The Amalfi Coast
Deemed an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape by Unesco, the Amalfi Coast is one of Italy's most memorable destinations. Here, mountains plunge into the sea in a nail-biting vertical scene of precipitous crags, cliff-clinging abodes and verdant woodland.
Its string of fabled towns read like a Hollywood cast list. There's jet-set favourite Positano, a pastel-coloured cascade of chic boutiques, spritz-sipping pin-ups and sun-kissed sunbathers. Further east, ancient Amalfi lures with its Arabic-Norman cathedral, while mountaintop Ravello stirs hearts with its cultured villas and Wagnerian connection. To the west lies Amalfi Coast gateway Sorrento, a handsome clifftop resort that has miraculously survived the onslaught of package tourism.
Turquoise seas and cinematic piazzas aside, the region is home to some of Italy's finest hotels and restaurants. It's also one of the country's top spots for hiking, with well-marked trails providing the chance to escape the star-struck coastal crowds.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Amalfi Coast.
If you could bottle up a take-away image of the Amalfi, it might be the view from the Belvedere of Infinity, classical busts in the foreground, craggy coast splashed with pastel-shaded villages in the background. It's yours to admire at this refashioned 11th-century villa (now an upmarket hotel) with sublime gardens. Open to the public, the gardens were mainly created by a British peer, Ernest Beckett, who reconfigured them with rose-beds, temples and a Moorish pavilion in the early 1900s.
A melange of architectural styles, Amalfi's cathedral is a bricks-and-mortar reflection of the town's past as an 11th-century maritime superpower. It makes a striking impression at the top of a sweeping 62-step staircase. Between 10am and 5pm, the cathedral is only accessible through the adjacent Chiostro del Paradiso, part of a four-section museum, incorporating the cloisters, the 9th-century Basilica del Crocefisso, the crypt of St Andrew and the cathedral itself. Outside these times, you can enter the cathedral for free.
To the south of Ravello’s cathedral, a 14th-century tower marks the entrance to this villa, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens. Created by a Scotsman, Sir Francis Neville Reid, in 1853, they are truly magnificent, commanding divine panoramic views packed with exotic colours, artistically crumbling towers and luxurious blooms. Note that the gardens are at their best from May till October; they don't merit the entrance fee outside those times.
Located a couple of kilometres east of the centre, this charming beach and harbour are the reasons why most people stop off in Praiano. From the SS163 (next to Hotel Onda Verde), a steep path leads down the cliffs to a tiny inlet with a small stretch of coarse sand and very tempting water; the best water is actually off the rocks, just before you get to the bottom. You can also rent boats here (from €90 for two hours).
To the left of Amalfi’s cathedral porch, these magnificent Moorish-style cloisters, complete with the remnants of 13th-century frescoes, were built in 1266 to house the tombs of Amalfi’s prominent citizens; 120 marble columns support a series of tall, slender Arabic arches around a central garden. Entered from the cloisters, the Basilica del Crocefisso functions as a museum housing more frescoes and religious artefacts, including silver-embossed, 13th-century reliquary heads. Down below, the crypt contains the relics of St Andrew the Apostle.
A popular diving destination, these protected waters are part of an 11-sq-km reserve that supports a healthy marine ecosystem, with flora and marine life flourishing amid underwater grottoes and ancient ruins. To see for yourself, PADI-certified Nettuno Diving runs various underwater activities for all ages and abilities, including snorkelling excursions, beginners' courses, cave dives and immersions off Capri and Li Galli, the islands where the sirens are said to have lived.
A spectacular beach at the tip of the Punta Penna peninsula south of Sorrento, Ieranto is reached via a walking path that starts in the village of Nerano. The walk takes about 45 minutes one-way and there are several steep downhill sections to negotiate. Wear good shoes. The pebbly beach is sheltered by headlands and perfect for swimming, but can get crowded in summer.
East of the city centre, this wide-ranging museum is well worth a visit whether you're a clock collector, an archaeological egghead or into delicate ceramics. In addition to the rich assortment of 16th- to 19th-century Neapolitan arts and crafts (including extraordinary examples of marquetry), you'll discover Japanese, Chinese and European ceramics, clocks, fans and, on the ground floor, ancient and medieval artefacts. Among these is a fragment of an ancient Egyptian carving uncovered in the vicinity of Sorrento's Sedile Dominova.
Four kilometres west of Amalfi, this grotto is named after the eerie emerald colour that emanates from the water. Stalactites hang down from the 24m-high ceiling, while stalagmites grow up to 10m tall. Buses regularly pass the car park above the cave entrance (from where you take a lift or stairs down to the rowing boats). Alternatively, Coop Sant’Andrea runs boats from Amalfi (€10 return, plus cave admission). Allow 1½ hours for the return trip.