Tuesday, May 18, 2010

‘100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go’ CONTEST!!!!



Susan Van Allen is taking the travel book industry by storm.

Her new book 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go  full of beguiling tales and magical places as seen from a feminine perspective,  add richness to any trip to Italy. The practical information combined with intriguing details are a must have for those who are hunting for the hidden gems d’Italia. 

See for yourselves….





The following is an extract from her book on “Positano – Amalfi Coast :

Thanks to Pasitea an irresistible nymph who  lured in Poseidon, the dreamy seaside village of Positano was discovered. It has six beaches to choose from. There’s the large, busy Spiaggia Grande, where you can watch handsome fisherman glide in and out. A short walk away is the quieter Fornillo beach, where you can enjoy drinks on the porch of Il Pupetto.

But for the feel of discovering your own private hideaway and a delicious lunch, head to Arienzo. It’s a small cove bordered with giant rocks, with views of fishing boats bobbing along the horizon, ferries headed for Capri and, in the distance, the Li Galli islands. Legend says these islands were once mermaids whom Ulysses turned to stone so they’d stop trying to seduce him off his course.

I’m not talking great sand. It’s volcanic and coarse with lots of black pebbles. But like almost everything you touch around here, Positano’s black pebbles have a story behind them. If you find one with a hole in it, it means the BVM passed through it, and it’s blessed. You’ll see many Positanesi wearing necklaces of these black pebbles.

The sand situation means you should bring along beach shoes and rent an umbrella and lounge chair. Then get totally comfy, lie back and get lulled by the lapping of the calm water.



Melody, an American who’s lived in Positano for years tipped me off that Ada’s gnocchi at Arienzo is famous in these parts. As you approach the beach you’ll see Ada, a fifty-some-thing-year-old signora with a radiant smile, bustling about in her walk-in-closet-sized kitchen.

The beach snack bar is set up on stilts, looking like something Thurston Howell III would have built on Gilligan’s Island, perched to take in the view with eight inviting tables. A blackboard lists the day’s specials, which along with Ada’s gnocchi may feature spaghetti with clams, Caprese salad, fish caught that morning and granita—flavored ices made from Positano lemons and whatever else is in season.

P1010543Around noon, locals start arriving on foot or pulling up on boats to enjoy Ada’s lunch. Her gnocchi is light and beautifully textured, served with a delicate tomato sauce. The house red is rich and lively. On a visit there one warm October day, for dessert Ada served me a plate of ripe figs picked from a nearby tree, and poured me a glass of home-made limoncello.


Even if you don’t find a pebble with a hole blown through it, at Arienzo Beach you’ll feel blessed.

Arienzo Beach: To get here you can catch a small boat from Spiaggia Grande or walk down a zigzag path of steps from the Arienzo bus stop.

Golden Day: Arienzo Beach and Ada’s gnocchi for lunch. Stay at Maliosa di Arienzo (www.lamaliosa.it), a B&B nearby, with your private sea view terrace. Arrange for complimentary car service to Mediterraneo ristorante (www.ristorantimediterraneo.com) for a dinner of fantastic seafood and a Neapolitan guitar who strums classics.”


Celebrating my Second Blog Anniversary,  I’m offering all of you an opportunity to win not only Susan Van Allen’s          

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go book 

but am also drawing winners for another three travel titles

Travelers' Tales Italy- True Stories of Life on the Road

Travelers' Tales Tuscany- True Stories

30 Days in Italy- True Stories of Escape to the Good Life

All you need to do is leave a comment here (with your email address, if you are not a blogger), so that I can contact you if you win. This contest is open to everyone regardless of where you live.

I will be drawing the four winners on the 6th of June, so spread the word and get your friends to enter too!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Positano hiking– Teetering on the Brink of a Mountain

‘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.
The steps and paths were steep and twisting upon themselves so that we were weaving in a vertical direction up one side of the mountain. Scrawny plants of thyme crushed underfoot on the wilder trails and large rosemary bushes dotted the cliff faces ready to burst into flower.
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?  P1020387
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. 
P1020381 Punta Amalfitana
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.
We rose so high at one point that I was sure that he’d taken the wrong turn somewhere. But the path started zigzagging all of a sudden, down, down, down through people’s picnic points, hunter-gathers of wild asparagus and bonfires grilling sausages for a belated Pasquetta (Easter) picnic. It wasn’t an easy path to come down through on account of the high steps full of loose stones. A twisted ankle would be a probable scenario and I had time to ruminate on how the hell I’d get down in the event of a misplaced foot. I also made a mental note to bring my hiking boots to Positano rather than just wear trainers.

P1020415The 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.

Any takers?