The Amalfi Drive, in Italy, or the SS163 to give it the correct name, has to be one of the world’s most famous road trips. We set out to explore some of the beautiful places on the Amalfi Coast and were blown away by what we saw.
My husband bravely opted to drive the route, so we picked up a car in Rome and headed south. The 48 km of road hugs a spectacular coastline, with slopes filled with lemon groves, vineyards and the impossibly blue water of the Tyrrhenian Sea below. It winds and clings to the cliff face with vertical mountains towering above you and sheer drops on the opposite side. This unique terrain was recognised by UNESCO and declared a World Heritage site in 1997.
I have to mention at this point that the driving is crazy, but you don’t need to drive yourself to experience the beauty of the coast. You can use the bus as we did a couple of times so that Steve could have a break and enjoy the scenery as well.
There is almost no place to stop along the route and the parking in the towns is limited. If you are driving on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to it also requires a great deal of concentration.
Tip: If you begin your bus trip in Sorrento try and get a window seat on the right-hand side of the bus for the best views. Naturally the opposite applies if you are coming in the other direction.
Discovering the beautiful places on the Amalfi Coast
Although not strictly speaking part of the Amalfi Coast Sorrento is part of Naples but is considered to be the gateway to the region. It is also an easy access point if you are planning a visit to Capri which lies just offshore. Famed for its limoncello, lacemaking and ceramics it’s a great place to use as a base if you are not planning to stay on the coast.
More: What to do in Sorrento
Everything in this town comes with a big price tag. It’s trendy and you can tell by the beautiful people lazing in the cafes and on the beach. It’s also easy to see why everyone loves this town. It’s filled with pretty pastel coloured houses that tumble down the cliff face towards the ocean.
There is not a whole lot to do here except enjoy la dolce vita, explore the tiny lanes and watch the world go by. You can rent rowing boats or take part in a wide range of water-based activities. You can also jump on a ferry and go to further along the coast or to the island of Capri.
Don’t miss the 13th Century church of Santa Maria Assunta. Its beautiful tiled dome is quite a feature on the landscape. Legend has it that the Byzantine icon of a black Madonna was brought here by pirates.
I saw some gorgeous paintings and a couple of interesting sculptures while I was wandering around. If you enjoy art I am sure that you will find something to your liking in the numerous art galleries in town.
This probably is not the first town that comes to mind, but it deserves a mention as one of the beautiful places on the Amalfi Coast. The village is firmly wedged between 2 hills that run along the Dragone River, which as you have guessed means Dragon River. Naturally, there is also a legend about a fire-breathing dragon that would spend his days hiding there.
The local population numbered 855 people in 2017. They have maintained their traditions and even their local dialect. It is also the smallest town in Italy covering an area of 0.12 km2.
As you sip your prosecco and take in the charming medieval atmosphere you may well have a feeling of déjà vu. This is probably because you will have seen the streets of the town in any one of a number of movies shot in the area.
If you are passing it on a ferry it has 2 features which distinguish it from the other towns. The dome of the Collegiata di Santa Maria Maddalene is clearly visible with its striking yellow and green tiled dome and bell tower.
If you imagine a picture book setting then Amalfi fits the bill perfectly. It is nestled at the foot of Monte Cerreto with cliffs that tower above the town dwarfing it. It’s not a large town and if you were on a mission you could probably walk across it in about 25 minutes, but it has a lot to offer. It has a couple of small beaches, gorgeous piazzas and pretty sun filled pedestrian streets to buy the perfect souvenir.
The Duomo di Sant’Andrea Apostolo is reached by climbing a majestic flight of stairs. The church houses the relics of St. Andrew in the crypt. Even if you decide not to go into the church it is worth climbing the stairs to see the magnificent bronze doors cast in about 1060 in Constantinople by Simeon of Syria.
The winding SS 373 climbs and climbs and then climbs some more through citrus groves and eventually brings you to the stunning little town of Ravello, deep in the Valle del Dragone. It is relatively out of the way so it often gets missed, but I thought this was probably the most beautiful spot on the coast. There are numerous hikes in the area that offer views straight down the cliff face dotted with vineyards to a sparkling blue ocean.
From the main square make your way to Villa Cimbrone made famous by Greta Garbo in the 1930’s. The gardens are stunning and once again one view is better than the next. Hard to believe, I know.
We stayed a night which meant that we mingled with the locals in the evening when most of the tourists had left. The town somehow felt peaceful and had a totally different atmosphere. We had a wonderful dinner at Cumpa’ Cosimo where nonna Netta, who has cooked in her family tavern for more than 60 years, came out to chat with us like one of the family. The food was nothing fancy, but authentic and delicious.
When to go
Naturally, everyone wants to soak up the sun, but the Amalfi Coast is very hot and packed with people in summer, so this would not be my first choice.
The ideal times are May – June and September – October. I have also visited in April and while there was a chill in the air the days we still beautiful.
Rain is rare in winter, so if you are not planning on spending time on the water or the beach then this is a great time of the year. As an added bonus you will get really good hotel rates as well. The downside is that some of the restaurants close at this time of the year, so check ahead.
There are so many beautiful places on the Amalfi Coast that this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are in fact 13 villages but these were my favourites. I know that some of the descriptions sound a bit like I am gushing but it’s difficult to explain just how spectacular it really is. All that’s left to say is seeing is believing.
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