My Favorite Destinations: The Amalfi Coast

by Diana M. Hechler

(October 26, 2006) Okay, I admit it. I do write more than a fair share of my columns about Italy. But when chilly grey October skies blanket Larchmont, a daydream can transport me to bella Italia, where it seems that the sun is always shining.

Isn’t there something almost magical about the Amalfi Coast? Positano, Capri, Ravello? What makes this region so appealing?

How about drop-dead scenery to start? The tortuous, windy road hewn into the mountainside and the numerous hydrofoils and ferries that ply the coast offer vistas of azure skies, golden sunlight on pastel buildings, deep-blue ocean waters, and white foam crashing on the rocks of the shoreline. If you try the road, you might want to take the public bus — it has the right of way on those hairpin turns. It is never the one that has to back up or pull over. Luckily, everyone drives pretty slowly, so death does not feel imminent.

If you’re traveling with the family, Sorrento makes a good base. It’s easily accessible from Naples by either train or car and offers numerous hotel options. Importantly, it’s a quick half-hour train ride to Pompeii from there. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this Roman village frozen in time. Your children can still see the wagon ruts worn into the ancient stone streets. Afterwards, continue on to Naples by train to see some of the recovered antiquities now housed in the Archaeological Museum there.

Just offshore lies the enchanted isle of Capri. Sunny when the mainland cowers under rain, Capri evokes magic, music, and mystery.

Q: Have you heard of the famed Blue Grotto? Is it worth the wait to enter?

A: 3 hours in the summer months? No. 1 hour in the off-season? Yes.

Wonder why the name Syrene and Sirenuse is so popular locally? The Sirens of ancient mythology, who called so many to a watery grave, reportedly lived on the cliffs of Capri. If you hear them calling, do not swim out to them. The hydrofoil from the mainland is a much safer bet (30 minutes).

Amalfi from the sea

Positano: Surely someone designed the postcard first and then built the town clinging to the hillsides to match it. This is a vertical place of pinks, yellows and whites. Luckily, a public bus can transport the weary up and down the hill. Ceramics, fashions and the views draw day-trippers and shoppers. Looking out from the hillside at sunset to that crystalline water with a nice glass of something to sip makes for a perfect moment. If the kids are with you, it’s a day-trip. For a romantic interlude on an anniversary celebration, you might want to spend a few days here.

Positano from above.

For those who fancy genteel decay, try Amalfi further down the coast. The imposing cathedral and cloister summon the dim memory of a mega shipping power just a few centuries ago. Once there was money and power here, before history passed it by. Very evocative.

Amalfi: The Cloisters

Diana M. Hechler, D. Tours Travel