Hidden Treasure on the Amalfi Coast

Sunset over the Amalfi Coast

What comes to mind when thinking of the Amalfi coast? Most likely picturesque towns, wine, Sorrento, Pompei, and Vesuvius. I doubt that basking in winter sunshine and sport climbing on perfect limestone springs to mind though. The climbing here seems to be a very well kept secret, so in this post, I’ll do my bit to correct that.

It’s worth admitting that until the day before I arrived in Positano, I had no idea there was climbing on the Amalfi coast either. We had planned to head into Spain when winter chased us from Finale, but a bit of Googling turned up the Amalfi coast. A quick Spain / Amalfi coin toss came up ‘Amalfi’ and we decided to take a punt on it. There were definitely no regrets!

Almost Homeless

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Before I get to gushing about how awesome the climbing is, here are a few logistical points…

The whole area is very quiet in the winter time. This means that you get the crags more or less to yourself, but the down side is that many of the camp sites and hostels are shut. My penchant for showing up to a place with no accommodation booked nearly landed us in trouble this time… We spent a fairly torturous few hours driving along the Amalfi coast road, knocking of the doors of shuttered hostels, and pulling into ‘closed for winter’ camp sites….

Eventually, we found the camp site Nube d’Argento, just on the outskirts of Sorrento. This requires a ~45 minute drive to the nearest climbing, but it’s a short walk into Sorrento. A reasonable compromise to have the cafes, bars, and restaurants on your doorstep. The Taverna Sorrentina is no more than a five minute walk, and it does a decent pizza for €5, and a glass of local wine for €3 on top – can’t argue with that!

A final logistical note. Make sure that your car insurance is up to date, and prepare yourself for some truly terrifying driving experiences! The driving has to be seen to be believed, as does the road up to the climbing in Positano. My van emerged with only a couple of scrapes, and I considered that a win.

Getting A Head?

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My last post on the Euro trip left me buzzing for more climbing, but quivering a bit (okay, quivering a lot) when moving above ‘highball boulder’ territory. There was progress in Finale, but it was slow progress and my climbing was very limited by poor head games. Amalfi seemed like a perfect destination to work on the head games.

So on day one, I set out with the intent to do a bunch of fall practice and really work on the mental side of the sport… Of course, I did not do any fall practice… We did find an amazing coastal crag and started get into the slabby and crimpy style. I’m not exactly a ‘powerhouse’ (matchsticks for arms),  and so the technical climbing was right up my street. I felt at home immediately. The switch in style also did wonders for my confidence, giving me an ideal excuse to continue to neglect the fall practice. Oh well, progress was getting made regardless, confidence was coming back and with it a real enjoyment of roping up again.

It is worth admitting upfront that I definitely used the change in style as an excuse to neglect properly training the head games. One of these days I’ll learn to love fall practice and fingerboarding, but those days did not come on the Amalfi coast, and at the time of writing, I’m still waiting!

Sorrento

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We had planned to stay in Positano, near the climbing, but there was no room at the inn  (actually, there were no inns..) and so we we ended up camping near Sorrento. I think this was likely a blessing in disguise as it was good to be withing walking distance of civilisation. There’s no shortage of cafes and restaurants, and the prices are generally not too bad.

Christmas was in full flow when we were there, and Sorrento looked the part! The lit up streets streets were pedestrianised at the weekends and were very lively with shoppers and families. Sadly it was not busy with patrons of the local bars, which were typically very quiet even though the streets were full. The Christmas tree (above) dominated the end of the high street, bringing festive cheer and good will to all men – or something like that.

This is all great if you want to do your Christmas shopping and get a glass of wine. Be warned though, if you’re looking for climbing supplies, you have come to the wrong place. Further underscoring the secretive nature of the climbing here, there aren’t really any climbing shops in Sorrento. Make sure you’re stocked up with chalk, tape, and other climbing disposables before you arrive.

Sorrento is cool, but it is a strange kind of place to visit in December. More of a family vibe than a touristy vibe, and certainly not a climbers hub. An excellent base though for launching climbing missions to Positano, and so highly recommended in that respect!

What about the climbing?

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As I said above, I’m quite partial to a crimpy and technical slab, so I was absolutely at home here. The crags we visited seemed to be typified by this style. You could occasionally shave on the handholds, so either pack some climb-on, or man up! I should note that there are a number of steep or caved out crags that we didn’t visit. I’d expect there is something for everyone here.

I’m not sure about paper guide books, but we did fine with the Vertical Life app and topos.

We mostly based climbed on the crags around Positano. You can park at the local football pitch for free and walk out to most of the crags in about 45 minutes or so. We spent a good amount of our time in the Selva area, which has a decent spread of grades and long sustained routes with an excellent outlook. The obvious ‘thread the needle’ as you approach Positano (Monte Gambera) has some excellent climbing as well, again with a great spread of grades and decent length routes.

The crags are generally facing the sea, and as picturesque as you could ask for. Watching the sun set over the sea while you strip the last route of the day is as close to a religious experience as I ever get. The December sunshine is pretty much bang on for me, easily t-shirt weather without getting fried. And given that this whole area seems to be a secret, the only interruptions you may encounter are inquisitive donkeys coming to see what the humans are up to.

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Repeat Customer

I struggle to pick out a specific highlight from this part of the trip. The climbing was all generally excellent, the settings were all beautiful. The standout for me of this part of the trip was the gradual re-emergance of some kind of head for climbing, and associated massive increase in enjoyment. After years of neglect I left Positano feeling about as positive as I had in years about getting roped up.

I’m not sure that there is a better winter climbing venue out there, especially if you value a bit of solitude. The climate, setting, and local amenities are all bang on, and the climbing is also fantastic. I can’t imagine that this place will stay a secret for long, so get in while it’s good. I’ll definitely be making an effort to get back here at some point.

The Amalfi coast was the last destination that we visited on the outward leg of the European journey. Leaving here was the start of the long drive back home, and a good opportunity to revisit some destinations, and hopefully close out some unfinished business…

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