Deemed an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape by Unesco, the Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most piercing 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 cliff-top resort that has miraculously survived the onslaught of package tourism.
Turquoise seas and postcard-perfect 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.
Top experiences in the Amalfi Coast
Positano is the Amalfi Coast’s most photogenic (and expensive) town, with vertiginous houses tumbling down to the sea in a cascade of sun-bleached peach, pink and terracotta. No less colourful are its steep streets and steps, flanked by wisteria-draped hotels, smart restaurants and fashionable retailers.
Look beyond the facades and the fashion, however, and you will find reassuring signs of everyday reality: crumbling stucco, streaked paintwork and even, on occasion, a faint whiff of drains. There’s still a southern-Italian holiday feel about the place, with sunbathers eating pizza on the beach, kids pestering parents for gelato and chic signore from Milan browsing the boutiques. The fashionista history runs deep – moda Positano was born here in the ’60s and the town was the first in Italy to import bikinis from France.
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Just beyond Erchie and its pleasant beach, Cetara is a picturesque fishing village with a reputation as a gastronomic hotspot. It has been an important fishing centre since medieval times and today its deep-sea-tuna fleet is considered one of the Mediterranean’s most important. At night, fishers set out in small boats armed with powerful lamps to fish for anchovies. Recently, locals have resurrected the production of what is known as colatura di alici, a strong anchovy essence believed to be the descendant of garum, the Roman fish seasoning.
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An unashamed resort, Sorrento is nonetheless a civilised and beautiful town. Even the souvenirs are a cut above the norm, with plenty of fine old shops selling the ceramics, lacework and intarsio(marquetry items) that are famously produced here. The main drawback is the lack of a proper beach: the town straddles the cliffs overlooking the water to Naples and Mt Vesuvius.
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Some 600m south of Piazza Duomo, the Villa Cimbrone is worth a wander, if not for the 11th-century villa itself (now an upmarket hotel), then for the shamelessly romantic views from the delightful gardens. They’re best admired from the Belvedere of Infinity, an awe-inspiring terrace lined with classical-style statues and busts and overlooking the impossibly blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
The villa itself was something of a bohemian retreat in its early days and frequented by Greta Garbo and her lover Leopold Stokowski as a secret hideaway. Other illustrious former guests included Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, DH Lawrence and Salvador Dalí
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