The Amalfi Coast, a 43-mile stretch just around the bend from Naples, is on many traveler "to-do" lists. Despite overcrowding at the peak of summer, visitors come for the promise of relaxation, fine dining, plush inns, and vistas made famous by Hollywood. Escaping the crowds and finding your piece of paradise isn't impossible---it just takes a little bit of planning.
When to Go
The Amalfi Coast is not at its best in summer, when coastal towns swell with vacationers and the heat is often sweltering. Optimum times are May-June and September-October. Visiting in winter is an appealing option---the temperature remains comfortable, rain is relatively rare, and hotel rates are at their lowest. However, be aware that some hotels and restaurants will not be open---always call ahead or check hotel web sites (if available).
Planes, trains, and automobiles, ferries, hydrofoils, and buses. On the Amalfi Coast the options are endless.
Choosing a Base
First-time visitors to the Amalfi Coast are often unsure where to stay. The perfect spot for your trip depends largely on your priorities and budget.
Positano is popular for its central location, its restaurants and jaw-dropping beauty. Despite these charms, some might find the peak season crowds, prices, and stairs overwhelming. Honeymooning? Grab a top-floor suite at Le Sirenuse. The Villa Rosa is one of Positano's best values.
Ravello is an enchanting village perched on a ridge high above Amalfi and the neighboring town of Atrani. Ravello is relatively out of the way and the bulk of its visitors come during the day, leaving the nights gloriously quiet. There are several hikes in the area---even down to Amalfi. For pampering, the Palazzo Sasso is hard to beat. For tranquility, the inexpensive La Fenice is just right.
Sorrento is convenient for visitors pairing the Amalfi Coasts with a stay in Naples, situated just across the way. It also marks the start of the 43-mile infamously winding coastal road that runs to Salerno. There are several attractively priced inns in Sorrento for those trying to save; we recommend Relais Palazzo Starace. Splurging? Dip into the pool at Excelsior Vittoria.
Amalfi is the Amalfi Coast's largest city, but it's still small enough to feel intimate. It is a convenient base for excursions to Capri and the Grotta dello Smeraldo. Amalfi is romantically situated at the mouth of a deep gorge and its Duomo is impressive. There are two romantic village annexes at the luxurious Santa Caterina. Perhaps the best bargain in Italy can be found at the Albergo Sant'Andrea.
Planning Your Days
A trip to the Amalfi Coast can be as busy or relaxed as you wish it to be. More ambitious day trips to Pompeii and Capri are doable---just be sure to leave plenty of space in your itinerary for sipping limoncello and staring at the water. Below are a few excursion options sprinkled with restaurant recommendations.
Spend the day in Capri, being sure to escape the crowds by heading to Anacapri, the island's "second city," about 3 km from Capri Town. Ride a 12-minute chairlift ride to the highest point on Capri, Monte Solaro. Tour one of the island's swankiest residences, the Villa San Michele. Enjoy an early dinner at Da Tonino.
From shopping to sights, there is much to keep you busy in Positano. For a relaxing afternoon, take a small boat to the Spaggia di Lauriot, a small cove perfect for swimming. Da Adolfo, a restaurant just above the beach, should satisfy any midday cravings. At the dinner hour, head up to Montepertuso, a hamlet high over Positano, for fine dining at either Donna Rosa or Il Ritrovo.
From the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii is an easy day trip---especially if you're based in Sorrento. From there, a Circumvesuviana train makes the 30-minute ride to the Pompeii-Scavi stop, a stone's throw away from the ruins' entrance. Expect to spend four to five hours at the site. On your return to Sorrento, recover from the day's excursion with a mellow meal at Trattoria da Emilia.
Concert enthusiasts will want to make Ravello a top priority. The small town is famous for its classical music festival, Festival Musicale di Ravello. The concerts, many of which are held in the gardens of the Villa Rufolo, have become so popular that the festival season stretches well beyond the summer. Fill up at Cumpà Cosimo after browsing several of the many ceramic shops.