. Places where you can get away from the tour buses and knickknacks covered in lemon designs. One of my favorite spots for escaping from the sea of tourism is Scala, a small village located in the mountains above Amalfi. Most people visiting the area head to Amalfi and Scala’s glitzier neighbor, Ravello, and those are two spots you won’t want to miss.

But, when you’re ready to get away from the crowds, just head to Scala. The village is only a short bus ride from Amalfi or Ravello, and buses run frequently throughout the year. A walk through the quiet streets transports you to another world – back to the simple life on the Amalfi Coast before life was changed by the impact of tourism.

In the Middle Ages, Scala was closely tied to the city of Amalfi and played an important strategic role in the defense of the Republic of Amalfi. Scala’s Medieval watchtower and ruins of its castle fortress are reminders that long ago the seas were filled with dangers instead of the pretty white sails and cruise boats you see today.

Stepping into the cool quiet of Scala’s Duomo, much larger than any of Ravello’s churches, it is a striking experience to see the wealth and grandeur that the now-sleepy Scala once enjoyed. The sound of your footsteps echo through the vast interior, and it’s easy to get lost in thought about 12th-century life, when this church and the piazza would have been the central focus of a busy town. Look in the main aisle for a beautiful Baroque period ceramic tile design on the floor showing a decorative shield surrounded by four cherubs carrying a floral garland. In the center of the shield is the emblem of Scala, a lion climbing up a ladder. This emblem reflects the origin of the town’s name from the word “scala” meaning stairs or ladder.

While the panoramic views from nearby Ravello get all the press, one of the little secrets of Scala is that the views are even better. From high above in Scala you can see all of Ravello stretched out on its rocky plateau as well as incredible views of the Amalfi Coast and Bay of Salerno.

Scala is also an ideal base for walking and hiking on the Amalfi Coast. Between Scala and Amalfi you can explore the Valle delle Ferriere with beautiful scenery and waterfalls and the Valle dei Mulini with ruins of paper mills, the remains of Amalfi’s once lucrative paper industry. Around Scala, you can walk to the town’s many frazioni, or hamlets, including Minuta, which has fabulous views down the mountainside to Atrani and Amalfi. An easy hike down the mountain is the small hamlet of Pontone, with a peaceful piazza that makes an excellent resting point for a longer walk down the ancient steps to Amalfi.

Living on the Amalfi Coast—through the blustery, sleepy winters and the steamy, crowded summers—I can tell you that the authentic Italy is still alive and well here. It goes on despite the motor coaches and crowds, and is so much more than what you see zipping through in one day on a tour. In Scala, you’ll still find trains of mules carrying their heavy loads up and down the steps; daily life still centers around the family. Life is quiet and slow and seemingly unaware of the tourist hullabaloo far below.

Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and blogs about life on the Amalfi Coast at her own site Ciao Amalfi.
Photos © Laura Thayer, Ciao Amalfi!


LindyLouMac said...

Now you have gone and told everyone Laura it is a secret gem no longer. I like you prefer undiscovered Italy and fortunately most tourists are in too much of a hurry to spoil these secret gems.

Laura said...

Thanks for having me over Valerie! You already know about the secret of visiting the Amalfi Coast off season. :-)

Linda.... shhhhh.... :-) You're right that the majority of the tourists coming through the coast for the day or a weekend don't have the time to get to the smaller towns and explore the real Amalfi Coast.

J.Doe said...

have a good time in Ohio.

carol said...

Thanks, Valerie for having Laura over.....I don't often get to all the blogs I used to read now that I'm here in Italy cos I have a lousy internet connection and not much time online. I agree with Laura that the "not"tourist attractions are the best...we've been avoiding them all summer. September will take us to Vietri, and hopefully there'll be time for Scala on our "last hurrah" road trip before returning to Florida.Maybe we'll even get to add Laura to our "met the expats" list :)

Valerie said...

Thanks Laura! Can't wait to get back there and explore Scala, along with the other villages you've recommended on Ciao Amalfi!