Italy’s charms abound, but who’s heart hasn’t skipped a beat when visiting Rome, Venice, Taormina, Verona, or Sardinia? But my heart literally stopped and dropped when I first rounded a hairpin corner, and began my first ride down the Amalfi Coast highway. I seriously suspected that after Walt Disney created Disneyland, he must have secretly designed the ‘Costieria Amalfitana’. Spectacular cliffs, azure seas, beaches, coves, and mountain peaks go on for 25 miles (40 kilometers); while along the way are picturesque, unique Italian towns that could be the envy of Disney and Hollywood, too.
The Amalfi Coast begins just west of Positano and continues east to Vietri Sul Mare (almost to Salerno). There are 13 major municipalities along the coast, with many more tiny communes- each with their own unique charm, highlights, and pride. While Positano, Amalfi and Ravello seem to dominate the limelight and tourists’ attention; there’s much more to discover and savor on this world-famous coastline. It takes about 2 hours to do the full coast drive; most conveniently accomplished by the local bus, Sita. One common tourist mistake is including Sorrento as an Amalfitana town. It’s not. Sorrento is on the Gulf of Naples– but mistakenly gets included because of it’s proximity to Positano, about one hour away. Also less than an hour away by boat is the breathtaking island of Capri.
After decades of visiting and re-visiting this gorgeous part of the world, I finally bought the world’s smallest apartment on the Amalfi Coast. Located in the small commune of Atrani, I’ve gone from frequent tourist to local resident. So here’s my 2 cents, and insights into this UNESCO heritage area.
THE TOWNS AND THEIR CHARMS
The most famous town on the coast, Positano won’t disappoint. Popularized by such Hollywood movies as Under the Tuscan Sun and Only You, it’s fame seems to feed its popularity. Here you will find the rich & famous, the beautiful people, and throngs of tourists. Chic and trendy (with prices to match), Positano contains scores of hotels, pensions, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. The town climbs from the sea and clings to cliffs up, up and up. This provides for dazzling vistas- but be forwarded- everything is up or down- nothing is level. So climbing 100, 200, 300+ steps is a must to truly enjoy this town. Luckily a local bus & taxi’s make the circular drive around most of the mid-to-upper town. But from the lowest bus stop, there’s no escaping a 15-20 minute walk down to get to Positano’s main beach. If you’re like me, and enjoy a daily swim in the sea, you may wish to daytrip to Positano and instead stay in a town that doesn’t require more time going up and down to the beach, than you’d actually spend IN the sea. But if resort living with a healthy dose of serious stair-climbing appeals to you, Positano is your kind of place.
The Coast was named after Amalfi, an historic town dating back to the 6th century. Located in the very center of the spectacular 25 mile coast drive, Amalfi boasts a rich and respected history of maritime dominance, independence, Dukes, and aristocracy. Famous for its impressive cathedral, Duomo church, Amalfi town is also a popular tourist destination on the Coast. Beach-lovers, swimming enthusiasts, and older visitors appreciate Amalfi as it’s primarily at sea level. Three favorite piazzas with different characteristics include the main piazza, Piazza Duomo, with impressive views of the towering Duomo; Piazza Municipio with an active nightlife in the summer; and super-quaint Piazza Dogi, tightly packed with restaurants. A single street gently rises from the sea and meanders deeper and deeper into the valley, and is filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Amalfi beach sits only a minute’s walk from its main piazza, and includes an impressive number of seafront restaurants and bars. Located in the heart of the coastline, Amalfi is just 20 minutes below Ravello, 45 minutes from Positano, and one hour from Salerno’s main train station. Amalfi is also a major transportation hub for the coast with its impressive and beautiful port, and bus station. Conveniently, Amalfi is the origination point for boats up and down the coast; and buses to everywhere including Naples and Rome.
From it’s perch high above the Coast, Ravello’s vistas are unrivaled. Gore Vidal owned a huge villa here, Jackie Kennedy summered here; and it was a favorite of Greta Garbo, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams. It’s a town filled with ancient Roman ruins, villas, gardens, peace, and privacy. Dating back to the 5th century, Ravello became famous for the nobility that built huge sweeping villas and gardens, including Villa Rufulo and Villa Cimbrone. Each summer Ravello hosts a season-long music festival, with key performances from the belvedere of the Villa Rufulo with it’s endless views of the Amalfi Coast. This is a walking town, with flower-lined lanes, high-walled private residences, fine restaurants, meticulously maintained gardens, and historic villas converted into elegant hotels. Beaches are a 20-minute drive down, or hike down for one hour along ancient lanes and stairways past lemon groves and ruins with sweeping views around every corner. Ravello is perfect for visitors seeking privacy, peace, and an elegant Italian town experience.
For a truly authentic Italian experience discover Atrani. One of the smallest communes in all of Italy (only 900 residents), it has a lovely beach & arguably the most picturesque piazza in all of Italy. It is featured in the first 16 seconds of this Fiat commercial below. Fiercely proud and independent, the Atranese (the locals) have successfully protected their town from commercialism & development. And the result is the delightful experience of stepping back centuries in time. There’s only one hotel, no tourist shops, and feels light-years from the hoards of tourists you’ll encounter in Positano or Amalfi. Many Italians and others have been charmed by Atrani, and rent rooms or entire homes from the residents. Atrani is conveniently located only a 10-minute walk along the breathtaking coast highway from much larger Amalfi, with its buses & boats to everywhere.
Considered one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Coast continues to charm visitors each year. Come visit the Coast, and find your slice of heaven in one or more of her picturesque towns.
This Fiat commercial cleverly highlights the coast’s charms: