The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Gennaro Contaldo, chef at Passione in London and mentor to Jamie Oliver, takes us on a tour of his home town of Minori and its neighbours along the rugged and ravishing Amalfi coast.

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

The moment I hit the madly winding Amalfi corniche – ‘the road of a thousand bends’ – and catch my first glimpse of the plunging cliffs and glittering sea, I feel a crazy thrill of excitement. I’m biased, I know, but the Amalfi – a stretch of coastline south of Naples, including the towns of Amalfi, Positano and Ravello – has to be the most ravishing place on earth.

It also has a reputation for great food. When I’m here, I eat more slowly, savouring the vivid taste of San Marzano tomatoes just off the vine or the enormous and intensely aromatic sfusato di Amalfi lemons.

I can’t help feeling proprietorial about the place. After all, I was born here, in a cliffside house in the village of Minori – the place I recommend as a base for your Amalfi adventure. It still feels like home to me even though it’s nearly 40 years since I left for the UK. Walking down the main street in Minori takes at least an hour because I bump into so many old friends.

Breakfast

The best views across the

passeggiata

(promenade) are from

Pasticceria De Riso

. Its tables spill out across the piazza and it’s perfect for coffee at any time of day. As a child, I’d help the owner, Alessandro, make lemon granita, grating and squeezing hundreds of lemons with my friend, his son Salvatore – now a well-known

pasticciere

in his own right. These days I start the morning with a sfogliatelle – a shell-shaped pastry oozing with lemon custard – and a proper Neopolitan coffee.

Gennaro inspects the day’s catch

Lunch

Giardinello

opened when I was eight – my family had a grocery shop next door, so I practically grew up there. Their pizzas, made with fresh

fior di latte

(mozzarella made from cow’s milk), baby tomatoes and fresh basil, are some of the best in the world.

It’s far more than a pizzeria, though, and each dish is made entirely from scratch, every day. I‘ve always been fascinated by

ricci

, a local traditional hand-made pasta shape that’s rolled using the spoke of an umbrella. It’s best with

peperoncini

(chillies), tomatoes and rocket. There’s a phenomenal wine cellar, and a lovely dish with radicchio and the local

parapandalo

shrimps.

For a lunch with panoramic views over Minori, the

Agriturismo Villa Maria

is a must. It sits high above the town among the lemon groves. They make their own charcuterie with culatello (cured ham), wild fennel salami and sausages, as well as cheese, olive oil, jams and fruit liqueurs – all of which you can buy to take home. Maria herself gives cookery lessons on request.

Lunch is a veritable feast: there are anchovies caught on the rocks below Minori and marinated in

peperoncini

and basil,

scialatielli

(a spaghetti-like pasta) with prawns and home-grown courgettes, and huge steaks barbecued over herbs.

A chilled glass of their home-made limoncello is an essential digestif.

The moment I hit the madly winding Amalfi corniche – ‘the road of a thousand bends’ – and catch my first glimpse of the plunging cliffs and glittering sea, I feel a crazy thrill of excitement. I’m biased, I know, but the Amalfi – a stretch of coastline south of Naples, including the towns of Amalfi, Positano and Ravello – has to be the most ravishing place on earth.

It also has a reputation for great food. When I’m here, I eat more slowly, savouring the vivid taste of San Marzano tomatoes just off the vine or the enormous and intensely aromatic sfusato di Amalfi lemons.

I can’t help feeling proprietorial about the place. After all, I was born here, in a cliffside house in the village of Minori – the place I recommend as a base for your Amalfi adventure. It still feels like home to me even though it’s nearly 40 years since I left for the UK. Walking down the main street in Minori takes at least an hour because I bump into so many old friends.

Outings

Nowhere is very far away on the Amalfi coast and the region’s major towns are all within an hour’s drive. Neighbouring Ravello is also a gem. Sometimes I gather ingredients for a wild lunch – rocket, wild oregano, and caperberries – from Ravello’s ancient alley walls as I head for the gardens of the

Villa Cimbrone.

There’s a great, if rather expensive, restaurant at Villa Cimbrone, but it’s the formal gardens that I really love. The American writer Gore Vidal, who lived nearby, said that the view from the Terrazza dell’Infinito, a beautiful statue-lined terrace that looks out across the Gulf of Salerno, was the most beautiful in the world.

My favourite place to eat in Ravello is the elegant

loggia

(gallery) of the

Hotel Villa Maria

. The terraced gardens are full of fruit, vegetables, and herbs, all of which are used in the restaurant’s kitchen. I like their

scialatielli da fritta di mare

with clams, and their speciality, a local blue fish baked on lemon leaves with a crust of breadcrumbs, garlic and lemon zest. The ricotta and pear cake is not to be missed either.

Sublime Ravello

I prefer to visit the town of Amalfi in the early evening, when it’s calm. After admiring the cathedral, I like to sit outside

Pasticceria Pansa

, a delightfully old-fashioned place with chandeliers, mahogany fittings and candied Amalfi lemons on cut glass dishes in the window. Tables on the piazza are laid with embroidered linens and they serve excellent light, spongy babà limone.

The sunsets in Amalfi are magnificent, so I choose my spot for an aperitif carefully. The terrace of the

Hotel Palazzo Sasso

is an ultra-smart place for a cocktail, and they make a fantastic Bellini. I also like the bars on the beachfront at Positano –

La Cambusa

and

La Zagara

are good.

Shopping

In Minori, almost everyone grows and cooks everything from scratch, so shopping for foodie gifts is limited, but I do like to watch Antonio Ruocco making pasta at

Il Pastaio

, the local pasta shop. Most of the shops in Minori have been there since my childhood, but a relatively recent addition is

Enoteca Sirah,

a good spot for buying wine and cheese or enjoying a glass and tasting plate on the spot. It also sells

colatura di alici

, a powerful anchovy condiment native to the Amalfi coast.

Dinner

The ascent to the tiny, almost vertical hilltop village of Montepertuso is rewarded by dinner at

Donna Rosa

, with its whitewashed walls, open kitchen and staggering views. Jamie Oliver loved it here. Courgette flowers stuffed with mozzarella, baked scallops and fish cooked in

acqua pazza

(water scented with tomato, garlic and herbs) are my favourites.

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The dining room at

Torre Normanna

I like to spend my last night back in Minori or its neighbour, Maiori, perhaps dining at the stunning

Torre Normanna

, which sits atop its own craggy promontory. It has a secluded bar with loungers for swimming off the rocks, and the circular restaurant has uninterrupted views of the bay. Torre Normanna serves the best of the local specialities, such as

ndundari

– a lighter version of gnocchi, made with ricotta rather than potato and served with fresh tomato and basil sauce – wild sea bass with lemon, and wild strawberries with fresh ricotta to finish. Simple and delicious, it’s

la bella cucina

at its most enjoyable.

 

Amalfi at a glance

 

 

WHEN TO GO

The best time to visit the Amalfi coast is in spring and early summer or autumn. High summer is very hot and extremely crowded, and the area winds down between November and mid-March.

 

 

WHERE TO FLY

Fly to Naples from Gatwick with British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com), from £99; from Gatwick or Stansted with easyJet (easyjet.com), from £61; or Heathrow with bmi (0870 607 0555; flybmi.com), from £80.

 

 

GETTING AROUND

Most towns on the Amalfi coast are well connected by ferry, jet boat and hydrofoil.Hopping around by boat is a real pleasure and tickets are best purchased locally. Fully inclusive car hire in Italy starts from £18 per day with Holiday Autos. Call 0870 443 9917 or visit holidayautos.co.uk for details.

 

 

WHERE TO STAY

Gennaro suggests staying at the Agriturismo Villa Maria. Half-board accommodation is €45pppn mid season (1 April-30 June) and €70pppn high season (€55pppn for B&B accommodation). He also recommends the Hotel Villa Romana, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Minori. Tel: +39 089 877237; visit hotelvillaromana.it for details.

 

Restaurant and bar index

£ = Cheap and cheerful

££ = Mid-range

£££ = Splash out

Agriturismo Villa Maria

£

Via Annunziata, Minori

T: +39 089 877197
Donna Rosa

££

Via Montepertuso 97, Montepertuso

T: +39 089 811806
Enoteca Sirah

£

Piazzetta di Santa Trofimena, Minori

T: +39 089 853895
Giardinello

£

Corso V. Emmanuele 17, Minori

T: +39 089 877050

Hotel Palazzo Sasso

£££

Via San Giovanni del Toro 28, Amalfi

T: + 39 089 818181

Hotel Villa Maria

££

2 Via S. Chiara, Ravello

T: +39 089 857255
Il Pastaio

£

Via Largo Solaio dei Pastai, Minori

T: +39 089 853706
La Cambusa

££

Piazza A. Vespucci 24, Positano

T: +39 089 9812051
La Zagara

££

Via Dei Mulini 8/10, Positano

Tel: +39 089 875964

Pasticceria De Riso

£

Piazza Cantilena, Minori

T: +39 089 853618
Pasticceria Pansa

££

Piazza Duomo 40, Amalfi

T: +39 089 871065

Torre Normanna

£££

Via Diego Tajani 4, Maiori

T: +39 089 877100

Villa Cimbrone

£££

Via S. Chiara 26, Ravello

T: +39 089 857459

Photographs: Andrew Montgomery

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