Take a trip around the Amalfi Coast, a little-known haven of the famous for centuries. Everyone from Richard Wagner to Greta Garbo sought serenity here, and it’s arguably the most stunning coastal Mediterranean landscape in Europe.
Awarded a hallowed spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, in recent years it has garnered a reputation as a mecca for luxury-seeking vacationers. As such, the Amalfi Coast drive is best experienced outside the peak summer season, mid-September to October and May, when the tour buses are scarce enough to allow the roads to be enjoyed without distraction. The 40 or so miles of winding coastal road above the turquoise sea features infinite lemon groves and ornate, pastel-hued villas perched on the mountainside. You’ll soon realize why this idyllic location has an enduring draw.
If you’ve flown into nearby Naples, take the A3 down toward the coast and pick up the SS163, the "road of 1,000 bends," at Vietri Sul Mare. Weave your way to Ravello, an enchanting village perched in the hills above Amalfi, replete with picturesque gardens. The grounds at Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo, both open to the public, are among the most stunning in Italy.
If you’re driving through on a Tuesday, you must stop at the bustling street market and pick up some delicious, fresh local produce.
Situated at the mouth of a deep gorge, the town of Amalfi was once a powerful maritime republic. These days, the cargo ships have been replaced by tourist rental boats.
If you’d rather stop somewhere less crowded, then avoid Amalfi’s abundance of cafes and shops. Instead, check out the town’s majestic 9th-centruy cathedral, Duomo di Sant’Andrea, with its spectacular Arab-Norman Romanesque architecture.
Continuing west along the SS163, which was commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Naples and completed in 1852, you’ll come to the majestically situated little village of Praiano. If you desire a dip in the sea, it’s definitely worth the descent of 350-plus steps to Praiano’s rocky beach of La Gavitella, which is bathed in sunlight until 8 p.m. in summer.
If you want some food, head to Marina di Praia for quaint restaurants by the beach.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck visited Positano in 1953, he described it as "a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you’ve gone."
Since then, the quaint fishing village has become a chic holiday resort popular with the rich and famous. If you don’t want to compete with the cognoscenti for a sun lounger and instead desire a swim, your best bet is to take a small boat to the Spaggia di Lauriot, a small cove perfect for swimming.
Legend has it that Roman Emperor Augustus had his own villa in the center of this vibrant town, which is perched between cliffs overlooking the water to Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Its lofty location means that there are no beaches for swimming, but if you’re looking to pick up a souvenir on your trip, you won’t find a much better choice than Sorrento.
You’ll find plenty of shops selling distinctive inlaid intarsia furniture, an ancient Sorrentine craft. If instead you prefer to just browse, some wonderful examples can be seen in Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea, a museum housed in an 18th-century palace.