A group tour's like being in an orgy, but without the fun bits

Kathy Lette
·9-min read
'Talking while walking means guilt-free gourmandising – what’s not to love?'
'Talking while walking means guilt-free gourmandising – what’s not to love?'

Kathy Lette and Ronni Ancona discover a new zest for life on a group walking tour of the Amalfi Coast

What do women want? Besides being whisked off to a tropical isle where Chris Hemsworth licks caviar from your navel beneath a palm, I’d say most want to laugh with girlfriends and lose weight. So why not combine the two? I’m talking about a walking holiday. Talking while walking means guilt-free gourmandising – 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 on discovering I’d accidentally booked on to 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 Due Torri in the mountain village of Bomerano.

Hopes faded when we awoke to a downpour. During breakfast, the downpour turned into a biblical apocalypse. It was raining so hard I suggested we simply jump into the Mediterranean to save ourselves from drowning. One guest recommended we abandoned walking for a day of charades. I kicked Ronni as she not only enthusiastically volunteered but suggested pin the tail on the donkey. 

“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.

Clamouring up the craggy slopes through the shrouding mists of Monte Tre Calli, my shy friend clung to me like melted marshmallow. “A group tour’s like being in an orgy, without the fun bits,” I whispered. The look Ronni gave me suggested it was time to summon one of those mountain rescue Saint Bernard dogs with its brandy barrel…

The next morning, Ronni 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 the day’s scheduled walk would take us down through the olive groves to explore Amalfi Cathedral. Both keen to see the magnificent tiled cupola that dominates the little seaside town, we braved the rain and set forth, still circling the other walkers like Cold War spies. 

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 – our group began to alchemise 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-19 crisis. Social workers, surveyors, teachers, they all had the most mesmeric tales. So for the next five fabulous days, we basked in golden sunshine as warm as the unexpected delights of our walkers’ company. 

'Positano's steep slopes are periwinkled in lemon, pistachio and peachy-pink painted houses' - getty
'Positano's steep slopes are periwinkled in lemon, pistachio and peachy-pink painted houses' - getty

In Capri, we swapped mountain climbing for social climbing and swanned about that idyllic haven of ­artists, writers and glamourpusses, ­posing, tongue-in-chic, for pretend paparazzi. Atop Mt Vesuvius, the volcanologist delivered a detailed description of the giant geological ejaculation that erupted here in AD 79. Ronni couldn’t help herself. “You’re a rubbish Vulcanologist… You don’t know anything about Spock’s ears,” she quipped. 

“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!” I exclaimed. Proof that I’d also not quite mastered the topographical terminology. 

Already refreshed by Vesuvius’s 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 we were the only ones in the whole site; the sunlit silence allowing our imaginations to teleport us back to the ancient bathhouses, bakeries and brothels.

The week’s climax still 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? The stupendous, panoramic views all the way to the sheltered bay of Positano are truly heavenly. 

Overawed, 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 10 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 Bluetooth 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?... This year’s long lockdown had made me feel like a ready meal left on a shelf, ticking away toward the obsolescence date stamped on my packaging. It was by walking the Amalfi coast with my best buddy that 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… You’d think mainlining vino, pasta, tiramisu, cannoli, tutti fruitti, panna cotta and local ricotta would result in our stomachs overlapping our jeans to the extent we could qualify for builders’ licences. But a week of uphill walking meant that it was only our address books that got fatter, with 13 added friends.

Vesuvius - getty
Vesuvius - getty

Mt Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Positano, Capri, Naples, the meticulously landscaped gardens of ravishing Ravello – 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 on to vertiginous bluffs and all those perfect panoramas – no wonder we left the Walk of the Gods haloed in happiness.

So much so that we’re already planning our next group walking trip. 

A word from Ronni

I was very excited when Kathy asked me to accompany her on one of her 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. 

But we both love walking and while we were initially nervous of mixing with so many new people, we threw ourselves into getting to know our fellow walkers – whether they wanted to or not. Despite the (literally) rocky start, the first day was highly energetic. We stomped uphill in very wet conditions and Kathy was keen to be in front at all times. I wouldn’t say that she was Alpha, but Kathy makes Elon Musk look like an also-ran.

'“It’s been so life affirming, hasn’t it?” Ronni said, as we sipped our last limoncello'
'“It’s been so life affirming, hasn’t it?” Ronni said, as we sipped our last limoncello'

Our family-run hotel was no frills but we enjoyed the most amazing hospitality and delicious, regional home-cooked food. 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 draughts…”

So she 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 Caesar!”

By day three 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 and entertaining knowledge. 

As the trip was mostly trail based, Kathy swam whenever she could as she is not totally human but semi-amphibian. She swims so fast it’s intolerable – she intimidates the fish. 

While I like a dip as much as the next person, and there is no greater pleasure than swimming in the Med, Kathy could have spent the whole holiday in the sea.

“Just a little longer,” she implored, on a day when I had a strong feeling I was drowning, “Let’s just go around this little bay, Ronni, up the coast… to Croatia!”

The essentials

Exodus Travels (exodustravels.co.uk) offers an eight-day Walking the Amalfi Coast small-group holiday from £1,249 per person. This is based on 2021 departures and includes flights, transfers, guide, accommodation, all breakfasts, four packed lunches and six dinners.