“Ahh, mi scusi!” I blurt as I squeeze past a tiny, elderly woman hauling two bags of provisions up a cobbled stairwell overlooking a shimmering Positano coastline. My fatigued quads from the daze of climbs fail me as we thump down a hundred steps cascading down and away from our hilltop villa retreat, Palazzo Santa Croce. The feeling of a hundred sips of wine too many seem to pound into my temples with each stride.
We plump out the bottom of the stairwell that opens onto the mainline street of Positano to meet our local guide and new friend Kate, a US ex-pat, and the three of us tumble into a van.
“Did you guys finish that other bottle of Ornellaia?” Kate pokes, already knowing the answer.
“That, and the Montenegro,” Debra groans from the front seat. “I’ve gotta get a disco nap in before we get going on the trail.” She drops her over-sized blackout sunglasses across her eyes. “But these roads sure aren’t helping.” Our bodies bob as we weave to-and-fro in the van as it traces along the squiggly, narrow cliffside roads of the Amalfi coast.
We’re heading South, beyond the small town of Praiano and eventually turn up toward the hills to be left in a little piazza of Bomerano (Agerola). We knock back a quick espresso and walk up a small hill away from town and into the beginnings of an unmarked dirt path. A few meters up, we are greeted with a stone-framed sign: Benvenuti sul Sentiero degli Dei – “Welcome to the Path of the Gods.”
A gentle grade up the hill takes us through delicate backroads of timeless little cottages, surrounded by lush and wild green growth, and modestly manicured vegetable gardens peppered with the occasional chicken or goat. Eventually, we see a little peek of shimmering water peering from a horizon crack in the distance. Our first trail turnout overlooks a cascading hillside and isolated villa vineyard. It is possible to catch your breath and lose it again.
We’ve yet to cross another traveler on the Path of the Gods, until we stumble upon this gentile, weathered Italian man and his furry companion. He attempts to ask us what the hour is in broken English, but we know he’s not at all concerned about the passage of time.
Another hundred strides rewards us with the gentle tinkle of tin bells – a dozen goats graze the hillside while a man harvest grapes.
We mostly have this stretch of the hike to ourselves, and Kate tell us we’re walking in the opposite direction from what most tourists are told to do. We started South and hiked North toward Positano instead – and this truly is the only way it should be done, because you’re facing toward the most majestic of coastal vistas in Italy for at least an hour. Otherwise, you’d find yourself wanting to be waking backwards the whole hike if you were on the North-South path, peering over your shoulder to catch a glimpse of the view every now and again, instead of walking toward the heavens such as this.
The last of the rocky dirt path ends, and we arrive at the little village of Nocelle to meet the rest of our friends we had left at the villa. Tucked into a little corner is a restaurant named Ristorante Santa Croce, and its existence is clearly to perfectly frame the coastline of the Amalfi coast, while offering a supremely simple menu of coastal gems of the sea and the most luscious seasonal harvest from its neighbors.
“Yesterday I called ahead to make sure we get two orders of the chicken,” our friend Lana shares. At Ristorante Santa Croce, they raise their own poultry for the restaurant onsite and request that you call in advance if you so desire (they will butcher the chicken that morning) to enjoy what are truly the most fresh little tender chicken cutlets, simply grilled.
While we lap up pools of olive oil with the last of our bread sponges, piled high with layers of sun-kissed tomatoes, our table has our attention fixated on the view in front of our table. I’ve ordered the polpo di pomodoro – delicate octopus tendrils slowly braised in a briny, light summer tomato broth, touched with garlic and chili, plump olives and capers. We watch the boats come and go from the Positano harbor. The rays of the sun warm our skin through the window and the occasional breeze tickles our hair. If there truly is a God, he has been caught from the Tyrrhenian Sea and is now on the table. Il Sentiero degli Dei – the Path of the Gods, where all roads lead to divinity on a plate.