I have hiked the Inca Trail, through the Rocky Mountains, between the villages of Cinque Terre, past Mount Doom on the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, around the thundering waterfalls of Yosemite National Park and dodged bears in Glacier National Park.
All of these hikes were incredible and they were all highlights of my travels. They are also very popular hikes, and rightly so.
But popular means a lot of people.
This wouldn’t stop me from doing a hike but I do find that I enjoy hiking more when there aren’t many other people around. Hiking into the Colca Canyon, between indigenous villages in Mexico and high in the Cordillera Blanca in Northern Peru were special hikes to me because they aren’t extremely popular and I felt as if I had the place to myself. It made it seem more special. I felt like I connected more with my surroundings and I was more in the moment.
The hike that I did between villages on Italy’s Amalfi Coast turned out to be one of those special hikes.
When I visited Italy on a solo backpacking trip back in summer 2011, I went hiking as much as possible. I had seen mention in the Lonely Planet that there was a system of trails between the villages of the Amalfi Coast and that one of the trails starts behind the village of Amalfi.
But I couldn’t find a map, even at the Information Centre. So I would have to wing it.
I wasn’t sure at first if it was a good idea to undertake the hike by myself, and with no map. I ummed and ahed about going at all then decided I would just wander on the trail for a while to see some coastal views before heading back down the way I had come.
So I started off by walking up towards the mountains behind the picturesque village of Amalfi. I followed the one main road to its end and found a trail heading into the valley. Past stone walled dwellings and small farms I wandered. The higher I rose in altitude on the trail, the more incredible the views of the sparkling coast below.
As I entered the Valle dei Mulini, the path slowly crept skyward before levelling out as I progressed deeper into the Valley. Green forest surrounded me, dense and jungly. Shaded from the rising heat of the late summer’s day, I felt cool and refreshed. All was quiet except for the low gurgling of the river beside the path.
I came across what looked like an abandoned village. Crumbling brick buildings were hugging the side of a cliff above the river. The ruins were covered in thick undergrowth. Trees had reclaimed the forest floor in what was once the floor of the buildings.
As I explored the ruins, I felt like Indiana Jones. I wondered who had lived here, out in the middle of the forest. I found out later that the ruins were of 17th Century Paper Mills, abandoned many decades earlier. The Valley had been home to Paper Mills since the 13th Century that were renown throughout Europe for the world class paper they produced. The paper was even used exclusively by the Vatican.
Passing the ruins I stopped to dip my feet in a small clear pool with refreshingly cold water. I felt peace and serenity in that place. It was like I was the only person on earth and I felt a deep connection to the surrounding nature.
I continued my hike back into the valley as far as the trail went. I came to more ruins with a beautiful waterfall cascading over a cliff and into a small pool below.
Another series of waterfalls flowed down through the Mill ruins. A small stone bridge spanned the crevasse. Picnic tables were scattered around a peaceful clearing in the forest but there was no one around to use them.
From the clearing, the path changed direction and started rising steeply, out of the thick undergrowth, and back into the searing midday sun. Spectacular sea views unfolded before my eyes as well as a bird’s eye view of the Valley that I had been walking through for the past hour.
I ambled past a couple of small ramshackle houses and groves of the sunny lemons that the Amalfi Coast is famous for.
Small lizards sunned themselves on the stone walls and along the trail; my only companions.
I arrived in the sleepy village of Pontone and treated myself to a coke from the only shop/Restaurant that I could see. I sat in the sunny courtyard and was soon joined by three British walkers that were on the way to Positano. We chatted for a while before going our separate ways.
With a series of hand gestures and a couple of Italian words, I was pointed in the direction of the hilltop village of Ravello by the Shop keeper. I followed the path that crisscrossed the steep road, all the way up to Ravello. This section of the hike was not nearly as impressive as hiking in the Valley. The surrounding landscape had become sunburnt and brown but the views of the coast were still incredible.
I emerged in Ravello and was immediately lost in the thick of a tourist swarm. It was a stark contrast to my two hours spent walking by myself but I didn’t mind too much. It felt like I had re-joined reality and I liked the buzz of happy travellers basking in the beauty of this medieval hilltop town.
Ravello is heart-achingly beautiful. Gorgeous views from every direction, lush tropical gardens, bright pink bougainvillea, cobbled town squares and brilliantly white buildings.
I admired the views from various viewing balconies around the town and browsed the tasteful gift shops, full of beautifully handmade ceramics ad brightly printed home wares. I bought a ceramic picture depicting Ravello and a hand painted olive oil ceramic stopper. I wandered the perfect cobbled streets, free of litter, and through the luxuriant gardens with views over the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.
After a fried zucchini and salmon bowtie farfalle, one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had, I set off to hike down to the small fishing village of Minori.
Within 10 minutes of leaving Ravello I was back on my own again. I passed ramshackle houses with overgrown lawns and kicked up dust on the sun-scorched trail.
The path had a lot of twists and turns and I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track. Steep stairs and the dry landscape made it hard going and hot and I quickly ran out of water.
The sparkling water far below never seemed to get any closer.
I started to get worried that I would never find the right way down and kept having to backtrack when I made wrong turns and hit dead ends. There was no one else around so I couldn’t ask for directions and even if there was, my Italian is very basic.
I finally made it to the road and followed it around its many bends, wary of turning a corner and coming face to face with a car as there was no footpath to speak of.
After twenty minutes, with a pumping headache and the first signs of heat stroke, Minori finally came into sight.
First thing I did was buy a couple of bottles of water and scull them both. My thirst was finally quenched but I was still unbearably hot. I had forgotten my bikini so I ended up swimming in my bra and board shorts. I was so hot that I couldn’t have cared less. No one batted an eyelid anyway. It felt so good to be out in the water, letting the cool waves wash over me. I quickly regained my energy.
After drying off by following the lead of my lizard companions and basking on a large rock by the water, I explored the small town centre. Minori is a cute little place but not spectacular like its neighbours Amalfi and Positano. There was a lack of businesses dedicated to the tourist trade and I appreciated that very much. I enjoyed watching the locals go about their business at the slow pace belonging to small towns.
The long day finally caught up with me and when I saw a bus to Atrani, I jumped on it rather than walking the 45 minutes back along the narrow road.
Despite nearly overheating and getting lost, it was an incredible hike, particularly the first section from Amalfi to Pontone.
It turned out to be my favourite day out of my 17 days backpacking through Italy and it all started off on a whim.