With that, he escorted me back down the mountainside to the clearly marked start of the Path of the Gods, requiring him to climb back up to his house afterward, no small sacrifice for a stranger.
The rain slackened into a fine, complexion-blooming mist, through which I could see black clouds jockeying with patches of sunshine for domination of the serpentine coast. Thus blessed, I gradually loosened up and started to think about gelato in Positano instead of brigands on the path.
I was getting close to Nocelle, a hilltop suburb of Positano, when I met a man heading onto the route to attend to his goats. His name was Antonio, he said, and he was old, short, stout and homely, hardly the sort to put me on edge. So when he said I had to see his house overlooking the coast, I went with him and sat at his kitchen table, taking in the view and perusing his family album. Things went well enough until I told him I had to go.
Then Antonio jumped up and said, half-desperately, "Meet me in Positano tonight. I'm single. I have no children or wife!"
I rushed out and through Nocelle, taking a set of about 2,000 steps to the coast road at a run.
Positano is another lovely mountainside-cleaving Amalfi town, with a black sand beach and beautifully decrepit air, once devoted to fishing. Now, it's all about selling tourists teeny-tiny bikinis, gelato, pizza and everything lemony — candles, soap, candy and the region's after-dinner drink, Limoncello.
By the time I reached the luxurious Hotel Buca di Bacco, tucked above the church and seafront in Positano, my muscles were so sore that all I wanted was a hot bath and bed. I told the front desk clerk to send tea up to my room and a vase for my rosemary. He looked at my sorry little bouquet and said, "That's for chicken."
My room was far fancier than the others, with a TV and king-size bed, two gracious balconies and a marble-lined bath. While I rested, it started to rain again, water scouring the town, then draining away into the sea.
At dinner in the shoreside restaurant, I gazed at the deserted, off-season promenade, feeling like a character in a Thomas Mann novel. But then the food came — clam spaghetti with shells that clattered when I twirled, grilled calamari on a bed of lettuce, chestnut soufflé cake, followed by an obligatory tot of Limoncello — and I knew I wasn't lost anymore.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Italy's divine path
From LAX, connecting service (change of planes) to Naples is offered on British Airways (change of airports in London), Lufthansa, Air Tahiti Nui and United. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $638.
Inntravel, Nr Castle Howard, York Y060 7JU England, 011-44-1653-617-788, fax 011-44-1653-617-941, http://www.inntravel.co.uk , offers independent, self-guided walking tours in Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and New England. Luggage transfers, transportation to and from the airport or railroad station, some meals and pre-booked accommodations are included. The tours last seven nights and range from $1,250 to $1,550 per person, double occupancy, with air from England.
The company also offers three- and four-night Shortbreaks in France, Italy, England and Spain, such as the one I took along the Amalfi Coast. Starting in Ravello and ending in Positano, it cost $1,416, including train transportation from Rome to Naples, transfers and a single supplement of $293.
WHERE TO STAY:
My Inntravel Shortbreak along the Amalfi Coast used these three hotels:
Hotel Villa Maria, 2 Via Santa Chiara, 84010 Ravello; 011-39-089-857-170, fax 011-39-089-857-071, http://www.villamaria.it , is an old-fashioned inn with a panoramic hillside perch and excellent restaurant. Doubles start at $220, including breakfast.
Albergo-Ristorante le Due Torri, 1 Via Punta Fenile, 80051 Agerola; 011-39-081-879-1257, http://www.hotelleduetorri.it , is a family-operated hotel and restaurant in the hamlet of Bomerano, near the start of the Path of the Gods. Doubles start at $75 with breakfast.
Hotel Buca di Bacco, 4 Via Rampa Teglia, 84017 Positano; 011-39-089-875-699, fax 011-39-089-875-731, http://www.bucadibacco.it , is a stylish, accommodating hotel. Doubles start at $225 (without sea view) and $246 (with sea view).
WHERE TO EAT:
The above hotels have excellent restaurants.
TO LEARN MORE:
Italian Government Tourist Board, (310) 820-1898, http://www.italiantourism.com .
— Susan Spano