The Amalfi Coast

By Roberta Muir


The last stop on our Christmas trip to Italy was the beautiful Amalfi coast. The drive along the coast is spectacular, soaring cliffs above and below us dotted with terraced vineyards and citrus groves, while the road itself is balanced on a ledge somewhere in between. We make base in a lovely room at Hotel Miramalfi with views out to sea, back down the hill to the lovely town of Amalfi and further up the coast.

Amalfi was the capital of a maritime republic from about 850-1200AD, trading throughout the Mediterranean, rivalling Pisa and Genoa, before the rise of Venice. Just wandering around the harbour and up the narrow main street of the town, which is built into the base of a deep ravine, is a lovely pastime. The beautiful duomo (cathedral), Sant'Andrea, dates back to the 11th century and its crypt is said to contain the bones of Saint Andrew, one of Christ’s disciples. Next to the cathedral is il Chiostro del Paradiso (the cloister of paradise), built in 1266 as the cemetery for Amalfi’s nobility, its white columns and pointed arches reflect the Arabic influence often seen along this coastline. It’s now an open-air museum, with ancient pillars, sarcophagi and mosaics on display and a beautiful central garden.

There are many little towns worth visiting a short drive along the coast or into the mountains. Ravello, just above Amalfi, has spectacular views and higher still towns like Scala, Furore and Agerola are often in the clouds, though on a clear day the views are breathtaking.

Amalfi is most famous for its citrus, but there’s a lot of other produce grown on these steeply terraced cliff sides. In fact we ate very well on the Amalfi coast. On our first two nights at da Gemma, a first floor restaurant overlooking the town’s main street, where highlights included sugar-cured pork with chickpea puree and ‘minestra nero’ (a type of broccoli green) and smoked provola grilled between lemon leaves. In Positano one lunchtime we stumbled across a lovely little restaurant, Valle dei Mulini, in an old mill, where Franz had a porcini pasta that he declared the best pasta of the trip and I had a delicious wood-fired pizza with tomato, mozzarella, oregano and rocket. In Ravello it was Ristorante Salvatore, with stunning views and good food including a basket of wonderful house-made bread with thick dark crackers made from the burnt grain at the end of harvest (at least we think that’s what the waiter said) and an olive oil confit of baccala on a chickpea puree. Our last lunch was great pizza and good pasta at da Maria in Amalfi where an outside table provided a ringside seat for the parade celebrating the 12th day of Christmas.

But it was to Trattoria da Ciccio, on a cliff edge just west of town, that we returned for our last three nights. Opened in 1919, it’s run by Ciccio, the charming nephew of the original owner, with his four sons; the ladies of the family do the baking, they grow much of their own produce at the family farm in Scala, above Ravello, and source the rest locally. One brother, Giuseppe, is the sommelier and he has a wine list to be proud of with the best local wines as well as classics from around Italy. A Lacrima Christi IGT rosato proved so popular we ordered it twice.

Our food choices were guided by youngest son Antonio’s recommendations of what was at its seasonal best, such as an antipasto of finely diced red tortoni (flying squid) with a mound of crushed potatoes and squidy broth, and a crudo of diced bocco d’oro (a type of snapper) mixed with lots of lemon zest, swordfish roe and raw clams called noci di mare. Each night several additional stuzzichini arrived, including delicious cuttlefish and potato croquettes, super finely sliced octopus with pieces of lemon and house-cured white anchovies, a quenelle of chunky baccala mantecato atop a disc of mashed broccoli, and, a favourite, slightly warmed raw prawns on a puree of orange mostarda di frutta with vanilla salt and a sesame-studded wafer.

The local salumi, which Ciccio buys from a producer he visits each week in Furore, a village in the nearby mountains, was excellent: thick slices of Neapolitan salami, thin silken slices of pancetta (as smooth and sweet as lardo), and dry but delicious coppa. With it came excellent preserved artichokes, house-cured olives, grilled mushrooms and sweet, spicy mostarda verdure which provided a perfect foil for the meat, as well as shreds of cos, radicchio and rocket, it could easily have been a meal in itself. As could beef tartare, an enormous mound of diced bright red beef with a small mound of combined minced anchovies, olives and capers alongside. On top of the meat sat a small parmesan wafer basket containing a lightly poached egg.

Gnocchi with chunks of fior di latte and tomatoes is a typical Amalfi dish, da Ciccio’s version was lifted by yellow tomatoes from their own garden, while spaghetti with tiny vongole veraci and olives cooked ‘in cartoccio’ would have been worthwhile for the theatre of the tableside service alone. Fish is chosen from an iced tray rather than a menu, always cooked whole and also served tableside with the flesh expertly lifted from the bones. Big-eye, a deep-sea relative of bream according to Antonio, looking something like a rockcod, was a tad overcooked for Australian tastes, but the meltingly soft potato slices and lemony white sauce with capers more than compensated.

One night after dinner we were presented with a basket of chestnuts that had been cold-smoked for 3 days over rosemary and thyme and on our last night we ate the traditional Christmas zeppole, cross shaped donuts coated in a yummy honey syrup.  The meal always ended with complimentary local liqueurs, lemon’s popular of course, but there was also apple (which grows higher up in the mountains), aniseed, melon and others. Perhaps best of all, da Ciccio offers a taxi service to and from local hotels, and it was usually the gracious Ciccio who drove us home.


Hotel Miramalfi

Via Salvatore Quasimodo 3

84011 Amalfi, Italy

Tel.: +39 089 87 15 88



Ristorante da Salvatore

Via della Repubblica 2

84010 Ravello, Italy

Tel.: +39 089 857227


Valle Dei Mulini

Ristorante Pizzeria

Via Vecchia 5

Positano, Italy

Tel.: +39 089 875232


da Gemma  

Via Frá Gezardo Sasso 11

84011 Amalfi, Italy

Tel.: +39 089 871345


Trattoria da Ciccio

Via Nazionale per Sorrento

Amalfi, Italy

Tel.: +39 089 831265


da Maria

Ristorante Pizzeria

Via Lorenzo d’Amalfi 14


Tel.: +39 089 871880