With towns tumbling down to the sea, towering cliffs, and views to die for, this is Italy at its most dramatic. Yesterday’s literati and today’s glitterati flock to the Amalfi coast, set in the midst of Campania.
There are enough secluded coves for everyone, Love Heart-coloured villas are proudly poised in precarious positions and only the brave or desperate dare to drive along the white-knuckle Amalfi Drive, a road only just built into the cliffs.
The coastline is Italy’s most spectacular and stretches 50 kilometres from Positano in the west to Vietri Sul Mare in the east. There are numerous gravity-defying towns and villages all worthy of a visit due to their beauty and amazing locations. They include lofty Ravello that hovers at the top of a 1000-foot clifftop, and picture-perfect Positano is also a must-see as the beautiful setting of John Steinbeck’s 1950s novel of the same name.
The Amalfi Coast has also been regularly seen on the silver screen as well as in print. Talented Mr Ripley, Under the Tuscan Sun, Goodbye Mr Chips and Agatha Christie’s Endless Night were all shot here.
The region’s islands Capri and Ischia are glamorous, beautiful and easily accessed by a boat or hydrofoil from Naples. Alternatively float your way across to Mount Vesuvius or Pompeii, both remarkable places.
Sorrento, just outside the region, was believed by the ancients to be home to mythical temptresses who lured mariners towards the islands and cliffs with their beautiful songs. It is still as seductive today thanks to its stunning views over the Bay of Naples. Besides, anywhere that has its regional day on Valentine’s Day has got to be romantic.
Although mid-summer is when the Amalfi Coast is most crowded, it is also the time at which the region is host to a spectacular open-air opera festival, Ravello Festival. It’s the perfect way to spend a romantic summer’s eve.
Naples is the gateway to the region so is the perfect place to begin and end a holiday here. It offers a wealth of art museums, Italianate squares and narrow-laned centro storico. Nearby Cilento national park and Paestum beaches are great places to see as well.
Any visit to Naples is incomplete without a sampling of calzone (stuffed pizza) and of its wealth of seafood including clams, squid and octopus. Great food is certainly not scarce in the depths of the Amalfi Coast region either. The region’s dinner tables are as abundant in citrus fruits, olives and grapes as the landscape is, and wonderful seafood dishes include lobster boiled or in tomatoes, octopus casserole, spider crab soup and shrimp sautéed or lightly fried in breadcrumbs.
Be sure to wash all of that down with limoncello, an alcoholic digestif made from lemon rinds, alcohol, water and sugar that is the region’s most popular tipple.
Your tummies and your eyes certainly won’t go hungry in this beautiful region that will stay in your memories long after you’ve travelled the precarious coast road home (if you dare).
WHERE TO STAY
This captivating 19th century villa hides its charms behind a peaceful gated courtyard in the heart of old Naples. Outside a jewel-coloured stained glass window sets off the façade’s pretty terrace while inside plump cream sofas and oriental kilims are set off by striking art and fresh flowers.
One room features a wrought iron bed and a marble bathroom stocked with designer toiletries. A fabulous duplex suite showcases bold modern art, a four-poster and a deep mosaic-tiled whirlpool bath for two. After a hard day’s sightseeing and a twilight dip in the guitar-shaped pool we were happy to relax with a glass of the hotel’s home-distilled limoncello.
Overlooking the Bay of Naples, film lovers will be inspired by director Luchino Visconti’s five-star former villa. The focal point is a beautifully restored 15th century Saracen watchtower and Moorish archways invite you into elegant sitting rooms and bedrooms with dazzling Med views.
One room is furnished with warm coral tones, cool blues and classic Neapolitan Majolica tiles and marble, while open plan suites have private gardens and whirlpools. Get steamy in the bubbling thermal waters of the spa and beauty centre, indulge in a massage or get messy with the famous volcanic Ischian mud. We loved the warm cliff-edge seawater pool with its private beach below.
Maison La Minervetta
Step inside this 1950s villa on Sorrento’s cliffside and you could have walked into the pages of an interior design magazine. Architect Marco de Luca has created a stunning contemporary address that feels more like a loft apartment than a hotel.
Floor-to-ceiling windows capture views of the stunning Bay of Naples and vibrant colours give visual pizzazz that’s set off by sleek modern furniture and smart lighting. There’s no minimalism here; walls are loaded with flamboyant art and ceramics, retro 60s armchairs and lampshades lend a classic edge and still-lifes fascinate. Every room is a winner here, though number 8 is perhaps the best thanks to its wrap-around window through which only the waves can watch you.
Arriving at Villa Cimbrone is rather like walking into a living temple of art. Its sublime hilltop location, fabulous gardens, extravaganza of artworks and heart-stopping views sweeping down from Ravello to the sea indicate that you’re somewhere very special. Temples, gazebos, crumbling cloisters, pillars mantled in vines make it a must for anyone passionate about art.
Some rooms have frescoed ceilings, huge stone fireplaces and original Majolica floor tiles and all are strewn with antiques and ample old-time comforts. There’s a terrific pool-terrace framed with cliff-edge views, and you can have the park to yourself at dusk after visitors have gone.
BMI Baby fly from London Heathrow
British Airways fly from London Gatwick
Easyjet fly from London Stansted
Thomsonfly fly from Manchester
This feature was written for Italy Magazine
Photo by Alaskan Dude