It’s been a dream of mine all year to ride the fabled Amalfi Coast (supremely under described on google map as a picturesque coastline with steep cliffs) and supremely over described by Renato Fucini in his “Taccuini di viaggio,” 1877: “From Vietri to Amalfi, through lava mountains, magic, paradise, Creator’s mistake, desire to scream and applaud the author of it, I am held back by the fear of offending his modesty; Eden, heavenly kingdom, amazement, astonishment, bewilderment.”
Well shit, finally, (lucky me) the day has come.
I further luck out with a last minute brainwave to cancel my planned Path of the Gods hike and call a local bike rental company. Youpee, my size bike is becoming that very afternoon for 18 hours and best of all the rental will be delivered to my hotel room for 15 euros and picked up when I’m done. (I don’t even have to be there when they pick it up, which to me says a lot about local trust and business). But then I’m kind of naïve that way.
I’ve never ridden a Bianchi frame before and am really looking forward to it. Likewise, it’s my first time riding with Campagnolo shifters. The frame is a 58cm job, and clumsily names “mono q tech 928”, which maybe sounds cool in Italian. Not sure. The fit is damn near perfect, I have only a cm to adjust on the saddle height and we’re off.
The route is simple – head west along the coastal road – which is a marvel of Italian engineering, and brinkmanship driving, not least of which is displayed daily by the brave men driving the SITA buses. I have seen them creep by with less than 3 inches to spare on more than one occasion. Mind you, most of them have scrape marks to show the unsuccessful passes too.
So as I was saying, head west along the SS163 which swoops and drops like a child playing aeroplanes, and let me tell you is just a pure JOY to ride. I’ve never ridden a surface so smooth – it’s really almost like glass, and you’re never bored or route-fatigued because every crank is literally a JOY with breath-taking scenery above, below and all around.
The weather is surprisingly cool and mild for July, but that could be because it’s still dark when I leave my hotel near Praiano. I promised my wife that I had my headlight, but I did tell a small lie, because I was so excited to leave with almost childish giddiness that I really didn’t care. The hell with it, death by Piaggo if need be.
It was a dark and stormy morning. By the time I reach Colli Fontanelle and start climbing into the handbag of the coastline there is heavy mist and clouds all around, which puts me in mind of riding in Costa Rica. Minus the parrots. The only Italian parrots I see are in Rome, which seemed rather unlikely, but there it is.
I break off the SS145 and head towards Sant Agata on the smaller road Via Nastro Azzuro where I make a shameless stop for espresso and the best fresh chocolate filled donut I ever spent a euro on in my life. I enjoy it so much that I fail to recognize the chocolate cream smeared on my 5 day beard and the bridge of my nose. I guess it’s a help for sunscreen.
Following by street sign only now I head down towards Sorrento on the northern coast. It’s a 500meter drop but turns out to be a divine half hour descending. Other than Fiats occasionally up my butt, there’s nothing not to love.
Sorrento is sort of an anti-climax, really nothing going on there (but it was early) and I get the vibe of a poor seaside town that won’t be so welcoming after dark. It’s not pulling on me and after a super quick water refill I’m off. I will say that there are many village and town taps which you can drink clean drinking water directly from or refill your bottle.
Climbing out of Sorrento I enjoy some meaty 12-15% grades for a kilometer or thereabouts before the grade settles back to the Amalfi standard of 6-8%. Nice for pacing at steady 20km/hr or so.
Back on the main Amalfi coast road I head back with a great stopover into Possitano, which has to be one of the most beautiful towns anywhere on planet earth. By a long way. The only downside is that there are hordes of tourists (think especially of the cruise ship variety) and you get the picture. Better early in the morning before the heat and the crowds. I have to stop and soak it in and take picture after picture. The road calls but the soul needs fuel too.
I head back past Priano and past my hotel and continue eastwards towards Amalfi itself. I should confess that when I say “past my hotel” what I really mean is stop, get a double espresso, scarf a big assed cold cut breakfast sandwich and pack another “Bob to-go” borrowed buffet special leaving my hosts looking bemused and not at all looking like they wanted to come with me for part 2.
I won’t have time to go to Amalfi and get another last big climb in so I turn off the main road and head into the valley on the SS366 towards Pianillo. Incidentally, we take this road a couple days later to go back to Rome, and it’s really quite beautiful all the way over to the north side. Well worth the extra 45 mins it takes to use it. Also there is an Italian Giro Champions monument which was erected. I’m trying to recall where it is exactly because I never found it due to the fact I reached my “on duty” time limit and had to return to base.
The return downhill is of course a special celebration – 500meters de-elevating road riding heaven! It’s not big speed here, but the proximity of the road to certain death cranks the adrenalin meter rather near the top and holds you right there all the way down. I’m not saying Agoraphobia out loud, but inside I am wiping indignant tears on my stained Lycra shorts.
What hyperbole can I throw to hit the bullseye of this beautiful moment? Not sure, but I can say this. It’s with a very heavy heart that I sit down to second breakfast back at my hotel and think back over the ride.
In summary, here’s my tips:
Go early in the day – this road is INSANE with traffic after 11amTake a GoPro – it’s unbelievably beautiful BUT I “wasted” a perfectly good and precious bike hour just stopping to take pics. Maybe that’s the point.Do it more than once and don’t bother taking your bike, rent per day including delivery is a paltry 50 euros. Best of all, if you’re a budget minded traveller, you don’t have to schlep you bike on planes, trains and SITA buses to get to the coast.Call me if you’re going – I want to do it agaaaaaain!!!!!Big, big thank you to Cycling Amalfi and their willingness to accommodate me at super short notice. Just couldn’t have been nicer to work with. Them, not me. Thanks again! It’s funny, read their reviews and you’ll see so many great experiences just like mine with them.
And for the lighter side of cycling culture:
Finally, for those who prefer more pomp than Pomodoro: