Amalfi Coast: A beautiful but hard slog of a holiday

OUR villa in the tiny town of Praiano on Italy's Amalfi Coast was everything (and more) than the photos promised.

Casa Susanna sat high on the clifftops with expansive views over the glittering Mediterranean, across to Positano to the right and way out in the distance, to the Isle of Capri. On a very clear day - and that was the case most of the time during our September visit - we could spy the unmistakable shapes of the Faraglioni, twin rocks that jut up so authoritatively out of the sea on Capri's craggy coast.   

The Amalfi Coast is spectacular! You spend most of your time gaping at the views; marvelling at its beauty.

Every bend in the twisting, turning coastal road offers a new thrill, another astounding view, one more reason to gasp aloud that such a place could be so beautiful, so compelling.  

Although the Mediterranean dominates landscape - if it's a spot to swim, this is not your place!

There are, of course, beaches, but apart from the black gritty beach at Positiano, the others are best described as rocky platforms. The Amalfi Coast is all about the views across the glorious water, not so much swimming in it.

"We do not have beaches on the Amalfi Coast," the woman at the information told us with a sad shake of her head.

"But look at all that sea down there," we pointed out to her. "We want to swim!"

"The Amalfi Coast is about cliffs and rocks, it is all rocks," she replied gloomily. 

"You can jump off the rocks into the sea, but first you must walk down there. There are paths."

Walk down there? Easier said than done for the senior traveller, no matter how fit she likes to think she is. 

There are many paths that lead to hidden steps which lead to more hidden steps, and then more hidden steps which, eventually, will take you to the very bottom of the cliffs. It's doable. If you really want to swim. And we did.

After much contemplation, the filling of water bottles and the donning of hats and sunscreen, we were ready to tackle the 400-plus steps down one of the paths very near to our Casa Susanna.

Now you know what I'm going to say now, it may not be needed to be said but, I'll say it: What goes down must come back up. 

It was obvious when we were a third of the way down that we should give up and go home. The steps were very steep, some slippery, and the narrow laneways tight and cool. There were gates leading into gardens all the way down these steps. People lived in houses clinging to these cliffs and had to go about their daily lives facing this arduous journey each day.

"What happens if you run out of milk here?" I panted to the husband as we took another turn and were confronted with hundreds more steps ahead of us.

"How do they do their big weekly shop?" I huffed as we passed yet another lovely iron gate leading into a lush garden filled with lemon trees and vines and vegetable plots. It was all so very pretty, so picturesque, so dramatic and so desirable. But oh, the steps! On and on they went.

We made many stops, puffed a lot, cursed even more.

Finally, we made it to the bottom to find the 'beach' was really just a small rocky platform with a ladder attached to one of the rocks. That was it. No facilities. No comfort. No people.

The woman at the information centre had not lied.

The sea was far too choppy that day to even dream of getting in. And the ladder on the rock looked quite shaky, especially when you consider it would have to withstand me hauling myself back up from the sea.

But the scene was beautiful.

We stood and looked out over the roiling water trapped in the small alcove between the surrounding cliffs. In the sea beyond, a few boats streamed past while above, we looked up to one of the many fortresses that are dotted along the Amalfi Coast, and further up the mighty cliffs, to the very top where our Casa Susanna waited with its wide deck and sun-lounges and fridge full of gin and bottles of tonic water and bowls of lemons.

"Were we mad to come down here?" we said, then took another sip of our water and began the terrible climb back up.