Strung along the mountainous coast like pearls on a necklace, joined by a thin ribbon of winding road, the towns of the Amalfi Coast are among Italy’s most alluring destinations. From the pretty pastel houses of Positano to the majesty of Capri perched in its island splendour, there is plenty to explore. Take your pick of these highlights.
Some visitors arrive by superyacht, others by cruise ship, still others on the fast ferry from Naples, but most of the visitors to Italy's most glamorous island share the same goal: the desire to flash some cash in the luxury boutiques that line the narrow streets, before kicking back in one of Capri’s glamorous bars. Tempting as those are, smart visitors also set some time aside to explore the island’s natural wonders.
The startling turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon are Capri’s top natural attraction; sign up for a two hour cruise and you will also get to see the ruins of ancient palaces belonging to the Roman emperor Tiberius, and perhaps spot a dolphin or two.
Looking for fine dining? No need to go far: the island’s best restaurant is conveniently located inside the Capri Palace. L’Olivo’s cashmere-covered sofas and sophisticated menu have been rewarded with two Michelin stars. If you are a seafood fan, try the blue tailed fish mosaic; alternatively, the pigeon in red Porto sauce with goose liver, carrots and parsley sauce is also delicious. Don’t peak too early: the icecream trolley features seasonal flavours such as olive oil with candied celery and smoked chocolate.
Head away from the crowds of Capri town up to the hillside retreat of Anacapri, a more tranquil alternative to the bustle below. It is also home to the island’s most irresistible lodging, the Capri Palace. The individually decorated suites are elegant and indulgent, variously equipped with plunge pools and private terraces, while the owner’s superb contemporary art collection enlivens the public areas. Set aside some time to explore the state-of-the-art spa, which offers therapeutic treatments as well as massages and facials.
Bring your walking shoes. The island’s interior is home to some lovely walks. The two-hour return trip from Capri town to the Arco Naturale and the Grotta di Matermania takes you along lovely pine-fringed paths, with plenty of opportunities to refresh yourself at charming trattoria along the way.
The town that launched a thousand postcards, Positano is ridiculously pretty, its pink, white and yellow buildings clinging precariously to the hillside that rises sharply from the coast. It is a lovely little town to wander through, but those sharply angled streets, and the steep flights of stairs that link them, will give your calves a workout.
Positano is the starting point for one of the Amalfi Coast’s most scenic clifftop walks, the Sentiero degli Dei, or Path of the Gods. As the path wends its way through vineyards, lemon groves and shady copses, drink up stunning views of the scenic bays scooped out of the coast. Keep one eye on the ground: the terrain varies, from crumbling stone steps to narrow rocky paths. The entire walk from Positano to Bomerano takes around four hours. You can cut that time in half by skipping the first stretch: just hop on a local bus in Positano and get off at the tiny village of Nocelle, which is where the real fun starts.
When the sun starts to set, most visitors head straight for the seafront, where buzzy restaurants are lined up like books on a shelf. The smart ones however, stay in the heart of town. Hidden behind high walls is the town’s most romantic restaurant, Al Palazzo, where candlelit tables are scattered in a garden setting, and the chef showcases the best seasonal produce. Wine aficionados will love the impressive wine list: ask your waiter if you can take sneak a look at the cellar.
Close your eyes and imagine what the perfect Positano hotel might look like. It would need a superb location, of course: right in the heart of town, but with a sense of seclusion. You would want a sun terrace and a swimming pool with panoramic sea views; the view from the rooms should be just as good, of course. Throw in whitewashed walls, sumptuous furniture and mosaic floors, and what do you have? You have the lovely Le Sirenuse, the best hotel in town.
If you prefer a stroll to a hike, follow the coastal path from the ferry wharf to Fornillo. A short walk will bring you to Fornillo beach; settle in at one of the bars for a lazy afternoon by the sea.
It’s an odd thing that the town that has lent its name to this stretch of coast attracts fewer visitors than many of its neighbours. Yet that is part of the charm of Amalfi: more than just a tourist destination, it is a local hub that caters to local people. Alongside the obligatory boutiques selling linen skirts and leather sandals you will find everyday outlets such as grocers and hardware shops. The town’s other great attraction is its historic buildings, which date back to the era when Amalfi rivalled Venice and Pisa as one of Europe’s great powers.
There is no missing Amalfi’s cathedral, which demands attention with its wide steps, its striped marble façade and its ornate dome. That, however, is nothing compared with what lies inside. From the Moorish-inspired Cloister of Paradise to the extravagantly decorated crypt, its vaulted ceilings emblazoned with frescoes, this is one church that you will want to explore thoroughly.
The view looking back across the bay is a draw in its own right, but it is not the only thing Ristorante Eolo has going for it. From the light-as-a-feather pasta to the freshfrom-the-sea fish, the menu is filled with temptations. If it is on the menu, don’t go past the homemade clam sauce.
If it is good enough for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, it is good enough for us. The Hollywood power couple stayed at the Santa Caterina Hotel while shooting the film on which they fell in love, Mr and Mrs Smith. Check in at this cliffside mansion just outside town (there is a regular shuttle for those who don’t want to walk) and chances are you will also feel the romance, particularly if you are staying in one of the lovely garden suites. The pick of the bunch is the Chalet Giulietta e Romeo, set amid aromatic orange groves.
Walk 15 minutes along the seafront and you will find the lovely village of Atrani, protected by a gentle curve of beach. This tiny town has a charming medieval feel, and its mazelike streets lined with narrow houses were made for exploring.
The drive from Naples to the Amalfi Coast takes less than two hours; however, it is not for the faint of heart, with a sheer drop on one side of the narrow, twisting mountain road. Alternatively, take a hydrofoil from Naples to Capri (around 40 minutes), where you will find ferries departing for Positano and Amalfi. Be aware that, like much else along the Amalfi Coast, many of these ferry services shut down during the off-season, from mid-September to April.