SANTA MARIA DEL CASTELLO
‘Get up you lot, we’re going mountain climbing!’
My sleepy family was coerced into getting out of bed at 9:00am on a school holiday and amidst grumbles and more importantly, cries of ‘where are we going to eat?’, I managed to have everyone on the Montepertuso bus for 10:20.
Unlike my husband who had often visited Santa Maria Del Castello, a small village at the tip of the mountain, with his aunt and company armed full of homemade food and wine, we had only brought water for the dog. An elderly lady (my taxi driver’s mother) kindly pointed out the right stairs to take on Via Corvo just above Chiesa Nuova and we set off under a beautiful cloudless blue sky in early April.
My husband’s childhood stories of breaking into song with his uncles and aunt in the regular hiking excursions to this village as part of their Sunday entertainment, became less credible as I stumbled on the loose stones under the hot sun.
How could someone sing and climb on a path so steep? Would the vino have helped?
None-the–less, we kept up a steady pace and my family managed to chatter in allegria while plodding along. Every breathtaking turn was an opportunity to stop and take another photo of the cliffs falling all the way down to the sea.
‘Guarda che vista!’, (look at those views!) became the leitmotiv of the walk.
Halfway there I couldn’t believe how high we’d come, nor how far we still had to go. But there was no turning back. My greatest concern was that returning down the roughly hewn steps would be even more difficult than going up.
Are we there already? Where is this place?
My husband recounted that his primary school teacher in Positano came from Santa Maria del Castello on the mountain but somehow I imagine that she would have found herself a room in Positano for the week rather than do this trail every day. It’s true that crossing over the mountains by foot or mule was once common place in these parts but going up and down daily, rain or shine, while not impossible, would have been draining.
After an hour and a quarter of climbing, we finally rounded a bend,and came across the first houses in the village. A burst of cheering from a nearby field alerted us to a boys football match supervised by a priest and blocking our way were Carabinieri (police) who had stopped a nervous young driver and were examining his documents. It was a real country scene with burgeoning fertile vegetable gardens, flowering almonds and barking dogs but with the mod cons of cars going up and down a narrow two-way country lane just wide enough for one car at a time. As there was only one way to go, we turned right and followed the cars to the best trattoria and main attraction in town – Zi’ Pepe.
Santa Maria del Castello Castel Sant’Angelo – view from the Trattoria
Naturally, Zi’ Pepe which had always been a rustic trattoria in Santa Maria Dell’ Castello had with the years, been refurbished into a large room but the food had remained as genuine as it had ever been. This is not the tourist style restaurant that you’ll find in Positano. I didn’t hear one word of English spoken the whole time that we were there. Even Italian was the second language as Neapolitan dialect flowed more freely than the wine. This is a real restaurant for Italians and they are not anxious to share it either.
We ordered antipasti for my two eldest sons (we are a family of six) from the Richard Gere lookalike waiter and he brought a abundant spread of fried tidbits (eggplant and potatoes croquettes, tiny arancini, fried stuffed olives) homemade salami, three types of prosciutto, fresh mozzarellas ( the mozzarella man was still there, talking to local diners), fried zucchini, roasted peppers, marinated anchovies, calamari salads… it seemed to be never ending. It was all too much even between the six of us, so our dog under the table got the treats we couldn’t eat.
It was difficult choosing first and second courses not so much for the variety but for the guaranteed quality of the food at very modest prices of not more than 5 Euros a dish. Pasta con sugo di cinghiale (sauce made from wild boar) or porcini mushrooms was our pick followed by a parmigiana di carciofi because the artichokes were in season. It was all washed down with a good vino rosso di casa (house red) at 3 Euros a bottle. When Richard Gere offered coffee and Limoncello, I wisely declined thinking of the epic journey back to Positano ahead of us. Any more spirit and I’d be staggering back or sleeping it off.
Surprisingly, or rather, unsurprisingly, the restaurant was full of nattily dressed locals from Positano. Most had arrived by car but some friends had hiked up just before us and were returning via Montepertuso. Our friend stopped to pick up his walking stick he’d left propped outside the trattoria, and we joined them rather than take the same trail down.
The Islands of Ischia and Procida
Our friends led us on a scenic path which dipped steeply into the valley at the throat of Positano only to rise sharply again on the other side of the mountain. Perched at the top before descending towards Montepertuso we were treated to a view of Ischia and Procida across the top of the mountain into the Gulf of Naples. This was a beautifully shaded walk in cool pine forests and under pencil slim cypress trees. Our tiny dog ran ahead trying to anticipate the path’s direction poking and prodding in every hole he came across.
The valley of Positano far below.
But we did make it down safely to Montepertuso Village roadside in Positano, level with the stairs that end at La Selvatella bus stop. Already we had plans to come back next year at Easter because of the incredible feeling that teetering on the brink of that mountain had given us. We’d do it in the opposite direction next time and naturally stop by to be served by Richard Gere at Zi’ Pepes’ for our pit stop.