“Oooh, be careful cara mia, The Walk of the Gods is very pericoloso… is very dangerous. Just last week a lady died on the same walk. Maybe, is not the best choice for you to do these days”. This warning from a slightly odd, middle-aged lady working at the hotel in Positano was just the beginning of what seemed to be a long line of obstacles standing between myself and a hike, high along the Amalfi coast.
The hike itself, named ‘The Walk of the Gods’ also known as the ‘Path of the Gods’ is world-famous, and one of the most stunning views of the Amalfi coast. The path can be completed in either direction (East to West or West to East), giving you about 6km of Amalfi coastline views. Many people actually commit to a longer hike, doing the trail as a loop (i.e. starting and finishing in the same town), covering about 12km in total.
The views are better if you travel from East to West along the coast, but the trail is the same, so if you prefer to go from West to East you can still easily look behind you for some stunning views towards the island of Capri.
I had read all about the walk, and it was on my ‘must do list whilst in Italy’ list. A vague warning of death in broken English from hotel staff was slightly unsettling, but my resolve didn’t waver – I was determined to at least attempt the walk. I had decided on the westward track from Bomerano to Nocelle, which was (theoretically) an easy 6km walk, slightly downhill in many parts, and which offers incredible views along the coast towards Capri.
Pro tip: Map: PDF with photos and directions – VERY handy to download onto your phone or to print out (in colour), so you can navigate on the walk: http://www.giovis.com/hpage/pathgodstrailbook.pdf
At this point in my European Adventure I was travelling and exploring with my assistant-in-training, Lauren. Lauren is Aussie-born but moved to Italy nearly five years ago, and she was very happy to join and assist me as I explored her beautiful adopted homeland.
Both of us were determined to experience at least a little of the Walk of the Gods, even in the face of the constant warnings of dehydration and death. We figured that with a lot of planning, and two backpacks full of water, we should be ok even under the scorching summer sun.
On the first day that we attempted the walk, we got only as far as the bustling main road in Positano. This road snakes all along the Amalfi coast and, while it boasts some utterly amazing views, it’s an absolutely horrendous for traffic. Luckily, the honking line of scuffed-up cars and trucks seemed to be moving quite swiftly. Unluckily for us, all the buses were jam-packed. They didn’t stop at all.
We waited at the Positano bus stop, all geared-up for our hike, for about an hour. When the fourth full bus passed us without even a cursory wave in our direction from the driver, we admitted defeat. Like teenagers that had been stood up for the prom, we trudged back to the hotel to unpack, and rethink the initial part of the plan.
Pro tip: If you want to get the bus, start at 7am or earlier! The bus from Positano towards Amalfi and Bomerano is not very frequent and fills up fast. It is much faster and easier to find other travellers and split the cost of a private transfer, that can be organised by your hotel. You’ll get dropped off at the start of the walk and probably will save a good two hours of confusion and stress.
Since we were staying in Positano, no matter where we started the walk, we needed to take some form of transport. The Amalfi coast is a reasonably high ridge, and walking up there and then along the top before it gets dark is not really feasible. We decided to take a private transfer from the hotel to the start of the walk, which was an excellent alternative to getting up at 7am and navigating the local buses! At a steep 120 euros, it wasn’t a cheap ride, but it certainly was the most efficient. The cab driver even helpfully pointed to the start of the walk, which we may not have found if we had made our own way up there by bus.
The beginning of the Walk of the Gods in Bomerano was a simple laneway between two fairly nondescript brick walls, with a small sign indicating il sentiero degli dei.
Thankfully, during our research we came across tons of fantastic websites that detailed how to navigate the path. With helpful pictures and step-by-step instructions, we were confident we’d eventually succeed. Excellent website with easy-to-read photos and directions: http://www.pathofgods.com/into-the-path/from-east-to-west/from-bomerano-to-nocelle/
I’ve added a few of my other favourite links at the end of this blog.
The websites were invaluable. Italy sometimes has this rather lax approach to signposting, which sometimes can leave you very confused, wandering in circles, and then turning back in frustration. The Walk of the Gods is no different, and should only be attempted after at least downloading the directions from the above website. Even with two apps and three descriptive websites with photos, Lauren and I weren’t quite sure which direction to take in some places.
1 x Spiderpro Double Equipment Belt
1 x Nikon D4S with RRS L-Bracket and Spiderpro Arca Swiss adapter
1 x Nikon 28-300mm with polarising lens
1 x Nikon 16mm Fisheye
1 x Sony A7II with Spiderpro plate
1 x Sony 16-35mm f4 with polarising lens
At the start the walk is largely uphill, and easy to follow. We wandered through what seemed to be old laneways connecting small blocks of and local houses, cheerfully waving at locals that had peered out of nearby windows to check us out as we walked on past.
There were no views of anything at this point, but we walked on, confident because our research did describe a clear path leading out of Bomerano, heading towards the coast. Slowly we began to head uphill, and as the trees cleared we got the feeling that we were just around the corner from something incredible.
We weren’t wrong! As we rounded the first corner, and the road started to level off a little, we got our first glimpse of the sprawling, majestic Amalfi coastline. It was even more beautiful than I could have imagined. A seemingly endless expanse of water stood before us, shimmering a brilliant blue in the midmorning sun. We found the hot summer breeze here, and it buffeted us nicely, drying our sweaty necks. Down on the water, boats and ferries of all sizes floated around the coast, hovering close to the cramped, colourful houses of the towns at the base of the hills.
Following the trail along the coastline you eventually get a choice to take the high road or the low road. If you’re afraid of the extra exertion involved in going a little higher, you really shouldn’t be. The high road seems to be only a few metres above the low road, but in my opinion, these few metres make all the difference. Above the thick trees and bushes, the higher vantage point provided the breathtaking scenery that we had been searching for.
Pro tip: Take the high road, if you can. The views are much better.
The coastline went on forever, meandering in and out, sometimes digging deep into the land, forming hidden hamlets that we couldn’t quite make out from our high vantage point.
Every now and then crumbling old stone farmhouses stand on the hillside, with their structures punctuated by infiltrating vines and trees, they charm passers-by with thoughts of time long past.
Pro Tip – The Spiderpro belt allowed me to have a handfree option of carrying my cameras whilst still wearing a backpack with other essentials and having my cameras readily accessible to take photos. I find if my camera is in a bag it gets used far less, as I am too lazy to be continually stopping and removing the camera. Having my cameras out on my hips allowed me to quickly take images and then place the camera away to leave both hands free. This was particularly useful in areas where we had to scrabble uphill or grab onto rocks to stabilise our descent.
During the walk we could periodically see down to the coast, observing the hustle and bustle of Amalfi coast roads from the quiet serenity of the hills.
In Italy, guiderail installation and path maintenance are not high-priority items on the agenda, so you will need to be careful. An old woman really did die on this path the week before we walked it – she had tripped and fallen, unfortunately. The path for the most part is fine, if you come prepared with sturdy shoes, and keep an eye out for loose rocks. There are many places where you could fall if you were careless or inattentive (eg. like when taking photos with a fisheye lens), so caution is key.
Pro Tip – The large expanse of sparkling blue water and bright blue skies make for ideal conditions for the use of a polarising filter. A circular polarising filter can be screwed on top or instead of your UV filter attached to your camera lens. When rotated properly, it cuts the glare from the water and deepens the blue of the sky and ocean. This results in images that have more saturated colours, and more accurately portrays the vista that you will long remember.
Snakes also frequent these areas, as I found out to my absolute horror when one slithered just a metre or two in front of me. Here in Italy, snakes are less murderously insane than they are in Australia, and the locals tend to ask only the colour of the snake. Lauren assured me that the simple black one that had crossed our path was not deadly. I wasn’t comforted at all (snakes are my mortal enemy), and sent her ahead to scope out where our little slinky friend had escaped to.
Without any further snake sightings, we kept moving along the narrow path, constantly in awe of the endless expanse of sea off to our left. We stopped to have a snack and a little of the 6 litres of water we had brought along, and simply sat and revelled in the glorious view that was laid out before us.
Pro Tip – Always take a fisheye lens when visiting places up high with a view. By tilting the camera down, a fisheye lens causes a distortion to the horizon that can bring an interesting perspective. Fisheye lenses are generally not very heavy so they are a valuable addition to a walk like this.
When we reached a little further up the coast we could see a big town, with colourful houses crammed into every nook and cranny along the coast. It looked like Positano! But surely not, we thought. The walk was basically a breeze so far (ignoring my snake-induced near heart attack), and we were both waiting for it to get more difficult. But if we squinted into the distance, we could kind of see where our path would take us, and it did indeed look like we were approaching the hills above Positano.
Terrain: The Walk of the Gods is a reasonably exposed track, with some uphill and downhill sections, and some loose rocks. There are a fair few stairs at times as well. A medium level of fitness is recommended, and those with knee or ankle problems should take proper precautions.
Clearly ‘a tough walk’ means very different things to different people. Perhaps if we had told the woman in the hotel that one of us is an Army Major who often carries 30kg of camera equipment everywhere she goes, and the other sometimes likes to run 20km through the Italian Alps for fun, she would have downgraded her description of the walk to ‘pleasant hike’.
While we’d vastly overestimated the amount of water we would need, I wasn’t upset – when you truly get thirsty, water is like the nectar of the gods, and up here in the hills there are no means of refilling an empty bottle.
Pro tip: Fill up on plenty of water in Bomerano or Nocelle. There are no extra water sources along the 6km track between those two towns.
We were getting pretty close to Positano, which meant the end of the walk. It felt like it came too soon, and Lauren suggested we could continue walking from Nocelle (the upper part of Positano and our planned endpoint) down to the door of our hotel. ‘It’s something like 2000 steps down’ she told me. My knees were sore and I think the look on my face must have been clear enough for her, because she immediately said ‘alrighty, bus it is then!’.
The last part of the walk started to enter into Nocelle, which seemed like a wonderfully quaint little town. It felt like not much happens here, making Nocelle a welcome respite away from the hurried urgency of the tourists below.
Almost at the end of the path, we come across a curious structure made from rickety planks of wood. Somewhat like a shack, and somewhat like a home, it advertised fresh lemonade in a small window. We poked our heads in, intrigued by the idea of a cool drink, and also in search of information about the bus back to Positano.
While we were peering in the window, a portly old Italian man exited the shack and waved us into what seemed to be the back door. Even Lauren was a bit confused, asking him in Italian if we were actually allowed to enter his house. Once inside we realised it wasn’t a house, but instead some kind of bar! With a tree growing in the middle of the widely spaced stone slabs, and a kitchen sink in plain sight, this was the weirdest and cutest bar I’d ever seen.
A lovely place with a killer view. Oh, and the tree is very much real – it seems like the bar was built around it!
The old man’s wife was clearly the waitress of the two, ushering us to a small table overlooking the water. Vines and little plants were everywhere, and the picnic-style chairs sometimes fell between the paving stones and into the soft dirt underneath.
The nonna asked if we wanted anything, and beer was the first thing that came to mind. What better way to celebrate a successful walk and jaw-dropping views than relaxing with a frosty birra.
Lauren translated for me since this adorable old couple had figured that the best way to deal with the multicultural flock of tourists that come through here on a regular basis was to clearly pronounce simple Italian words combined with hand gestures. Genius plan! A tip of the wrist with a clearly spoken ‘bevete?” and I knew she was asking if we wanted a drink. An open mouth and pinched fingers, along with the word ‘mangiate?” made me immediately realise how hungry I was. Lauren asked what was available, and the old nonna took us over to her husband, who was sitting at an old table, chopping fresh tomatoes and basil for bruschetta. The smell was absolutely divine! We ordered two pieces each and went back to our quaint little table.
In these parts of Italy, mozzarella is a speciality, and comes so gloriously fresh and delicate that it seems like no other flavour in the world will ever compare. Our favourite nonna came and explained that they also serve bruschetta with some local mozzarella on top, and we knew we had to try it. After the first bite, I was hooked. This was literally the best food I’d had in my entire time in Italy!
Nothing could compare to that burst of sweetness from vine-ripened tomatoes, mixed with fresh basil from the plants I could smell just over the balcony, and the delicate creaminess of the fresh mozzarella. Served on a garlicky slice of ciabatta, I was in heaven.
I kept ordering piece after piece of bruschetta, long after Lauren had stopped and switched to focussing on her beer. I asked her to tell the woman that this was the most delicious food I’ve ever had in Italy, but she left off the ‘in Italy’ part of the statement, and the nonna interpreted it as the best food in the entire world! Oops, translation fail, but not too far off the truth to be honest. She immediately beamed and fussed over me, kissing me on the cheek and exclaiming how dear and kind I was. It was just so lovely, I felt like I could stay here forever.
When I asked for a couple more pieces, the old man that was constructing all of these delicious morsels started complaining to the nonna. But she shut him down with a few brief words and he trudged off out the door to pick more tomatoes and basil. I glanced at Lauren and saw that she was barely keeping a straight face. “He’s complaining that bruschette are not a main meal, you’re only meant to have a couple of pieces at most” she explained. “I think he’s tired of chopping tomatoes” she added, laughing while she sipped her beer.
Afterwards we were full and happy, and ready to head back for a rest. The adorable old couple pointed the way to the bus stop, which was a short 10 minutes walk following the path through the town of Nocelle.
The bus that arrived was one of those shortened ones that are perfectly suited for navigating the narrow winding roads of the Amalfi coast. Even though it was compact, we still had quite a few stops along the road to Positano – in many places only one car or bus can turn the corner, and there was quite a bit of nerve-wracking manoeuvring before we got all the way back home.
Public transport home from Nocelle: Head to the local bus junction, which seems to be located in the far corner of a carpark. Tickets can be purchased on the bus.
Every time I think back to that walk, I get transported back to those wild hilltops. I feel the sun beating down on my shoulders and taste the salty sea air, and I revel in the memory of the hike and the feeling of being completely and utterly free.
Extra links that are worth a look before you hike:
One page summary of some of the route options and height: http://www.giovis.com/sentdei.htm
Another great website with helpful walking tips and photos with captions of the sites along the walk: http://www.sorrentoamalfiwalkwithus.com/#!the-path-of-the-gods/c1a3e
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