THE AMALFI COAST, THE ITALY WE DREAM OF
It’s a mythical coastline, a magnet for tourists, an surreal vision of a glistening sea, a rugged landscape with spectacular views from the narrow road that winds up the side of the cliffs, revealing villages with houses that seem to balance precariously and churches that tell ancient stories. Amalfi coast is a certain idea of Italy, where the sun always shines and a boat can be taken to have lunch on the quayside of a micro-port with freshly caught fish. Life in this part of the world seems to move more slowly, and we’d like to keep it a secret, but unfortunately the reputation of the Amalfi Coast has spread far and wide over the decades and continents. So in this article we’re going to try and share not secrets (what hasn’t been documented yet?) but what we love about this coast and how to make the most of it, even in the middle of summer.
THE CAR, THE BOAT, THE SCOOTER…AND THE LEGS!
While it might seem logical to want to enjoy this coastline by car, as it is self-sufficient and easily accessible from Naples airport, the reality is more complicated. With its very narrow roads, traffic jams and above all its lack of parking facilities, getting around by car very quickly becomes a real ordeal when you want to stop off somewhere to visit, especially in high season, but high season here lasts a very long time. The scooter or motorbike option is ideal, but not for everyone, just like the hiking trails, which are very beautiful and numerous, but because of the difference in altitude they are reserved for good walkers. In summer, there are very practical regular boats linking several villages along the coast, which can be a very good way to visit, but does not allow you to get out of the most touristy spots.
Our recommendation would be to find somewhere to park the car when you arrive at your destination and not to use the car again for the duration of your stay, with some exceptions (Ravello, for example). There are boats to hire or borrow, and local buses that allow you to get around without the stress of having to move your car. The Amalfi coast may, in some ways, seem too complicated, its topography totally unsuited to the crowds visiting it, but one thing is certain: it’s worth making an effort for; its beauty is worth all the hassle.
THE GLAMOUR OF POSITANO
Positano is like a postcard, and when its panorama unfolds after that last bend, it’s hard to believe hat we see: a village built completely vertically, houses clinging to the landscape, and a palette of colours that you’d think had been plucked from a painter’s imagination. A village that you don’t really come to visit (apart from the beautiful church of Santa Maria Assunta with its majolica dome), where you spend your time going up and down many, many steps, where you jostle each other in the narrow streets, where the terraces of the cafés and restaurants are packed, and with prices that reach record highs all year round.
And yet you have to come to Positano for its indescribable atmosphere; it will always be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your trip. Ideally, you should be prepared to break your piggy bank (there aren’t really any cheap options anyway) and spend a few days in the village.
Of course our dream hotel is the Sirenuse, stunning in every possible way, but an alternative that is a notch lower in terms of budget (but still excessively expensive) while being geographically marvellous is the Hotel Buca di Baccio. Of course, the ultimate pleasure is a room with a sea view. When you open the window in the morning, the 180° view, slightly overhanging the main beach, encompasses the enchantment of Positano in a single glance. It’s easy to understand why so many American couples come to get married in this part of the world, so romantic!
SEE THE COAST FROM THE SEA
On Positano beach, head for the little kiosk of Lucibello, which for 80 years has been hiring out boats with skippers by the day or half-day, from the simplest to the most luxurious. In high season, it’s best to book your boat online in advance. The Amalfi coast is best explored from the sea rather than by road (although some of the higher vantage points, such as the Santa Maria del Castello lookout, are well worth the diversions), because it’s from the water that you can best understand the topography of the area, with its mountains falling into the sea, the sublime villas that have clung to them, and the tiny harbours that you discover by wandering slowly, difficult to access by road.
A magnificent panorama unfolds, the sea sparkles, the sun shines generously, and you can stop the boat anywhere to dip your head in the translucent water. From time to time the boat, guided by a skipper who knows everything there is to know, moors somewhere to enjoy lunch. The chicest thing is to hire a boat just for lunch, as if you were taking a taxi. Head to Lo Guarracino restaurant with its large terrace overlooking a small cove just west of Positano, or the Mare Donna Clelia bar in the tiny port of Praiano, east of Positiano. In both cases, you can enjoy the day’s catch and a few glasses of local wine, and there’s plenty of time for a siesta on the way back, cradled by the boat.
It would be a pity not to take advantage of the boat to go as far as the Li Galli islands, 3 confetti islands off Positano to the west, halfway between Positano and Capri, and the legendary birthplace of mermaids. You can’t moor there (they’re private, unless you’re invited) but the sea around it is magnificently clear, ideal for swimming.
At the end of the day, just before the sun goes down, find a beautiful, large terrace from which to contemplate the landscape and have a drink, if possible high up with a panoramic view. The height of chic and glamour is the sublime panoramic terrace, with its tiled benches, at the Il San Pietro hotel, where, even if you don’t sleep there and enjoy its private beach accessible by a lift dug into the rock, you can tell yourself for a moment that this Amalfi coast really surpasses anything you could have imagined.
RAVELLO, DREAMING OF INFINITY
One of the region’s absolute favourites, Ravello is a breathtaking village perched on a promontory 350 metres above Amalfi (where we’ll stop to visit the magnificent Duomo with its cloister of Paradise, dazzling with its Moorish architecture). Ravello is reached by bus or car/scooter, and ideally spend a night there, to enjoy the village empty of tourists and take in its softness and beauty. The very beautiful luxury hotel Palazzo Avino, with its panoramic views and family history, has a charm all of its own and is a real eye-catcher! There are also a number of charming guesthouses at more reasonable prices.
Ravello is the epitome of elegant romanticism, with its lavish villas and gardens, an aristocratic lifestyle that has inspired many artists. You could spend hours wandering around the village, sitting on the terrace of the Caffè Ravello right in front of the magnificent Duomo, modest in appearance but with some very beautiful mosaics inside.
And of course, wander through the gardens of Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone, with their extravagant vegetation, and at the very end of the Terrace of Infinity, Villa Cimbrone, you’ll be captivated by the view of the entire coastline, even more spectacular at sunset.