Dodging cars, trucks and vespas along precarious one-lane hairpin bends, the bus ride along Italy’s Amalfi Coast brings new meaning to the term ‘white-knuckled’. But the mad traffic isn’t the only thing that’ll take your breath away. Mountain peaks loom over dramatic cliffs, embedded with Byzantine-era fishing towns and tucked away beaches. Under romantic Italian sea haze and pastel skies blending seamlessly with the horizon, a ride along the Amalfi coastal road is a resplendent visual treat.
I have no idea how architecturally sound it must have appeared to these early Italian engineers to build entire villages on top of each other on the very edge of a seaside cliff, but if they hadn’t, then this part of Italy would not have ended up anywhere near as magnificent.
The jewel of the coast is UNESCO heritage listed Amalfi, located 35km southeast of Naples. Between the years 839 and 1200 AD it was a vital maritime hub. With ornate buildings and piers jutting out to the waterline, reflections of its animated past can still be felt. The town is overlooked by the magnificent 11th Century duomo of St Andrew’s Cathedral. In the centre, the heart and soul La Piazza Duomo buzzes with vibrance, the bustling square connecting rows of pedestrian alleys full of restaurants, cafes and souvenir stores.
Thankfully we missed most of the heavy summer buzz, with tourists arriving en masse through July and August.
We stayed at A’Scalinatella, a cosy, quiet hostel, and just a 500 meter walk around the point to Amalfi’s little brother, the nearby town Atrani, once the living quarters of Roman aristocracy and powerful Amalfi families. Somewhat quieter by comparison, it’s Piazatta Umberto brims with no less character than its larger sibling. For the budget conscious, Atrani offers an affordable alternative to the slightly more upmarket Amalfi.
Taking a well-earned break at La Risacca Bar, we ordered a stiff drink to quell the bus ride nerves, our waiter insisting on ‘Limoncello’, a drink that flows like water in the Salerno. The Salerno region is renowned for cultivating the largest, juiciest lemons in the world and the sweet, syrupy digestive is bottled and consumed in abundance.
Feeling quite lazy in the sun we took the hour-long trek to the town of Ravello, perched high in the hills looking over the coast. The view towards the Mediterranean from Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo was spectacular and well worth the arduous uphill battle.
Edging back into laziness, we dined literally over the water at Da Zaccaria, a thoroughfare restaurant perched on the nook of the Strada Statale tunnel. What an event! We left the menu choice up to our cigarette smoking waiter, indulging in plate after plate of lavish seafood, fish and traditional pasta on his recommendation. Facing an exorbitant, as yet unknown expense, we drank enough Limoncello to ease the pain (it turned out to be a very imprudent 145 Euro between three!!). Still, It was the finest and most unforgettable meal of our lives.
Capturing hearts, as well as stomachs, Amalfi and Atrani are postcard perfect and provide a truly idyllic experience – relaxed, bristling, romantic and classically beautiful.