Dateline: Amalfi, Italy
Aboard Oceania Cruise Ship, The Riviera
Last night’s quick cruise brought us to Amalfi early this morning. The early arrival allowed time for me to give a presentation to the ship’s many sommeliers, dining room captains, and several members of the officer staff. The executive chef of the ship, arranged a tasting for the crew with a few cheeses and a couple of wines. I prepared a one-page document as collateral that listed ten important things to know about cheese—things that would apply especially well for the crew of a luxury cruise ship such this one.
At the end of this seminar we headed ashore on one of the ship’s tenders. Amalfi is not a large enough port to dock a ship of this size; even yachts were anchored away from land. If Sorrento appeared to be precariously perched above the sea, then Amalfi looked like part of it had already slid into the sea, with another thousand meters of vertical landmass ready to crash into the sea at any time. As it turns out a huge part of this city had done just that only a few centuries earlier. What once was a major port city in the western Mediterranean was suddenly reduced to a thin sliver. I had to wonder why anyone would choose to live here, no matter how beautiful. The British upper classes made Amalfi one of their favorite holiday destinations in the 1920’s and 30’s. I suppose it might be worth a visit if the climate in your home country was typically cold, gray and wet.
The small town seemed to be piled on top of itself, with narrow roadways dug through buildings and mountainsides, and with pedestrians and cyclists taking their chances with seemingly oblivious drivers. Early July is high season for this town and the midday sun made it seem even higher. Unlike other much sleepier towns we had visited, most of the shops were open taking in whatever business was offered.
Our destination that afternoon was Ravello, a little town almost directly above Amalfi. I was warned that the drive to this town was narrow and treacherous, with no solid guardrails on the sides along the ravine. The ride to the town was not so bad; one just had to place one’s faith in a driver who had probably made this trek hundreds of times. On the drive up we passed a number of lemon trees – the lemons for which region is partly famous, and the lemons from which Limoncello is made. From the mountaintop where Ravello is situated the views of the sea were amazing. It is said that the blue of the Mediterranean is not found in any other body of water.
One of the small town’s prettiest hotels is Hotel Villa Maria, built on an outcrop overlooking the ravine directly below and the sea to the southwest. The path to this little hotel passed another one where D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover. We worked up an appetite on our way up the stone path, so the outdoor restaurant with its wisteria canopy and magnificent view was simply irresistible. Pasta is not my food of choice but I suspected that the linguine dish would be delicious with a glass of the local Ravello white wine made from the Falanghina grape. We finished our lunch with a chilled little glass of locally produced Limoncello. The “being-there” factor is always helpful.
The bussed are scheduled every half hour going back and forth but I am certain we waited for well over an hour. As it was getting late and concern about catching the last tender to ship was growing, I thought that there were far worse places to be stranded. Finally our bus arrived. On our way back down to Amalfi I kept expecting to find dairy goats, the vertical topography seemed like it might suit goats okay. Instead there are lemon trees and vineyards hugging the hillsides, with the occasional house built directly against the road, some of them with marks indicating frequent scrapes from passing vehicles.
It did not seem to matter that I had not had any cheese while in Amalfi or Ravello. Thankfully there was still plenty in the ship’s galley, as well as in my stateroom’s refrigerator.
- Max McCalman