What do woman most want? Besides being whisked off to a tropical isle where Chris Hemsworth licks caviar from your navel ‘neath a palm – I’d say a laugh with girlfriends and to lose weight. So why not combine the two? I’m talking about a walking holiday. Talking while walking means guilt-free gourmandising, so what’s not to love?
One of the most popular treks in the world is the “Walk of the Gods” atop the Amalfi coast. Not knowing any Gods personally, I opted to take a comedy goddess. Ronni Ancona and I have been friends for 25 years, buoying each other up in a friendly fug of banter and bonhomie. We tend to lob quips back and forth as though at a verbal Wimbledon. During Lockdown, we Zoomed so much our eyeballs needed rebooting. And so, with the travel corridor to Italy still open in late September, we decided to strap on our hiking boots and head off for a catch up. A whole week of uninterrupted chat – what bliss!
So, you can imagine how our hearts sank at Naples airport upon discovering I’d accidentally booked onto a group tour. When I saw the 13 other masked walkers boarding our bus I made a noise like a tyre going flat. I glanced at Ronni who’d suddenly become a finalist in a Fixed Smile Event. A week of polite small talk with random strangers? I’d rather have a lap dance from Berlusconi. “Maybe things will look rosier in the morning?” I Pollyanna-ed as we wound our way upwards to the family run Hotel Du Torri in the mountain village of Bomerano.
“Second on my Fun Things To Do list… right after an unanaesthetised appendectomy,” I hissed at my pal. My only commandment is “thou shalt not bore”, and I was worried this rain-soaked group holiday was going to break it.
If our guide hadn’t been so handsome he looked under-dressed without a plinth, we wouldn’t have made the foot squelching clamour up the craggy mountain through the shrouding mists to the top of Monte Tre Calli. Ronni, who is actually quite shy, clung to me like melted marshmallow. A group tour really wasn’t our kind of thing – “It’s like being in an orgy, without the fun bits,” I whispered to her.
The look Ronni gave me said it was time to summon one of those mountain rescue Saint Bernard dogs with its brandy barrel…
Day two Ronni, strangely optimistic despite the continued drizzle, prodded me awake with her walking pole to get some breakfast before exercise.
“I’ve had my morning exercise,” I told her, rolling over. “Up, down, up, down…And now the other eyelid.”
But she reminded me that today’s scheduled walk would take us down through the olive groves to explore the Amalfi Cathedral.
We were keen to see the magnificent tiled cupola which dominates the little seaside town, so braved the rain and set forth, still circling the other walkers like Cold War spies.
…But as we marvelled at the Cathedral’s dazzling baroque interior, a curious thing started to happen…A little overheard snippet of witty conversation in the crypt; a shared quip by the altar; a communal whinge about the weather – and our group began to alchemize into cosy camaraderie.
The fibre network programmer I’d dismissed as strait-laced turned out to be side-splittingly hilarious; the woman I thought introverted riveted us with stories of nursing during the Covid crisis. Social workers, surveyors, teachers all had the most mesmeric tales to share. For the next five fabulous days, we basked in golden sunshine as warm as the unexpected delights of our walkers’ company.
In Capri, we swapped mountain climbing for social climbing and swanned about this idyllic haven of artists, writers and glamour-pusses, posing, tongue-in-chic, for pretend paparazzi. Atop Mt Vesuvius, while the volcanologist delivered a detailed description of the giant geological ejaculation which erupted here in 79 AD, Ronni quipped – “You’re a rubbish Vulcanologist… You don’t know anything about Spock’s ears.”
“I think this is the time we sacrifice the virgin into the volcano isn’t it?” I asked the group, edging Ronni closer to the gaping maw of the mountain. “Although that really would be virgin on the ridiculous.”
But then I noticed the curlicues of steam wafting up from the earth’s core. “Look girls, free facials!” – proof that I’d also not quite mastered topographical terminology.
Already refreshed by Vesuvius’ pore cleanse, being photographed in front of Pompeii’s relics made us look even younger – so much so that our exasperated guide could only move us on with a cattle prod. The perfectly preserved Roman city, hidden for 1,700 years beneath volcanic ash, is usually buried beneath a lava flow of tourists pouring forth from cruise ships. But midst Covid, we had the whole site to ourselves; the sunlit silence allowing our imaginations to teleport us back to the ancient bathhouses, bakeries and brothels. (25 in all, which translates to a lot of Bunga Bunga.)
But the week’s climax awaited – “The Walk of the Gods.” A short stroll from the hotel through Bomerano village brought us to the start of the world-famous “Sentiero degli Dei.” And why wouldn’t the Gods hang out here? Because the stupendous, panoramic views all the way to the sheltered bay of Positano are truly heavenly.
Over-awed, we followed an undulating trail along the vertebra of the majestic mountains, whose craggy cliffs sweep down to the vast blue vista of the sparkling Mediterranean. Five hours later, we descended through shady glens into the lemon scented lanes of Positano whose steep slopes are periwinkled in lemon, pistachio and peachy pink painted houses.
Hot from billy-goating up and down mountain paths, our group jumped straight into the turquoise sea. Positano’s little beach is usually so crowded, you have to dive in about ten times before hitting water – but we had the whole soft milky sea to ourselves.
By the final night our group had well and truly bonded. One of the girls dug out her blue tooth speaker, which meant dancing till dawn.
“Look at us old chooks, bopping,” I joked. “We’re poultry in motion.”
That’s when Ronni broke it to me that she’d come to love the group, but me?… Not so much.
This year’s long lockdown made me feel like a ready meal left on a shelf, ticking away toward the obsolescence date stamped on my packaging. But walking the Amalfi coast with my best buddy I rediscovered my appetite for life.
“It’s been so life affirming, hasn’t it?” Ronni said, as we sipped our last limoncello. “To realise that the vast majority of random strangers are just lovely.”
Driving or flying means seeing less and less of more and more, but walking, you get to drink it all in – while pausing for drinks. A little grappa here, a Campari there… Put it this way, the only steps we’ll be taking after this trip, are at AA.
You’d think that mainlining vino, pasta, tiramisu, cannoli, tutti fruitti, panacotta and local ricotta would result in stomachs overlapping our jeans to the extend we could qualify for builders’ licenses. But a week of uphill walking meant that only our address book got fatter, with 13 added friends.
Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Positano, Capri, Naples, the meticulously landscaped gardens of ravishing Ravello – apart from glimpses of Sophia Loren, the Amalfi coast boasts Italy’s most beautiful views. Cliffs honeycombed with caves; misty, cloud-kissed mountain tops; the Mediterranean shimmering from emerald green to cobalt blue; picturesque medieval towns barnacled onto vertiginous bluffs and all those perfect panoramas – no wonder we left the Walk of the Gods haloed in happiness. So much so that, drum roll…. we’re already planning our next group walking trip.
I was very excited when Kathy asked me to accompany her on one of her “Carpe the Hell Out of Diem” adventures but was horrified to discover it was an organised group tour; if I want to be dictated to on holiday, I’d go with my children.
However we both love walking so despite the rocky start (literally), the first day was a highly energetic stomp up a hill in very wet conditions – Kathy was keen to be in front at all times. I wouldn’t say that Kathy was Alpha, but she makes Elon Musk look like an also-ran.
Our family run hotel was no frills but we enjoyed the most amazing hospitality and delicious, regional home cooked food. Initially nervous of mixing with so many new people, we threw ourselves into getting to know our fellow walkers – whether they wanted it or not.
Suffice to say Kathy is such a social animal, she would make Dorothy Parker look like Johnny No Mates . She downplays her social events in order to make me feel less inadequate as I sit at home, watching shows I’m invariably not in, on Dave. ‘You’re not missing anything, sweetie -, the Dalai Lama is just having Prince Charles and a few friends round to play drafts…’
Kathy seemed incredibly at home as we walked around Pompeii. A grandeur settled on her and it dawned on me that if she’d been around in Roman times , ‘Kathus Lettus’ would always have been where it’s ‘at’ , while I would have been stuck at home cleaning her sandal straps.
‘I’ve got to go Ron, it’s the Ides of March – I promised Cesar! ‘
By Day 3 the sun was out and the walks, trips and general bonhomie were exemplary. Our excellent guides, Severio and Alexis were a constant source of fascinating & entertaining knowledge of this gem of an area. As the trip is mostly trail based , Kathy’s only frustration was the lack of swimming. This is because she is not totally human but semi amphibian and is in constant search of open water. She swims so fast it’s intolerable – she intimidates fish. I’ve heard salmon cry, ‘She’s back in the water guys , dive !’
I like swimming as much as the next person and there is no greater pleasure than dipping in the Mediterranean but Kathy could have spent the whole holiday in the sea.
‘Just a little longer’, she implored, as I had a strong feeling I was now drowning , ‘Lets just go round this little bay , Ronni, up the coast to….. Croatia .! ‘
p.s. From me, Kathy. Ronni and I compromised by diving head first into a pinot grigio for some synchronised swigging. Hiccup.
For more of my Adventure Before Dementia travels, check out my column in the Telegraph UK travel section.
What do women really want in bed? Breakfast. Oh, and a good book. If you’re looking for a funny, frivolous yet feisty new read, do slip between my covers. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Here’s a selection of scribblings in which I peel down to my emotional underwear – a psychological striptease that occasionally reveals all.
I think women are each other’s human Wonderbras – uplifting, supportive and making each other look bigger and better.
If he wants breakfast, tell him to sleep in the kitchen.
Men think monogamy is something you make dining tables out of.
Many marriages break up for religious reasons – he thinks he’s a god and she doesn’t.
Love prepares you for marriage the way needlepoint prepares you for round-the-world solo yachting.
Boys will be boys, and so will a load of middle-aged boys who should know better.
Ladies who lynch.
No wife ever shot a husband while he was vacuuming.
I think therefore I’m divorced.
All husbands think they’re Gods. If only their wives weren’t atheists.
Happy wife = happy life.
I couldn’t ask for a better husband… as much as I’d bloody well like to.
Statistically, 100% of divorces begin with marriage.
Marriage is nature’s way of promoting masturbation.
Marriage is a fun-packed, frivolous activity – only occasionally resulting in death.
It’ll be an amicable split. You’ll both get 50 % of the acrimony.
A new invention is required. The monogamous husband. Patent Pending.
How Do I Hate Thee? Let me Count the Ways.
My wedding vows didn’t say To Love, Hoover and Obey.
I’m Having my period so can therefore legally kill you.
You are going to enjoy this marriage, even if I have to divorce you to do so.
A happy marriage is like an orgasm – many of them are faked.
All this emphasis on women faking orgasms, but what about men faking foreplay?
Why do men like intelligent women? Because opposites attract.
Why don’t women tell jokes? Because we marry them.
What does a woman really want in bed? Breakfast.
For women, life is full of lies – I mean doctors maintain that wrinkles don’t hurt.
Legal aid cuts prove that the Tories believe a person is innocent until proven destitute.
Sexist men are so stupid it makes you want to take the ‘men’ out of Mensa.
If a man ever tells you that women fall at his feet – it’s only because he gets them drunk first.
A woman must always fight back. Never just lie back and think of Canberra.
The best cure for menopause is the toy boy diet. A case of having Your Beefcake and Eating It Too.
I don’t fake orgasms. I’m faking being six foot one and seven stone.
Trophy wives tarnish quickly and then get left on the shelf.
Lawyers work 24/7. The partners of lawyers suffer from a bad case of subpoena envy.
Most shrinks should book an appointment with themselves.
The question on the minds of most women is – why doesn’t chocolate go straight to your boobs?
Don’t fall for a man’s puppy dog look… Just get him wormed.
It’s been so long since a man has touched me, not even medical science will want my body.
My top tip for keeping your youth? Lock him in the pool house.
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