Coasting Along the South of Italy
There are road trips and then there is THE road trip. You know, the one that sets the standard for subsequent others. This was one of them.
Flying into Rome from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, our trip started upon renting a car and taking the 3hr drive down south to Sorrento. A big vibrant city especially in the summer, Sorrento was our base camp for visiting other cities along the coast. Our hotel was just off Sorrento’s bustling main square (Piazza Tasso, Via S. Francesco) full of vendors trying to sell their real Italian, handmade leather goods, brightly-painted ceramics and linen-wear that probably all came from the same factory. Various churches could be found along each path where coffee societies were held behind stone walls painted into scenes fit for Botticelli’s beautiful women. A five-minute walk would have taken us down the Marina Grande and to Sorrento’s fine-grained, black sands that were carried all the way by the ocean’s tide from the nearby volcano, Vesuvius.
As the sun set, the locals had recommended a cheap local eatery down in the bay, Trattoria da Emilia, which had been opened since 1947.
Here was where proper spaghetti vongole was made, with a thick slather of olive oil, its creaminess cut by a hint of marinara sauce and a generous amount of clams to be slurped down with a little amount of sauce in its shell.
Fried, fresh, thinly-breaded anchovies eaten whole with a squeeze of Amalfi lemon were also a local delicacy.
A 15-minute drive from Sorrento brought us to Massa Lubrense and to Nerano. We happened to stumble upon a one-Michelin star restaurant, the dining room at Taverna del Capitano, where we had a taste of Spaghetti Nerano, a dish originating from that region as the name suggests. Made with only zucchini, basil and four different Italian cheeses too hard to pronounce (namely, Provolona, Caciocavallo, Caciotta, Fiaschella), chef Alfonso Caputo’s Spaghetti di Nerano was rich and flavourful without any addition of cream, as he insists that putting cream into any pasta and calling it Italian is a crime. After a dip in Nerano’s sun-sparkled, pebbled beach, it was time to return to Sorrento.
Capri, which was about a 15–20 minute boat ride away from Sorrento, was our next destination. A popular spot for the rich and famous, the small, slightly overpriced city also possessed its own wonders and a must-do activity was taking a one-man ski lift up to the top of the mountain to have a cold espresso freddo. Walking the city’s street of white bricks, you’ll find many beautiful jewellery stores that combine one of Capri’s local products, polished red coral, with silver. A few minutes drive from Sorrento lies Positano; another colourful town covered with pastel buildings that line the side of the mountain.
One of Positano’s hidden gems was a restaurant which brought everything on their menu for the night to every table, where the only exchanges between waiting staff and customers were to determine the choice of wine and whether water naturale or con gas were preferred.
La Tagliata served 10 or so dishes of appetisers, around five plates of pasta and a mixture of surf and turf for the main course before finishing with four or five pieces of pastries for dessert. On. Every. Table.
Our next stop along the coast towards Amalfi was a little town called Praiano. Very small in size, there was little to do there however one big attraction was a lavish, nightclub in a cave called Africana which saw the likes of many celebrities worldwide. Moving our base to Praiano allowed less time to drive to Amalfi and Ravello, a town famous for producing and distributing wine from the Costa d’Amalfi Ravello. Rich in culture, the south of Italy has its own wine regions and it was only fair that we blend in with the locals and taste the southern big names such as the Taurasi. For wine enthusiasts out there, there are plenty of affordable Agriturismos where you can sleep in a vineyard and engage in wine tasting activities.
Check out this website for some guidelines to staying at an Agriturismo !
Our trip concludes down in Amalfi, famous for its growing and distributing of bright yellow Amalfi lemons as big as your hand. Not so sour, these lemons are used in Michelin star-restaurants all over the globe.
Needless to say, their local products include anything and everything made out of these lemons such as bath soap, limoncello, candied lemons, lemon in drinks, but the highlight has got to be pasta with lemon zest. A dish so simple, it combined al dente pasta (usually scialatelli) cooked with a sprinkle of salt and added Italian cheeses, aromatic olive oil and lemon juice and zest to make a sweet and sour delicacy. Covering seven cities in five days with a minivan along Italy’s southern coast isn’t as hard as you’d think and it definitely is an experience, especially just to taste the food from the region, not to mention the breathtaking view through the car windows as you drive along the coast’s winding roads built into the edge of the rocks.