23 August 2016

Going Coastal: A Day on the Amalfi Coast

I'm a little behind with my Italian travel blogs thanks to a packed schedule and terrible wifi, and it was on Thursday morning that we took the ferry from Naples to Sorrento. Sorrento lies just across the Gulf of Naples from its more northerly neighbour and you can take a train or taxi (both of which take about 70 minutes), but we opted to go by boat, which is a little faster (45 minutes) and rather pleasant. There isn't a huge amount to do in Sorrento itself but it’s a good base for exploring the Amalfi Coast and the isles of Capri and Ischia. 

I’ll write about our stay in Sorrento in another post, as this post covers our day trip to the Amalfi Coast. There are a number of ways to visit the beautiful villages and small towns that line the verdant coastline on the south side of the Sorrento peninsula. You can, for instance, reach Positano, the closest village to Sorrento and perhaps the most iconic, by taking a ferry from Sorrento in the summer season, and then hop from village to village on the regular but crowded public buses. You can also join one of the numerous organised tours that run from Naples and Sorrento. We decided to hire a driver for the day so that we could customise our itinerary, although as there is only really one way in and one way out of the Amalfi villages, only so much customisation is possible in the summer.

We left Sorrento at around 9:30 am and it took about 40 minutes to reach the outskirts of Positano. The drive was exceptionally scenic and we were grateful to have such a careful driver on the stomach-churning, winding roads. The first viewpoint we stopped at had a great vista looking back towards Capri and Ischia. Our driver also pointed out the Li Galli islands, an archipelago of tiny privately owned islands that look fairly normal from the side, but from above, one of them resembles a dolphin or a mermaid, depending on your point of view.

We must have left town ahead of most of the tour buses and vans because there were still parking spaces at the viewpoints we stopped at; on our return journey, the vistas were a lot more crowded. When we got our first glimpse of Positano, we knew that it was going to be a good day. The pretty, pastel-hued houses and buildings are perched precariously on the hillside overlooking a modest, parasol-lined beach. The clear blue sea, meanwhile, is dotted with ships, large and small.

We wandered around Positano for about an hour and had coffee on the beach. There is good shopping to be had in Positano, especially if you are in the market for fine sandals, hats or scarves; however, the prices are more expensive than in Sorrento and especially Naples.

En route to Ravello, we drove through several more villages, including Praiano, which, like many of the other villages in the region, had a gorgeous tiled dome on its church. Finally, on the outskirts of Amalfi town, we hit our first traffic jam and unfortunately, it was a big one. We didn't stop in Amalfi but it took over an hour to get through the queue (naturally, the traffic is at its worst in mid-August with both international and Italian tourists heading to the region). Amalfi is the largest town on the Amalfi Coast and the most developed. The small beach is jam-packed with colourful parasols and the town’s gorgeous duomo is well worth a look. Its population is about 5,000; it used to be much bigger and served as an important trading port until it was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in the 14th century.

Eventually, we reached Ravello, which is perched high above the sea in the hills. We stopped for a quick but good Neapolitan pizza at Ristorante Vittoria. Ravello is famous for its two grand villas, Villa Rufalo, which is closer to the centre of the village, and Villa Cimbrone, which is a steep ten-minute walk away from the centre, but well worth the hike once you reach the Terrazzo dell’Infinito — a terrace worthy of the infinity in its name. 

We went to Villa Cimbrone and did a few leaps on the terrace, before taking a brief walk through the villa’s beautiful gardens and then heading back to our car for the journey back to Sorrento. The views from Ravello are really stunning so if you head to the Amalfi Coast, I would definitely recommend that you pay a visit.

The drive back to Sorrento was slightly quicker — the traffic wasn’t quite as bad through Amalfi, although there were many tour buses still making their way into town. We had hoped to get home for about 3:30 but that would have meant sacrificing our trip to Ravello, so instead it was closer to 5:00 that we pulled back up outside the hotel. 

We really enjoyed the day and it was a great luxury to have a private car driven by a knowledgeable and entertaining driver. It cost about €300 but although there were only three of us in the car, we could have had five people for the same price. Of course, like most of the other destinations and activities on this trip, it would have been more pleasant and less crowded in May or October, but we still had a great time. There are many other villages on the Amalfi Coast that we either didn't see or didn't visit; if you are looking for Amalfi inspiration, the website positano.com is useful for getting a feel for what each village offers. 


  1. Hi Bex,

    That takes me back about 10 years, the one and (so far) only time I visited the Amalfi Coast. We stayed in Amalfi itself and the visit to Ravello was the highlight in many ways :-).

    If you stay in Amalfi, you can actually walk up to Ravello easily enough in a day, although we were there in February when it was a bit cooler and quieter and you could get a seat on the bus :-) I'm not sure I'd have wanted to do the climb in August!


    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the tips! February does sound like a more pleasant time of year to experience the Amalfi Coast — I would have loved to have done some hiking if I'd had more time and cooler temperatures! Did you do the Path of the Gods?

      The heat and the crowds still didn't detract from the beauty of the region, though, and I was glad we had time for a one-day taster.