You can search the far corners of the globe, but you’ll never find a more perfectly named hiking adventure than “The Path of the Gods.” Situated along Italy’s scenic Amalfi coast, the half-day climb delivers the inspiring views and breathtaking beauty its dramatic name suggests.
Half-way up the mountain trail you can admire one of the most spectacular panoramas in the world––an incredible overview from Cilento to the Island of Capri––and you will indeed feel closer to the sky than to the sea … which, according to locals, is exactly why Giutstino Fortunato named the path as he did.
Fortunato named the path in the mid 1800s, which was only yesterday compared to the rich mythological history that “The Path of the Gods” overlooks. Most any point along the path offers a tremendous view of Capri, once home to the fabled singing sirens who called to sailors in Homer’s The Odyssey.
But you needn’t like history to love “The Path of the Gods.” All you need is eyesight. For sheer scenery, the trail is incomparable, as my wife and I discovered quite by accident during our recent trip.
We had completed the main drag of our much-anticipated Italy trip, having conquered Rome, Florence and Assisi, when we found ourselves in the tiny town of Praiano with a couple days to spare. We immediately fell in love with Praiano, in large part due to the gem of a hotel we stumbled across: The Hotel le Fioriere.
Built by Michael Irace in 1980, the quaint hotel is run today by Michael’s son and daughter, Luigi and Rosalia. Michael’s wife, Rosa, oversees the wonderful morning ritual that is breakfast at le Fioriere. Even just one day at the hotel makes it exceedingly clear that the family takes tremendous pride in their “little flower” (le fiorere is Italian for flower) and that nothing makes them happier than hosting guests.
In fact, we hadn’t even fully unpacked yet when Luigi knocked at our door with a surprise delivery of champagne and strawberries. Let me tell you: When you’re sitting in the sun on your private deck overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, champagne and strawberries taste pretty darn good.
In truth, we didn’t know the hospitality would be so tremendous at le Fioriere––we picked the hotel more for its location than anything. Praiano is just over 2 hours south of Naples and makes for a good place to stay along the Amalfi Coast after touring the ruins of Pompeii, as we had done. Praiano also positions you well for day trips along the coast.
On one day we ferried to Capri; on another, we bused to Amalfi for sightseeing and an outside dinner at dusk. Upon returning to le Fioriere that night, we discovered a cozy scene: Luigi and Rosalia hosting a group of locals in the hotel’s comfortable bar to watch that night’s “football” game. They seemed delighted when we pulled up a chair, ordered a drink and cheered for an Italian soccer team whose name we couldn’t pronounce.
But it was the next day, after a tasty breakfast served by Rosa, that the family gave us their greatest gift of hospitality by making the best recommendation anyone gave during our entire trip. Luigi and Rosalia suggested that, if we had an open day, we might enjoy hiking “The Path of the Gods.”
In what was a tremendous oversight on our part, my wife and I hadn’t planned on doing the hike and––worse yet––we hadn’t even heard of before. Luigi described the path, which required “quads of steel,” and mentioned that an entrance to the path lay just a hundred yards from the hotel. In fact, it’s the perfect place to begin the hike because you ascent up through several old vineyards and pass through the crumbled walls of San Domenico, a 16th century church that clings to the mountainside with what little strength it still possesses.
We decided to embark on the six hour hike, and were immediately grateful we did. The surroundings were surreal, a continuous stream of chestnut and corbezzolo trees, of holm olks and alders. The higher we climbed, the more Mount Sant’Angelo thrilled us. We forgot that in departing from Praiano, we were starting the hike at 2,000 feet above the turquoise sea.
We climbed and climbed, rising closer to the sun as it beat down on us.
Peregrine falcons, which soared far above the cliffs when we began, suddenly seemed at eye level. Beautiful San Gennaro church, which greeted us with its golden dome when we walked out the front door at le Fioriere Hotel that morning, was now nothing more than an insignificant dot.
Next thing we knew, we were on top of the world, alone.
The feeling is indescribable.
And shocking. We wondered, ‘Could this truly be the highlight of our trip?’
Having toured the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum, the Duomo––all the sacred things you travel to Italy to see––to suddenly climb to the peak and feel this unexpected moment was the greatest of them all seemed like sacrilege.
Such thoughts, we then realized, were not sacrilege … for after all, it is “The Path of the Gods.”
The website for the Hotel le Fioriere is http://www.lefioriere.it/en/. The hotel can be reached by phone at 39 089 874203 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The absurdity of my error smacked me suddenly in my face. I was reading Patricia Shultz’ New York Times best-seller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” salivating over exotic destinations like the Great Wall of China, the Alhambra Palace in Spain and the Serengeti Desert in Tanzania. I turned the page when––without any warning––out jumped a “must-see” destination that was basically in my own backyard … and I’d never even been there once.
I had flown in helicopter over Hawaii’s Na Pali coast, I had hiked Alaska’s gold-rush mountains, I had ascended Jamaica’s Dunn’s River waterfall, I had conquered “The Path of the Gods” along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, but I had never been to Bayfield, Wisconsin. The error of my omission jolted me into action.
So my wife and I set sail for Bayfield, which is to say, we threw some stuff in our Chevy Impala after work one Friday and drove 3½ hours. “That was easy,” Jodie mumbled when I nudged her awake in the passenger seat as we pulled into our B&B of choice. “Oh, wow,” she said, suddenly alert. “This looks really nice.”
The father of the Phillips family, Jerry, taught high school, met his bride––a fellow teacher––and then ignored everyone’s advice by risking it all and buying the Rittenhouse Inn some 38 years ago. His loyal sister, Julie, has worked by his side through it all and seems to feel her personal mission in life to start every person’s day off with a smile (enjoy even just one breakfast there and you’ll see what I mean).
The primary Innkeeper at the Rittenhouse is none other than Jerry’s son, Mark, who’s basically lived at the Inn since age 3. So perhaps Mark’s wife is the only “outsider” helping to run Rittenhouse? Well, not exactly. In high school she worked as a housekeeper at the Inn, then served as a waitress and maitre’d through her college years before––you guessed it––falling in love with Mark.
“It was kind of an unspoken thing between us that someday he and I would be running it,” she said. “Managing Rittenhouse has brought both joy and stress. It’s a constant inspiration to try to offer the best accommodations, the best dining, and the best service.”
That “service” for us included recommendations on how to see the best of Bayfield in one full day. Following their advice, we woke before the sun and raced up the hill to Le Chateau for the ultimate view of a Lake Superior sunrise. We weren’t disappointed.
Later that morning we cruised on a “3-hour tour” around the Apostle Islands which, it so happens, were misnamed by French missionaries who thought the islands numbered 12 instead of 22. (Apparently the French aren’t mathematicians.)
Weaving through the islands broke up the big lake in a way I hadn’t experienced before. After all, you can see Superior from the moon. It contains enough water to cover the entire land mass of North and South America in a foot of water. I’m used to gazing out from Duluth and seeing nothing but steely blue waves; to see, for my first time, the heavily forested Apostles interrupting the sea of Superior showed me a new side of the lake.
Also new was the experience, later that afternoon, of driving my car onto a boat and being ferried across to Madeline Island. On the island, Big Bay State Park provided a relaxing hike through 2,350 acres teeming with wildlife, beaches, and sandstone cliffs.
The culture on the island is distinctly different––you get the impression the people who already love Madeline wish that new people would quit falling in love with the island and leave her alone.
At a local pub on Madeline Island we bumped into a good friend of mine who had just won a sailboat race that day––in fact, we unknowingly saw the race in progress during our Apostle Island cruise. He’s been sailing around the islands for a decade and admitted to me that the locals at Madeline keep urging him to shut up about their hidden gem.
But he loves the island too much not to share it with his friends, and with sunsets like the one we enjoyed, it’s easy to see why.
After dark we returned to the Old Rittenhouse Inn for what was, perhaps, the highlight of our time in Bayfield: dinner at Rittenhouse’s Landmark Restaurant. I knew I was in for a treat when the breakfast that morning blew me away. I am firm in my belief that breakfast is the least important meal of the day; hence I rarely eat it and never developed a taste for breakfast food.
Nonetheless, Executive Chef Matt Chingo’s creativity and talents are obvious and overwhelming. Breakfast was fantastic and dinner, quite frankly, was one of the absolute best meals I have ever had. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not a talented enough writer to do the dinner justice, so instead I’ll simply list some of the dishes and make one key distinction: the dinner is done entirely with a verbal menu.
Smoked Trout Salad: Local trout smoked with applewood served on a bed of wild rice and mixed greens dressed with lemon vinaigrette topped with garden chives and aged Wisconsin cheddar.
Steak Bercy: Grilled filet mignon with Yukon mashed potatoes, vegetable du jour and a Bercy sauce made with veal reduction, butter, herbs, garlic and burgundy wine and topped with a giant Bercy mushroom cap.
Chocolate Torte: Chocolate mousse layered between dark chocolate ganache frosting layers. Served with Bayfield raspberry sauce, whipped cream, and shaved chocolate.
Our waiter, Lance, recited in delicious detail all the key components in the 5-course meal by memory. It is a special ritual at Rittenhouse that catches you off-guard and makes the experience come to life: Sitting by the fireplace in an old Victorian mansion overlooking Lake Superior’s crashing waves, listening to Lance declare the day’s fresh fish and local ingredients.
We were so stuffed by the time dessert was done, we were grateful that all we had to do was stumble up a few stairs from the dining room to our bedroom to go to sleep. We slept well with full bellies and the knowledge that this day, which had started with a Superior sunrise, ended with us having enjoyed the beauty of Bayfield and the Apostle Islands … a beauty that definitely deserves its spot in “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”
The website for The Old Rittenhouse is www.rittenhouseinn.com. For more information, email email@example.com or call 1-888-611-4667.
One year ago––as the raging flames of a historically uncontrollable wildfire encircled Harald and Ann Lohn and torched their family’s Ontario fly-in fishing outpost camps––it looked like today might not arrive. Mother Nature nearly wiped many of the outpost camps at KaBeeLo Lodge off the map.
The fires, the worst to ravage Ontario’s vulnerable wilderness in 50 years, laid siege to 1.6 million acres last summer. Two of KaBeeLo’s 13 outpost camps burnt to the ground, another half dozen were shut down with fishing parties getting evacuated for safety.
The Lohns refused to leave; instead the couple transformed their base lodge into command central for 100 firefighters and worked 20 hours a day to provide food and housing for those risking their lives to squelch the flames.
The Lohns survived. And so today did arrive: the 40th anniversary of the Lohn family running KaBeeLo Lodge.
“Running the lodge is a way of life,” Harald said. “You have to embrace all aspects of the entire operation.”
Harald’s cousin opened KaBeeLo in 1972, running it for a decade before selling it to Ann and Harald, who in a previous life ran the welfare system for the state of Maryland. Today, Harald and Ann can’t image life without KaBeeLo, and neither can their children, who grew up at the lodge and lived there into their young 20s. Their son remains heavily involved with the lodge today; watching his family’s float planes as a teenager inspired him to pursue a career in aviation.
And in the end, it was aviators who helped save KaBeeLo last year when flames tried to claim the now-famous fly-in. A host of planes, as well as 17 helicopters, dumped a staggering 28 million gallons of water on Ontario’s burning woods.
The images are unforgettable, and the Lohns’ dream––however unlikely––remains alive: 40 years … and counting.