Running the southern length of the Sorrentine Peninsula from Punta Campanella to Salerno, the Amalfi Coast is the essence of the Mediterranean distilled into an elixir as heady and potent as the region’s ubiquitous Limoncello. While many come to the Amalfi Coast for beachside bronzing, there’s much that appeals within this exquisite landscape, from ancient Roman and Greek ruins to clothing boutiques; snorkelling to mountain treks. Whether you choose to rub shoulders with the jet-setters of Positano, or enjoy the quiet, authentic charms of villages like Nocelle and Nenara, the vivid colours of Amalfi will leave a lasting impression. As John Steinbeck wrote, ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.’
When to go
The Amalfi Coast’s crystalline waters and sun-kissed beaches make it an ideal destination for sultry summertime lounging, although be warned – you won’t be alone. During July and August, hordes of tourists descend onto the area, flocking particularly to the towns of Positano, Amalfi and Sorrento. This can be unhelpful if you’re planning on touring the region by car – the sweeping majesty of the single-lane Strada Statale 163 grinds to a standstill during the summer months, and parking spaces are almost impossible to find.
Aim to visit during the shoulder months instead. From April to June the flowers are in bloom, the sun is shining and the scent of orange blossom and jasmine lingers in the area. The Mediterranean will be starting to heat up, although if you’re here during the spring it may still be quite chilly. Alternatively, visit from September to October, when the evenings are still balmy and the sea still holds the last of the summer warmth. Many restaurants and cafés along the coast close down during the winter.
What to do
Start your Amalfi adventure in Sorrento, a charming harbour town south of Naples. Although not technically on the Amalfi Coast, it is considered the gateway to the region. Immortalised in song by Dean Martin, Sorrento is the perfect base for those wanting to visit the ancient sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two Roman cities that were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D 79.
If you’re after something a little bit off-the-beaten track, take the road down to the fishing village of Nenara. In the heart of the Punta Campanella Natural Marine Reserve, the crystalline waters and rocky seabed make it the perfect place for diving. Hire a boat to take you out to the rugged archipelago of Li Galli (the Cockerels), believed by the Ancients to be the home of the mythic Sirens who would lure sailors to their deaths with their beauty and enticing songs.
‘Positano writes deep,’ John Steinbeck wrote when he visited the then-sleepy cliffside town in 1953, and taking a trip to the tumbling, pastel-coloured cascade of Positano will be top of anybody’s list. Since Steinbeck’s visit it’s exploded in popularity, especially with glamorous jet-setters. Climbing the precipitously picturesque streets might be strenuous, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the bay below; it’s also the perfect place to pick up bespoke linen or leather sandals.
It’s still possible to find the authentic Amalfi life that Steinbeck wrote about, although you’ll have to work for it. Take the 1,800 steps up from Positano to the tiny village of Nocelle, which has managed to remain unchanged despite the region’s influx of tourism. It’s also the start of one of the Amalfi Coast’s best-kept secrets, a beautiful 7.8 kilometre walk along dramatic mountainous crags known as Il Sentiero degli Dei (the Path of the Gods).
It’s possible to take a ferry directly from Positano to Amalfi, but you’d be missing out on one of the coast’s best secrets, the romantic town of Praiano. Every bit as picturesque as Positano, and with truly wonderful panoramic views, it’s an often-overlooked spot that’s well worth a visit. The beach is one of the area’s best, thanks to the fact it enjoys full sunlight from sunrise to sunset.
After taking the time to bronze yourself, head on to the historic town of Amalfi. Capital of a powerful maritime republic in the 12th-century, the Old Town of Amalfi is a maze of medieval alleys and archways leading to the impressively flamboyant Norman-Arab façade of the Cathedral. The adjacent Piazza is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and a slice of delicious delizia al limone.
What to Eat
Given the area’s proximity to the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that seafood features prominently on menus in the Amalfi Coast, and the variety is truly astonishing with everything from redfish and bream to octopus and sea urchins making their way into mouth-watering recipes. No-frills traditional eateries are the best places to enjoy a meal of simple grilled fish or the traditional seafood pasta of scialatielli ai frutti di mare. Try Da Emilia in Sorrento, which has been serving customers in its rustic dining room on the waterfront for over 50 years – Sophia Loren was a regular when she was filming in the area. Da Adolfo in Positano is a particularly special spot for lunch. This beachfront shack is only reachable by boat; keep a look out for the flag of a red fish in the harbour, and don’t forget to bring a towel for post-prandial lounging.
If you’re after something a little more gourmet, then the Amalfi Coast won’t disappoint, with a wide range of Michelin-starred restaurants offering both traditional and unconventional delicacies: La Sponda at Sirenuse, lit by hundreds of candles, is a particularly acclaimed spot in Positano.
Lemons are ubiquitous along the Amalfi Coast; growing almost to the size of melons, you’ll see them hanging heavily in the cliffside garden terraces along the entire stretch of coastline. No visit to the Amalfi Coast would be complete without sampling the formidable Limoncello, which is best enjoyed ice-cold at the end of a long meal. The spirit also makes its way into the region’s best-known sweet treat, the delizia al limone, a fragrant sponge cake doused in Limoncello and topped with lemon-cream.
What to Buy
The boutiques of Positano are perfect for those that want to bring a little bit of the sunshine back with them. The town is famed for its bespoke luxury beachwear; think crisp linen suits and breezy dresses of light cotton. You’ll find both at Maria Lampo, where the daughters of the eponymous Maria handcraft made-to-measure masterpieces. Once you’ve gotten your summer dress sorted, head over to Safari for a pair of handmade bespoke leather sandals in a variety of styles, from discreetly elegant to ostentatiously luxurious.
If the enchanting traditional pottery of the region catches your eye, then be sure to make time in your trip to visit Vietri sul Mare. With a tradition dating back to Roman times, this town is the epicentre of pottery for the region. If you’re interested in the history, visit the Museo della Ceramica Vietrese; otherwise take a trip to the Ceramica Artistica Solimene, which sells a beautiful range of handcrafted ceramics.
Where to Sleep
Hotel Mediterraneo – Sorrento
Just ten minutes from the heart of Sorrento, this charming family-run hotel is perfect for lazy poolside lounging or, if you prefer, take the lift down to the hotel’s exclusive beach club at the bottom of the cliffs below. The Vista Sky Bar has stunning panoramic views of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, making it the ideal spot for a sunset aperitivo.
Le Sirenuse – Positano
An iconic hotel overlooking Positano’s colourful bay, Le Sirenuse has counted John Steinbeck amongst its many admirers over the years. Spend your days admiring the gorgeous view, lounging beside the Roman-style pool, or enjoy a pampering Amalfi citrus oil massage at the spa. In the evenings, watch the sunset from Franco’s bar before enjoying a candlelit meal at Michelin-starred La Sponda.
Relais Blu – Punta Campanella
Perched in the rustic Punta Campanella, Relais Blu is a great option for those looking for a more relaxed Amalfi getaway. The cliffside infinity pool is truly breathtaking, and the Mediterranean garden is a wonderful spot to relax with a good book beneath the gnarled olive trees and fragrant marine pines. After a day diving in the crystalline waters off nearby Nenara, enjoy a romantic dinner at Relais Blu’s Michelin-starred restaurant.
Casa Angelina – Praiano
Praiano’s beach is so lovely that it more than justifies spending some time in this picturesque town. Casa Angelina clings, vine-like, to the rocky cliffs overlooking the azure waters below. The hotel is a real visual feast, with a chic, minimalist décor complemented by vibrant works of contemporary art. The hotel’s glass elevator leads down to a private spot on La Gavitella Beach, where guests have an exclusive area.
Naples International Airport is serviced by a wide range of international airlines. From Naples, take the Circumvesuviana line to Sorrento train station. A regular ferry service runs between Naples and Sorrento, and from Sorrento to Positano, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno.