The Amalfi Coast is a place where land, sea and sky strike a note of such otherworldly perfection that the region is best approached by boat in order to take in the panorama all at once. After John Steinbeck visited Positano—today the coast’s most famous town—in the 1950s, he wrote in a brilliant essay the poignant, and often quoted, lines: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
Some would argue that by now, the massive amounts of tourists during the high season outweigh Amalfi’s stupendous beauty. But most are bewitched and bewildered by the setting (plus, true insiders know that one civilized way of escaping the crowds is to visit on a yacht or a sailboat). Romantics and first-timers almost always spend a few nights in Positano, while return travelers often prefer hillside Ravello, which French author André Gide wrote “is nearer to the sky than it is to the shore.” Wherever you stay, you can’t help but be amazed at the steep landscapes and the villages carved out of brute rock face centuries ago by a resilient people who knew that this perch afforded them the ultimate lookout for invaders.
Sitting on the terrace of Le Sirenuse or Il San Pietro, you’re not gazing for enemy ships anymore (only the occasional mega yacht), yet there remains something humbling about those same expansive vistas, which continue to bite deep.
During the high season (June–August), the Amalfi Coast is hopelessly overrun by tourists, a situation made worse by the region’s tight and winding layout. Unless you’re approaching on a private yacht, your best bet is to avoid the area during this time. Late spring and the fall are better, though off-season you will encounter lots of school groups and large tour buses, which are banned during the summer. It’s a seaside resort setting, so most businesses, including restaurants, shutter during the winter. The unofficial time for reopening is Easter.
For visitors from abroad, the closest airport is Naples International Airport, in Capodichino. From Naples it’s about an hour-and-a-half drive, depending on how quickly you adopt Italian road skills (if you’re hesitant about taking on a winding, elevated coastal road, it’s best to book a driver). If you’re already in Italy, all major cities offer train service to Naples.
In 1953, John Steinbeck wrote about Positano for Harper’s Bazaar, and the hilarious passage about his chauffeured drive along the coast still rings true: “Signor Bassano was a remarkable man. He was capable of driving at a hundred kilometers an hour, blowing the horn, screeching the brakes, driving mules up trees, and at the same time turning around in the seat and using both hands to gesture, describing in loud tones the beauties and antiquities of Italy.… It was amazing. It damn near killed us. And in spite of that he never hit anybody or anything. The only casualties were our quivering, bleeding nerves.”
Quivering, bleeding nerves remain the casualties of Amalfi’s SS163, the coastal road that’s full of hairpin turns and madcap Italians on their scooters. But the spectacular views are well worth it. While intrepid drivers, particularly those with practice navigating similarly winding roads in southern France or Switzerland, will have no problem here, first-time visitors should consider hiring a driver, since the person concentrating on the road will miss most of the view. The hotels listed in this report can make arrangements for airport transfers. Traveling between the coastal towns can also be done via boats, and some restaurants, like Lo Scoglio, are actually best reached from the water.
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