The stunning cliff faces of the Amalfi Coast, southern Italy, have been high on my agenda since my parents sailed the coastline around 12 years ago. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one to notice every man & his dog seem to be spending their European summer sipping Apérol in some boujee boutique hotel teetering over a rugged terrain. You could go as far as saying that it’s one of the most Instagramable spots that seem to be inundating our news feeds right now, so frankly I wanted to know if it truly lived up to the hype.
The Amalfi Coast is a 50km stretch of coastline off the southern part of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula. With a long list of fabled villages and a stones throw from the bay of Naples, you are not short of an uber-chic vista to live up to your Italian ideals. As an outstanding example of Mediterranean coastline, here lies tumbling precipices home to some of Italy’s finest hotels and restaurants, leading down to rocky coves of turquoise water. What’s not to love?
With little room to spare amongst the stacked up sun loungers of Italian lido’s, the region is actually well renowned for its lemon and olive groves which thrive in the Mediterranean climate. These, in turn, have cultivated the original taste of Limoncello, which we are all too familiar with. Despite the remnants of true Italian tradition still enriching this beautiful region of Campania, it has unfortunately fallen victim to tourism. Read on for a breakdown of a few of the iconic spots along the Amalfi Coast and what to expect when visiting.
Capri: the jewel of the crown. Seductive and quite simply spine-tingling, this island is in a world of its own and gives us mere mortals a reminder of the riches that grace this earth. An impossibly azure sea paired with the dusty grey crags of the rock face are like a Farrow & Ball match made in heaven. Opulent abodes drip with wisteria and bougainvillea, whilst their polished wooden yachts carry young bronzed Italians from one beach club to another.
Once a preserved playground for the super-rich and famous, there is nothing quite like the deluxe feel this tiny island oozes but sadly its exclusivity is long gone. Venturing deep into Capri Centro, hoards of sock/sandal wearing tourists following their umbrella-clad pied piper fill up the tiny (and very manicured) streets which are bursting with diamond shops and designer boutiques. Although visiting the centre is a must, I couldn’t help feeling a little helpless at how tourism has completely tarnished what would have been another world of unblemished splendour.
Off the southern coast of the island lies the famous and dramatic Faraglioni rocks jutting out of the Tyrrhenian sea. Expect to be queuing, yes queuing, to pass through the eye of the needle by boat. You wouldn’t believe the water traffic around that part of the island, however needless to say it really is stunning.
Would I stay in Capri? Could I afford to stay in Capri? In all honesty, I feel like that should be left to the uber-rich and stylish signore, and until that day (maybe) comes when I can truly experience the pure grandeur of this island, I will leave it’s little world to carry on turning one diamond necklace at a time.
Head out on a rental boat from the main land (250 euros a day) straight round to the south-west side of the island where you will first meet the Faraglioni Rocks from the famous D&G advert. Tucked under the foot of the rocks is beach club and restaurant Da Luigi. You can anchor or tie onto a buoy and the beach club will pick you up. Be warned, you can’t even swim in their ‘private’ water or sit on the rocks if you haven’t paid the 30 euro sun-bed fee, regardless of if you dine at the restaurant too. Round the corner is Marina Piccola, a much more authentic Italian port compared to Marina Grande where the ferries drop off the hoards. From here it is a half an hour walk (up hill) to Capri Centro, but expect ALOT of people. For a more traditional quiet area, escape to Anacapri. Exploring Capri by boat gives you a lot more freedom, separates you from the crowds and gives you access to the beautiful private coves.
Positano. The front-cover star of the Amalfi Coast is a jet-set favourite with Instragramers alike flocking to it’s small streets to live like a true alla moda Italian. The tightly packed cliff face is awash with boujee bars, bronzed foreigners and a boutique on every corner.
Unapologetically stunning, the approach from above is surprisingly lacking in tourists and takes your breath away as you peer down over the tumbling terracotta houses to the umbrella laden pebble beach. In my opinion, this is the best place to be in Positano. The surrounding cliffs are brimming with deluxe hotels that you’d read about in the likes of Conde Nast magazine. Meandering down past chic art galleries, boujee bars and the hotels I have only dreamed about staying in, you can understand why thousands are drawn into this seaside village every year.
You could find yourself dining at the iconic Chez Blanc ristorante, sunning yourself at the Bagni D’Arienzo beach club, lapping in the luxury of the hotel Sirenuse or Villa Boheme, and splashing out on designer Positano threads.
However, there is a slight sadness attached to this iconic place that no photo or blog will ever portray. It is not until you meet the central shopping zone of Positano, almost at sea-level, that you begin to contemplate how much this village has fallen victim to tourism and package holidays. One small street leads to the main beach of Positano which you find yourself queuing to walk down to. Once on the beach itself, you are expected to pay over 20 euros to swim in the sea which is overflowing with tomorrows wannabe models. The floppy hat wearing nouveau riche really take away from the allure I imagine the true moda Positano had in the 1960’s. Although I found Positano a little disappointing because of this, I would highly recommend experiencing it’s beauty for yourself, just keep your expectations of exclusivity low.
Positano should be appreciated from afar and the approach by road or water is the most dramatic. Rent a scooter from wherever you’re staying to explore the coast (35 euros per day), but be careful as Italian roads can be quite hard to drive unless you are experienced. By scooter you can park quite easily (for free) just outside the main centre. If you were arriving by car you’d expect to pay a lot for parking. One last thing, skip the tourist trap of Franco’s Bar. You are not experiencing anything other than a long queue of Instagramers and overpriced drinks. Sorry to be cynical.
Sorrento: the town of lemons, is the western gateway to the Amalfi Coast perched on the north side of the Sorrento Peninsula and in turn has a longstanding popularity as a central base. Brimming with olive groves and lemon trees, the outskirts of this well-known seaside town are free of the overflowing neighbouring towns further down the coast. Famous for it’s Limoncello, the lemons cultivated in this area of Italy are some of the most fragrant and large in size you will ever come across.
Tourism is at the very heart of this larger town of southern Italy. Package holidays flock in but ironically it is not a beach destination. Marina Piccola, (the larger of the two marinas) houses the ferry terminal which accesses all other areas of the coast, as well as a selection of 60’s inspired Italian lido’s.
The Sorrentine Peninsula itself has stunning vista’s across to the bay of Naples and down over the bay of Salerno on the opposite side. Venture beyond the main epicentre of Sorrento town and you will find local areas like Marina del Cantone which are well worth a visit. Beyond it being a fantastic base for travel, Sorrento was my least favourite areas of the coastline due to the city-like layout and lack of beaches.
For an authentic Italian dinner experience head down to Marina Grande before sunset, the old fishing port of Sorrento, where there are a number of restaurants lining the marina walls; Soul & Fish and Bagni Delfino are exceptional. Make sure you also try a famous Limoncello Spritz (just one though, it’ll knock your socks off). Get amongst it in Piazza Tasso where tourism is at it’s height but there are buzzing bars and the best pizzeria in town, Aurora. For pre-dinner drinks, experience the height of luxury on the romantic terrace of the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Finish off the night with a gelato from Primavera gelateria – you won’t believe the variety of flavours.
Praiano. The sleepy fishing village of Praiano is just a stones throw from Positano but a far cry from it’s crowded pushy streets. It has to be said that Praiano is the unpolished diamond of the Amalfi Coast; it’s quiet streets and local feel are hard to come across along this well-beaten track of the coastline. Boasting views across to faraway Capri and nearby Positano, the cliff-side is bursting with authentic Italian appeal in a demure and low-key manner, unlike it’s flamboyant neighbour.
With a crumbling ostentatious church glued to the cliff at 120m above sea level, any signs of a ‘beach’ require a climb of around 300 steps, not forgetting you need to come back up again! However, this is where Praiano came into its own; although there were ‘beach clubs’ tucked into the coastline, you were free to swim and lounge on the rocks regardless of whether you had paid for a sunbed or not. Also, parking – no problem!
Seems a little good to be true do you not think? What I’m curious about it why more people aren’t staying in Praiano; could it be the lack of Instagram approved shoot locations? Sad, but potentially true.
What an absolute breath of fresh air Praiano, I will be back.
My favourite of the towns on the Amalfi Coast, I would highly recommend staying here to escape the crowds, if that’s what you want of course. On your ascent from the rocky beach area Spaggia della Gavitella, stop off at Cafe Mirante for a refreshment and soak up the peaceful views out into the Tyrrhenian sea.
In conclusion, what would I choose to do if I visited the Amalfi Coast again? Stay in Praiano, rent a scooter to explore the coast line and visit places like Positano, Amalfi, Atrani and Ravello. I would also spend more time exploring Capri island by boat; the coves, the beach clubs and surrounding islands.