The Amalfi Coast is breathtaking enough viewed from the mainland. But take a boat trip – to Capri perhaps, outstanding in its own right – and you also get the benefit of seeing the coast’s astonishing scenery full-face.
Capri lives up to its legend: an island of fabled beauty, glamour and hedonism, that has seduced everyone from Roman emperors to Hollywood stars, from Oscar Wilde to Gracie Fields. It’s the Mediterranean you expect from 1960s feature-films: upmarket piazzas and cafes – most notably Capri Town’s Piazzetta – with the rich and beautiful sipping cocktails and cappuccinos, discussing their designer-boutique purchases, surrounded by fabulous ruins and stunning deep-blue seascapes.
The twin centres, Capri and Anacapri, bustle with day-trippers and prices are high. But venture just off the tourist trail and you can quickly find the island’s unspoiled local charm. There’s some excellent hiking here, too; for the less energetic there’s a chairlift from Anacapri to Monte Solaro peak.
Li Galli, four small islands south of Positano, were known as the Sirenuse until the 19th century, thanks to its association with the sirens that lured Odysseus. The adventurous can head for them by motorboat – and swim in the crystal-clear waters between the crags. Organised boat trips here will take you via beautiful little coves and bays that are inaccessible by any other transport.
If all that coastal eye-luxury starts to get too much, the region has plenty of other complementary sights to see.
Pompeii (Pompei in Italian) is a short trip by road but a world away from the Amalfi coast’s glorious feelgood living. Destroyed almost instantly by a volcanic eruption in 79AD, the whole place – and its dead population – was preserved by pumice and ash. Wandering its almost intact shops, houses and streets now is an eerie and essential experience. It’s one of the world’s must-visit sights; but similar Herculaneum, further up the coast, is smaller, less crowded and easier to navigate, and some even prefer it.
Vesuvius, the volcano responsible for turning Pompeii into a time-capsule, is still simmering away. You can visit that from the Amalfi coast too, by bus or car. It’s a kilometre or so’s walk to the summit – you can do it in trainers – from where you can peer down into the smoking depths.
Salerno will feel like a bland workaday city after the Amalfi coast’s gorgeous intensity. But as well as big-town facilities there’s a historic centre to explore. It also acts as the gateway to the Cilento region – a change of feel from Amalfi, with its historic Roman sites, scenic shores, and hidden caves and grottoes.