Italophiles and avid travelers in general should tune into “Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy”, a new food-centric series that delves into the local cuisines in six top destinations in Italy. The series begins with a foray into the region of Campania to sample some of the iconic dishes from Naples and the Amalfi Coast, including pizza and pizza fritta (fried pizza), buffalo mozzarella, spaghetti alla Nerano, delizie al limone – a lemon-infused sponge cake. Based on the enthusiastic feedback from our clients, the first episode was a hit and has stoked renewed interest in the Amalfi Coast, a perennial favorite for first-time and seasoned Italy travelers.
If this episode has inspired you to add Italy’s most famous coastline to your future travel plans, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is where to book accommodations along the Amalfi Coast. It takes more than an hour to drive from one end of the coastline to the other, so it’s important to choose a base that fits your itinerary and travel pace, group, and budget. Read on for an overview of the most popular towns and villages along the coast to give you an idea of which may be right for your trip. And keep following Stanley Tucci’s jaunt across the Bel Paese over the next few weeks as he takes on the culture, history, and cuisine of Rome, Bologna, Milan, Tuscany, and Sicily.
The Amalfi Coast
On the Amalfi Coast, they like to quip that no one there will notice when Judgement Day comes since they already live in paradise. One glimpse of this idyllic stretch of coastline is enough to convince you that the locals don’t oversell – the dramatic cliffs towering over the deep turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea, dotted here and there with tiny former fishing villages and stately historic maritime republics, is one of the most spectacular in the world and its beauty has been celebrated by everyone from Homer to Beyoncé.
After Rome, Florence, and Venice, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular destinations in Italy and sees more than 5 million visitors invade its UNESCO-listed shores every year. To make this scale of tourism more sustainable, we suggest dedicating at least a few days – if not an entire week – to exploring its towns and villages, as well as the nearby islands,archaeological sites, and even the vibrant city of Naples. Where you book a hotel or villa on the coast during your stay, however, depends on your travel style, group, and itinerary.
Here is our expert guide to the towns and villages on and near the Amalfi Coast to help you narrow down your options and hang your hat in the perfect base for relaxing or exploring the Amalfi Coast and environs.
Sorrento: Perfect for Families and Day Trippers
Let’s make one thing clear: Sorrento is often grouped with the Amalfi Coast but is not, in fact, on the coast. Instead, this Grand Tour-era resort town is set on the Sorrentine Peninsula about halfway between Naples and the Amalfi Coast and is a popular cruise ship port and bus tour destination.
Its central location, ferry port, and Circumvesuviana train station make Sorrento one of the most popular towns to use as a base for exploring the entire coastline from Naples all the way down to Vietri sul Mare, the southernmost village on the Amalfi Coast. For this reason, the town can get completely overrun in the high season months between June and September, when the narrow lanes of the historic center are so packed that it makes it difficult to move around.
That said, there are two types of travelers who may want to consider using Sorrento as a base for a trip to the Amalfi Coast, especially in the spring or fall:
Tireless explorers. If you are planning on heading out each day to a different destination along Italy’s southern coastline, Sorrento is a great central jumping-off point. Ferries depart several times a day for Capri, Ischia, Naples, and Positano (ferries to the Amalfi Coast only run in the summer); the Circumvesuviana train has stops at Pompeii and Herculaneum; and the local SITA buses to the Amalfi Coast depart from here. Though we don’t suggest getting around the coastline by public transportation – especially in the summer – Sorrento is also a convenient base if driving or using a private car service; no destination of import either to the north or south is more than about an hour’s drive away.
Families. The center of Sorrento is mostly flat and the main street (Corso Italia) and warren of lanes in the historic center are closed to traffic, making it easier to explore with little ones in tow. There are two public parks and this is one of the few towns in the area that has residents year-round, so you’ll find a variety of kid-friendly shops, restaurants, and pizzerias. The beaches here are also larger and more suitable for families: the Marina Grande and Marina Piccola beaches are in the center of town and the BluMare (Puolo) and Conca Azzura (Massa Lubrense) beach clubs can be reached by car or taxi.
Pros: Family-friendly and easy to access both the sites to the north (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Mt. Vesuvius, and Naples) and the sites to the south (the Amalfi Coast and Capri). Also a good base for a day trip to Ischia.
Cons: Very crowded and touristy in the high-season summer months.
Don’t miss: Sunset from the Villa Comunale gardens.
Amalfi: A Paradise for Art and History Buffs
The Amalfi Coast offers very little in the way of art and architecture; the biggest draws here are the dazzling land- and seascapes, unforgettable cuisine, and relaxed atmosphere. If you are a lover of art and history, however, Amalfi will satisfy your culture craving with its outstanding cathedral, history as Italy’s oldest maritime republic, and tradition of paper making.
Amalfi is the largest and most important town on its eponymous coast and its central location – almost exactly halfway between Positano and Vietri sul Mare – makes it a strategic spot to settle if you’re not planning on venturing beyond the Amalfi Coast itself. The sister village of Atrani sits just to the east, the tiniest town in southern Italy and a picturesque maze of winding alleys and staircases that are said to have inspired many of Escher’s works after the Dutch artist visited in the early 20th century.
If you’re planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast, here’s why Amalfi may be the perfect base for you:
Culture. This former wealthy maritime superpower is home to the lion’s share of important art and architecture on the coastline, including the spectacular 10th-century Duomo and its Cloister of Paradise and the Church of San Biagio, famous for its 18th-century majolica floor. The Arsenale, once home to the Republic of Amalfi’s shipbuilders, today houses the Museum of the Compass and Maritime Duchy of Amalfi, dedicated to the history of Amalfi as a maritime Republic that competed with Venice, Pisa, and Genoa. Finally, the town’s Paper Museum is a fascinating look at its long history of hand-crafted paper and how it was made.
Convenience. If you are focusing your trip exclusively on the Amalfi Coast (with, at most, a day trip to the islands in the Bay of Naples), Amalfi is within striking distance of the entire coastline by land or sea. Ferries depart from Amalfi for Positano and the islands of Capri and Ischia in the summer months for day trips, and you can drive or take a taxi to Ravello on the cliffs just above the center of town. On days that you’d rather stick close by, there are plenty of options for browsing the artisan shops in town, relaxing on the beach, or dining with a view.
Pros: Combines the best of the Amalfi Coast: cultural sights, easy access to other destinations, and gorgeous scenery.
Cons: Most daytrippers and cruise excursions head here, so the centro storico is very crowded during the peak hours.
Don’t miss: Cartiera Amatruda, an artisan papermaking workshop that has been producing stationary for royalty and celebrities for 500 years.
Positano: VIP Cachet and Luxury Dining and Shopping
Arguably the most beautiful town on the Amalfi Coast, Positano has completely shed its humble fishing-village origins and is now one of the buzziest destinations along the coastline. The world’s glitterati shuttle between Positano and Capri on their five-star yachts before heading off to Monaco or Mykonos, and a clutch of high-end hotels, restaurants, and boutiques have grown over the decades to serve this rarified clientele.
You don’t need to be a celebrity to appreciate the effortless elegance of Positano, however. The postcard-perfect jumble of colorful houses that cling to the cliffside all the way down to the water’s edge, lush flowering bougainvillea and jasmine flowers canopying the narrow lanes, and colorful majolica dome of the village church towering above the sea are the perfect backdrop for a quick trip to the coast or a special celebration.
When is Positano the perfect base for an Amalfi Coast trip? In these two cases:
Short stays. If you don’t have more than a day or two to spend on the coast and are not planning on making many day trips, Positano is the perfect introduction to the beauty and magic of the “Costiera”. Set on the western edge of the coastline, this dazzling village is a bit out of the way for exploring, though there are ferries in the summer to Amalfi and Capri if you want to squeeze in a day trip during your stay. If you are only going to be there for a night or two, we suggest instead lingering in and around the village itself to explore its shops, dine on Spiaggia Grande, relax on Fornillo Beach, and soak in the “la dolce vita” atmosphere.
Special celebrations. There is no better place to splurge on the romantic vacation of a lifetime than Positano. Whether you’re about to pop the question, are planning a first (or second) honeymoon, or want to mark an important anniversary or other occasion, this film-set backdrop fits the bill. Home to some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants on the coast, an easily accessible pier for private minicruises (http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/boating-amalfi-coast.php), and a plethora of tiny private beach clubs, Positano makes everyone feel pampered.
Pros: A bucket-list destination with white-glove hospitality and services.
Cons: The most expensive destination on the coast; can get crowded with daytrippers in the peak hours.
Don’t miss: Dinner at La Sponda, the fine-dining restaurant at the luxury Le Sirenuse hotel, where the dining room is lit by 400 candles each evening.
Praiano, Maiori, and Minori: Escape the Crowds
Amalfi and Positano are by far the two most famous and popular destinations on the Amalfi Coast, and the tourist melee can make enjoying their tiny historic centers difficult to appreciate in the crowded summer months.
Avoiding the crush of visitors on the Amalfi Coast isn’t as hard as you may think, however, as there are a number of smaller villages that fly almost completely under the tourist radar and have managed to retain their timeless village atmosphere despite the problems of overtourism that plague much of the coastline.
If you have already explored the coastal highlights on a previous trip and want to spend more time focusing on the off-the-beaten-path side of the Amalfi Coast this time around, consider a stay in or around one of the smaller hamlets like Praiano, Maiori, or Minori. Though they have only a fraction of the tourist traffic, you’ll still find charming local restaurants, pocket-sized beaches, and tiny jetties to set off on a mini cruise along the coastline.
Consider a village stay if:
It’s a second or subsequent trip. You’ve already ticked the A-list sights off your list and this time around want to slow your pace and discover the more authentic and less crowded side of the Amalfi Coast.
You’d like to book a serviced villa. For those who really want to avoid the crowds, a serviced villa with a pool is a great option and many of these are scattered across the hills and cliffs around the smaller villages on the coastline. A great option for larger families or groups of friends, villas combine access to sights with privacy and flexibility.
Pros: A slower pace, fewer crowds, and a more authentic vibe.
Cons: More complicated logistics for sightseeing and little or no nightlife.
Don’t miss: The Furore Fjord near Praiano and the storied Salvatore di Riso pastry shop in Maiori.
Conca dei Marini and Ravello: Ultimate R&R
Sometimes, you just want to settle in and stay for awhile. This is when you should opt for a destination hotel that offers everything you need for a flawlessly relaxing stay wrapped up with an indulgent little bow.
If you are headed to the Amalfi Coast to unwind and recharge, here are two hotels where once you check in, there’s no need to go check things out:
Monastero Santa Rosa. Perched on a clifftop directly over the sea near the tiny fishing village of Conca dei Marini between Amalfi and Positano, this 17th-century monastery is now one of the most luxurious hotels on the Amalfi Coast and among our personal favorites. Gorgeous rooms set in the former convent cells, a lush garden with infinity pool, full-service spa, award-winning restaurant, and impeccable service mean there’s no reason to leave…though there is a free shuttle service to Amalfi, if you really must.
Belmond Hotel Caruso. Another scenic perch, this time in Ravello overlooking the Bay of Salerno, this luxury resort is set in an 11th-century palazzo and has one of the most stunning infinity pools on the coast. While away your days in the extensive grounds or poolside, treat yourself to a massage in the spa, linger over drinks on the terrace, and enjoy gourmet fish and seafood dishes at the in-house restaurants. There are shuttles down the hill to Amalfi, but you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to leave these luxe confines.
Pros: A true vacation focused on unwinding far from the crowds and traffic.
Cons: Set apart from the town centers, so nightlife and sightseeing are limited.
Don’t miss: The views from the infinity pools, some of the most spectacular in the world.