Winding along the precarious coast road from Sorrento to Amalfi in southern Italy on a hired motorbike has to be one of the more hair-raising rides I’ve ever done. The views along the costiera Amalfitana are, of course, simply stunning: if you dare to take your eyes off the road for a moment, the glittering aquamarine sea of the Gulf of Salerno stretches out in a wonderful sunshiney haze, and round every new bend is the breath-taking sight of more brightly-painted pastel-coloured houses clinging to the cliffside, seemingly defying the laws of gravity (and building logic!).
Take your eyes off the road at your peril, though. Apart from the endless hairpin bends, which are especially exciting to navigate on two wheels, there’s always the chance that round the next blind corner will come a car or – worse – a bus that suddenly claims right of way, forcing you to take immediate evasive action. Being on a bike means you can usually squeeze round the traffic somehow. But still, I found myself in more than a few altercations with assertive Italian drivers gesticulating passionately about their right of way, regardless of whether it was theirs or not! Mainly it was good-humoured, though, and I found myself getting stuck in with the best of them, using every Italian expletive in my phrasebook (pezzo di stronzo! is one of my favourites – the locals use it A LOT!).
And that’s the thing. After a few years away from Italy, coming back here has rekindled my deep-seated passion for this country. Exploring the spectacular ruins of Pompeii, one of the world’s great historical sites, hiking some of the gorgeous cliff-top coastal routes near Positano, and indulging all over again in the delicious Campanian cuisine (not to mention the regional speciality, limoncello)… southern Italy really does have it all.
And it’s more than just a wonderful place to take a holiday: there’s something about Italy and its people that makes me feel uplifted and joyful about the world. People live life big here – they eat well, enjoy “la dolce fa’niente” (the art of doing nothing), and are generally much less buttoned-down than the British. No nanny state here: that road round the costiera Amalfitana probably wouldn’t be allowed in the UK: the sheer stupidity of such a road, barely wide enough to take two-way traffic, combined with the renowned Italian style of driving offensively (as opposed to defensively!), would earmark it almost certainly for some kind of regulation (traffic lights? one-way sections? a ban on buses?) or at worst see it completely re-built as a two-lane carriageway fit for safe passage.
This was just a short trip this time but it reminded me there are lots of adventures and beautiful experiences to be had in this amazing country. I really hope I can get back to Italy for a bigger two-wheeled ride later this year. Once my nerves have recovered from that crazy coastal road, that is…! 🙂