The Amalfi Coast is widely considered Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline and was entered onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997. However, it is a winding, narrow, challenging route and can be one of the more exciting or stressful driving experiences in Europe depending on how you view driving.
We drove down from Rome on the A3 Autostrada and arrived at our starting point of Salerno. Vietri sul Mare is a good village to stop in for a coffee, shop for some beautiful local artisan ceramics and have your first panoramic views of the dramatic coastline. The coast road can be driven in one day but it is so much better to make a three or four day trip of it so as to enjoy some of the towns along the way.
Maiori and Minori
This is a great stopover village as it has the longest length of beach on the Amalfi Coast, and the Torre Normanna (Norman Tower), which juts out into the sea, offers a romantic restaurant experience.
Just up the road, Minori is a buzzing little town and a perfect stopping point for a gelato. It also offers ample restaurant choices serving seafood of course.
We had scheduled our first overnight spot at Maiori at the Residence Due Torri, which offers bright and spacious apartments with a fully equipped kitchenette, a balcony and valet parking.
Often overlooked, but worth a visit. It has a nice square with a singing barber, cafés and two pretty little churches to visit.
The junction close to Atrani brings you on the weaving climbing road with hairpin bends up to Ravello. Ravello is one of the most romantic towns in southern Italy and because of its height above sea-level it tends to be less overrun with tourists than the seashore towns below. Park the car and walk to the square for lunch and then up the cobbled winding pedestrian streets to Villa Cimbrone and explore the beautiful gardens, villa and breathtaking views. Of course, stay overnight here if you can or at Belmond Villa Caruso which also has outstanding views, gorgeous gardens and 5-star luxury.
The winding road back down from Ravello brings you directly to Amalfi. It was once one of Italy’s four powerful maritime republics along with Venice, Pisa and Genoa.
There are lots of souvenir shops and cafés along the seafront and in the main square, in front of the famous cathedral (Duomo di Sant’Andrea).
Walk up to the town away from the cathedral and you will come to a paper mill complete with working waterwheel which is worth a visit. The area is called Valle dei Mulini (Valley of Mills) and is dotted with watermills now in ruin, but were once the creators of paper which Amalfi is still famous for.
Continuing along you’ll come to some of the most spectacular parts of the road. It is worth your while to visit Grotta dello Smeraldo – a spectacular marine cave of luminous emerald waters that you can visit by boat, elevator or rock-cut steps. Just beyond it you reach the Vallone di Furore, one of the coast’s most impressive gorges which you can explore further by foot.
Praiano and Positano
Next along the road you will reach Praiano and Positano, two more scenic and majestically situated coastal villages. Positano being the most famous and most photographed due to the striking dome of Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. The small town is pedestrianised and full of boutiques, restaurants and interesting galleries. Park in one of the many car parks on the outskirts of the town and ramble down through the town to the beachfront.
Stay at the Hotel Montemare or, for a unique experience, the Torre Silja.
For a romantic restaurant with a view, try Il Capitano on the road or Rada down on the beach which has a cave nightclub underneath, right on the beach – which is pretty cool.
From here the road curves around the tip of the peninsula to the coastline of Sorrento. Sorrento is a popular seaside resort town and worth a visit. It’s flatter than the towns you have just come from and easy to navigate around.
Eat under the lemon groves at the charming O’Parrucchiano Restaurant and stay at the new Grand Hotel La Favorita or the Grand Royal Hotel.
Tips for driving the Amalfi Coast
Avoid driving it on long weekends and aim for just before or after the tourist seasons, mid-September to October and May. Not only to avoid the general traffic but also the crazy motorbikes, Vespas and cyclists that weave their way through the traffic on whichever side of the road they choose.