Setting off on our Amalfi Coast hikes

Our Backroads Adventures group getting ready to hike the Amalfi Coast

DAY SEVEN — We’re eyeing anyone and everyone who looks American and is wearing hiking shoes. We’re at the Sorrento train station at the appointed 11:30 am time — actually a little earlier because I’m paranoid about missing the Backroads group we’re supposed to meet for our hiking trip along the Amalfi Coast.

There are 13 in our group — everyone from a fit couple in their sixties from Australia, a young American woman doctor, a single man in his forties who works abroad for Exxon, and two other family groups like us — one mother and daughter, Emily and Deborah Douglas, from Santa Fe celebrating Emily’s newly minted masters degree and another family from Chicago, Brigid and James McCormick, vacationing for the first time in several years with his daughter Beth, 25, and son Drew, 28. It seems traveling with 20 somethings is a new trend, Backroads and other companies say, and why not — as long as mom and dad are paying. (If you are considering a Backroads trip (http://www.backroads.com) with your young adult — and there are more than 1,000 to choose from around the world — mention code Y009 when reserving and adult children (ages 17-25) sharing a room with an adult will enjoy a 10 percent savings. Valid on new bookings made between June 15-July 31, 2008 and good for trips in 2009. (http://www.backroads.com)

Reg perks up as soon as she starts talking with some of the other “kids” in the group. I guess being just with mom was getting a little tiresome.

Our affable guide, Nate Rayman, ushers us and our bags into a bus. First stop: a tiny trattoria in the town of Santa Maria Annunziata above the Bay of Naples. We sit at a long table outside under umbrellas and over antipasto, mozzarella and tomatoes begin to get acquainted. Our other guide, Arielle Moreau is French. Nate says he was an Italian major in college and loves leading these trips because he can use his Italian; Arielle had been a tour guide in France but wanted to lead more active trips. The two it turns out are a couple.

Jon Knoblock, the Exxon veteran who travels internationally all the time for work, said he signed on because he wanted a trip where he didn’t have to think about anything — and that is true from the moment Nate greeted us at the train station. No worries about bags, directions or hotels. They take care of everything, first ushering us to the restaurant that is so pretty it should be in a postcard.

After lunch, there are water bottles, and snacks for our packs, walking sticks and detailed directions for the four-plus mile trek to our first hotel, the Grand Hotel Due Golfi in the village of Massa Lubreense, with views of Sorrento.

There’s just one thing about the directions. Like with Mapquest, if you don’t follow them from the beginning, you will be completely lost. Did I pass that small tunnel at the T intersection’? Did I miss those pink buildings? Did I miss the uphill, overgrown path?

We hike on narrow dirt paths, cobblestoned walkways, up and down steps.

Reggie charges ahead and I lag back a bit nursing my knee. It is a challenging hike (for me anyway) but certainly not too difficult. Did I mention that every day there are different routes, offering more or and less challenging terrain. “Everyone should go at their own pace,” Nate says. And we do, so no one feels compelled to race ahead or hang back. Andrew Davies dubs himself, me and Jon Knoblock numbers 11, 12 and 13 because we tend to be at the back of the pack talking, taking pictures.

The views of the countryside and the sea are spectacular. We pass villas and apartments where Italians are enjoying Sunday lunch on their terraces. Dogs bark Kids giggle.

Everyone has different reasons for being here. Philadelphia Doctor Lori Gilbert- always wanted to see the Amalfi Coast. She had done other Backroads trips before and found them a great way to travel solo. “The kind of people who would choose this kind of trip is a self selecting group,” she says. “Everyone is very friendly.”

Not only can we not fret the details, but we know we’ll be treated to hotels, meals and hikes — in some cases led by locals — that we couldn’t have found on our own. At least I couldn’t — and I’m an expert.

For dinner, we share a big table at Trattoria Terra Nova, a short drive from the hotel. They keep bringing the platters of regional food — fried polenta and potatoes, different pastas (home made of course) , fish and beef. We didn’t have to find the restaurant or navigate a menu in Italian. The wine kept getting poured (local of course). Thank goodness I didn’t have to find our way back!

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