Amalfi Coast travelling: treasures of arts and crafts

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Tantalizing travelers with an infinite list of reasons to visit – and reasons to never leave! – the Amalfi Coast reigns amicably as a veritable monument to diversity, natural wonders, and human achievement. The staggering scope of its contribution to all areas of human history, from ancient to present-day, is fairly impossible to fathom. And yet, even the highest stratosphere of accomplishments – ranging from historical intrigue to heady inspiration via food and landscape – has, as always, humble beginnings. If Naples offers sheer force in terms of artifacts and ancient edifice in the forms of Pompeii ruins, the Vesuvian skyline, Herculaneum, and countless museums dedicated to Italian creativity, it can only be the starting point – a contextual foundation – for the delightful discovery of a still-lively arts and crafts culture. Here in the Amalfi Coast, artisan tradition is not only preserved for admiration, but also practiced with great care and attention to detail, both for practical usage and aesthetic appreciation. Art, and the handcraft habits of this region, become an ideological and methodical doorway to full immersion in the particulars of Amalfi Coast culture.

If you’re planning on soaking up Amalfi’s best, don’t limit yourself just to guidebooks and beaten paths… make your handcrafted adventure even more personal by choosing to stay in any of the amazing Amalfi Coast Rentals including apartments and larger villas. And a word of advice when shopping: forget the snowglobe! If you’re in the market for souvenirs – in the truest sense of the word (which for linguistic nerds comes from the French and literally means “memory”) – the Amalfi Coast will put your chintzy refrigerator magnets and mass-produced postcards to shame. While no one is knocking the preponderant availability of the cheaper tourist trinkets, it must be said that limiting your browsing experience to the train station (or airport terminal, or… you get the idea) is a sorry substitute for the truly mind-boggling array of authentic arts, crafts, and countless creations – from tiny to titanic in scale – found tucked away in every possible nook and cranny along the Amalfi Coast.

Get into the warp and weave of true Southern Italian life by embarking on a 21st century scavenger hunt, where folklore and fantasy are brought to life by the local craftsmen, by the storytellers spinning dramatic tales and artisans whirring pottery wheels; where dexterity of hand, acuteness of eye, and appreciation of all things aesthetic all blend together to blow you away with a technicolor tapestry of handcrafted treasures.

Don’t know where to begin? That’s ok, because anywhere in Amalfi is a great place to start! In Naples, you’ll find handmade musical instruments, such as bandolinos, and tambourines handpainted with landscapes and other scenes. In Sorrento, inlaid woodwork is still breathtaking and a booming industry, with designs gracing everything from jewelry boxes to tea tables; while you’re there, visit the Museum of Wood Inlay – a craft also known as “intarsia” or “marquetry” – to get a better feel for the scope and excellence of this meticulous process. Further on in the town of Amalfi you’ll find mills, old and new, all consecrated to the art of paper – the kind made here is world-famous – and of course many examples of its usage, including artisan leather journals and original gouache paintings. Also featured in Amalfi is the Paper Mill Museum, showcasing the history, legends, materials and modern expression in the world of handmade paper.

The undisputed “capital” of ceramics – Vietri sul Mare – has endless streets of artist boutiques and just as many variations of hand-decorated pottery. Ravello also hosts a fine selection of ceramics, in addition to the warm terracotta glow of artisan coral jewelry. Lovers of lace will swoon at the offerings in Praiano, while shoe addicts will find their fix in Positano, famous for artisan leather sandals. Once you’re ready to leave the mainland, the emerald string of islands shimmering in the Bay of Naples hold their own in the realm of artisan delights: in Capri, handmade perfumes intoxicate the senses… in Procida, discover an abiding reverence for “ricamo” – Italian for “embroidery” – and its many uses for textile embellishment and decor. Basket-making, woven raffia and handmade dolls delight visitors to Ischia, a volcanic island just a ferry-ride away from Vesuvius.

A lifetime would not be enough to take in all that the Amalfi Coast offers; no matter which direction you choose, the beauty and artistry, woven into every aspect of a Southern Italian existence, seem to endlessly unfold into greater and greater detail and delight. Each boutique, each town, each handcraft and the diverse heritage they all represent, speak to the originality of Amalfi Coast craftsmanship, and invite an extended inquiry into the historical sources and modern expressions of so many incredible creations. An authentic search for the consummate Italian “souvenir” – both in the mind’s eye and the eye of the beholder – will undoubtedly include excursions far and wide through the Amalfi Coast, as full appreciation of the area – and feeling its heart and soul – cannot be confined to a brief visit or passing glance. A long, lingering gaze… a curious, open mind… and a passion for the elements of earth and sky, sun and sea, and the handcrafted homage to human ingenuity – these are the best “treasure maps” to bring along with you as you discover the abiding treasures of arts and crafts along the Amalfi Coast.

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