Far Away Trails: Part 1, Hiking in Agerola, Amalfi Coast, southern Italy

Contributed by Sharon Klein

Sooner or later it had to happen. After having been “covid cooped” for 2 years, I finally felt safe and ready to travel abroad again. I had to attend a wedding in Israel of a good friend’s son on Nov. 10. Not wanting to fly to the Eastern Mediterranean and back just for a wedding, I decided to couple it with a hiking trip to a place I’d never been. On the recommendation of one of our chapter hike leaders, I booked myself on an 8 day group hiking trip on the Amalfi coast of Italy through a company called “Explore”. Graded as “moderate” I figured there was nothing that I’d encounter that I haven’t encountered in the Gunks, Catskills or Adirondacks. I was right. Not only was I right, but the trails were delicious, pleasurable at every step, and mostly devoid of the loose rocks, roots, mud and ankle twisters we have come to be used to on our eroded trails in the northeast.

The Agerola region is in the hills above the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples and Pompeii, between Sorento and Salerno. It’s is largely a national park with hundreds of kilometers of maintained and marked trails that are also well mapped. The outdoor culture in this region is all about hiking. Many of the trails were and still are ancient trade routes that connected the farms in the hinterland with the medieval villages that dot the landscape. Despite the rugged terrain, the trails were in remarkably good shape with little evidence of erosion or need for repair. Part of the reason was
the climate, and another, large part are the routes the trails take. The original users of these trails were donkeys and their handlers. The trails switch back over and over again, in contrast to our trails that often follow old logging roads where straight up the mountain was the most efficient way to get to the top.

One of the more delightful parts of the day hikes we took were the stops in cafes along the way. An ice cold beer or gelato was most welcome before we got to our final destination, where we’d be transported back to our base by our jovial driver Giuseppe. Our routes often took us from village to village, following the old trade routes. These routes, like our rails to trails system, have become repurposed hiking meccas. The villages along the trails were filled with hikers and back packers. People with packs and poles could be seen everywhere. One village; Bomerano, had an outdoor store, ready to provide through and section hikers with all their resupply needs. Our group was based in San Lazzaro, a charming village high up on the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean between Amalfi and Positano. We stayed in a family run bed and breakfast called an “agritourismo.”. The Italian government subsidizes family farms if they open them up to tourists for stays and provide food for their guests from the farm. We were treated daily to fresh, cheese, vegetables, fruit, honey, wine, and of course, pasta, all grown and produced on the farm. It was a true “farm to table experience”.

There’s nothing like a hiking trip to other parts of the world to remind me of how blessed we are to have what we have in our own backyard. As magnificent as the history, food, culture and hiking was, I couldn’t stop bragging about our Catskills and Gunks, and wowing the group with pictures. Setting foot on a Catskill peak last week after returning, solidified my feeling that “there’s no place like home.”

Next episode: Surviving a flash flood in the Judean desert