Known as Italy's Rodeo Drive, this is a convenient coastal base for enjoying cathedrals, Greek temples and wonderful food, especially in autumn.
Italy’s Amalfi Coast, running from about the cliffside and song-celebrated Sorrento to ruins-filled Paestum, is best known for stunning scenery, historic buildings and brilliant beaches. In the summer, it’s expensive and crowded, not only with locals, but with romance-minded couples from all over the world, perhaps humming that famous “Come Back to Sorrento” song.
If you read the guidebooks, the majority of the attractions along the coast involve mostly private beaches and ancient buildings, so it’s never going to be Number 1 on the wish-list for family travelers. But, it should not be ruled out as an attractive place where you might want to spend a few days.
Visitors on aimless strolls find narrow alleys and always interesting churches. Views of the bay reveal small boats tucked into sandy coves in the shadow of rocky cliffs that erosion has contorted into strange shapes. It’s not just one of the most beautiful coastlines in Italy, but also in all of Europe.
Getting the Most from Amalfi
The main tourist season runs from April to mid-October, which is probably when you don’t want to go because it’s not only at its most expensive, it’s also crowded. The low season, from fall to early spring, is cooler and rainier, and Italian schoolchildren often crowd the beaches from March to May. August is also crowded, but you should consider late May and early June, as well as September. As always, experts will tell you the “shoulder season” is the most economical.
Something to consider about visiting the fabled Amalfi Coast is transportation. You probably don’t want to drive because the twisting roads are scary. But you can easily get around by train or bus or even ferryboat, though the latter service is sometimes only available during the tourist season.
The Amalfi Coast itself is named for the town of Amalfi, which has become the best known of the region’s cities. Parents can impress the children by noting that the towering statue of Flavio Giola is a tribute to the hometown boy who invented the magnetic compass back in 1832. Amalfi itself is sometimes derided as a tourist trap (there are a lot of trendy shops), but the best family site to visit is the Duomo, a cathedral built in 937 with Moorish influences. Next to the cathedral is the Paradise Cloister, built in the 1200s as a burial ground for the city’s elite.
There’s also a paper museum worth seeing. Amalfi is known for producing hand-made paper called bambagina, used throughout Italy and the world. An even better family activity are the well-marked hiking trails that remain rustic enough to make visitors forget how increasingly Americanized Amalfi is getting to be, to the point where it has acquired the nickname “Italy’s Rodeo Drive.”
Lodging & Dining in Amalfi
Avoiding summer travel is probably a good idea. Restaurant prices probably won’t change much, but off-season is when you’ll have the best chance to get a room for US$100 or so. Families will find there are reasonable places to stay overnight and to eat, particularly, of course, if you miss the main tourist season.
Hotel La Bussola Amalfi has a rooftop garden and a good restaurant in a direct seaside location. All rooms are air-conditioned. Perhaps because it’s not really in Amalfi, rates are reasonable at the Villa Felice Relais which is a former country home set high above the city overlooking the sea. Another more deluxe option is Hotel Raito, a half-century-old villa that’s been done up with designer linens and contemporary decor. Up above the coast between Naples and Salerno at Vietri sul Mare, many of the 77 guest rooms and suites offer balconies and terraces with stunning views of the Bay of Salerno.
It’s very difficult to eat cheaply here, but for more than 150 years, Da Gemma has printed its daily-changing menu on local paper. There’s oven-baked fish with lemon peel and capers, mussels and prawns.
Touring the Region
Nearby Ravello’s dreamlike setting inspired the composer Wagner and today, music-oriented families will find this a fit place to visit anytime of the year (even when there’s no music festival). There are several famous villas and cathedrals that have musical connections.
The family-run Villa Amore has small rooms with few furnishings, but it’s a tranquil place with views of the sea. Full and half board prices are available, at least from July through September. Unlike many restaurants along the coast, Ravello’s Cumpa Cosimo has no views, but the food that often comes from a garden and butcher store next door is generally excellent and it may be the most inexpensive place in town.
In Sorrento, which has become one of the most-visited towns in the area (during peak months 20,000 tourists may rival the number of residents) a serene beauty is reflected in the post cards depicting the city, but families might prefer the nearby ruins of Pompeii.
For overnight stays, Mignon Meuble is simple and spacious and rooms have small sitting areas. Admittedly a relic of the 19th century, rooms at Loreley et Londres are furnished with simple beds. Sea-view rooms are available, but more expensive. Diners will find friendly service and inexpensive rates at Trattoria da Emilia, a rustic restaurant where you can eat outside and watch the port-life pass by. Home cooking and a family atmosphere is the style and fried seafood is a specialty.
Nearby Positano is a village of white Moorish-style houses climbing to a slope around a sheltered bay. Only one street here allows traffic which is fine because the principal entertainment for everyone is walking around to see the sights. For overnights, the eight-room Residence la Tavolozza is a family-run restored hotel where every room has a balcony to enjoy the view. Another tiny place, the seven-room Villa Maria Antonietta is worth the trip down a back alley (the ocean is behind it). Diners are likely to be found in swimsuits at the totally unpretentious Da Adolfo. Menu items focus on fish, herbs and mozzarella, with specially appealing bowls of mussel soup and stewed clams.
The main attractions at the antique port of Salerno include baroque churches, castles and a historical centre that outlines the long history of the area. The most inexpensive place to stay is The Plaza where visitors can walk to the harbor, shops and very accessible transportation options. The location is right across the street from the train station so consider asking for a quieter room in the back. Locals who crowd La Taverna del Vicolo della Neve underscore its inexpensive food and family-friendly atmosphere. There are usually crowds, but it’s worth waiting for traditional dishes served when they’re in season.
Paestum is the place to go to see Greek temples, which it has more of than perhaps any place in the world. There’s also a variety of interesting archeological attractions. Near the city’s famous temples, visitors can stay at the seven-room Helios. A comfortable restaurant serves ricotta and Mozzarella made on site.
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