Away from the crowds… on the Amalfi Coast
It’s impossible to visit Sorrento and not be drawn to the charms of the Amalfi Coast, but with its beauty comes hordes of tourists and traffic, particularly in the height of summer. Inevitably, the picturesque towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello are always going to be popular stops – and they are still worth visiting – but here are some of my favourite ways to escape the crowds.
Take the boat
While most people take a taxi or private transfer from Naples airport to Sorrento (or elsewhere along the coast), why not go by hydrofoil instead? By road it can take up to two hours, crawling through Naples’ famously congested roads and motorways. But, by ferry it’s a very pleasant 45 minutes. You can get from the airport to the port in less than 30 minutes, then enjoy the scenic boat ride across the Bay of Naples into Sorrento’s harbour. It costs €13.10 if you buy the ticket at the port, or Cox & Kings can include this as part of your holiday.
A dinner extravaganza
Up on the hills overlooking Positano is a restaurant that has to be experienced. For €40 per person, you can enjoy some of the best home-cooked, authentic Italian food you’ll find – and it just keeps coming. Antipasti, starters, salads, pasta, meat and dessert… I lost track of how many plates of food appeared. They use as much fresh produce from their own vegetable gardens as they can, and it’s possible to walk through their small farm and gardens. A useful break in the meal! La Tagliata offers a free shuttle for people staying in Positano, or you can arrange a taxi. Do book a table before you go as it does fill up. Escaping the crowds and the heat of Positano, if is the perfect place to unwind, enjoying the views as well as the sea breeze.
Lemons are synonymous with the Amalfi Coast and their beautifully fresh fragrance fills the air in springtime. Groves cling onto the hillsides and are instantly recognisable by the green netting that covers them, protecting the fruit. There are small and predominantly family-run factories where they produce delicious limoncello and other lemon-based products. If you’re staying in Sorrento, behind the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is I Giardini di Cataldo – you can’t miss the lemons hanging outside – which sells everything from their own limoncello and lemonade to delicious lemon jam, refreshing granita – a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and lemon – and ice cream. They also have a lovely cool garden at the back where you can sit under the lemon trees.
There are plenty of places advertising cookery lessons but why not head away from the crowded coastline and up into the hills? Tenuta San Francesco is in Tramonti, a 20-minute drive inland from Ravello. The winery itself is relatively small, producing 50,000 bottles a year, but the vineyards are fascinating. Being planted in a pergola style – exclusive to Italian wine production – means you can walk underneath the 300-year-old vines. Keeping the production as natural as possible, the vines are tied to chestnut poles using willow.
After a tour of the vineyards and their cellar, you can take part in a cookery lesson run by the owners’ wives to learn some authentic techniques to make delicious ragu, gnocchi and desserts. Best of all, when you come to enjoy the lunch you’ve prepared, it’s all paired with their own wines.
Driving the coastal road
The road is busy but for good reason: it is spectacular. Regularly featured as one of the world’s best drives, it shouldn’t be missed. The road was never built to accommodate traffic so it does get congested, particularly coming in and going out of the towns. Restrictions have been imposed to try and alleviate the problems: traffic lights have been installed in places to control the flow; marshals stand on some of the tighter bends to stop traffic in both directions if larger vehicles are approaching; and tour buses registered outside of Amalfi, Positano and Ravello are only allowed to drive in an anti-clockwise circuit. If you do want to drive the coastal road, we would recommend starting early and taking a clockwise route so that you don’t get stuck behind the coaches. The road is busiest from May to September so travelling outside of these months will certainly be quieter, but rarely empty.
This vast site would take days to fully explore, but with the help of a guide you can tick off the main highlights and get a good understanding of what life was really like in 79AD. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wander by yourself after: because the site is so vast, you can quite easily find side streets with no one else there. It really does feel like a city frozen in time and although quite eerie in places, unlike a lot of archaeological sites, you can instantly understand why it was abandoned.
Although the most famous buildings are always likely to be busy, by leaving the main streets, you can find some that you will have all to yourself. And as with anywhere, the further away from the main entrance you walk, the quieter it gets. Away from the cluster of buildings around the forum, there are just as impressive buildings to come: well-preserved bath buildings; a working-condition brothel; and an amphitheatre, which is the oldest to have survived anywhere. Even this is relatively quiet given its importance because it’s so far away from the entrance. Pack a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a bottle of water – there’s fountains dotted around – and follow the tracks of the Roman carts for as much time as you have.