Undercover: Amalfi Coast
Jan Mazzoni heads back to Sorrento, scene of her novel Stones of the Madonna.
If you’re going to write a romantic novel of lust, love, illicit liaisons and broken hearts, where better to set it than on Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast? At least, that was the reasoning behind my decision to spend as much time there as I could when writing Stones of the Madonna. I called it doing research.
Not that today’s Amalfi coast is anything like it was in the 1930s, when the novel takes place. As it’s attracted a growing number of visitors from around the world, so it’s attracted all the usual tourist trappings. Now down little cobbled alleyways you’ll find shops selling trinkets made in China, burger bars, and the ubiquitous internet cafes (useful, yes, but so not the Italy of my imagination!).
Don’t be put off. The Real Italy is still there, the one that makes you gasp with wonder, or laugh out loud, or simply think wow, isn’t this just perfect. The Italy of romantic novels. You just have to know where to find it.
Here’s my list of Amalfi Coast Top 10 treats:
1 – Make your way up the long palm-lined driveway to one of Sorrento’s grand hotels, glimpsing the overblown grandeur that enticed poets like Caruso and Byron in their heyday.
2 – Try melt-in-the-mouth pumpkin ravioli - my absolute favourite and a speciality of the area.
3 – Finish off with some Amalfi coast fruit – fat, warm, honey-sweet figs or maybe nespoli – small yellow fruit that’s a cross between a peach and a plum.
4 – Find the right place to stay. I loved the lush Villa dei D’Armiento , with its palm-shaded gardens and beautiful bedrooms, and the ultra chic Maison La Minervetta, with its fabulous views over the bay and private beach.
5 – Wander along Sorrento’s backstreets past banks of jasmine - little white stars that could have come straight from a perfumery.
6 – Sit in the square up in Nocelle, the tiny village above Positano that’s only recently been opened up to road traffic (before that it was donkeys!). It’s still like stepping back in time.
7. Sit at the end of one of Sorrento’s piers, feet dangling in the greeny-blue water, sipping an ice cold Aperol and prosecco aperitif.
8. Watch a wedding. They’re everywhere, and one of the most atmospheric places has to be the San Francesco cloisters in Sorrento. I was there when the place suddenly filled with the advance party of a group of men and boys, all immaculately dressed in their dark suits. The contrast with the pastel flowers, the weathered stone and the shafts of sunlight coming through the pillars was somehow breathtaking.
9. Spot the cute kittycats. I watched a little white kitten up in Ravello one hazy autumn day as it played tag with a pigeon. Eventually they both settled down side by side, the kitten cleaning itself, the pigeon dozing. A lesson in friendship!
10 – Soak up the faded grandeur - like the flower shop just off the main square with a domed ceiling that had been beautifully hand painted many years ago. Anywhere else it would have been made into a feature. Here it’s just taken for granted!
Jan Mazzoni is the author of Stones of the Madonna, set on the Amalfi coast and available from Thornwood Books, price GBP 7.99.
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