The storied Pathway to the Gods once eluded me. On a vacation to Positano two years ago I had all good intentions of completing the famous 6 kilometer hike along the Amalfi Coast to Agerola, perhaps even taking a few yogic breaths and sun salutations along the way. Instead, fancying myself a beached siren (and more realistically a whale), I spent two weeks drinking Falanghina by the liter on Fornillo beach and taking flattering Instagram photos of myself. As the saying goes, we plan and God laughs. Or in my case, the Pathway to the Gods laughed.
Some time around last July, I was back in Agerola and the town was abuzz about a certain Hollywood celebrity (Sharon Stone) trekking the famous Pathway. It pains me to admit that my penchant for celebrity gossip and the paucity of trashy tabloids in Agerola was what finally prompted me to get off my behind and see this little Pathway (and perhaps Sharon Stone) for myself.
Running between Positano on the Amalfi Coast and Agerola, 600 meters above sea level in the Monte Lattari Mountains, the Pathway to the Gods features stunning vistas of the coastline, Capri and the Galli Islands. Today it is one of the most traveled in Italy with well over 300 hikers on any given day. Recently, the Pathway has become increasingly popular, and as a resident of Agerola I regularly see beleaguered tourists stumbling into our sleepy Piazza fully equipped in Lulu Lemon yoga pants and expensive walking sticks……Times have changed.
The Pathway to the Gods was not always a tourist trail. Years ago mountain dwelling shepherds and contandini (farmers) in Agerola blazed the trail to deliver fresh produce, milk and cheese to residents of Positano and the rest of the Coast. Before World War II, the Amalfi Coast was regarded as a remote collection of cliff side villages without much in the way of arable land. Even today, nothing much other than lemons and grapes are cultivated in large quantities along this famous strip of coast. Agerola, perched in the hills above the Amalfi, with it rich Vesuvian soil has long served as the breadbasket of the region. Thusly Agerolese contadini regularly traveled the old Pathway by foot or donkey to service customers on the coast.
My father-in-law, Pasquale, was one such contadino. For years, he woke at dawn, and with a pack full of local produce, he made his way down the Pathway to Positano by foot. Upon landing in town, he whistled ‘O Sole Mio in his familiar jocular staccato to alert hill top residents of Positano to his impending arrival. If they were interested in purchasing Pasquale’s produce, Positanese lowered down baskets from an improvised pulley system running off their balconies. Pasquale filled these baskets with the day’s produce, and loudly shouted the final cost. Customers then lowered down their Lira payments and with each transaction complete, Pasqaule walked and whistled his way down Via Pasitea.
What many tourists do not realize is that the Pathway to the Gods actually consists of upper and lower portions that meet in the middle somewhere along the hills overlooking Positano. After World War II, local hiking clubs such as the Naples chapter of the Clube Alpino Italiano (Italian Alpine Club) widened the trail and began attracting local tourists to the famous Pathway to the Gods. The lower portion of the Pathway hugs the coastline and is more popular with tourists. The upper portion, which forks off at Post Mark 11 when one begins in Agerola, is the original Pathway and the one Pasquale regularly traveled on his morning business trips to Positano.
The upper portion of the trail is more rustically serene offering isolated views of abandoned stone houses and sea top pastures. One can almost imagine the Greek god Pan nancing about and partaking of local libations along this portion of the Pathway. While you won’t find Pan drinking his wine or Pasquale carrying his tomatoes (or Sharon Stone for that matter), you will find wild rosemary and thyme along this portion of the trail. I suggest making like a local and brining some kitchen sheers for a bit of impromptu foraging.
Surrounded by a coastline that is so suffocatingly beautiful, I often forget this is just another place that people live and work. And then I am brought back to reality when I see shepherds along the Pathway or more frequently, porters perched on donkeys carrying suitcases to remote country inns. The Pathway to the Gods was born of commercial necessity and today it returns to a thing of commercial beauty.
On a recent morning amble down the Pathway to the Gods, I found myself thinking of Pasquale. Pausing to allow a flock of local goats pass me, I wondered what Pasquale would make of all of this recent hullabaloo over the trail. He was always happy to return home with an empty sack and a pocket full of Lira. Perhaps the Pathway to the Gods was simply the subway, the tube, the Beltway, the 405 freeway to him…..another Sisyphean commute to meet the day’s needs.
Lost in thought and contemplating the quotidian and the spectacular, I noticed an aging contadino tending to his fava beans. Thinking of Pasquale, I smiled at him. “E’ una bell’a jurnata e?” he shouted at me. Embarrassed by my earnestness, I loudly agreed, responding in my shaky Agerolese dialect.
Holding up a plastic cup of coffee, he shouted, “Vuoi caffé?” I nodded, and made my way down to his garden. As we drank our coffee, my contandino friend embarked on the family kinship game with me, eventually concluding with the question, “Chi sei tu…. Who are you?” As a blond haired, fair skinned woman with an accent of nebulous provenance, I am accustomed to such questions. I responded predictably, “I’m Cristina, the wife of Giuseppe, the son of Pasquale Palluotolo.”
He broke into an unabashed grin. “I’m Mario,” he said as he emphatically kissed my cheek, “Pasquale was my friend.” Unwittingly answering my Sisyphean question, Mario gestured to the swath of coastline below us to declare, “Pasquale loved this place….I miss him” I nodded my head in agreement. I never met Pasquale. But I miss him too.
The Pathway to the Gods runs 12 kilometers, round trip, between Positano, on the coast and Agerola, in the mountains. Conservatively, it requires roughly 4 hours to complete one leg of the trail. I suggest you only complete one leg of the trip. Given that Agerola runs downhill to Positano, I predictably suggest you begin in Agerola and end in Positano, ideally with an afternoon on the beach and a glass of Greco di Tufo wine.
Once you arrive in the town of Nocelle, just above Positano, you have two options: continuing by foot to the town of Positano or catching a local bus. If you choose to continue on foot, it is worth noting that you will encounter 1800 stairs on your descent. The resulting effect will leave you satisfied with your day’s journey and your legs quite wobbly.
There are ample water fountains along thee trail, but no potties so drink accordingly, or be prepared to have comfort breaks in local bushes. The Pathway to the Gods is not particularly arduous and while donning impressive mountain hiking apparel is popular with tourists, it is generally unnecessary. A good pair of shoes, common sense and kitchen sheers (for herb foraging) are about all that is a must.
My general feeling is that the Pathway is not suitable for children under the age of 12. There are parts that run perilously close to cliff sides and a four hour hike will likely try the patience of most young children. That being said, if you have small children in tow, plan on starting in Agerola and hiking a portion of the trail to Postmark 11 and returning back to Agerola.
If you are interested in traveling the Pathway to the Gods as well as other local trails with a guide, contact Kristin Melia at Kristin@saucedandfound.com. She and her colleagues specialize in foraging trips, collecting local edibles along the way and concluding with Agerola style cooking classes.