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The drive along the Amalfi coast is perhaps one of the most stunning drives in the world driving along roads built into the sides of the cliffs that drop steeply into the sea hundreds of feet below you. It is certainly not a drive for those who are fainthearted as the drive involves hairpin bends twisting and turning along the coast road.
Where is the Amalfi coast?
South of Naples stretching from the Sorrentine peninsular the road continues south to reach the plains of Salerno passing towns and villages built into the steep mountains that drop hundreds of feet into the sea below. The Amalfi coast is not renowned for its beaches by any stretch of the imagination however what it does give you are dramatic views of the sea and the amazing towns and villages built in practically vertical formation along the coast and in the coves and inlets.
You are either crazy to drive this route yourself although there are some who do but we took the easy option and went on a bus tour. During the high season the locals who live in the towns are permitted only to drive every other day which will give an indication how popular this route is. It is amazing to see cars parked on parking lots that jut out into the air with drops of up to 1000 feet below the little platform they are parked on.
We started our drive from the town of Sorrento one of the main tourist towns along the coast that juts out on a headland high above the Mediterranean Sea below. Driving up through the mountains heading past small villages some with their own cathedrals some looking no bigger than what we would consider chapels. The hills are covered in lemon groves and olive groves all along the Sorrentine peninsular. Everywhere you look are lemon trees and in the shops lemon decorated plates and bowls, table cloths and tea towels. It is no surprise that the most famous of drinks Limóncello is made here being made from beautiful fat juicy lemons that seem to be in abundance everywhere you look. Often in restaurants they will ply you with this alcohol more so as a digestive than as a long drink served ice cold and in small glasses it is a beautiful little drink!
Along the coast are beautiful villas some owned by the rich and famous because to own a house along this coast you need to be somewhat loaded. Sofia Loren has a massive villa built here. Of course she also has her own helipad in her extensive gardens. Other houses are built quite high and are quite narrow.
The main towns along the coast include Positano, Amalfi and Ravello and it is through these towns you either take the time to visit to eat or do the tourist thing or by pass completely. Most of these towns are geared up for tourists and most shops and restaurants supply over inflated priced goods or meals. What you are really paying for is the stunning views along this stretch of coast. You can also catch a glimpse of Capri off the coast which is easily reached by ferry or hydrofoil from Sorrento or Positano.
We did the coastal drive from Sorrento to Ravello stopping on route to have a coffee in a road side café with a 1000 foot drop down below. This being Italy the coffee was absolutely fantastic the Italians certainly know how to make a good cup of coffee. Alternating sipping water to clear the palate and sipping coffee enhances the flavour so you get the real taste of the coffee while we admired the houses built into the side of the cliffs and the stunning views out to sea.
We passed Positano far below us so that we could get to Ravello. Driving down through Amalfi we started the very steep climb up the hair pin bending roads to reach Ravello. The mini bus parked in the car park and we continued walking up the steps to reach the main square. Of course Ravello has its own Cathedral but we were heading to view the grounds and gardens of the Villa Cimbrone. Following our visit to this beautiful villa and stunning gardens giving unparalleled views of the 1000 or so foot drop across the valleys and out to sea. After a while we headed back to the town square and headed to a lovely restaurant overlooking the bay of Salerno and the resorts of Minori and Maiori far below us along the coast.
Eating lunch in such a stunning setting is fantastic sitting on the terrace overlooking the bay with a nice glass of wine and wonderful Italian food what more could you want. We spent two hours here enjoying the views and general chit chat before we headed back to the minibus that rode its way back down the side of the mountain along the winding twisting road to the town of Amalfi. We were dropped off in the town centre and made our way to the Duomo Piazza where we visited the Cathedral of St. Andrew where parts of his remains are interred in the crypt. The cathedral is reached by mounting 6o odd stairs to reach the cathedral which towers over the Piazza.
We continued our journey along the coast road until we reached the town of Positano where we were dropped off at the top of the hill. We walked all the way down to the cathedral passing expensive boutiques and restaurants on the way. Thankfully we did not have to walk back up the hill as it would have been quite a challenge to say the least. We managed to have a lovely ice-cream down in the town while we waited to be picked up by the minibus to continue along the twisting and winding coastal road. The coast road runs for approximately 40 kilometres from Sorrento and in the summer months it is extremely popular with tourists.
There are hair pin bends and massive drops that will leave you with butterflies in your stomach especially if you are afraid of heights but due to the steepness of the roads and the winding and twisting most of the traffic is unable to drive very fast anyway so it is quite a controlled drive along the coast.
Is it worth it?
Yes I would say it is definitely worth it because of the wonderful views and just the experience of driving along one of the most beautiful and stunning drives in the world. The cliff clinging villages and towns are beautiful to see and are an amazing sight. The downside that really got to me was the over inflated prices in the area and the rudeness of some of the shop owners and waiting staff. Apart from that I thoroughly enjoyed my drive along the Amalfi coast and I actually do not like heights at all but felt really pleased I had done it.
Updating my review of Inntravel, as I have just done, reminds me of the Amalfi Coast. Or, more specifically, of a walking holiday that my wife and I took there a few years ago, organised by that company, which may serve as an example both their holidays and of the attractions of the area itself. It is not a destination we would normally have chosen for walking, an activity best enjoyed in mountain areas far from the madding crowd. The Amalfi Coast, although commendably hilly, is populous and has been a holiday resort since Roman times.
On this occasion, though, business and family commitments constricted us to early April, so we sought somewhere southerly, not too high up and with other things to do besides walking if the weather proved adverse. In the event, we coincided with a freak cold spell and were even snowed on - south of Naples in April! - but that was just luck of the meteorological draw, and we decided to spend most of our time walking irrespective of the temperature.
* Where exactly is the Amalfi Coast? *
In southern Italy, facing out over the Tyrrhenian Sea. Lay your right hand flat on a piece of paper, index finger pointing towards the top left hand corner, and stick out your thumb. If you imagine the left edge of your hand representing the shoreline of the Bay of Naples, with your index fingernail being the city itself, then your thumb is what is known as the Sorrentine Peninsula, after the resort of Sorrento that faces north towards the bay.
The Amalfi Coast is the lower, southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula, and is named after the town of Amalfi, located about half-way along its seventy-five kilometre length. Geologically, the peninsula is formed of rugged limestone, with some steep slopes rising sharply to a ridge down its spine. The seaside towns on the southern side tend to be packed tightly into the narrow valleys where rivers disgorge into the sea.
* Arrival and orientation *
We flew BA Gatwick to Naples airport, from which we were transferred by train and taxi to our first hotel, the family-owned Scapolatiello in the little village of Corpo di Cava, only a few kilometres inland but about 450m above sea level. We sat shivering on the balcony of our comfortable bedroom to sip a complementary Spumante and take in the awe-inspiring panorama: east to the snow-capped mountains of the interior and south down the coast past Salerno. After a short stroll round the village, our good impression of the hotel was confirmed by an excellent dinner.
On some Inntravel holidays you move on practically every day, on others less often. This itinerary was one of the latter, and the next day's walk was a warm-up circuit in the wooded hills around Corpo di Cava. The basic route was only 9km (less than 6 miles) and, although it included some strenuous ups and downs and a visit to an ornate Benedictine abbey, it hardly constituted a full day's walking. So we added an ad hoc diversion of a couple of miles each way, down through chestnut woods to the charming seaside town of Vietri sul Mar. By the time we'd explored the town, eaten our picnic, and picked our slow way back up the hillside with frequent pauses to enjoy the view, it certainly was a full day, and a most enjoyable one. Moreover, by its end we felt fully acclimatised, especially after another copious dinner at the Scapolatiello.
Ravello and Atrani *
The next morning we headed for Ravello, accompanying our luggage some of the way as it was being taken onwards by car, as far as the town of Maiori. This resort boasts the longest stretch of beach in the area - which does not make it very long, for this is essentially a rocky coast - but is otherwise remarkable. From there we walked just the final 9km with a loop inland through lemon and olive groves past the Convent of San Nicola, which looks imposing on its hillside but which we did not visit. This was a pleasant walk, uphill but over undemanding terrain. Again we felt we could have done more, and began to regret having not taken on the full distance from one hotel to the next, though this would have included an ascent of Monte Avvocata, which is said to be very tricky. Maybe regret was the better part of discretion on this occasion.
Ravello is a beautiful old town of narrow streets and little piazzas, perched on a high hilltop, with breathtaking views along the coast. There are lovely gardens too, notably those of the Villas Cimbrone and Rufalom though we were a little early in the year to see them at their best. Here Inntravel have found another comfortable and characterful hotel with good food - the Villa Maria. But we had a quibble with their route-planning. Inntravel's notes suggest you spend the day exploring the town. Despite its attractions, seeing Ravello does not require a full day, especially if you have arrived early the previous afternoon. But we found that the Tourist Office in Ravello sold a local walking map for just Euro1 showing paths down to the coast, so this was not a problem.
The walk down to Atrani is precipitous, and the climb back up seemingly even more so, but the village more than merits the effort. It clings to the side of its little bay as if hanging on for dear life, with stepped lanes like staircases picking their way up through the ancient dwellings. And there can be few better places for refreshment than the cafés that spill out onto the stone-flagged piazza, enclosed by the flaking pink stucco of balconied buildings all around.
* On to Amalfi *
Atrani is less than a kilometre along the coast from Amalfi, but we reached the larger town the next day only after a 14km loop inland through beautiful - and remarkably wild - country in the Valle delle Ferriere Nature Reserve. Here vertiginous precipices tower above dense woods formed of beeches, limes and pines rather than the more typically Mediterranean vegetation found elsewhere in the region, with a few mandatory birds of prey hovering above the slopes. And, of course, there are distant views seawards, of which one never tires despite seeing their like day after day; each time the light is different, or the angle or the landscape that frames the sea.
From the Valle delle Ferriere an easy track leads down to Amalfi itself. In the early Middle Ages Amalfi was the capital of a thriving independent state with a commercial fleet to rival any around the Italian coast, but defeat in a war with Pisa proved to be a setback from which it never really recovered. Nevertheless, traces of its distinguished past remain, with some fine statues and fountains. The cathedral too is worth seeing and of ancient origin, as in apparent in its cloisters and crypt, although its frontage, with arches and pediment in patterned light and dark grey stone, is as recent as 19th century. Constricted in its valley and with just one main street descending to the town centre and the sea, Amalfi nowadays seems above all bustling and touristy. Moreover, we had this impression while there on a chilly day in early spring; what's it's like in high summer I hesitate to imagine. At least by then, though, the boats that take visitors out to explore the coves and grottos along the coast would have been running.
From Amalfi we caught a bus onwards to the tiny village of Bomerano in the hills some miles to the west (with foreknowledge of what the town was like and more confidence in our map, we might have tried hiking directly there from the Nature Reserve without the diversion to the coast). At Bomerano Inntravel have found another good hotel, the Due Torri, a touch basic but owned and run by the most friendly and welcoming of families.
* And to Positano *
The next day provided the best walking of the holiday, 11km on the Sentieri degli Dei - "the footpath of the gods" - high above the coastline with spectacular panoramas down the cliffs and hillsides along to the end of the Sorrentine Peninsula and out towards the island of Capri a few miles beyond its westward point. The country we passed through proved to be surprisingly rustic too, with working mules and herds of goats frequently encountered along the way. Our one regret in following this route was that we missed the little port of Praiano, said to be a picturesque gem and home to many artists and artisans.
Instead we stayed high up as long as we could before finally making our way down into Positano, which is squeezed between hills and sea with terraces of houses ascending the hillside. Here we spent two nights at the Hotel Buca di Bacco in the pedestrianised old town near the beach. A well-positioned and pleasant enough hotel, but our least favourite of the four in which we stayed.
Positano is pretty, but has been a fashionable resort rather too long for its own good (or rather, for the good of its visitors; I don't suppose the town would see it that way, let alone its citizens), with expensive shopping and restaurants. Apparently, it is a centre for the fashion trade, and its boutiques might attract some visitors, but did nothing for me. To escape Positano, we tried to board a boat-trip to Capri, but the sea was too rough; so instead we found our way up to Monte Pertuso to eat a delicious, copious and cheap lunch at The Ristorante Tagliata - full of locals and atmosphere, a real discovery if you're ever in the area. By contrast, a good-value dinner in Positano is quite hard to find. For all the beauty of its setting, Positano really is a tourist trap, and an upmarket one at that, with a consequent impact on prices. On the whole, if forced to choose between the two, I think I would prefer to stay in Amalfi; but mostly, I'd prefer to stay in the hills behind the coast, as indeed we mostly did.
* Food and drink... *
...is typically southern Italian, but with an understandable emphasis on seafood from the local fisheries: plenty of octopus, prawns, clams and swordfish are to be seen in the quayside restaurants. Buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheeses both come from nearby and find their way into a lot of dishes. Lamb is a mainstay for meat courses. And there are, of course, pastas and pizzas in abundance. Plus some wonderful fruit and vegetables.
The local lemons, which grow very large and sweet, are particularly prized and are used to prepare a liqueur know as limoncello - sickly drunk on its own, but excellent poured over vanilla ice cream. Lachryma Christi, the citrusy white wine grown on the volcanic slopes of Vesuvius just up the coast, is a good accompaniment for the fish, but most of the best local wines are full-bodied reds: Furore and Tramonti particularly stick in my memory.
* Ways to visit *
The holiday I have described was obviously of a particular kind, and would not suit those who don't enjoy walking. A number of tour operators do packages, or you could simply fly to Naples by one of the many airlines that go there and take public transport, by which the area is well-served, or hire a car. Better still, you could take the train all the way, though that would be expensive and time-consuming. There are any number of hotels, hostels and campsites in the area. As to the Inntravel option that we took, had we had more time we could have added extra nights en route, done an extension round the end of the peninsula to Sorrento, seen the relics of Pompeii and Herculaneum or spent time in Naples, which looks a grim city but I'm told is full of interest by those who know it well.
* When to visit *
Quite apart from our bad luck with the weather, I think that in early April we were about a month ahead of ideal timing. By mid-to-late May, blossom and spring flowers would have added both colour and scent to the scenery, and the warmth would - one hopes - be more reliable. That's when we'd aim for if we went back.
* Recommendation *
The Amalfi Coast has been declared a World Heritage Site for its scenery, and it would be hard to argue against the designation. The jagged headlands rising from the sea, the wooded slopes, the deep valleys, with citrus groves, vineyards and little stone and stucco villages nestling among them - all these make for a dramatic and exhilarating backdrop to the resort towns on the coast. The towns themselves, though attractive, are expensive, limited in activities and their beaches are nothing to speak of.
Definitely you need to be able to explore beyond the towns, either by foot, bus, boat or car. Some people speak well of driving the length of the coast, but I'm surprised they can take their eyes off the cliff-top road long enough to admire the views, or live to tell the tale if they do. Somewhat to our surprise we found it, though densely populated in places, to be much less so in others, and excellent walking country. But however you approach it, the Amalfi Coast is well worth a visit.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK 2009
For those interested in assisted walking holidays generally, a review of Inntravel as organisers thereof can be found at http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/travel-agents/inntravel/1314608/
My husband and I (sounds a bit like the Queen) visited Sorrento in 2002 and I have always hankered after going back there. We stayed on the outskirts of Sorrento in the Hotel Jararino at Sant Agata Sui Golfi. It was up in the hills so had a fantastic view of the coast across to Versuvious. We had rain on one of the days we were there and that view was equally stunning, because there seemed to be two levels of cloud, the sea of cloud that we could see blanketing the coast which lay below us and another level of cloud above. It looked like we were an Island in a sea of cloud. The Hotel Iacarino is extremely beautiful and is decorated in a traditional Italian period style so our room was large and airy with antique mirrors and furniture. We had room 8 which I think had the best view. The only drawback was the food. We were on half board and the food was not the classic Italian food that we expected, but more like the type of basic hotel food that you would get across the continent. I would still reccomend the hotel, just do bed and breakfast.
We used this hotel as a base for exploring the Amalfi Coast and I have to say I have never been to a more beautiful area. The Amalfi drive is one way for coaches and you can understand why. The cars drive along the coast road that clings to the side of steep cliffs and feels like it is going to fall into the sea at any moment. Even coaches crack on at a phenomenal speed. To have them coming back along this route would be crazy, tantamount to inviting accident.
Positiano is the first jewel that we visited and it is a fairy tale village that seems to tumble down the steep cliffs with a pretty little beach at the bottom. It is wonderful to walk down through the village in the evening, but what is entrancing is the view back up the cliffs from the beach. The village is just a barrage of floating lights that seem to hang from no where. It is just magical. We ate in a restuarnt on the far side of the beach call La Terrace, which was hugely expensive and a little daunting. We ordered 2 bottles of wine just to show we could afford, then went back to the coach afterwards completely broke and completely sozzeled. We had a great evening.
We next visited Amalfi during the day. This is not as pretty as Positano, but it is still a nice place to visit. They have a beautiful catherderal with a humungeous number of steps up to it. Great for wedding photos, but not so great for the bride to walk down. I tripped and was wearing flatties and shorts! It was beautiful inside and so cool and is worth a visit. The town has some wonderful leathershops, but be prepared to spend as they are not cheap, although the quality is so good, that they are probably cheaper than the items would be in London. We found a tiny pizza resturant down the bottom near the cathederal steps where we could view everything that was going on and the food was fresh and excellent.
Our next place to visit was Ravello and this was probably the most spectacular place that we have ever visited. The trip up from Amalfi can be done in two ways, Hard or Soft. Hard is the series of steps cut into the cliffs and it is long. Soft is in the comfort of a coach, bus or taxi. We chose soft I am afraid to say, mainly becuase of shortness of time. You do get some amazing views in the coach and it is a hair raising journey. Ravello is home to the Villa Rufulo which is said to have inspired a lot of the composer Wagner's work. The Villa Rufulo is used to stage operas and concerts and is also home to the most iconic view of the mediteranean, the view of the plane tree that sits in front of the red roofs overlooking the blue bay down to the beaches of Minori and Maori. You can even see the beach where the Canadians landed during WW2 and had to fight their way inland. This is stunning and breathtaking. Next door is the Hotel Rufulo where one day (when we win the lottery) we plan to go and stay.
The rest of Ravello is very sleepy and quiet but just as beautiful. You can walk right up to the top to the Villa Cimbrone, another muse for Wagner. The Palazzo Sasso is located up here in Ravello and is probably one of the best hotels in Italy. Even if we win the lottery I don't think we can afford this.
The view from the oposite side of Ravello is equally stunning. This is the side that faces back towards Positano. You have to walk up a way into the village and you come on a walled area by chance which overlooks this totally green and lush valley that runs right back down to the Coast Road. My husband always says that it looks like wonderful English countryside, with an Italian twist.
When we had to leave Ravello I felt like crying. It is the most beautiful place I have visited and when I get the chance I will go back again.
**** Amalfi Coast (Italy) ****
I was lucky enough to spend some time here when i was on a school trip a few years ago and i have to say it was amazing!!!
My first impressions of this was that it was like stepping back in time.Until the last century the Amalfi coast could only be reached by sea and you can see that the place itself is very traditional. Buildings tend to be old fashioned and the road is really narrow in places.I would suggest going there by boat as it can be quite scary going round in a bus that takes up the whole road.(well more scary than the normal "driving" that takes place)
The coast of Amalifi is made up of several places Positanto, Praiano, Furore, Grotta dello Smeraldo,Amalfi, Atrani, Ravello, Minori, Maiori, Cetra, Vietri and Salerno. Most of these places are rather small but it is defiantly worthwhile visiting them all.
Most places have somewhere to eat and buildings to visit , it goes without saying that Amalfi has some of the best lemons in the world and you can pick up some very nicely decorated bottles with lemon juice .They are also very often used in pastry.
The views are amazing and i would suggest taking a camera with you.
I am not very sure about places to stay as i just visited that area for a day and i would also suggest leaving young children at home as there is not much for them to do (plus you would have a much better time :-) )
The coastline is renowned for it's rugged terraine and breathtaking view. It stretches along the Sorrentine Penisula.