Campania boasts one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines and for centuries has been inspiring countless artists, romantics and bon vivants. From Naples, hop a ferry for an hour south to Sorrento, where buses and seasonal ferries continue the journey along the Amalfi coast. The coast presents a honeycomb of balconies and archways, hairpin curves, steep stone steps and dizzying drop-offs. Travellers are forced to stop and admire, if only to keep themselves from minor disasters. Just as the landscapes are incredibly romantic and awe-inspiring, the typical delights of the area also do not disappoint. Make sure to taste the famous limoncello, which for centuries has been made from the vibrant Amalfi lemons whose scent lingers throughout the peninsula. Here are our top picks for an extended weekend getaway in the sweet little seaside towns that make this place truly one-of-a-kind.
Described by artist Paul Klee as ‘the only place in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis’, Positano is often noted as the crown jewel of the Amalfi Coast. Welcoming jet-setters for centuries, the seaside town was originally a site for wealthy ancient romans to build coastal retreats. Slip on your Positano-chic Safari sandals and saunter through the town’s alluring serpentine lanes. The stylish seaside haven has a few adorable hidden boutiques to peruse before taking the hidden stairway down to Laurito Beach, where the handsome Sergio Bella will take care of you. Sergio’s father, Adolfo, is the owner of Da Adolfo the wonderful shabby-chic shack which is the perfect place for a laid-back summer lunch. Sergio’s brother, Daniele, turns out super-fresh food such as marinated anchovies, mozzarella di bufala baked on lemon leaves, and grilled catch of the day dressed with oil, balsamic vinegar and mint.
The local white wine is cold, refreshing and cheap – and if you overindulge, you can rent a sun bed and sleep it off. Later in the day, tie up your hiking boots and get a natural high on the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods) the Amalfi Coast’s most impressive hiking trail which takes you over the sea from Positano to Praiano, passing through beautiful hillside villages including Montepertuso. The odd hole in the mountain traces back to a colourful legend which holds it was here that Good (Virgin Mary) and Evil (the Devil) fought and thankfully, the Virgin Mary won! Local inhabitants claim they can still recognise the prints of the devil’s escape on the rock. For spectacular snorkelling in crystal-clear water, take a boat trip to Li Galli, the archipelago of three tiny, jagged islands just off the coast where, according to Greek mythology, the Sirens (or Sirenuse) attempted to lure Odysseus to his death on the rocks. Privately owned, Gallo Lungo, La Castelluccia, and La Rotonda can be admired from a distance and who knows, if you listen closely, you may still hear their call. Spend the day sunning at our favourite beach club, L’incanto, and for dinner in town head to La Taverna Del Leone, Chez Black, or Le Tre Sorelle on Positano’s Spiaggia Grande.
For a break from the crowds of Positano, the quiet fishing village of Praiano is filled with sleepy charm and local flavour. Easy to miss, Praiano overflows with Amalfi coast appeal and is accessible by car from Naples or boat from Amalfi or Positano. During the height of the Amalfi Republic, the town was the preferred summer residence of the Doge thanks to its serenity and beauty. Blessed by the sand and sea, Praiano’s beaches are not to be missed. Fiordo di Furore beach is accessible via a stairway of 350-plus steps and the tiny beach at the bottom of the cleft is certainly worth the hike back up end of day. Make sure to go earlier in the day as the sun starts to disappear behind the cliffs after lunch. Enjoy pure bliss at La Gavitella beach, a quiet stretch of coast soaking up the last rays of the evening sun. Ristorante il Pirata offers a fantastic spaghetti con ricci di mare (spaghetti with local fresh sea urchin) with jaw-dropping beachfront views. Be sure to get there early for an aperitivo to enjoy the sunset.
From Praiano or Positano, Amalfi is an easy day trip via bus. The historic town famed for its eclectic, centuries-old cathedral and cloisters is the largest of all the coastal towns and was once the region’s main maritime power. Today the town’s stunning white buildings gleam in the Sorrento sun. We recommend a trek to the Valle delle Ferriere, a beautiful natural path great for even the novice hiker. The starting point is Pontone but you can easily begin in Amalfi, where after an hour’s journey, you are greeted with the refreshing experience of flowing streams and waterfalls. An absolute must is Amalfi’s pastry shop Pansa to try every scrumptious pastry imaginable and the historic paper shop, Amatruda which has been creating gorgeous fine handmade papers for centuries.
Sky-high Ravello, whose world-famous panoramic gardens make for a breath-taking epilogue, can be reached via bus from Amalfi. Visit Villa Cimbrone, now a hotel with an extravagant garden and dizzying views. Built in 1904, the villa was a hangout for the Bloomsbury set in the 1920s and a love nest for Greta Garbo and the conductor Leopold Stokowski in the 1930s. Explore the romantic garden of Villa Rufolo, a favourite haunt of artists, musicians and poets and what some call “a miniature Alhambra”. Ravello is also home to the coast’s most beautiful church, the refreshingly spare 11th-century Duomo di Ravello, and its only distinguished example of contemporary architecture, Oscar Niemeyer’s futuristic New Energy Auditorium, a dazzlingly white, concrete-and-glass structure overlooking the Gulf of Salerno, designed to reflect the swell of the sea.
Nerano is a charming fishing village situated half way between Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Emperor Tiberio Nerone, who, enchanted by the town’s beauty, decided to build a villa here and named the village Neronianum, now known as Nerano. From Positano, hire a boat and sail to the beachside spot Da Tommaso allo Scoglio where the emphasis is on fresh seafood and vegetables, plucked daily from the De Simone family garden. We recommend tucking into spaghetti agli zucchini in the summer dining room’s wooden deck overlooking the sea. Catch of the day poached all’acqua pazza (in a tomato-and-herb flavoured stock) makes a good secondo, and for pudding, you can’t go wrong with the amarene tart (with cherries). Alternatively, Nerano offers amazing hiking paths. From the main square of Nerano, follow the main road towards Jeranto Bay, the main focal point of the Natural Marine Reserve of Punta Campanella. Along this path there is the entrance to Villa Rosa (where famous English writer Norman Douglas stayed) and then continue along to enjoy magnificent views over Cantone Bay with Vetara and Archipelago Li Galli in the background. Up to the right there’s the entrance to the Grotta delle Noglie and then a bit further, there’s the crest of Spirito with views of Capri, Punta della Campanella and Jeranto Bay to your right and the entire Gulf of Salerno, the Amalfi Coast, Vetara and Li Galli to your left. Finish the day with a well-deserved seaside meal either at Ristorante Cantuccio or Ristorante Conca del Sogno, soaking up every last bit of the glittering sea.