Last Updated on December 7, 2023
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Amalfi coast towns are places like no other on earth.
They’re an incredibly beautiful place of mountain and sea. A place where pastel buildings tumble down hillsides, and little beaches rim a stunning aquamarine sea. For me they’re the perfect place to while away every afternoon.
Among the top places to visit in Italy, Amalfi Coast towns are stunning, as magical as they are majestic.
For many, this clutch of towns is the most beautiful and charming place in Italy.
It’s only a little seaside snippet of Italy’s Province of Campania, just 25-miles or so long. But for centuries it has inspired numerous writers, musicians, and artists, as well as the guidebook folks at Fodor’s. They described it as “the most divinely central stretch of water, land, and habitation on earth.”
UNESCO concurred in 1997 when it crowned it as World Heritage Site, citing the beauty of its classic Mediterranean landscape.
There’s little wonder these Amalfi Coast towns remain a favorite among travelers. And, as you might suspect, a Shangri-La for honeymooners.
Come to the Amalfi once and you’ll find the urge to return almost irresistible. That’s especially true if you’ve only spent a day or two in the region.
The Amalfi Coast Towns
The towns are tucked away on the Sorrento Peninsula south of Naples.
The area was first settled by Greeks in 600 BC, who were followed by the Romans in the fourth century. Notably, in medieval times the Maritime Republic of Amalfi ruled the seas and coast of the region. It dominated Mediterranean trade for a century.
Today’s Amalfi Coast first became popular in the late 19th-century. It was when the narrow two-lane “divina coastiera” – the Amalfi Drive, still the main road in and out of the region – was built.
Its more modern transformation, however, began during the 1960s. That’s, as one might suspect, when the Jet Set discovered its pleasures. Its popularity hasn’t abated since.
Amalfi’s Trinity of Towns
Amalfi has three main towns: Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello. Each of these Amalfi coast towns is majestically situated, each a little masterpiece in its own right.
Scattered just a few miles apart, and easily accessible, they’re all a bouillabaisse of shops, little cafés and ristorantes. All perfect places for whiling away a few hours.
In fact, one of the most pleasurable things to do here is just to while away an afternoon. That’s most often done over a glass of wine or a limoncello, the region’s famous lemon liqueur. Stroll about any piazza in these towns and you’ll see how it’s been elevated to an art form.
Positano is the glitziest and best known of these three Amalfi coast towns, due no doubt to its superb setting. As you approach, it appears almost as if it had been plucked off an old travel poster. It’s a postcard-picture perfect town with all its little pastel buildings tumbling down a steep hillside almost into the sea.
Up the highway is the beautiful, historic medieval seaside city of Amalfi. During the 9th-12th centuries it rivaled Venice and Genoa as a great maritime power.
Stop here for a coffee, drink or snack in one of the little cafés near the Duomo di Sant’Andrea. It’s best known for its 11th century Byzantine bronze doors. You’ll find a multitude of other cafés and bars down near Amalfi’s popular beach.
Ravello’s Renowned Music Festival
Unlike seaside Positano and Amalfi, Ravello is about 800 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea on a cliff top. You reach it via 6 miles of serpentine road by either car or public bus (catch the latter in Amalfi).
Ravello is the most sophisticated of the Amalfi Coast towns. It’s renown for its connection to Richard Wagner since it was where he composed part of his opera Parsifal.
The Ravello Music Festival, Italy’s biggest musical event, usually occurs April to October. The most of the popular performances take place in the summer months. Wagner stayed at the Villa Rufolo, where some performances take place.
Another villa you should visit in Ravello is the beautiful Villa Cimbrone. It’s only a 10-minute walk from the Piazza Duomo. Walk through it’s beautiful gardens to its dazzling terrace lined with classical-style busts and for stunning views of the coast.
The 11th-Century Villa is now an upscale hotel, whose previous guests have included such notables as Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, and Salvador Dali.
Captivating Villages Hidden Above the Amalfi Coast Towns
Up in the mountains and hills above the Amalfi coast towns are little villages clutching the mountainside. Here you’ll find B&Bs much less expensive than the hotels in the main towns.
The villages are quite small, nothing more than a hamlet with a little church surrounded by houses tucked in tightly together, with little lanes running here and there. On the other hand, the views of the Costiera Amalfitana from the terraces here are often breathtakingly beautiful.
Walk along the old coastal trails in these mountains and hills and you’ll be in an area the same as it was centuries ago, a terraced land of lemon trees and olive groves, with incredible views of the sea. These mountainsides are, in fact, sometimes destinations onto themselves.
I stayed in one B&B in Nocelle, a village 1500+ feet above Positano, taking the local bus down to town each day. There I met two couples that had been returning to the Amalfi for years to spend their vacation walking these hillside trails.
How to Get to the Amalfi Coast Towns
Naples is the major transportation hub of the area. There you can rent a car or take a train to Sorrento or Salerno, the urban bookends of the Amalfi, where you can also rent a vehicle of continue your trip by bus. Traveling by one of the ferries that sail along the coast is another option.
The best way to see the Amalfi, however, is by car, although searching for a parking space can be a competitive sport unless you’re staying at one of the more upscale hotels. At times, it makes sense just to park the car and take public transportation, which is very good here.
Due to the serpentine nature of coastal road SS 163, the Amalfi Drive, driving can be a hair-raising experience although, thankfully, accidents are few and far between. Visit during the summer high season, and you’ll often find tour buses clogging the narrow highway, although the ride is exceptionally worthwhile, nevertheless.
The best time to visit is in May, or in September and October, months when the crowds have diminished and the weather is still beautiful.
If You Go:
Italian Government Tourist Board
686 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Tel: (212) 245-5618