There are a few places on Earth that simply need to be seen to be believed. The lens of even the world’s best photographers or bikini-clad Insta darlings struggle to do the them justice – the Amalfi Coast is one of these destinations.
The entirety of this 50km stretch of coastline has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO; the largest landmass to receive the award. It’s an impossibly beautiful collection of 13 towns and villages that tumble down vertiginous cliffs with Medieval buildings clinging inexplicably to the hillside.
All are cast in pastel hues that traverse the kaleidoscope, from dusky terracotta orange to shades of yellow turned almost white from centuries of extreme sunlight. Which is, of course, a big part of its allure.
Set in Italy’s midsection on the west coast, it enjoys an archetypal Mediterranean climate. Summer sees average highs of 33C, hovering around the mid-twenties in autumn, which is our pick to plan a visit thanks to fewer crowds and more palatable weather for exploring and climbing steps, of which there are a lot.
In spite of its beauty, it hasn’t been ravaged by tourism. Prices throughout tickle the higher end of the scale and it sees extremely few package holidays, meaning bespoke trips are a must. Savvy travellers tend to spend a few nights each at two or three towns, flying into Napoli airport which sits about an hour’s drive to the north.
Hire a car and make the journey south, making time for an afternoon stop at the historical city of Pompeii on the way. The best route is to first stay in Sorrento, moving on to Positano, then Amalfi itself and ending in Ravello. Give yourself around a week to do it properly. The drive along the winding coastal path is as big a part of the trip as the locations themselves, though owing to their mountainside locations, few hotels have parking and many streets are pedestrianised. Be sure to locate a municipal carpark and reserve your space in advance as these are often fully booked in high season.
As with every town in Italy, superb cuisine is easy to find. Rise early in any of the villages and you’ll see fishermen land their catch and deliver it straight to the restaurant door. Scialatielli ai frutti di mare (fresh pasta with seafood) is a must-try dish. The shellfish featured will vary depending on the day’s haul, but invariably includes clams and the region’s rightly-lauded prawns, which many consider the best in the world. Lemons the size of giant’s fist are emblematic of the region, used to make superb limoncello and taking centre stage in savoury dishes such as risotto con agrumi e gamberetti (prawn and citrus risotto).
Whichever route you choose to take, satisfaction comes guaranteed, though be sure to make bookings in advance and come armed with a plan: this is not the kind of place to make it up as you go.
Where To Be Seen
There’s no shortage of fine bars on this stretch of coastline, but as with anywhere, some are better than others and it can be easy to overpay. One of the world’s best bartenders, Salvatore ‘the maestro’ Calabrese of London’s Donovan Bar, grew up on the Amalfi Coast where his parents owned a delicatessen. He recommends heading to the new Franco’s Bar at Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano.
“The location is sublime and the hotel itself is fantastic,” he says. “You can’t come here and not order the negroni. It’s perfectly made and the gin is some of the best in the world.” The bar itself sits suspended above the sea looking out across the cobalt-blue waters. We imagine the phrase ‘sundowners’ was invented for views such as these. Pack plenty of chinos, tailored swim shorts and louche shirts and polos.
Where To Stay In Style
There is no shortage of independent, beautiful hotels here, but for real wow-factor Calabrese recommends the Pallazo Avino in Ravello. “It’s elegant, beautiful and the staff are just superb offering a genuine warm welcome.”
Slightly smaller in scale but no less attractive, Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi is a glorious 19th-century villa that plays on the traditional colour palate of the Med, with more shades of blue than you can shake a Pantone chart at.
“When you’re at the bar, ask for Luigi to mix your drink,” says Calebrese. “He’s an old friend of mine and appreciates the true art of hospitality.”
TV presenter Laura Jackson – one half of Jackson and Levine and author of healthy eating bible Round to Ours – recommends staying at the five-star Villa Treville in Positano.
Much of it was designed by Franco Zeffirelli, the multi-award-winning Italian film director, whose maze of hidden pools, gardens and terraces make for an intimate and personal stay. Their beach club is also open to non-residents for lunch, with a complimentary boat shuttle service from Positano pier.
The Most Instagrammable View
One Fire Beach in the little-known town of Praiano is our pick of the places to boost your social media following and soak up the sun simultaneously. Less busy than the beaches in the better-known locales, you won’t be fighting for sun loungers here, particularly if you arrive before the 10am rush.
You’ll need to descend the 400 steps which lead to sea from Piazza San Gennaro (part of what makes the view so breathtaking) and from your spot, you’ll be able to pick out Positano and Capri on the horizon, where you’ll likely be heading next if you’ve planned your trip correctly.
It’s also the only spot on this stretch of beach which gets the sun from sunrise to sunset, so make sure there’s some strong sun cream in your luggage and be ready to lounge until dusk.
The Best Dip
Jostle with the sharp-elbowed influencers at Da Adolfo beach club in Positano. It has some of the best-value sun loungers in the town (€10) and is set on a private stretch of beach that can only be accessed by boat.
The first crossing is at 11am and you’ll recognise it by its insignia with a huge red fish at the top of its mast. Pick up the connection as early as you can to secure your spot. The food is worth hanging around for, too. Mozzarella grilled on lemon leaves is an exercise in the restraint that underpins Italian food.
The Most Romantic Meal
While it’s hard to go wrong eating out on the Amalfi, it’s always good to come armed with a first-choice restaurant and several back up options, should you not be able to book in.
“I had one of the best meals of my life at Dona Rosa,” says cook and author Anna Jones, whose debut book A Modern Way to Eat is a bestseller. “It’s out in the hills near Ravello and not many people know about it. The father runs the front of house, while the mother and daughter team run the kitchen.” Also be sure to visit nearby Minori. “There’s way fewer tourists here and it has an insanely good award-winning bakery called Pasticceria Napoli on the sea front,” Jones insists.
Where To Shop
“I always pay a visit to the Mario Romano Boutique on the corner of the Piazza Duomo in Ravello,” says Calabrese. “It’s owned by a charming older lady who stocks an excellent selection of linen and cashmere.”
In Sorrento, slip into your suede loafers and head to Bottega 21 for (more) shoes and leather bags. It’s the offshoot of famous Neapolitan leather workshop of the same name which is renowned the world over.
For classic men’s tailoring, Pepito’s in Positano is your best bet. The late Salvatore Esposito (Pepito) was a tailor before launching his own boutique, which is now managed by his wife and daughter. Shirts and suiting are superb here if you want to borrow a look from Riviera style.