The Sorrentine peninsula pushes out into the Tyrrhenian sea like a gnarled finger, its southern shores blessed by some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the world. Linking the towns is the SS163, the legendary Amalfi Coast Drive, a 16 km twisting, turning two-lane road that weaves and dips torturously in and out and up and down gorges, clinging to the cliff face from Positano to Amalfi. The background is lemon and olives groves, picture-perfect whitewashed villages and the ever-present shimmering blue sea. Here is a list of 5 Things you need to know before you visit the Amalfi Coast
This itinerary focuses on the principal stretch of the SS163, but the corniche road continues no-less dramatically all the way to Vietri-sul-Mare and tends to attract fewer crowds in this eastern stretch. A word of warning; the road is notoriously difficult to navigate, mainly for the sheer volume of traffic. In high season (May to September), you are likely to find yourself at best crawling along at a snail’s pace, bumper-to-bumper behind scores of tourist buses. So either move around by sea or avoid these months; April and October are good times to visit.
Utravlr Travel tip: Arriving on the Amalfi Coast can be a traffic-clogged nightmare by road. A much more pleasant alternative to the car is to take the train to Salerno and from there catch a ferry to Amalfi or Positano. The public SITA bus is a good way of travelling along the coast road.
Start your tour of the coast in Positano, the most famous of the Amalfi Coast towns, a tumble of pastel-hued houses clinging impossibly to an almost sheer cliff face. The best way to arrive is by sea, but if you are driving, park at the top of the town and walk down to Piazza dei Mulini from where steep, narrow (and tourist-clogged) Via dei Mulini descends towards the beach.
La Zagara (00 39 089 875964) is a good stop-off for coffee and delicious pastries and cakes. Further on is elegant, 18th-century Palazzo Murat, once home to Giochino Murat, King of Naples, and now a very lovely hotel. Further down the hill lies the church of Santa Maria Assunta and the entrance to the newly opened Museo Archeologico Romano (00 39 3312085821).
The grey pebble beach of Spiaggia Grande is a good spot for a dip; you can hire a sun bed and umbrella from one of the lidos, or claim a patch of the free beach in the middle. Alternatively, a footpath leads to the right around the point to the less-crowded local’s beach of Il Fornillo where the Il Pupetto hotel and beach bar (00 39 089 875087) will serve you an ice cold beer. Take the stepped path up the hill behind the hotel to see another side of Positano, a quiet neighbourhood where locals outnumber tourists.
The tiny village of Montepertuso lies 400 metres above Positano (either drive up or catch the SITA bus) and is a cool, quiet escape from the crowds. Book a table at Donna Rosa (00 39 089 811806)for ravioli stuffed with local artichokes and lamb cutlets flavoured with wild rosemary.
Bolstered by lunch (and not too much wine), head to the even tinier village of Nocelle; the SITA bus will take you almost there. From the car park, access to the clutch of rustic houses is via some 100 steps, but once you arrive, the views are breathtaking.
Nocelle is the starting point for the ‘Sentiero degli Dei’, the Costiera’s most celebrated walk. The path meanders along the pinnacle of the mountains with, at times, sheer drops on either side. Finishing in Bomerano, the whole thing will take the best part of a day, but you can tackle just a short section. It is essential to carry water, a sunhat, sunblock and a camera to capture the extraordinary views.
Back in Nocelle, you can have a cool drink and a piece of homemade cake at Bar-Ristorante Santa Croce in the centre of the village (Via Nocelle 19; 00 39 089 811260).
You have earned a slap-up evening out, so slip into some kind of casual-chic linen and cashmere combo and head for the Champagne and Oyster Bar at hotel Le Sirenuse (Via Cristoforo Colombo, 30; 00 39 089 875 066) for bubbles, bi-valves and magnificent views.
You could move onto dinner at La Sponda, the hotel’s uber-romantic Michelin-starred restaurant, or walk up the road to the much more affordable Da Bruno (00 39 089 875392) for spaghetti alle vongole.
Round the evening off at the mythical Africana (Via Terramare, 2; 00 39 089 874858), a night club with dance floor built over the rocks; there is a boat and bus service from Positano and Amalfi.
UTRAVLR TRAVEL TIP: Many people think that the Costiera Amalfitana finishes in Amalfi itself; wrong. The stretch of coast that continues to Vietri-sul-Mare is less crowded and no less spectacular. Highlights include pear and ricotta tart at Bar del Riso (Via Roma, 80; 00 39 0898 77941) in Minori, the long, sandy beach at Maiori and lunch at Acqua Pazza (Corso Garibaldi, 36; 00 39 0892 61606) in the gritty little fishing village of Cetara. Last up is attractive Vietri itself where you can stock up on the local ceramics.
Day two on the Amalfi coast
There is a lot of ground to cover today, so try and get an early start; the going on the SS 163 can be maddeningly slow. From Positano, a few twists and turns in the road to the east lead to the sprawling, low-key village of Praiano.
Bar Sole (Via Capriglione 120; 00 39 089 813079) on the main street is the modest social hub of the village and they make a decent cappuccino. Ceramics whizz Paolo Sandulli has his studio in a Saracen watchtower looking out to sea just outside the town (Via Terramare; 00 39 089 339440 – follow the signs to the Africana Club).
Just along the coast is the tiny, picturesque fishing hamlet of Marina di Praia, a clutch of cottages, a couple of restaurants and a few boats pulled up on a tiny beach squeezed between walls of towering rock. From here you can rent a boat, either with or without a skipper, and spend a dreamy hour put-puttering along the coast towards Amalfi.
Pull up at waterside Ippocampo (00 39 089 831153) at Conca dei Marini for a simple fishy feast; it’s only accessible by sea or hundreds of steep steps. Alternatively, back at Marina di Praia, Armandino’s (00 39 089 874087), a modest quayside trattoria, offers up pasta with clams and grilled swordfish.
Continuing east, past the towering viaduct that crosses the Vallone di Furore, lies the Emerald Grotto, a popular tourist attraction named after the intense blue-green light that filters into the cave; access is via a lift on the main road.
The coast road twists and turns past Amalfi and Atrani before reaching the turn-off for Ravello, a ravishing little town with an other-worldly atmosphere perched on a bluff 350 metres feet above the gulf of Salerno. After a refreshing iced tea or gelato at one of the bars in the square, pop into the 11th-century Duomo to admire the two magnificent pulpits.
Nearby Villa Rufolo (00 39 089 857621) has a Moorish cloister and gardens that inspired Wagner for the second act of Parsifal in 1880. But the jewel in the crown is Villa Cimbrone (00 39 089 857459) with its grandiose gardens suspended above the sea; the Terrace of the Infinity is a particularly Instagram-worthy spot. The Bloomsbury set hung out in the villa in the 1920s; today it is a luxury hotel where you can call in for a very civilized aperitivo.
Alternatively, head back down to Amalfi in time to visit the great Arab-Norman Duomo di Sant’Andrea (00 39 089 873558) and to stock up on traditional ‘bambagina’ paper at the Scuderia del Duca (Largo Cesareo Console, 8; 00 39 089 872976) and lemon and almond biscuits at historic Pasticceria Pansa (Piazza Duomo 40; 00 39 089 871065).
Once a glorious maritime republic of some 70,000 souls, Amalfi can feel oppressively crowded during the day, but come evening, many visitors leave. Bag a table at one of the bars in piazza Duomo, order a Campari spritz and settle down for some people watching before heading to the upper part of the town for dinner at Trattoria dei Cartari (Piazza della Spirito Santo, 5; 00 30 089 872131), a friendly little place serving authentic local dishes such as paccheri pasta with monkfish and prawns.
In keeping with this evening’s low profile entertainment, wander round the headland to charming Atrani and Bar Risacca (00 39 089 872866) in pretty piazza Umberto I for a nightcap; it’s a delightful spot in which to soak up a bit of local life.
Utravlr Travel tip: The Grotta dello Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto)is one of the biggest crowd-pullers on the Costiera; you’ll know when you get there from the tourists buses parked on the road outside. To avoid the queues for the lift down to the cave, it’s much better to hop on one of the boats that run regularly from Amalfi. It’s a prettier ride too!
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