Monday, 26 November 2012

Amalfi Coast: Must-sees and must-dos

Dramatic, intense, breathtakingly beautiful: Italy south of Naples is one of the world’s most extraordinary areas. Mount Vesuvius looms over it all: mainland Europe’s only active volcano, whose eruption in 79AD perfectly preserved the town of Pompeii in an ashen time-capsule.

But even if the volcano isn’t on fire, visitors’ hearts usually are. Because the Amalfi coast – the few dozen kilometres of the Sorrento Peninsula facing south into the Tyrrhenian Sea – is the sort of place people fall in love with. We here at Flavours have fallen in love with the Amalfi region as well, and so we are proud to announce Amalfi as our latest new destination for our Flavours holidays in Italy.

Until the 19th century, the coast was accessible only by boat or mountain paths, and its isolated loveliness attracted writers and artists. Now it’s available to anyone with a taste for beauty and adventure.

As you drive along route 163, the road which snakes 40km all along the Amalfi coast, it’s easy to see why it’s become a world traveller’s favourite. Every corner brings another stunning view of wild coastline, sapphire skies, creamy seas, and towns tumbling grandly down the hillside. Painters and artists – as well as digital-camera snappers – will be stopping to record their impressions.

Positano is the jewel in Amalfi’s crown: a dreamy town that climbs an abrupt hillside, whose traffic-free main street goes down to the beach through the heart of the old town. Be prepared for some steep walking. Its oldest houses are highest up: faded grandeur in peach and pink, with Baroque stuccoes. Further down is a maze of narrow stepped alleys, houses with vaulted roofs, terraces and tiny gardens. The beach at the bottom is a picture-postcard of fishing boats, bars and restaurants.

Amalfi is now a small, easily walkable visitor town, though centuries ago it was a powerful maritime republic, rivalling Venice and Genoa – a status put paid to by an earthquake in 1343. Its cathedral is wonderful, and the lovely seaside setting makes the place a great spot for lunch.

Ravello was chosen by Wagner as the ‘magic garden of Klingsor’, in his opera Parsifal. The refined, romantic tourist town indeed has superb gardens, and stupendous views. It’s a popular day trip from Amalfi, accessed via a precipitous few kilometres of road up the Valle del Dragone, but best enjoyed through an overnight stay.

Praiano, a ridgetop fishing village with a nice church, is worth a visit, as is the seaside resort of Minori, a more workaday tourist place popular with Italians. Furore is a quiet fishing off the beaten track; less so
Cetara, past the beach at Erchie, which is known for anchovies. Pleasant Vietri sul Mare, at the end of the coast road, is a ceramic centre.

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