Meet the travellers – Memories of Positano
Whilst travel is taking a sojourn of its own right now, it doesn’t mean that we’re not all thinking about it, daydreaming about it or remembering our favourite ones. I asked a few travellers to share their memories of their Further Afield travels and the first of this series is from John and his memories from a stay in Richard’s wonderful Secret Garden on the Almalfi Coast of Italy.
Staying at the Secret Garden is an experience unlike any other on the Amalfi Coast. Just 450 meters above the bustling tourist town of Positano, the house is “secret” indeed, a glass block-domed hideaway surrounded by a vertical garden with no visible neighbours. Stepping out onto the terrace there is nothing in front of you but mountainside, the Mediterranean, and the sky. While Positano below bustles with tourists and traffic, the village of Nocelle is an authentic mountainside hamlet, car free and quiet, a stopping point on several mountainside paths.
My wife and I wanted to explore those paths when we were staying there. Richard, the owner of The Secret Garden, has lived in Nocelle for many years, knows it well, and is well-known by the people of the area. His directorial work with the people of Nocelle in telling their story through village-wide outdoor performances has made him a valued member of the community.
It helps to know a local when you want to explore the serpentine mountain paths of the rugged Amalfi coast, but on the day we’d set set to go exploring with Richard, he didn’t have time to show us around.
“Here’s a map. It’s fairly accurate,” he said. “Oh, and can you take Gianba with you? He could really use a walk.” Gianba was his Italian dog.
I protested: “What if he runs away, how will we get him back in these mountains? Besides, we’ll want to have lunch in a nice restaurant somewhere. What do we do with Gianba then? You don’t even have a leash!”
Richard just laughed and told us to hide him under the table. “They probably won’t even notice him. Really, he needs a walk.” Reluctantly, we agreed.
Our only guide was Richard’s badly faded map. The path kept splitting and shifting direction. To make matters worse, the dog kept wandering off on the wrong trails.
After three hours of tramping, we staggered into the village of Santa Maria del Castello, with a breath-taking view over the Amalfi Coast. It had one small but lovely restaurant, the sort you would never, ever attempt to take a dog into back home.
Gianba isn’t a big dog, but he has long white fur and he sprawls, so tucking him under the table wasn’t easy. We were the only patrons. A family – apparently the owners and children – were eating and chatting on the other side of the room, and taking little notice of us. One of them came over and without enthusiasm handed us a menu. He didn’t notice the dog.
After a few minutes, we waved our waiter back and attempted to order. Just then, a little girl from the family table started edging toward us, staring under our table. Oh,oh: I braced for trouble.
“Gianba!” she cried and ran over to the dog, who sat up as she gave him a big hug. Then the rest of the table chimed in, “Gianba! Ciao, Gianba!” Now they started smiling at us, chattering away in Italian. Our reluctant waiter turned into a gracious host, shaking his head at our lunch choices and indicating that there was something better we might like. They brought us wine, they brought Gianba water in a glorious ceramic bowl, and we were served delicious pasta with seafood.
By now Gianba was working the room. At one point he even disappeared into the kitchen. No one seemed to mind.
Finally leaving the restaurant – our hosts waving good-bye – we started down the same bewildering maze of paths. I turned to our guide: “Go home Gianba, home!” He crooked his neck in that quizzical way dogs do when they don’t quite get your meaning.
Oh, right. “Gianba, andiamo a Richard!” It looked to me like he was heading in the wrong direction but we followed him anyway and arrived back at the house in less than half the time it took to get to the restaurant. After that, we never went anywhere without our trusted guide.
Alas, Gianba is no longer with us, but every visit to The Secret Garden is still an adventure on this mountainside village, so close to everything yet a world away.