Italy’s Amalfi Coast is one of the most stunning drives in Europe; at once breathtakingly beautiful and slightly terrifying. Around every hairpin bend on the sea-side of the winding corniche is a view more spectacular than the one before – on the cliff-side countless tour buses pass within a hair’s breadth on the narrow ribbon of road. Fortunately, Hugo, the owner of the little blue Fiat we’re squashed into, is a skilful driver – and he’s keen to preserve his paintwork!
The Costiera Amalfitana weaves its way along the coast for over 50 kilometres, from Sorrento to Salerno, linking the towns of Positano, Praiano, Ravello and Amalfi along the way. Much of the road is hewn from the near-vertical, limestone cliffs which plunge into the sapphire Tyrrhenian Sea far below. We pass terraces of lemon trees, vineyards, olive-groves and fishing villages. Pastel-painted houses cling precariously to the steep hillsides and tumble over one another as they scurry downwards towards the ocean.
We start off from Sorrento, the best-unobstructed views are to our right and Giovanna, our guide, tells us of local legend and folklore. We pass Li Galli, an archipelago of three small islands from where the mythological Sirenuse (Sirens) were said to have lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks with their enchanting voices. They also lured Rudolf Nureyev the ballet dancer to the islands where he made his home in his later years.
The little Fiat struggles up steep inclines and we pass picture-postcard Positano. I’d loved to have stopped to explore, however, there’s only limited parking on the upper road and not one space to be seen on the day we were there. I looked wistfully back over my shoulder at the pastel-hued town as we left it behind – some of the prettiest views are looking back on the town as you head towards Amalfi. Not being able to stop was such a tease, my trigger finger itching to click away, another time maybe. (Update: I’ve since visited Positano – read about it here).
We continue through Praiano passing St John the Baptist church – its Majolica tiled dome glistening with the traditional Majolica colours of the region – yellow for the sparkling sun, blue for the cobalt sea and green for the lush vegetation. The road snakes on until we arrive in the small harbour town of Amalfi; shoe-horned into a narrow ravine at the top end of town and tumbling out into the bay at the other.
We park up and wander through the town whose name conjures images of 50s film stars, Martinis and sleek white yachts. The small harbour is overlooked by steep cliffs upon which crisp villas, houses and hotels perch admiring the view.
We make our way up a steep alleyway, draped with blue flags, to an impressive sight; It’s not all about 50s chic here, the town is home to an elaborate 9th century Christian cathedral, it’s 62 steps spilling down into the Piazza Duomo below. After climbing up to Duomo di Santa Andrea, dedicated to and said to contain the remains of apostle St Andrew, take a walk around to the back to the peaceful Chiostro del Paradiso, a Moorish-style cloister and tropical garden – a peaceful corner in a busy town. The Piazza’s fountain is also worth a closer look.
After a coffee, how we managed not to succumb to the delectable Italian pastries I’ll never know, it was time to head back to Sorrento, stopping en-route for lunch in a gorgeous hilltop restaurant, La Tagliata. This time we travelled on the inside lane; the views weren’t quite as good, as we were looking through the outside lane of traffic, but not nearly as hairy either – or as exhilarating!
Have I whetted your appetite for the Amalfi Coast? Here are some other ways to enjoy the view…
The SITA bus departs twice-hourly from the front of the Sorrento train station to Positano, continuing on to Amalfi. You can buy individual tickets (€1.40–€2.50 per sector) or buy a UnicoCostiera pass for unlimited travel all along the Amalfi Coast – valid for 24 hours (€6) or 3 days (€15). The bus can get very busy in high season and a seat is not guaranteed. For the best views when travelling from Sorrento to Amalfi sit on the right-hand side of the bus (as you face the front) and swap to the left for the return journey.
For a different perspective on the return journey, a ferry is a good option giving beautiful views of the coastline from the water. Frequency varies seasonally and there are roughly six daily trips between Amalfi and Positano (20 min €6) and four daily between Amalfi and Sorrento (60 min €7).
If you’re feeling reckless/brave you could hire a car and drive yourself – although that’s not something I’d recommend if you really want to take in the views because your eye will be on the oncoming traffic – out of season would be less crowded but still not for the faint-hearted. Parking is very limited in the smaller towns.