The Sentiero degli Dei: The Amalfi Coasts’ Legendary Trail
Does walking on a Sentiero degli Dei (lit. “Path of the Gods”) — namely, the ancient Greek gods — sound like a farfetched idea for a holiday hike? According to legend, it’s entirely possible, at least on the Amalfi Coast’s aptly named trail.
The name of this stupendous trail derives from Greek mythology and the story of the encounter between Ulysses and the Sirens. Legend situates the home islands of the Sirens as being Li Galli, the small archipelago placed just to the west of Positano. As the story goes, Ulysses had his men strap him to the mast of the ship while his crew muffled their ears so they would not hear the fateful song of the Sirens. The Gods of Olympus, underestimating Ulysses’ cleverness, flew down to Earth to prevent their favorite from becoming shipwreck. But, their GPS being apparently out of whack, they landed a good way to the east and, in their haste to save Ulysses, stampeded along what was then a pristine and gentle coastline, churning up the rocks and leaving in their wake the rugged cliffs and beautiful landscape we now call the Amalfi Coast.
Legends aside, the Sentiero degli Dei once served as the sole means of communication between the villages of the Amalfi Coast, as well as a means of escape into the mountains during the many raids by pirates.
The trail starts in Bomerano, a small district of Agerola high in the mountains above Amalfi. This area boasts an ancient history, evident in the discovery of amphorae, vases and coins dating to the early Caesars of Rome, as well as graves, tunnels and streets. The name Agerola comes almost certainly from ager, Latin for “field”. Here the first inhabitants created many small fields between the dense forests that covered the entire territory, gradually turning the area, over the centuries, into an urban setting. These fields, set upon terraces fashioned of stone, are still very much in use today and visible as you hike among them.
The Sentiero degli Dei passes well above the coastal town of Praiano, and is connected to the town by a long flight of stone of over a thousand steps. Better to go down than up, though either way is hard on the legs, which is why it’s best to start in Bomerano (as do all of our tours) instead of Praiano. However, because it can be logistically difficult to reach Bomerano, many people (and tour companies) begin the hike in Praiano. The inhabitants in Praiano proper were mainly devoted to maritime trades and fishing, while those living on the cliffs above cultivated the land, building the many terraces that still exist today.
The trail continues through Nocelle, another mountain hamlet. Nocelle is immersed in an largely untouched natural space rich with holm oaks, broom, lemon trees, vineyards. Nocelle, literally “the village of hazelnuts”, virtually hangs between sky and sea, offering one of the most enchanting views up and down the Amalfi Coast and out to Capri. In a less relaxing era, thanks to its strategic location, Nocelle served as a perch from which to sight pirate ships in advance and to warn the population of an incoming raid.
After Nocelle, the path passes through Montepertuso, situated high above Positano, which can be reached by a road that weaves precariously down the mountainside. According to local legend, a series of clashes took place here between the Virgin Mary and the Devil. Traces of the fight are said to be visible on the rocks of Mount Gambera, where with a properly prepared imagination, you can make out a serpent’s silhouette. More apparent is a large hole cut through the side of one of the cliffs which the Virgin is said to have made with her index finger as she purified the mountain. Fittingly, pertuso is a local dialect word that means “hole”.
Finally, the trail descends into Positano. Your options here are either to hike the rest of the way down or take what, in the right frame of mind, makes for a fun and interesting bus ride, with plenty of curves, honking horns and, one hopes, a patient bus driver. Either way you go, you’ll finish in Positano with what are sure to be many legendary memories.