Amalfi Blues: Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Amalfi Town I Limoncello Cake

Il giorno del guidizio, per gli Amalfitani che andranno in paradiso, sara un giorno come tutti gli altri (The Day of Judgment, for the people of Amalfi who will go to Paradise, will be a day like all others) 
RENATO FUCINI

If you've seen the Helen Hunt-Scarlett Johansonn-starrer A Good Woman or even the legendary Matt Damon-starrer The Talented Mr Ripley, you'd know why the ride through Amalfi Coast was that part of the trip for which I was waiting the most. The long and winding coastline, running from Sorrento to Salerno, encased between the cobalt-blue Tyrrhenian Sea and sloping Lattari mountains and dotted by small, quaint and touristy towns, had fascinated me from as long as I can remember. So when it was time to plan a trip to Italy and we were struggling to fit in all the places we wanted to cover into a meagre time-frame of 17 days, I was desperate to include Amalfi, even if that meant compromising with Rome (overstatement!)
We took an overnight bus from Florence to Naples and then a local train to the cute little town of Sorrento. I love small little places where you can walk from one end to the other, and Sorrento was exactly that. But the best part of our experience there was hands down Sorrento Flats (the ultra chic yet surprisingly pocket-friendly bed n breakfast). As we dragged our luggage from the station, the GPS led us to a building right at the heart of the busiest area of the town. We spiralled up the stairs — three storeys if I remember correctly — and with the luggage really weighing us down at this point, managed to rest our tired backsides in the kitchen-cum-dining area. A tall, slender Italian lady was clearing the dishes and the moment she saw us, she got 2 big mugs of cappuccino and urged us to help ourselves to the breakfast laden on the table. Famished that we were, we lapped up the croissants and tarts, pastries and tiramisu that were on offer.
It was at this juncture that Luigi (the man with whom we had corresponded over emails) came to receive us. We were told that the Sorrento Flats we were currently in was an apartment-like set-up meant for large families whereas the BnB of the same name, with individual rooms, was barely a 5-minute walk away. Just when the very thought of dragging those suitcases yet again terrified us, Luigi came to our rescue. With one fist gripped firmly over a suitcase, he led the way to Sorrento Flats Part 2, while P and I followed blindly, our glances occasionally darting towards bakeries and gelaterias on either sides, not to forget those shops selling a plethora of bright and colourful household and kitchen decor and how can I forget...limoncello!
As we entered the cutest BnB I've been to till date, we were offered another round of breakfast (yes, this was the second breakfast offer in as much as 30 minutes, and just to think we hadn't even checked in!) which we politely refused. The housekeeper said she'd take half an hour to ready our room and instead of loitering around at the reception, we decided to venture out and soak in the city. I had bookmarked this place from Tripadvisor called Bar Rita, which, all for 2-3 euros dished out some of the most lip-smacking baked goodies and desserts. In the next two days, Bar Rita became our favourite place to hang out. What did we not have there? Involtinis, arancinis, fried pizzas, spinach and sausage bake, cannoli, tiramisu and of course, because we were in Sorrento, Baba au Rhum! For breakfast that day I even had a shot of limoncello — my first ever!
After an overdose of breakfast bakes, we paced our steps back towards Sorrento Flats, and this time, our orange room, in all its hipness, was waiting for us. They also kept in our room a complementary bottle of wine (which, even in 2.5 days, we did not manage to finish) and some chocolates.
Now when you're in Sorrento, the first thing you head out for is the grand Amalfi coast journey (which was precisely was brought us there), the next tourist agenda usually is the island of Capri and the renowned Blue Grotto. My erstwhile boss and a senior colleague had been to Capri barely a couple of months back and both recommended the Blue Grotto as "unmissable" and "quite an experience". But we were travelling in the third week of December and Google resoundingly told us that the BG would, by all means, be closed then. Since Capri was scrapped off the itinerary, we decided to spend our day ambling in and around Sorrento. Did I say it's one of the cutest little cities I've ever been to? Oh wait, yes, I did!
What changed the plan within minutes was the word of mouth that the Blue Grotto was indeed open to tourists that day, courtesy the uncharacteristically bright and sunny weather. Exhilarated that we wouldn't eventually have to miss out on a major attraction, we hurriedly boarded a ferry that would take us to Capri. But on reaching the island, our hearts sank. All ticket counters for BG were closed: apparently there wasn't even a chance of their operating in winter. Clearly, we had fallen victims to a hoax.
Well, it made no sense to spend all the money and come all the way for nothing. And so we now busied ourselves in looking for alternate "things to do" in Capri. There were a few stray boat-owners who were looking for tourists, luring them with the promise of an "identical" BG site, in lieu of a whopping 100 euros! Not surprisingly, we were a bit wary of falling into that trap, because come on, it was not even the real deal! And then we spotted another Indian couple, who were in a similar fix. The four of us decided to rent the boat together, bargained the cost down to 80 euros and set off for the "fake" Blue Grotto.
Let me not get into how the trip went. The water was blue, yes. The wind was refreshing, yes. The sight of the coastline from the sea was breathtaking, yes. But where the hell was the Blue Grotto lookalike? All that we could see were currents of water under a sea cave, saturated with algae and habitated by small fishes. Rabindra Sarobar Lake in Kolkata could do better, trust me!
Disappointed with the experience and unhappy with the loss of a precious day, we came back to Sorrento, loaded ourselves with more baked goodness from Bar Rita, devoured lemon and fig n' mascarpone gelato from the hugely-famous Raki and headed back to Sorrento Flats before crashing flat in our outdoor attires, complete with socks and shoes!
I woke up the next day brimming with excitement. Today was THE day: that I had been waiting for all my life (apart from the day I'd visit Paris, or Prague, or Santorini, or Jerusalem, or San Francisco, or Ladakh... okay, you get the picture!). The bus was waiting for us next to the rail station — a short walk from our abode — and both of us settled ourselves comfortably next to two windows. It was Amalfi Coast for heaven's sake and you couldn't possibly sit on the aisle seat and give up the view! The long and winding journey would include Positano, Amalfi Town and Ravello. We decided to chuck Ravello at the last minute. Our plan was to get down first at Amalfi Town, spend a few hours there and then head towards Positano well in time to catch the sunset.
Amalfi was a lesser-urban version of Sorrento — smaller, quieter and much more peaceful. The imposing cathedral stood regally at the heart of the town from where meandered narrow lanes littered with shops on either sides: shops selling everything between souvenirs to pizzas, and hold your breath, this!
It is no secret that Amalfi grows the world's best lemons and inkeeping with that spirit, Amalfi boasted of a rather charming, if not a bright and sunny aura. We took the 3.30 pm bus from there, which would take us to our next destination in around 60 minutes. Throughout the entire ride, my eyes were transfixed to the immense stretch of turquoise blue beneath us. The sun was gradually drowning in the sea, its scarlet-orange hue playing light and shade in the water. As soon as the bus turned the final bend, my heart skipped a beat and my jaw literally dropped.
Positano was the place of my dreams: its bold and bright cascade of houses almost tumbling down into the sea as the sun set graciously. While P perched his tripod on the sand next to the beach, I made my way through the numerous quaint alleys, replete with designer boutiques and chic cafes. Positano is a town neatly glued to a cliff, with numerous stairs and sharp bends almost everywhere, and unless you have your phone charged and GPS working, finding your way to a particular location might prove a bit daunting. But of course, you could throw caution to the wind, 'cause who would not LOVE to get lost in the mesmerising meander of pretty white lanes and pastel houses? Alas, I didn't have the luxury of time. The sun had set and the picture postcard houses were twinkling. If Positano was breathtaking during the day, it was exquisite after sundown.As I traced back my steps to bus stop through those ever-twisting lanes, I left a piece of my heart there. The words of John Steinback echoed in my head: Positano is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone. And at that moment I vowed to come back to this gorgeous little slice of heaven.
Back in Sorrento, we had the best ever dinner that night at Chantecler's Trattoria. We started off with a Caprese Salad (the local mozzarella is soft and pillowy and absolutely to die for, and the tomatoes the juiciest I've ever eaten), P got a Grilled Salmon and I helped myself to my 553rd Seafood Risotto of the trip. All this was accompanied by a complementary plate of bruschetta and marinated olives.
We left for Naples the next morning. The original idea was to make it right after breakfast, but we got caught up in souvenir shopping. If you stayed at Sorrento Flats, right next to the local shopping hub, you would too. It was almost 1 o'clock by the time we finally found ourselves trudging towards the station, our suitcases and backpacks jam-packed with house decor items, bits and pieces of memorabilia and of course Limoncello!
A few Travel Trips:
1. By all means, stay at Sorrento Flats. The rooms are a bit small, yes, but it'll be the cutest thing you'll come across in entire Sorrento. And the breakfast is the icing on the cake!

2. Visit Bar Rita, as many times as you can. You won't even keep track of how many superlative items you have wolfed down for less than 10 euros! Gelatos at Raki are also a must.

3. Gorge on seafood. I could only make time for one seafood dinner there. I chose Chanteclers and I recommend that whole-heartedly. The feast for two that I mentioned above came to 28 euros.

4. Even though we did buy a lot of souvenirs, many of them haven't proved to be that lasting. So get something as a memorabilia, if you want it terribly, but don't pay a bomb for it. Limoncellos are a different ball game, however. most of them come in glass bottles (ultra-risky to pack), but if you tell the shopkeeper you'll be travelling, he'll definitely bubble-wrap it up well.

5. If visiting in Winter, don't bother to travel all the way to Capri. No matter what the locals say, you will not get to see the Blue Grotto and will end up spending an extra 100 euros aside your budget.

6. Amalfi Coast CANNOT be seen in a day. As in you can see it, but you can't feel it or live it. So if you ever plan to pack your bags and head for Amalfi, I'd ask you to spend at least 5 days to a week there. You can divide your time between Sorrento and Positano (or may be Ravello or Salerno). I forcibly accommodated Amalfi in our itinerary because I was almost sure I'd never come back to Italy again. But after that day-long coast through the Coast, I knew I absolutely had to. The aforementioned colleague (who visited Amalfi in Oct) went back again in June. Amalfi Coast is that compelling.
Limoncello Cake
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients:

Hung/Greek yoghurt: 1 cup
Eggs: 2
Canola/vegetable oil: 1/3rd cup
Lemon juice: Of 2 lemons
Lemon zest: Of 2 lemons
Granulated sugar: 1 cup
Limoncello:  1/3rd cup
Flour: 1 1/3rd cup
Baking powder: 1.5 tsp
Baking soda: 1/2 tsp
Salt: a pinch
Butter: for greasing
Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180º C. Line a round spring form cake pan with baking parchment and butter the sides. Set aside.

2. In a big bowl, whisk together the yoghurt, eggs, canola oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, and limoncello.

3. In a separate bowl, sift the flour. Add the other dry ingredients viz baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. Gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients without overmixing it.

5. Pour the batter in the cake pan, tap it against the kitchen counter a couple of times to release air bubble. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 min or until top is golden and a tester inserted at the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool on wire rack for another 30 minutes before unmoulding.

6. You can pour a limoncello glaze over the cake or have it naked, just like I did. This cake pairs wonderfully with tea, coffee and of course a glass of chilled limoncello!
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For more travel stories, click here
To read about the Milan leg of my Italy trip, click here
To read about the Venice leg of my Italy trip, click here
To read about the Tuscany leg (Pisa, Siena Florence) of my Italy trip, click here
To read about my entire trip to Italy and my culinary adventures therein, click here

I am sending this post to Kolkata Food Bloggers' Event Festive Desserts hosted by Sarani Tarafdar of Cocoawind:

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