Strada Statale 163 and one crazy Amalfi ride

Ingredients are the same as in so many other parts of the world: there is sea, sun, mild weather, small coastal towns and villages, beaches and lovely vegetation. What makes Costiera Amalfitana stand out as one of the most memorable places I have ever seen, though, is the road – crazy Strada Statale 163 Amalfitana that connects towns situated along the Amalfi coast, starting with Meta and ending with Vietri sul Mare. It follows the coast for some 50 kilometers and, on its way, twists into more than 1 500 bends.

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As an obsessed planner, I have read many guides and articles about the Amalfi coast before our trip. But I could have easily not wasted my time, because nothing can really prepare you for the experience of this crazy adventure. Let me try to explain: the Strada statale 163 is narrow. Very narrow. And very very bendy. There are hundreds of buses, thousands of cars and what seems like millions of motorcycles squeezing their way on this thin strip of asphalt. One side of the road is bordered by the mountains, while on the other, ridiculously weak railings stand between you and the cliffs plummeting down to the sea. Add to the mixture the legendary Italian driving, pedestrians casually walking around and admiring the views (although there are no sidewalks) and cars parked along the road, making the driving lanes even narrower, and what you get is, literally, one absolutely crazy ride.

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What feels like a life threatening experience heightens your senses and you can’t help but feel adrenaline (or fear?) rushing through your veins. Perhaps the realization that you might not survive the ride makes everything around you so much more amazingly beautiful and memorable: deep, dark blue of the sea, clear blue sky dotted with birds, greens of the pines, purples of the bougainvillea and yellows of the lemon trees. Because you know that, in a way, your destiny is out of your control, you soon adopt the “che sarà sarà” principle and focus on the openness of the horizon in front of you and the strange feeling of freedom under the hot sun. It does not matter anymore whether the bus driver is skilled enough to drive you safely to your destination, you just stare in silent awe.

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Strada statale 163 connects a number of little villages and towns, some famous for their sights, some for their beaches, some for their atmosphere. Amalfi is the biggest of the lot, and boasts rich history from the times when it was a capital of the maritime republic (the Duchy of Amalfi) that was an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 9th and 13th century.

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The town is situated at the foot of Monte Cerreto and is surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery. The energy of the town is contagious, whether you are soaking it up from the beach or the pier, or feel adventurous enough to jump into the sea of people exploring the old town. The main sight of the town is the Amalfi cathedral, dating from the 11th century, so oversized for the town and the small central piazza it overlooks that you can’t help but crack a smile, but also understand how comforting and reassuring the sight of it was for the people throughout history.

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Ravello, situated high up in the mountains, is unlike other towns on the Amalfi coast. The air is fresher, the atmosphere calmer and cooler, and it is a perfect place to take a break from the chaos of the coast. Classical, serene atmosphere of the main piazza and cafes, as well as wondrous views onto the coast and the sea, make this town an instant favorite.

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Positano is a town whose reputation, one of the jet-set and high life, precedes it. Expensive restaurants, overpriced souvenirs and luxurious cars paint the beautiful, but somewhat shallow picture of a town that could be much more than just a playground for the rich and the famous. Its urban layout is really fascinating and the small beach at the bottom of the town feels like a really simple, intimate place.

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While towns such as these represent, at least theoretically, the best that the Amalfi coast has to offer, the real beauty of this area (at least in my opinion) lays in the intimate, simple, memorable images that take you away from the chaos of the bends and the driving and the tourists in the towns: strange angles in which the pines grow, lines that distant boats draw on the blue canvas of the sea, terraces of old houses that were here long before the fame and the tourists, allowing their lucky owners to admire daily the gift of nature that has generously been handed to them, living a life that seems like a dream.

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Hidden Venetian gems

How exciting is to find hidden gems close to your home that feel like being from another world! Although I’ve been to Venice several times, I’ve almost always followed the same touristic footsteps: Piazza San Marco, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge… A bit of people watching, a lot of thronging with gazillions of tourists, waving to gondolas passing by, buying some souvenirs… and that’s it. That’s Venice! Or is it?

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A few weeks ago I’ve been to Venice again, with a dear friend who is absolutely in love with that island. We wandered around without stress and pressure, staying off the tourist paths as much as possible, without plans and city maps. We kept getting lost in the small streets and squares, getting surprised by majestic facades and cupolas of churches and palaces, stumbling upon small, private and very intimate campos and back yards. It was Venice seen in a completely different light.

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The biggest surprise of the trip was the visit to the island of Burano. Less-known than its neighbour Murano famous for glass production, I got the impression that it sometimes gets neglected by the tourists visiting the Laguna. And that just might be the best thing for the small island – because without the lines of tourists, you can experience the specific relaxed and casual atmosphere of the magical place. Burano is the closest thing to Wonderland that I have ever seen, with its small streets and bridges spanning the canals, and the fantastically colourful facades of houses. Pink, red, green, blue… Every single house on the island is of a different colour or tone. It’s no wonder that Burano is popular with the artists, because it is so adorable and inspiring and different that you feel like you got lost in a fairytale and you don’t ever want to leave.

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Legend says that women started to paint houses in different, specific and very visible colours so that their husbands could find their way coming home from fishing in the misty, dark Laguna mornings (there is also the version saying that the husbands were slightly mischievous, getting lost in other women’s beds, and that that might be the reason for the strong colours). Whatever the reason, colourful houses became a trademark of Burano, and if someone wants to repaint their home, they have to send a special request to the Italian government who then responds by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that specific lot.

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Apart from the colourful houses, Burano is also known for its lace production, and you can buy beautiful fragile lace products everywhere you look. There are also some beautiful shops selling local food products such as pasta, biscuits or specific drinks. Burano is very small, and you can see everything in an hour, but the size certainly doesn’t affect the enjoyment factor! You have enough time for wandering around, taking photos and sitting down in one of the cute island cafes where you can enjoy a glass of Bellini, the traditional (and quite delicious) drink made with Prosecco and peach purée. What a great way to finish off the beautifully authentic Venetian experience!

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