The Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s greatest treasures; in contrast to the landlocked beauty of Tuscany, the Amalfi region is all about the interplay of the Mediterranean sea and the hilly coast line, with all the plunges and beautiful colors associated with the villages that dot the coastline. Positano, Sorrento, and Amalfi are just three of the towns worth exploring here, but the entire region offers a luxurious artist’s haven.
Italy is of course an art historian’s paradise, but the Amalfi Coast offers a special opportunity to move beyond the Renaissance wonders of da Vinci and Raphael and explore the art scene as a whole, from ancient times all the way through the present.
- Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi coast; the train station at Naples runs the commuter train (called the Circumvesuviana) that connects to Sorrento via (you will need to take a bus or car to make it from Sorrento to Positano). Naples is known for its pick-pocketing problems, and the same goes for the Circumvesuviana – keep your wits about you on the trains, especially as they get crowded during commuter hours.
- Naples has an international airport serviced by many of the major airlines; there are no direct flights to Naples from the United States, but you can get to Naples fairly easily with only one layover, often in M unich or Rome, via most major airlines, including United and Lufthansa.
- Once you arrive in Naples, a four-day car rental will cost you about $275 via Europcar. The roads along the Amalfi coast are incredibly picturesque, but do be careful of the hairpin turns and changes in elevation. In addition, tour buses and mopeds are the norm, so it is important to be aware of these large and small vehicles on the road.
- The small corner stores and markets are great places to get fruit in Amalfi coast towns. Fruit can be surprisingly cheap, and if you’re staying somewhere near the top of one of these mountains, a basket of strawberries or a few slices of melon can make an excellent snack for the windy walk down to the beach.
- Sorrento, especially, can offer a baffling mix of a large-town and small-village feel; the main square in Sorrento is a wonderful place to walk and people-watch, but most of the restaurants on this main square are overpriced and not that enjoyable. Take a walk down the sidestreets that branch off the square for mouth-watering gelateria, cafes with character, and surprisingly creative cocktail bars.
Where to Stay
The Buca di Bacco Hotel has one of the most convenient locations on the Amalfi Coast for a hotel. Located right on the main beach in Positano, guests can walk straight out from the hotel onto the town’s exclamation point. Though called the Spiaggia Grande, the main beach in Positano is still relatively small; the entire town has an intimate feel, and Buca di Bacco puts you right in the center of this lovely (with an excellent hotel restaurant to boot).
The Villa Marina Hotel and Spa is an excellent luxury option for those seeking a strong rest-and-relaxation component in their holiday. Situated on the island of Capri, and easy boat ride from Naples, this boutique hotel and spa is removed enough from the congestion of the coast without taking you too far from the sights and experiences you'll want to find in those other beautiful towns (Capri is a 50 minute hydrofoil ride from Naples and a 20 minute hydrofoil ride/25 minute ferry ride from Sorrento).
Hotel Onda Verde is an excellent third option that allows you to stay on the mainland – with easy access to all of the world-class beautiful drives along the coast – but still enjoy the seclusion that comes with a slightly removed spot. Located 7 km each from Positano and Amalfi, Hotel Onda Verde offers the same postcard views you’ll find in those towns. Another advantage of this hotel? An on-site, two hour cooking class that will teach you to recreate delicious local recipes.
Where to Eat
The Buca di Bacco Hotel also has a wonderful restaurant that offers an excellent opportunity to dine and enjoy the Positano seaside views. I remember their bruschetta appetizer being one of the freshest variations on the Italian classic I had ever enjoyed, and their staff was also excellent with wine recommendations. Especially for the first night you’ve arrived in Positano, perhaps after a day of travelling and a windy drive along the coast, a long, relaxing meal of fresh seafood and pasta dishes at this hotel is the perfect Amalfi gateway drug.
In Sorrento, il Buco Ristorante is an excellent dining option. Il Buco takes its charge as a culinary destination seriously, offering both regular and tasting menus. The restaurant also knows that it doesn’t have to come up with an extravagant creation to offer its patrons the most delicious experience possible – one of their best offerings is “freshly caught fish from our very own bay of Naples and prepared for you just as you wish.”
Finally, for a true artistic experience, try dining at La Caravella, one of the most adorable restaurants on the coast, located in the town of Amalfi itself. The restaurant doubles as a museum, hosting a beautiful collection of Vietri ceramics. La Caravella is a place to take your time, to indulge in a fine meal – in no way does
this venue sacrifice culinary mastery for its artistic function – and let the historical art pieces construct a seductive narrative. The wine cellar is also famous and a real treasure for those looking for education in wine. One of their most exciting dishes is their “frittata di spaghetti,” which is a light seafood pasta dish that truly features the fruits of the Mediterranean sea.
What to See and Do
Pompei is easily accessible from the Amalfi Coast. The great Mt. Vesuvius, responsible for its famous volcanic explosion in the 79 C.E., looms over the Bay of Naples, and a trip to the historic Roman town of Pompeii provides the perfect cultural complement to the days of wining and dining that are the mainstay of Italian vacations.
An archaeologist’s dream, Pompei offers a variety of visual wonders. You can take pleasure in studying the floor plans of the houses, the layout of an ancient Roman city, and of course also the two-dimensional art: the mosaics and frescoes. Do not miss the Cave Canum (“Beware the Dog”) mosaic, an early example of how art and practical functions intersected.
Herculaneum is also accessible via the same Circumvesuviana train that will take you to Pompei, and many have observed that its ruins are much more illuminating; there was not as much damage to Herculaneum from the volcanic explosion. An additional advantage is that Herculaneum has fewer crowds and tour buses (a particular advantage if you’re seeking an artistic state of mind!). Admission for Herculaneum and Pompei each is 11 euros.
For a less historical, but perhaps equally artistically rich experience, delve into the arts and crafts scene in the Amalfi coast towns. Sorrento is a perfect place to start because of its size; it is large enough to offer a wide number of galleries for you to peruse.
Positano is an excellent place to set up your own artist’s palette and do a little bit of painting on your own. You will see several artists set up under their own umbrellas, painting the landscape, and there’s no reason not to follow suit. The Positano beach is beautiful, offering incredible views of the sea and the dramatic surrounding slopes, and there are enough boats that approach the docks to inspire the kind of beautiful harbor scene you always wanted to paint.
I would recommend buying a bottle of limoncello, the local liquor made from the famous Amalfi coast lemons, and some local fruit to enjoy on the beach while you paint. The local market stores are filled with a variety of local options.
Another must-see in Positano for the artistically-minded is the series of sandal shops; tucked in corners of the town, you may come across rows of beautiful hand-crafted leather sandals of all colors and designs. Sandal-making is truly an art on the Amalfi Coast, and you can put in a request for your very own sandals to be made on the spot, perfectly tailored to your size and design inclinations.
Finally, complete your artist’s tour by popping in the galleries sprinkled along the coast. I would recommend the Laura Libera Lupo Art Gallery on Via C. Colombo 69 in Positano for its big, bold, colourful works, but of course half the fun is wandering around on your own, following your artistic whims as you turn corners in these beautiful seaside villages.