Towns of the Amalfi Coast – Overview
“The Amalfi Coast – where’s that?” is a question I got the other day. It was asked by a very prominent, well-travelled doctor acquaintance of mine so I was a bit surprised.
As there is no other place in the world that I love more, sometimes I forget that not everyone knows all about this beautiful stretch of the Italian coastline.
So with that in mind I decided to do a quick rundown of the most popular towns of the Amalfi Coast.
This will be brief as I’m going to do more posts about the individual towns in the future – but hopefully it will give you a general idea of which towns you’d like to visit.
About the Amalfi Coast:
The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of land that runs along the shore of the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in Salerno in Southern Italy.
The whole area is a very popular tourist area, especially from May to October.
This isn’t surprising since it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit, especially when you contrast the towns built into the cliffs with the blue Mediterranean sea stretching out as far as the eye can see.
Thousands of tourists visit the Amalfi area each years to enjoy the scenery, the leisurely pace, and of course, the food. The limoncello liqueur comes from the fine lemons grown all over the area, and the alici anchovies are well known for their purity.
Restaurants along this stretch are famous for marrying astonishing views with fresh, gourmet and often home-grown food.
The climate is decidedly Mediterranean with summers that are warm and winters that are mild. There is only one road, the Strada Statale 163, that runs along the coast, connecting the 13 towns, situated along the coast.
While many people choose to drive the coast themselves, be warned that it is extremely winding in places – and there are lots of nail-biting hairpin turns you’ll have to navigate. It’s easier and less stress to take a but, private car or even a ferry along the coast.
Towns of the Amalfi Coast
Let’s start with Salerno, which some people feel is the most convenient access point. This was one of the allied beachheads during the World War II Italy invasion.
Years earlier it also hosted the oldest medical school in the world, the Schola Medica Salernitana, the most important source of medical knowledge in Europe.
The port of Salerno is one of the busiest on the coast and you can find lots of ferries and hydrofoils to other towns along the Amalfi coast like Amalfi and Positano.
On the way into the city, there is Vietri sul Mare, a village known for its ceramics as well as its majestic view of the coastline. Be sure and catch the view at Capo d’Orso, as well as Maiori and its vast sandy beach. You will also see Minori which is a first century ruins of a Roman villa.
The next stop is Ravello (which is technically not on the water but situated in the cliffs above the town of Amalfi).
Ravello is said to be one of the most beautiful and romantic smaller towns in Southern Italy. The city seems poised and balanced on the steep, terraces sides of the slopes, yet it’s also blessed with plush gardens and quiet lanes.
The Villa Cimbrone gardens in Ravello are a must-see and offer one of the most jaw-dropping views from Ravello.
The Villa Rufolo and Piazza del Vescovado have made the town famous, as the guests of the villas have included Popes and kings. Its high setting 1,198 feet above the sea gives it an incredible view over the azure of the Mediterranean below.
Be aware however that due to Ravello’s high location, it can be tricky to get down to the other towns along the coast. There’s a bus service that is often crowded – and lots of cabs who are just waiting to take advantage of a slow bus service to overcharge you for a ride down the hill.
The town of Amalfi is down below Ravello. It was once one of Italy’s most powerful republics, along with Pisa, Venice and Genoa. All of the maritime trade was once governed by 12th century’s ocean governors, ruling over one of the oldest maritime codes in the world.
Today however, the great climate, the many cafes, the exquisite seaside setting, and the shops make this town one of the most popular tourist areas along the coast. There is also a large SITA bus hub and ferry service which again makes travelling around the coast quite easy.
Praiano is a smaller town that is located between Amalfi and Positano on a long stretch of coastline. The lifestyle in Praiano is more laid back and casual and prices are lower than some of the more popular resorts.
A lot of people that can’t afford to stay in Positano or Amalfi will visit Praiano and do day trips into Positano or Amalfi as it’s not far (and on the main bus route).
The next stop is of course, my beloved Positano. This town was once a part of the Amalfi maritime dynasty, but is now a chic resort and fishing village. It’s famous for its hotels and boutiques, and for all of the winding stairways that connect the town in its sometimes dizzying heights.
The land here is prized, because there’s not that much of it, and every inch is used as much as possible. Buildings seem stacked on top of each other, and yet fruits and vegetable are grown in the fertile volcanic soil.
The town has the only mountain that has been pierced, a miracle performed by the Virgin Mary, according to the local lore.
Capri is a rocky island off the coast of Campania. Most people mispronounce it as caPRI with the emphasis on the last syllable. But the correct pronunciation should be CAPri, with the emphasis on the first syllable.
Capri is an island that is both loved and hated.
Loved by those who simply enjoy its beauty, and hated for all of the chaos and commercialism created by the day trippers to the island during the day – especially during high cruise season.
At night, when the day trippers have left, the island turns into a different environment where you can enjoy a quiet dinner and the peaceful sunrise the next day.
Sights to see here include the top of Monte Solaro, the gardens of Augustus and at the ruined Villa Jovis. You can also see the remains of the Emperor Tiberiuis’s Palace.
Sorrento is the final stop (or the first stop if you’re coming the other way along the coast). It’s a larger city on the plain, above the sea. It overlooks the bay of Naples. And you can easily see Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
Sorrento is very popular with the British and most people in Sorrento speak English quite well. Sorrento is a pretty and elegant town with a ferry service to Capri, Amalfi, Positano and Naples. The town is made for tourists, with lots of charming cafes and shops.
The main square is the Piazza Tasso, where the tables and chairs crowd the central square and little tourist trains and horse-drawn carriages are available for quick tours of the city.
So that’s an overview of the main towns of the Amalfi Coast. Which ones should you visit? All of them of course!
But if you had only one day, I would recommend Positano (naturally) for it’s jaw-dropping beauty and Sorrento for it’s charm. You might also be able to briefly stop into the town of Amalfi as well if your tour guide is good and you have enough time.
If you’re looking to book a day tour of the Amalfi coast, you can check out Vitator’s Amalfi Coast tours here. I’ve used them in Paris, Rome and Positano and they’ve always been excellent. You can even get a private boat tour along the Amalfi coast for the day and sneak in a visit to Capri!
Whatever you decide to do, just remember to take your time and relax – remember this is the South of Italy. It’s La Dolce Vita! Ciao!