POSITANO, ITALY - The image most people have of the Amalfi Coast is stunning sea views from gorgeous towns cascading down steep cliffs, where everything smells like lemon and basil and people gather on sunbaked beaches to splash in the Mediterranean surf.
But there’s another side to this storied destination, concealed in the misty mountains. Just put on your hiking boots, grab your knapsack and trek along a precarious trail called the Sentiero degli Dei — the Path of the Gods — to experience the Amalfi Coast’s hidden treasures.
Following the path isn’t easy, but its worth it. Bright and early — 6 a.m. — I catch a local bus from Positano to nearby Praiano. It’s not a good idea to climb late in the afternoon when the sun bakes the mountainside; starting early means you can negotiate the 1,200 steps it takes to reach the Path of the Gods before the hottest part of the day.
Above: Hiking along the Cinque Terre coast was was very special.
As I climb into the jagged hills, the villages look like crayon boxes and the sea melds seamlessly into the sky. The ascent is tough — a steep zig-zag of staircases — but the encouraging smiles I get from people carrying heavy gardening gear inspire me to carry on.
A stray dog joins me on the path and I follow it to the Convento di San Domenico, a monastery perched 1,600 feet above the sea where I get a panoramic view of Positano carved into the mountainside in the distance.
Past the monastery, the path turns rugged and my progress slows on the rocks, dirt paths and steep inclines. Tiny lizards scurry into the underbrush as I approach, but the only thing I hear is the sound of my own footsteps. I’m surrounded by shrubs bearing flowers painted deep red, purple and coral and I snatch a sweet treat of figs from trees lining the trail. A cluster of butterflies heightens the magical moment.
Above: Coastal towns were especially fun to visit.
It takes five hours to complete the trek (including a few stops for snacks, picture-taking and a brief respite to dangle my legs over the rocky ledge while soaking up the glorious view).
Inspired by the Path of the Gods to seek out other walking tours in Italy — I head north to the the Cinque Terre, a region whose hiking paths are famous.
The Cinque Terre is made up of five charming coastal towns — Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — and while the hiking here is nowhere near as demanding as the climb along the Amalfi Coast, it has its own unforgettable rewards.
Above: Rocky staircases led to some exciting views.
Admission is 5 euros (about $8 Cdn) to the Cinque Terre National Park and the narrow path that traverses the rocky cliffs and connects the crayon-coloured towns. Sometimes, parts of the path are closed due to landslides.
In 2011, tragic flooding devastated some towns, sweeping homes into the sea and leaving behind rocks and debris that is still being cleaned up.
But the people and the beauty of the region endure. Each town is stunning, with harbours filled with cafes and people enjoying the charm of one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.
In both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, I end my journey in a restaurant where, clad in dusty boots and sweaty clothes, I refuel on delicious pasta and chilled white wine.
The next time someone tells me to take a hike, I’ll make sure it’s in Italy.