Dreaming of a return trip to the Amalfi Coast? Or determined to finally make this dream trip a reality? Whether you’re looking for a refresher or you’re a first-time traveler in search of some advice for this stunning part of the world, then read on.
The Amalfi coast is an area of great physical beauty and natural diversity. It has been intensively settled by human communities since the early Middle Ages. There are a number of towns such as Amalfi and Ravello with architectural and artistic works of great significance. The rural areas show the versatility of the inhabitants in adapting their use of the land to the diverse nature of the terrain, which ranges from terraced vineyards and orchards on the lower slopes to wide upland pastures. –UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE CENTER
*Note: The Amalfi Coast consists of several cities sprawling along the edges of the Tyrhennian Sea in the Campania region beginning with Salerno and ending with Positano. In between are many of the coastline’s most iconic towns such as Amalfi and Ravello.
Sorrento is often included as part of the Amalfi Coast because of its proximity, even though it is technically located on the Sorrentine Peninsula. So why is the entire coast named after one town? During the Middle Ages, Amalfi was a key port for military fleets and was at one time the capital of the maritime republic. Due to Amalfi’s status, the coastal region took its name as representative.
ROME TO THE AMALFI COAST
If you’re heading to the Amalfi Coast from Rome or any of the other major cities of Italy, the fastest and easiest way I have found to get there is to take the Frecciarossa high-speed train (operated by Trenitalia) to Naples or Salerno and then rent a car. Going directly to Naples and then on to Amalfi might sound like the most appealing option because of its familiarity, but unless you plan on staying in Naples or taking a trip to Pompeii, it can turn into a driving disaster.
Italy is notorious for its manic, carefree drivers, but Naples takes it to a new level entirely. There are so many cars, darting in all directions, each person trying to avoid the backed-up-bumper-to-bumper traffic on the main thoroughfares; it’s the “no rules” feeling you get when driving through a mall parking lot on Christmas Eve.
So, avoid Naples, and take the train all the way to peaceful, beachside Salerno where you can rent a car (there’s a Hertz conveniently located directly across from the train station), and you can get your bearings in a less-stressed state before you begin your drive to the Amalfi Coast.
A Note on Car Rentals in Italy:
∇ Take out all of the insurance you can. A fender bender is only a curve away. Even if you have insurance through your credit card (American Express Platinum included) double check because the coverage probably won’t apply in Italy.
∇ Many agencies are closed on Sunday. I found this out the hard way. So, just be aware of what the procedures are for renting or returning a car on a Sunday so you don’t find yourself in a fix.
DRIVING THE COAST
It’s only about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from Salerno to Amalfi, but with all of the hairpin twists and slow tour buses, it can take a little longer. But, most likely, you won’t mind because the vast majority of the drive hugs the coast, giving you sparkling views of the azure Tyrrhenian Sea and taking you through lovely Italian seaside towns — Vietri Sul Mare…Cetara…Maiori…Minori…Amalfi…
While it is an absolutely breathtaking drive, and I highly recommend driving it yourself, it does require some courage and awareness.
A Few Tips:
∇ Fold in your side view mirrors. If you don’t, they’ll get smashed off, as is the case for many of the cars you’ll see.
∇ Use the mirrors strategically placed along the curved parts of the road to help you see what’s headed towards you and you can adjust your speed accordingly (or if it’s a bus, just wait).
∇ In cases of extreme curves where there is limited to no visibility to the other side, there are traffic lights that will shine red, yellow, and green. If it’s green, you’re free to go, yellow, take it slow, and if it’s red, stop and wait until the cars from the other side are let through.
∇ Locals drive fast and will pass you. Don’t be a hero and try to keep up with them. They drive the road every day and know it. You don’t.
∇ There are bicyclists and Vespas zipping along the road, and here and there a mule cart loaded with fruits and vegetables as well, so be on the lookout for these smaller, less visible modes of transportation
I think that whichever town you first call home on this medieval, mystical coastline is probably the place you fall in love with and want to return. Ours, however, had been Amalfi.
The heart of the town of Amalfi is the centrally located main square with the 11th century Roman Catholic Cathedral of Amalfi rising up from the square, which houses the relics of the Apostle St. Andrew. Its distinctive Arab-Norman Romanesque architecture is eye-catching while the rich mosaics glint the contrasting hues of gold and black.
Amalfi is also known for its lemons. They’re huge. So, huge you think at first glance they must be a melon of some kind. Have you ever heard that saying “When life gives you lemons make lemonade”? Well, the Italians take that advice a step further and instead make Limoncello — the result of high-proof white liquor, lemon zest, and sugar. Served after dessert and espresso, it’s a sugary yet satisfying way to end a meal. Especially if Grappa isn’t your thing.
Another Amalfi treat is Torta di Limone (a.k.a. Amalfi Lemon Cake). Seek out the ones that look like a woman’s breast…(I know). Trust me, it’s a delicious dessert, especially if you prefer citrus to chocolate or other heavy desserts.
As far as getting around the town, all you need is a comfortable pair of shoes. Up one street, down another more hidden one. Walking the cobblestone steps and passageways is the best and most romantic way to get to know this small, medieval town.
∇ Taverna degli Apostoli — Tucked under the base of the Amalfi Cathedral. Go for dinner. Although the menu can be slightly limited, they serve fresh, homemade pasta, and it makes for a deliciously memorable experience. They offer one of the best Torta di Limone, so save room.
∇ L’Abside — Wanting to escape the main thoroughfares? Take the winding side streets to this much smaller but quieter square where they serve a flavorful lunch and dinner. We loved it so much we went twice in one trip. Food, atmosphere, and service does not disappoint.
∇ Taverna Buonvicino — Located left of the Cathedral down the curving pathway of the Via dei Prefetturi is a cozy white tavern with a vaulted ceiling and dark beams that’s perfect for a candlelit dinner and a local glass of wine.
∇ Piazza Duomo — A crisp modern establishment with white chairs and tablecloths situated in the middle of the main square and perfect for people watching. Recommend for lunch.
∇ Donna Stella — Ever wanted to eat pizza under a canopy of lemon trees? Well, you can at Donna Stella. It’s definitely not fine dining, but it is a unique experience and the pizza is fresh and tasty.
There are so many fantastic places to stay along this ancient coast, but we loved the Hotel Santa Caterina so much, we stayed there twice. Each time was equally above and beyond our expectations.
*Note: It is a Seasonal Hotel, closing from early November to mid-March 16, 2018
Why stay here? So many reasons….
∇ THE VIEWS! To the left is Amalfi and there is nothing but the blue, blue, sea stretching out in front of you. Morning coffee and breakfast is served on one of the many terraces, and even though you may have an itinerary calling your name, you’ll want to linger.
∇ THE PROXIMITY TO TOWN–you can walk or take one of the hotel trams that operate on a regular schedule. If you do walk, do be mindful of your footwear. This is no time for stilettos or slippery soled shoes. Most of the time there is a sidewalk, but when it fades away, you have to be careful of oncoming cars and tuck out of the way. The rails are there, but they are low at times, so again, mindfulness is key. With those warnings out of the way, it’s a gorgeous walk with the sea rippling on your right and boats drifting in and out of the harbor below.
*Note: The walk to town is completely downhill, meaning that the walk back is entirely uphill, so sometimes it’s nice to walk down and snag a tram or taxi at the pier to avoid overtaxing yourself (or in those cases when you might have had a little too much vino).
∇ THE POOL DECK & ELEVATOR — If you can, try to save at least one day where you stay and savor the hotel. Vacations are for relaxing, right? From April to October, lunch is served at the AL MARE restaurant on the terrace just above the pool and patio. (*Note: If they have a Limone “Lemon” Pasta on the menu, order it.)
For a more casual snack option, order from the BEACH CLUB BAR. They’ll make you any poolside cocktail you wish or if you’re just in the mood for some prosecco, they’ve got it all. All drinks come with a salty accompaniment like pistachios and juicy green olives.
If the pictures haven’t convinced you yet, here are few more details:
∇ Award-winning hotel:
October 2017 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Award
July 2016 Travel + Leisure #2 Best Resort Hotels Italy “World’s Best Award”
July 2016 Travel + Leisure #54 Top 100 Hotels in the World “World’s Best Award”
∇ 19th-century villa updated with over 60 Guest Rooms and Suites
∇ Best. Staff. Ever. Always welcoming and know you by name.
∇ Late night bar available in the lobby or you can take your nightcap on the terrace. Most nights, there’s live music provided via the grand piano in the main dining room.
∇ Want to feel like a celebrity? Mega movie stars, from Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton to Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt have stayed here.
DAY TRIPS: BY LAND AND SEA
The locals will tell you that a day trip to Ravello is a must. If you’re in Amalfi for more than a day or two. TRUST THEM. It’s a place you definitely want to go.
Thousands of years of history, an enchanting mountaintop setting on Italy’s most beautiful coastline and views that have captivated countless souls, inspired artists and filled hearts with passion. Yet it’s just the beginning of what you will find in this charming village on the Amalfi Coast. There are still stories to be uncovered along its medieval streets, garden villas and ancient stone pathways. Ravello has been named the City of Music and is home to the Villa Cimbrone, Villa Rufolo, the striking Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer and a vibrant cultural scene (Ravello Festival, Ravello Concert Society). — Ravello.com
If you choose to drive yourself, take note that it is a winding, uphill road, and once you reach Ravello, you’ll need to pay to park in a designated lot and walk to the village (which isn’t far). The main square is large with several stores selling colorful, handmade dishware and pottery, but the main attractions are the Villas. We chose to tour the 13th century Villa Rufolo, and it did not disappoint. The views alone are the reason to go.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite touring Villas and exploring the mountaintop village, stop in for a bite of lunch at Palazzo della Marra. A little off the beaten path, this B&B is located in one of the most ancient, medieval buildings in all of Ravello. We hadn’t planned on going there, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we experienced while visiting the Amalfi Coast. They offer a wide selection of local wine, fresh pasta dishes, and a variety of seafood options. The friendly, welcoming staff makes it a win-win all around.
THE ISLE OF CAPRI
*Note about the Amalfi Coast during the off-season. If you visit the Amalfi Coast in the months of November through March (and even early April), you will have a more difficult time finding a boat or ferry to take you to Capri or any of the other islands or towns. It’s not impossible, and your hotel concierge can help you find arrangments, but many boat and ferry services do not run the usual schedule so be open to making alternative plans.
During the prime season (April-October), getting to Capri is easy–there are boats leaving all the time from the Amalfi pier–the question is: How fast and in what style do you want to get there? If you’re staying at the Hotel Santa Caterina, the concierge will show you a book with a large selection of boats ranging from something small and inexpensive to your own private yacht. For the day trip to Capri, we chose a mid-size sharing boat that comfortably accommodated 8 passengers plus the Captain and first mate.
The boats leave in the morning and tour along the rocky coastline, in and out of caves lined with bright coral. The larger touring boats offer prosecco, wine, soft drinks, and water throughout the duration of the trip, and for those who want to swim, the captain is happy to stop and let you dive over the side for a refreshing dip.
Just before arriving at Capri, the Faraglioni seem to rise up from the sea to meet you. The most iconic of the rock “stacks” is the middle one, Faraglione di Mezzo, because of the passageway through it, large enough for most boats to bob through.
The Blue Grotto is one of the stops along the way for those who want to board a wooden boat, lie flat on their back, and be rowed inside the glowing blue cave. Because it is such a popular tourist spot, be prepared, because you might have to wait.
Getting to Capri is half the fun; once you dock on the island, due to all of the tourists, it can get a little hectic. If you want to experience a quieter, more authentic area of the island, then head over to Anacapri. While there is a bus that will take you there, I recommend hailing a cab. Not only will you get there faster, the drivers are basically like having private tour guides, letting you in on the best places to shop and eat.
If stunning, panoramic views are what you’re after, then DEFINITELY take the 12-minute chairlift to the top of Mount Solaro, the highest point on Capri. You can also walk to the summit, but it would take you between an hour to an hour and a half. The chairlift definitely gets my vote. Single chairs (with a safety bar) silently lift you off the ground and carry you to the top. The sea stretches out to the right while, below your dangling feet, local islanders work in their gardens and vineyards or wave to you while they sip their wine.
The top of Mount Solaro can be extremely windy, but the view from every vantage point is stunning. If you need a snack or a beverage, there is a shop where you can purchase some light bites and even wine. There are also lounge chairs and tables scattered about if you get tired of walking.
Since there isn’t a time limit for how long you can stay on top of the mountain, when you’re ready to leave, just head back to the chairlift and make the peaceful descent back down to Anacapri where you’ll find loads of shops and ristorantes.
A FEW TIPS:
∇ Wear sunglasses and dress in layers. The sun may be warm, but the wind and sea spray can be chilly. If you wear a hat, make sure it is secured because the wind will swipe it right off your head.
∇ Be mindful of the time. Many of the boats leave around the same time, and if you’re not careful, you might not be able to find a cab back to the docks and the last thing you want is to miss the boat. (Although, there are worse places to be stranded than on the Isle of Capri.)
∇ Bring cash to tip your crew when you return to Amalfi.
If you drive to Positano, it will take you just at an hour to get there from Amalfi. But, if you’re in the mood to relax and enjoy the view, take a boat. There is a ferry that runs between the two or you can hire your own private boat to take you. For pricing details, visit this link.
While Amalfi has some hills and upward slopes, the streets of Positano are completely stacked one on top of the other, so be prepared to walk up the incline and take lots of stairs. There are so many fascinating stores selling art, pottery, hats, clothing that you could spend a whole day there and not see it all.
Once all of the walking and climbing takes its toll and you’re ready for a breeze, make your way toward Da Vincenzo for a glass of prosecco and a classic pasta dish or fresh seafood.
∇ Sunglasses: You’ll need them to protect your eyes from the bright sun reflecting off the sea (plus, you’ll fit right in with the Prada-wearing locals).
∇ Comfortable, non-slip walking shoes. Whether you’re walking around the cobblestoned streets of the towns, climbing up and down steps, or maneuvering around a boat bound for Capri, you’ll want cushion and stability.
∇ For clothing, think classic. The Italians are stylish, but they infuse that chic style with casual notes so no need to overdo it during the day. It’s more important to be comfortable as you explore the coast. Do bring at least a couple of more upscale options for restaurants that offer a fine dining experience.
∇ Duolingo: Don’t know the language but want to start? Check out this free, easy-to-use app that you can download on your phone or access on your computer for a quick 15-minute lesson. It’s always good to learn a few helpful phrases and the Italians definitely appreciate your effort; however, since most Italians in this area speak English very well, you should have very little trouble or stress communicating.
∇ Google Translate: While it might not be the most poetic of translations, it usually is correct. The app version allows you to hold your phone over any text and it will translate it immediately. Perfect if you need a quick menu translation.
∇ TripIt: Want all your travel plans (reservations, boarding times, car rental information, etc…) kept in one place? Tripit is the answer. It’s free and easy to use. It also allows you to share the itinerary with others so everyone is on the same page. Don’t have wifi? No matter. You can still access all of your travel information when the internet isn’t available.
∇ Sygic Travel: Need some inspiration for what to do in a particular location? Sygic Travel maps your location and popular sights will pop up in little bubbles. Click on one and it will not only give you detailed information about the site, but it will also give you opening and closing times and ticket prices (when applicable). Plus, the app provides a link to the destination’s website. You can access your free account either on a computer or smartphone and is available when wifi is not.