Try to remember the most beautiful place you have ever visited – recall each glorious sensation as you relive the memory of the scenery, the tastes and the sounds…now multiply all of those sensations by a thousand, and you won’t even get close to understanding what makes the Amalfi Coast one of the world’s most extraordinary destinations.
If you are taking your first trip to Italy and your destination is the Amalfi Coast, it is akin to going on a blind date and finding the perfect man or woman waiting for you in paradise. Italy, so varied in all its regions, is unlike any other European destination. You will be so seduced by the perfection of the views, the delicious foods, the warmth of the people that you will declare unequivocally that you have truly found your spiritual home.
The Amalfi Coast, making up part of the Campania region of south-west Italy is a rugged yet sublime peninsula. The proportion of the mountains and hills, rolling through this coastline, draw unparalleled views along vertiginous roads that weave in and out of the cliff tops. Be clever enough to let anyone else drive the route from Naples to Vietri Sul Mare so you can sit back and imbibe the ever-changing blues of the sea, stretching out from coves and beaches to the distant azure horizon.
The landscape you will pass on your journey to Sorrento and further to Positano, Amalfi and Ravello appear unchanged from what you might expect to have seen hundreds of years ago. The sensitivity and intelligence employed by the Amalfatini natives in their preservation of traditional dwellings and in the development of exquisite new-built villas are reflected in a region that is utterly devoid of ugly construction.
In fact, when you look at the villas near the Amalfi Coast you will find beautifully appointed properties, all with the most modern facilities with terraces and swimming pools that capture unparalleled views over the Tyrrhenian Sea against a backdrop of vineyards and orchards of rolling citrus groves. These pungent Femminello lemon groves with their naturally sweet tasting fruit are sliced and eaten by locals who have given them the name ‘pane’ meaning bread. For hundreds of years, these aged trees clothed the hills in a tapestry of dark green foliage with splashes of oranges and yellows – a photographer’s dream when in blossom or laden with fruits.
The topography of the Amalfi peninsula has played its part in the urban developments of its towns and villages. Villages seem to be literally sewn into cliff-sides, sweeping down to beaches in a series of miraculous terraced constructs. These bursts of urbanisation, are offset by the wonderful agricultural countryside bursting with vineyards that employ the Greek tradition of using fruit trees to support trellised vines. This practice introduced to the region centuries ago and singular only to the Campania region of Italy sees mature orchards laden with fruit, draped in ripening vines.
Sitting in a private Italian villa, with your pool perched on a promontory overlooking the sea is perhaps the very best way to enjoy the Amalfi Coast. The stylish bustle of the towns and villages are wonderful to dip in and out of, but it is in your own personal private home that you can merge with the true spirit of Italy before slipping on your sexy, stylish clothes to step into the Italian way of life.
Never too far from these private villas are towns and villages the largest of them being Sorrento. This cosmopolitan town with an energetic vibe has an excellent choice of good restaurants ranging from more formal dining at the two Michelin star Don Alfonso 1890 to the wonderful beach shack-chic of Soul & Fish at Marina Grande.
Here you can order a delicious lunch of Scialatelli a short tagliatelle usually served with a seafood sauce. The name is deriving from the Neapolitan word “scialare” to enjoy and “padella” meaning frying pan.
As you taste the freshest of fish and divine sweet treats you can look out across the bay to Mt Vesuvius and plan your trip to the archaeological wonder of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
In addition to the profusion of seafood landed each day along the coastline, the other great culinary experience on the Amalfi Coast is, of course, the humble pizza. I say ‘humble’, but until you have sampled the lightest, freshest pizzas made in open kitchens and flash cooked in clay furnaces, you can’t begin to appreciate these melting marvels of simplicity. For a casual lunch with a glass of red, is there anything better?
Sorrento offers a quaint weave of winding streets and alleyways that hide intimate restaurants that create a naturally romantic ambience or gravitate to Piazza Tasso and indulge in some Sfogliatella, a flaky pastry shell, filled with a lemon cream with dried fruits accompanied by a faultless Italian coffee. This square is the epicentre of Sorrento where you can idle away an evening with a chilled Lemoncello and watch the stylish locals drift by.
There are a number of historic buildings and ancient churches for the culturally minded, and there always seems to be a saint or two being honoured at a local festival where speciality dishes associated with the festival are served: Ndunderi, a type of gnocchi is served in honour of Santa Trofiemena or Sarchiapone, a long-stuffed pumpkin that resembles cannelloni is a dish unique to this region.
Taste is Everything
Taste in Italy is everything …. And by this, I mean the actual pleasure of tasting beautiful natural ingredients to the pleasure of wearing a luxurious piece of clothing. It might be a simple tomato pizza or a plain white shirt but once you have experienced the style with which Italians create everything you will truly understand what is meant by Style and Substance. It is easy to comprehend why Jacqueline Onassis, Greta Garbo and many other stylish celebrities were drawn to this peninsula.
Where food is concerned, the Italians use what is grown and produced locally. Thus you find that each region in Italy is famous for specific foods. Rejoice that you are in the Campania region as you are in the mozzarella capital of Italy. The Campania Buffalo Mozzarella is revered all over Italy was known as ‘white gold’ for its superiority to other regional varieties. Whether you consume it fresh with the local piquant San Marzano tomatoes and a flutter of basil leaves or devour it in all its melted unctuous glory on a pizza, you will fall under its dreamy spell.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to stay at a number of beautiful villas near the Amalfi Coast and have had boxes of local fresh produce dropped to my door each day. San Marzano tomatoes, Sfusato Amalfitano or Femminello lemons, a local bread made with strong flour, the green richness of the local virgin olive oils, a variety of fresh herbs from the hillsides and of course the Campania Buffalo Mozzarella. These simple ingredients coupled with a fresh local white wine or deep red will provide you with the most divinely casual lunch while you idle away an afternoon by your pool, hypnotised by the aquamarine and silver of the Tyrrhenian Sea below.
Fully refreshed and revived from your relaxing afternoon, you can get your best ruggedly handsome / sexy glamour look on and make your next destination Positano – probably the brightest jewel on the dazzling necklace that is the Amalfi Coast.
Positano started life as a fishing village but has morphed (without growing excessively) to a sophisticated and extremely fashionable urban wonder draped above the pebble beaches along the coastline. The drive from Sorrento to Positano known as Nastro Azzurro (Blue Ribbon) is a feat of engineering. The locals drive these roads as though they have a date with “destino” and it is hair-raising to see them swish by with such confidence. Taking your time on this drive allows you to capture the wonder of one of the greatest drives in the world. You will also get to see the famous Sirenuse rocks where ancient myths tell us that the sirens, devilishly beautiful women, sang and played music to entrance sailors (most notably Ulysses) luring them to their doom.
As you arrive in Positano, you will leave your car at one of the parking areas at the top of the cliff. Dressed in your chic best but with a stylish shoe that can navigate hills and cobbles, you can enjoy some of the world’s most romantic Amalfi Coast restaurants built into the cliffs of this golden, red and bouganvillia bedecked marvel. Arriving at sunset, nothing will ever prepare you for Positano – a golden, yellow profusion of buildings stacked into a cliff-side looking out over a shimmering sea.
Go and enjoy a sophisticated aperitivo on the terrace of Hotel Il San Pietro, followed by a Michelin starred dinner in their restaurant Zass or dine at Le Sirenuse Hotel, where winding steps will guide you to a divine restaurant tucked into the cliff. Alternatively, wander down along the cascading narrow streets that weave through the town and dine by the water in one of the lively and bustling restaurants. Delicious Risotto con Agrumi e Gamberetti – a prawn and lemon risotto unite the sea and land in each dreamy mouthful. Arguably, one of the best things to do in Positano is to eat. Lots.
For a day trip to remember, you can use Positano’s hydrofoil to take the 50 minute trip to the Isle of Capri. This 4 square mile island has a concentration of designer shopping, glorious restaurants, pretty beaches and the world famous Blue Grotto . A day spent on Capri sunbathing, dining, shopping is a must on any Amalfi Coast itinerary. Breaking away from one of the gloriously secluded villas near the Amalfi coast, this trip will offer a feast for the senses. The Funicolare di Capri (the funicular railway) will take you from the main port of Capri to the town of Anacapri saving time and energy while delighting the child within you.
The next stop on our coastal odyssey is the town of Amalfi. This town with a history dating back to the 9th century boasts the Arab-Norman cathedral of Sant’Andrea with its striped Byzantine façade. This piece of architecture reminds us of the history of this peninsula that has links with Arabia, Africa, Greece and long forgotten Italian principalities. The cultural influences of each of these countries or continents are still present in some of the historic sites, the agriculture and in the recipes that are still cooked in the Amalfatini kitchens.
Amalfi, with its wonderful array of restaurants and cafes, is an ideal base to explore the lively beaches along its coastline, travel into the hills to make a trip through the forests, take a walk along the 8km hike known as “The Path of the Gods” from Bomerano to Positano. Take a boat trip along the coast and marvel at the peninsula from this perspective. There are so many activities for all tastes.
Amalfi is a wonderful town to visit with teenagers or younger children as it has very family orientated beaches, with enough variety of restaurants and cafes and water activities to keep the most active little person pleased. Added to which, the local gelato will act as a salve to cool even the most frazzled temperatures!
From the lovely town of Amalfi, the next stop is the resort town of Ravello. At 365 metres above the Tyrrhenian Sea, the views from Ravello are extraordinary. With its own unique history, this relaxed town is renowned for its lovely restaurants and spectacular gardens.
Visit the Villa Rufolo to see how man and nature can work in harmony to create gardens of unique beauty that are terraced to capture the surrounding views. For decades, this pretty town has welcomed artists, writers and musicians, namely Joan Miro, Leonard Bernstein, Virginia Woolf, Grieg, Graham Greene. It is easy to understand how the artist within all of us could so easily be moved by such resplendent beauty.
The Amalfi Coast has been a significant romantic destination for travellers for centuries. And time spent here in your private villa, where you can venture forth to amble along narrow streets, delve into the history of Pompeii and Herculaneum, hop on a hydrofoil to explore the peninsula or go further afield to visit the islands of Capri or Ischia, is the basis for the holiday experience of a lifetime. Regardless of how busy it gets at high season, there is a languor in how the Italians approach life. There is always time for a chat, courtly manners still prevail, and you will always be Bella signora or l’uomo gentile …. You will feel cherished by the friendly and open-hearted way the Italians will welcome you to their world. All of this graceful charm is wrapped up in the most breath-taking and stylish of packages. Andiamo!!!