Last September, while traveling in Italy, I based myself in Praiano midway between Amalfi and Positano so I could hike from Praiano to Positano one day and from Praiano to Amalfi another day.
Years ago, I'd walked down paths from Ravello to Atrani and from Scala to Amalfi, on a series of stone steps and paths heading down. Easy, pretty walks. I love hiking, have good hiking boots, and go to the gym regularly, so no problemo!
I looked at local Praiano to Positano maps – too vague. Not much info on the Internet either. At my Praiano hotel I asked the desk clerk how long it would take to do the Praiano to Positano hike.
"Oh, a couple of hours," he said.
"I'm going alone," I said. "How much traffic is on the path?"
"Around 50 people a day," he assured me. This sounded like a southern version of the Cinque Terre paths of northern Italy – I'd be fine.
I looked at my vague map and thought maybe I'd allow for four hours, not two. Knowing the sun goes down at 7pm, I started out at 1pm so I'd be down in Positano by 5pm and back to Praiano well before dark.
It was hot and sunny, not my normal hiking time or weather, but I had lots of water, a sun hat and sun-screen lotion.
I asked in Praiano where the path started and learned that it was up a street just past Hotel Smeralda. At the end of the street, I saw no signs for Positano, just a fork with three paths. I took the one that led to stairs running up the hill.
On my map, my first destination was Santa Maria Convent, but as I slowly climbed I only came across signs that said, "San Domenico 40 minutes," and "San Domenico 30 minutes."
Where was Santa Maria? Between the San Domenico signs stood crosses set in cement and benches in the shade. I rested on every bench and stopped often to look down at the ever receding coast, wide blue sea, and the white town of Praiano against the wild, dry, green and beige hillsides. Beautiful, but still no signs to Positano – or to Santa Maria for that matter.
Arriving at a second unmarked fork, I looked up and saw a grotto. I checked my map. A grotto! Could that be Santa Maria?
Off I went past yet another sign saying San "Domenico 10 minutes" and reached a closed up monastery and church. Yes! Santa Maria and San Domenico were the same place!
In the little piazza at the church, an Italian guide appeared with three tourists on their way down to Praiano. He directed my attention up ahead and pointed high on the hillside to a deserted farm house. That was the path for Positano.
"Take this path for 20-30 minutes to a junction," he said. "It's not marked. Take the stone steps to the left. You'll see a farmhouse on the right. Then go for about an hour and fifteen minutes to Nocelle and you'll see signs for the road to Montepertuso and Positano."
I lost my way for a few minutes on the steps carved out of rock; then, the "junction" he mentioned was hidden a bit by branches. But at least I could see the farmhouse off to the right. Nobody in sight. No other houses. Not much shade, so I walked slowly, stopping under the few trees to rest and sip water. I walked up and down steps and flat dirt paths along the cliffs, moving ever higher up the hillside and further away from the sea and coast road. One false step and I'd roll all the way down to the sea. Would my cell phone work way up here? Would anyone find me?
At one point, I saw a red arrow spray-painted in the rock – the first direction sign on the path. Now they tell me! I laughed out loud. The sound punctuated the silence momentarily and then absolute quiet reigned again over the awesome panorama spread out before me – the church way below, vineyards and white towns draping the coast mountains, and the blue sea stretching to the horizon.
Finally, about 5pm, I reached the hamlet of Nocelle and saw a sign pointing down a staircase to Positano. Almost there!
Thankfully, the steps winding down through olive trees and scrub were gentle and shady. Further on, I saw a sign, "Arienza." I looked on my map – three more tiresome kilometers before Positano.
After 40 minutes on the steps, I wobbled to the road. My legs couldn't carry me one more step. Never mind about Positano; by this time, I just wanted to catch a bus back to Praiano.
Next morning my legs ached all over. I read in a book that there are 1,500 steps going from Nocelle to the road. I figured from start to finish I must have walked about 4,000 steps in total.
On the map, the path for Amalfi looked much longer. If and when I walk that path I'll go with a guide. I'd taken a calculated risk once. That was enough.