Memories to Last a Lifetime: Our Family’s Adventures along the Amalfi Coast in Italy

By Paige E. Mattina

Paige is a history student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and brings to this a fascination with the study of other cultures, particularly the study of her own Italian roots. She is currently on staff at Quixote Group, a market research and communications firm located in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is the first of many potential travel journals in her future.

While working with the legendary Italian cooking-school owner and chef, Mamma Agata, and her daughter, Chiara Lima, on the promotion of their newly-released cookbook, Mamma Agata: “Simple and Genuine” Italian Family Recipes, our family was able to experience the true, local culture of the Amalfi Coast, through their eyes. Almost immediately after informing Chiara of our plans to travel to her neck of the woods in Southern Italy, she eagerly began to assist us in developing our itinerary. Not until we got over there did we find out that what Chiara had really done was openly invite us into her close-knit circle of friends, filled with bakers, chefs, boat drivers, luxury hotel owners, tour guides, and chauffeurs, all natives of the region and committed to serving visitors from the town of Maiori to the city of Positano. What was the one thing they all have in common? A tremendous love for the area, and a passion to share it with everyone they meet. Here is what we found:

Amalfi Coast Destination, owned and operated by Roberto Di Palma
Roberto always knew he was destined to be involved with the tourism industry, specifically in the Amalfi area, because of the great pride he holds for his hometown. For this reason, he opened his company, which is based in Amalfi and provides car service, tours, and transfers all along the coast. However, a ride with Roberto is not your typical dull cab ride; instead, Roberto fills you with information, on everything from the history of the region and quick lessons in Italian to how to find the best gelato and his personal recommendations on restaurants. He is overflowing with information on his beautiful homeland, and his eyes light up with enthusiasm when he gets the opportunity to share it with his clients.

The slogan for his company is, “Come as guests, Leave as friends”, and I cannot think of a more accurate description of my family’s experience with Roberto! His personable nature brings out a true desire to get to know his guests and to develop a commonality with them: a love of the Amalfi Coast.

Dolceria Antico Portico, located in Amalfi and run by Tiziano and Mafalda Mita
When my father and I travel to Italy, I like to think that the two of us make one of the best teams when it comes to consuming, and therefore rating, anything related to desserts, from the commonly-known gelato to the more unfamiliar pastries like sfogliatella and baba au rhum. Because of our expertise in eating anything sweet, Chiara recommended our family visit the Dolceria Antico Portico while we were sight-seeing in Amalfi. Not only did we visit the pastry shop to try a little bit of everything they had on display, but we also attended one of their cooking demonstrations, where we learned how to make gelato, pastry fillings, granita, and sorbet. While in this class, the chef, Tiziano, delighted in sharing his love of cooking and baking that developed him and his wife’s pasticceria years ago.

One of the main qualities of the bakery that makes them stand out among others is their emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. When speaking with Tiziano, he commented on how ridiculous it seems to import things like lemons and almonds, which are both produced in abundance in the Amalfi region, simply because importing from mass-producers is cheaper. For this reason, Tiziano buys whatever ingredients he can locally. He doesn’t believe in sacrificing quality, taste, and freshness, thus creating this local piece of heaven. He has found a very happy medium between his creativity and his love and respect for traditional Italian desserts, presenting every dish he serves with perfection by paying close attention to every detail.

Hotel Villa Fraulo in Ravello, with majestic views from every room!
Situated in the quaint town of Ravello, the newly renovated hotel is perched directly on the mountain-side, offering views unlike anything my family had ever seen before! One of the main goals my family has when we travel is to avoid the cramped, commercial sites in cities and instead dig deeper to find the true culture and lifestyles of the locals. Ravello quickly became an example of a town that made it easy to do just this! The history of the 12th century town is neatly integrated with decadent luxury, which is apparent everywhere, from the intimacy of its local cathedral to the beautiful terrace full of spectacular vistas at the Villa Cimbrone. The city’s charm only increases as you walk through the main town square to find shops that sell intricate cameos and authentic pieces of expertly-developed ceramics.

Therefore, it was guaranteed that the hotel would have a history of its own as a renovated villa handed down through generations of family, accompanied by a breath-taking setting and local charm. The owners describe the view as, “Overlook[ing] the Amalfi Coast: Where the green of the mountains melts harmoniously with the blue of the sea and of the sky”. The rooms of the hotel do not resemble the typical small rooms of European hotels; instead, they are spacious, open, and bright with large bathrooms and a balcony attached to every room. The staff is wonderful, helping us with anything we needed and always professional and polite.

Ristorante Falalella, where the Chioffi Brothers serve delicious local dishes
For a meal consisting of local favorites from the Mediterranean diet, Chiara explained to our family that we would find nothing better than the creations at the Falalella. The restaurant is located on the side of the road between the main cities of Maiori and Salerno. To clarify, however, being on the side of the road does not mean nearly the same thing on the Amalfi Coast as it would anywhere else; it means being cliffside along the road that connects all of the major cities of the coast as it winds along the mountainous coastline. The views that one is afforded from the road are the most picturesque views in all of the area! It was a great privilege, then, to dine at the Falalella, as it allowed us to experience cliffside patio seating that puts all others to shame. Even the view from the parking lot is spectacular!

And Chiara was right; the meal was an unforgettable experience. The Chioffi brothers pride themselves on freshness and they ensure the dishes they serve reflect this. For example, their specialty seafood dishes vary daily depending on what fish the local fishermen were able to catch. Not only did we try this seafood specialty, but we also enjoyed delicious cheese-filled Italian crepes, local tuna grilled rare to perfection, and gnocchi with a carrot essence. The service was superior, as every waiter had a professional and attentive nature. Overall, the setting combined with the food and the service makes the Falalella one of the best fine-dining restaurants my family has ever experienced.

Mamma Agata’s Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast, run by Mamma herself!
Using vegetables from her own garden and lemons from her own trees, combined with all kinds of homemade pastas, olive oils, wines, and sauces, Mamma and her daughter Chiara Lima dazzle their guests with the simplicity, yet elegance, of their dishes. While watching them cook, it amazed our family how they could use so few ingredients, and still get such vibrant, delicious tastes! The best thing about their cooking school was that Mamma truly wanted to share all of her cooking secrets with her guests, with no hidden ingredients or unexposed techniques. The class even takes place in the family home in Ravello, a true indicator of how Mamma and Chiara invite all of their guests into their home as friends. Like others who came before us, we quickly transformed into part of the family in the course of one meal.

Following the class, the guests are invited to the family’s patio, which overlooks the Gulf of Salerno and thousands of lemon trees. A true Italian meal is served – the kind my family dreams about! With at least six courses and all-you-can drink homemade wine, the meal was a delicious feast. It’s amazing how such great food can bring complete strangers together, and make them feel as if they have been friends for years. The conversation flowed up and down the table between guests from all over the United States, and even some from Australia.

All of these experiences and the tremendous amount of memories they brought to our family were the result of one woman’s deep love for her home and desire to share it – could there be a more generous soul? Not only were we sent home ten pounds heavier and with more than 300 pictures each, but we also brought home a love for the land that had been so kindly shared with us.

For more information on any of the sites we visited, log on to:

Amalfi Coast Destination
http://www.amalficoastdestination.com/

Dolceria Antico Portico
http://www.dolceria-amalfi.com/

Hotel Villa Fraulo
http://www.villafraulo.com/en/

Ristorante Falalella
http://www.ristorantefalalella.com/

Mamma Agata’s Cooking School
http://www.mammaagata.com/

~ by chuckmattina on June 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Memories to Last a Lifetime: Our Family’s Adventures along the Amalfi Coast in Italy”

  1. Great piece Paige! You painted a beautiful picture of your travels and convinced me that I now want to be Italian 🙂

  2. Between the pictures and your account, I’ve definitely added another country to my bucket list!

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