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The discreet charm of the other coast

Between Positano and Amalfi, the ancient heart of the peninsula


To speak of the Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast is to describe something that words can hardly fully describe.

Famous in the world the two parts of the Campania coast one on the Gulf of Naples the other on the Gulf of Salerno are two treasure chests full of richness that comes from history, art, nature. They are not only a tourist itinerary that attracts from every corner of the world, but also a path of the soul, of feelings, of human industriousness in conditions of the highest difficulty among small inlets, steep slopes, very few cultivable areas. A beautiful land where nature seems to have gathered all kinds of beauty but made its fruition complex and arduous. Certainly we are talking about places where tourism and its rituals have for decades made the lives of vacationers easier, but the existence of the local population, even with due differences, still largely follows ancient rhythms especially in the relationship with the stepmotherly and yet generous nature that fills the crags with citrus fruits, vines that seem to have been torn from the rocks.

Sorrento, Sant'Agata dei due Golfi, Positano, Amalfi certainly do not need to be told or described. Everything or almost everything is known about these places; tourism publicity and rivers of ink have been telling their history, evolution and reality for decades. What interests us, then, is to try to talk about places that are also known but always remain somewhat in the background, of which less is said but which represent and for many reasons true excellences and constitute what we might call the other, more discreet face of the coastline that from the tip of the peninsula describes the wide arc toward the Gulf of Salerno and is nestled among the other pearls that make the Amalfi Coast one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Almost a similar distance between Positano and Amalfi, from the coast and as far inland as the Lattari Mountains, a world apart also unfolds, charged with natural charm and cultural value.

Three points of interest we talk about. Conca dei Marini and in particular the ancient monastery of Santa Rosa, now a charming relais. Furore, the country that is not there a small archipelago of houses scattered on the hills and an ancient fjord famous in the history of cinema. Tramonti, a village of hamlets and work torn from nature in the center of the Lattari mountains.

Conca dei Marini has rather uncertain origins; it is believed to have been founded by the Tyrrhenians, the same people who later landed on the coast of Etruria, under the name of Cossa, and, given the steep and irregular conformation of the hinterland, the first inhabitants immediately devoted themselves to maritime activities. In 272 B.C. (481 ab Urbe condita) it was conquered by the Romans, who turned it into a colony; the small seaside village then followed the vicissitudes of the Roman republic and then of the empire, until its unraveling after which it slowly ended up in the orbit of the rising maritime power of Amalfi.

In the little treasure chest of Conca, the St. Rose Monastery stands out for its history and its wonderful location overlooking the cliff. And today it is one of the most beautiful and important historic residences on the Amalfi Coast, respecting the architecture, spaces, and founding values of the ancient religious refuge, in an unsuspected but exclusive hotel, reintroducing the flavor of its ancient spiritual roots and the richness of its history. The first traces of the construction of what would later become the monastery date back to 1681, when the walls of the ancient church of Santa Maria di Grado, reduced to ruins, were donated by the municipality of Conca dei Marini to the abbess sister Rosa Pandolfo, a descendant of a rich and noble Italian family that had always expressed the desire to build, next to the church, a monastery to house the "Holy Virgins."

Thus was born, in a location that has the unbelievable on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea the building that was dedicated to St. Rose of Lima, who had taken the vows of the Dominican Third Order. Since then and over the years the nuns were of great support to the local population. They had, for example, a canal dug from Monte Vocito to bring water to the convent and from there to Piazza Olmo, where a fountain was built to ensure running water for the inhabitants of Conca and where a memorial plaque still commemorates this noble gesture today. The nuns put their pharmaceutical knowledge at the disposal of the community, preparing medicines and remedies for the most common illnesses. And they also became known for their culinary skills: to them we owe the recipe for the very famous sfogliatella Santa Rosa.

The sisters who were in the monastery were in seclusion, and so it was that a wooden wheel was built next to the church: although remaining invisible thanks to the anonymity that the wheel guaranteed them, they were able to bestow pharmaceutical remedies or the famous sweets to the population and wayfarers who donated their offerings in return. History changed abruptly around 1866, when post-unification secular legislation against ecclesiastical property forced the religious settlement to move. For the monastery, the symbol and reference of Conca dei Marini, a long period of abandonment and ruin began, which was interrupted in 1934 when it was transformed into an exclusive hostel for the time (one of 39 Relais Château in Italy) preserving the aesthetic simplicity typical of monastic life and in which, in the postwar period, personalities such as Jacqueline Kennedy, who took refuge there during her vacations on the coast or Edoardo de Filippo, among many others, were hosted.

History and world changes still intervened after several decades when upon the death of the last descendant of the owner family and ups and downs, the place was again abandoned and forgotten. That was until 1999, when American citizen Bianca Sharma, during a cruise with friends in Salerno Bay, was confronted with the spectacle that the building on the sheer cliff represents and decided to buy the building and turn it into one of the best hotels in the world. A work, which has continued since then until 2012, with the usual ups and downs that mark its long history, manages to transform it into an authentic place of refreshment, in an atmosphere that is always rarefied and respectful of the sense of human religiosity and contemplation that the ancient origin but also the spectacular nature continue to convey.

At not many miles and we might say many spectacular turns on the narrow coastal road, it appears to us, or rather it does not appear to us, Wrath ... the country that isn't there! This may sound like a tourist gimmick, but it is not. Furore in fact has no village, no landmark-which is in the bold and far-sighted plans of its mayor Raffaele Ferraioli holder of theHostaria di Bacco and awarded the Idealeamico Award, for the first time to a restaurant in southern Italy, by the Association of Collectors of the Buon Ricordo Dish - and is often identified with the incredible fjord that entered the central valley and leads all the way to the sea in a jaw-dropping scenery. In fact we could say that it is the first widespread village in history.

The beauty of the places is such that one can hardly imagine how the first to discover the possibilities imagined stopping and realizing what now appears to us! A cluster of houses not placed there at random, but following the sinuosity of the coast and the possibilities for communication albeit of great difficulty and agricultural use of the steep crags and natural terraces on the azure that are home to lemon groves with spectacular fruit and vineyards at the limits of human possibilities. Originally, the settlement is said to have originated as a simple hamlet of the Royal City of Amalfi. The place and its name-attributed before only to the fjord-emerged from complete anonymity with the compilation of the Caroline cadastre of 1752, which returned the image of a small coastal community scattered over the territory. In reality, Furore was, due to its particular physical-geographical conformation, an unassailable stronghold even at the time of the Saracen raids, and the Fjord represented a natural harbor, in which flourishing trade took place and the oldest forms of industrial activity developed: paper mills, mills fed by the waters of the stream that descended from the Lattari Mountains.

Today Furore is following the path that history has assigned to it and that Italian cinema in some way has handed over to it (we recall the stay and work in these places of Roberto Rossellini and Anna Magnani, to whom a room is dedicated in the path dedicated to the memory of those years). It remains a place not a place, a country not a country, but it has become, also thanks to the memory of "Nannarella," the country of love, or rather that noncountry in which, however, the flame of love and passion seem to find nourishment, just as love and passion never follow marked places or established paths!

At this point, we leave the coast so evocative and rich in history, passions, and ancient legends, and go inland to the crags and valleys of those Lattari mountains that act as crown, limit, and ridge to the peninsula itself. And, after a long and complex wander, after curves and counter-curves without a view of the sea, we arrive at an unimaginable place. In a rich green that surrounds everything, we are in the valley of Sunsets, place/non-place (also like Furore, a unicum of these districts) that as stated in the "Cronaca Amalfitana," takes its name from the configuration of the area in which it is located, land between mountains, hence "Intra Montes" and hence precisely Tramonti.

The history of these places is intimately linked to that of the coast beyond the mountains and to Amalfi, Following the incredible ways of the history of our peninsula we discover that the first urbanization of the place is traced back to the Picentines, an ancient Italic people of the Osco-Umbrian group, later mixed with Etruscans and other peoples. When the Romans, with a hard war defeated the Picentines, they fled from the places where the ancient "Reghinna" (today's Maiori) was, to escape the enemies and took refuge towards the mountains, in the valley, where they built there the first hamlets in the basin that will be, later, called by the name of Tramonti. Tramonti played an important role in the genesis of the Amalfi Republic: it was, in fact, involved along with the coastal populations in the defense of the city against the Lombard Arechi II and in the ups and downs against the ambitious Sicardo, until Amalfi, in 839, was proclaimed a Republic.

Tramonti contributed greatly to its greatness and benefited from its trade, commerce, and wealth for its own development: it would not otherwise be possible to explain the large number of ancient churches (the ancient Gete rock), ancient monuments. The end of the dominion of the maritime republic inserted these places in the confused and complex mosaic that from the Normans passed through the Swabians, the Angevins, then the Aragonese, until the establishment of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, whose fate these lands will follow until the annexation to the Kingdom of Italy. Of these secular events Tramonti preserves the memory, as well as the signs of the power of nature and telluric phenomena that made its territory very fertile. Among the peculiarities - so many as to make even a cataloguing of them difficult - a place apart certainly belongs to the vine, which, thanks to the volcanic nature of the soils, has allowed and preserved a small in size but priceless treasure of biodiversity: an unknown native vine, Tintore, an anonymous variety until the early 2000s because it was never registered. Since 2003 Tramonti has been a subzone of the Amalfi Coast DOC, although the Tintore grape variety officially entered the appellation with the 2010 vintage.

Even today," we read in specialized wine journals, "one can find over 100-year-old productive, free-ranging strains, that is, those vines that were never grafted onto American roots, as a result of the plague of Phylloxera Vastatrix which had infected all European wine-growing areas by the end of the 19th century. The Tintore, precisely, miraculously escaped phylloxera, making it a priceless treasure of biodiversity. The plant is raised on dense plots of pergolas supported by scaffolding made from chestnut poles, a type of farming related to the Etruscan people who populated the entire area. The area is traversed by continuous sea breezes that combine with other land winds that combine to reinforce the Tramontana wind, a term linked by assonance to the name Tramonti, and which actually comes from the Latin Triventum, country of the three winds. The few hectares of vineyards, are placed at heights ranging from 250 to 700 meters above sea level where temperature ranges establish, without a doubt, the organoleptic characteristics of the wine. This is an experience that cannot be missed especially because it harks back to the history that has passed through these secluded places and is a rich testimony to it.

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