Everybody has a summer holiday, and Team Secondsguru is back after a rejuvenation break too! Lara and I, the co-founders behind this site, have been friends for years and finally synced our calendars for a break in Italy. If you have been following our Instagram feed, then you already know we were filling our senses with Rome’s history and our refillable bottles with aqueduct water!
After a few days of ancient exploration, we switched gears to nature worship and headed to – but of course – the southern shores. South of Italy is synonymous with sun-kissed landscapes and brilliant scenery. It’s where Pinterest promises you’ll find sunset-colored houses looking down to an azure sea. Just Google search images for Amalfi Coast, and tell me you aren’t wishing yourself there already!
We sure were convinced by such images, and that’s how we found ourselves on a long drive from Sorrento to Amalfi. The cliff-hanging road is hypnotic, especially on a clear summer day like we had. Sitting at the window, my gaze continuously chased a glittering horizon, interrupted only by peek-a-boo cliffs and vertical villages. The hillside is lush, at times wild and at times tamed by lemon and olive stepped-groves. The flowers are vibrant – pink bougainvillea framing doors, purple daisies lining walls, sunflowers climbing cafes…
But that’s not all the beauty you’ll find here. Artisanal Italy is stunning too. As we walked the alleyways of Positano, Ravello and Amalfi – all stops in our route – we were fascinated by handicrafts on offer. The boutiques are vibrant with summer colours too – be it linen in the colours of the sky, or pottery that glistens like the sun’s yellow and the sea’s blue.
Okay, so you will also find magnet shops with cloned vespas, that’s inevitable, but there is so much to see that’s made in Italy and made with love too.
As tourists, we all wish to take back more than just memories. But as I admired and bought mementos, souvenirs, gifts, clothes – I picked up things that I felt truly brought a whiff of Italy to my home. Here’s my recommendation on local and artisanal buys down Amalfi’s coast. If you are heading that way, I hope you find it handy!
#1 Spices, and dried produce
Throughout our Italian holiday, my staple diet was pizza…. or to be precise, pizza doused with chill flakes (yes, I am Indian ;)). And I must admit that both the pizza and the chilli flakes were always outstanding – restaurant after restaurant handed me peperoncini with a smile though to be honest, I had expected a dressing down for my palate-ruinous food habit. This was my most surprising discovery about Italy – they have a taste for strong spice, and what’s more, they grow amazing, hot, red chilli. The evidence is there even as you drive down Amalfi – take note of the carts with red bunches hanging. While some are cherry tomatoes, you will also find dried chilles!
It was at one such stand, at a look-out point for Positano, that I found my best buy. Parked carts were selling sun dried tomatoes, as well as ground mixes labelled diavalo, aglio olio, bruschetta, and more. Priced between 1.6 – 2.5 euros, these were the best prices I had seen – what’s more, some sellers were offering tasters that really packed a punch. On asking, I was told that that these were mixes were created in-farm with the farm’s own produce, and certainly the fresh, wholesome flavours vouched for it. Naturally, out came my shopping bag, and in went 2 kgs of awesome sauce. Also naturally, I now wish I’d bought more!
Tip: Even if you don’t buy off the carts, throughout the markets that line the coast, and even in Sorrento, spice blends are on offer – look for them at the racks right next to sun-dried tomatoes. Small-scale, fresh packs are usually superior; so ask the shopkeeper to tell you the source and demand tasters to ensure you are buying quality ingredients.
In the meandering garden paths of Ravello, you will find many boutiques with colourful sandal displays that make your heart skip a beat or twenty. Heed your instinct and enter the doors… and you will likely find the shop empty. No matter, at this point just shout a bonjourno, and the response will guide you to the artisan, often working at the workshop right behind!
That is the process through which we found so many hand-crafters, working with leather and nails and colourful bands, creating permutations and combinations of footwear, customising their ware on the spot for the train of customers that coast through Amalfi summers.
Lara has an envy-inducing eye that led her to one-of-a-kind yellow crochet sandals. They were slightly loose, but all it took was 10 minutes of conversation and sewing for her to get a pair that was Cinderalla-fit. Below (right) is a sneak pic of the artisan, who makes only uno item of every design. On the left another lady, who creates on-demand the patterns you want to take home:
Note: for those among you who do not buy leather, make sure you ask the shop what material the sandals are made from. Leather is the usual base for footwear in Italy.
#3 Lemon (and more!)
When nature handed Southern Italy a lemon, (and it was a huge lemon indeed) they turned it into lemoncello, lemon candies, lemon cookies, lemon-infused chocolate, lemon slush, blah blah blah and finally, (of course) lemon gelato! You’ll find them all at every stop you take down the Amalfi coast.
I perversely settled for just a lemon magnet because between all these lemonic creations and the lemon groves we passed by, I was saturated! However, there are loads of shops offering tasters for passers-by, so if you have a sugar-and-sour tooth, definitely test them out!
Ceramics from the Amalfi coast can trace their lineage to the 15th century, and Positano, Vietre and Ravello are still centres of artisanal production. Pottery here is suffused with summer colours: golden yellows and oranges, sea greens and sky blues, these are the prime palette of the local ceramics. And if there’s a motif that dominates, it is of course, the lemon!
Designs at affordable prices tend to be repeated across shops and villages – so look around before you decide your best buy. You can rummage through baskets and baskets of salad servers, wine stoppers, food bowls and homeware throughout your twists and turns in Amalfi coast. Great for gifts, great for homes, great to support the artisans!
As you walk down Amalfi’s cobblestone labyrinths, or even it’s main piazza, you are bound to come across beautiful cloth or leather bound diaries. Inspect the paper – are its edges seemingly torn rather than cut to shape? Is it richly milky in appearance? Is it fibre-lined and silky to touch? Are you drooling? Congrats – you have just met the famous Amalfi paper and it is seriously hard to not gush over it!
Amalfi has been famous for centuries for its handmade paper – bambagina – derived from cloth/linen and pressed into existence. It was once so coveted that it passed for currency, but now the paper mills are limited in number (though still operational). If you are curious to understand the process, head to Museo Della Carta in Amalfi, a museum housed within a functioning paper mill (open during summers only). Even if you don’t have the time for the pit-stop, definitely browse through the piazza stores. From flower-pressed cards to finely finished diaries, Amalfi paper continues to create a royal touch.
Happy touring! And if you come back home with goodies, I hope it’s with something more than just another kitchen magnet!
P.S. Don’t forget to carry your own shopping bag!