June 15, 2024

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A Comprehensive, Stress-free Guide to the Amalfi Coast

8 min read

The absolute can’t-miss, must-do attractions on the Amalfi Coast.

Ahh, the Amalfi Coast. There are few other regions in Italy—make that Europe—that conjure up such alluring I’m-on-vacation images by name only. But for those who haven’t yet been, it’s helpful to know that the Amalfi Coast can be pricey and the summer months (and increasingly, shoulder seasons) can be intensely crowded; it’s also quite a large area with essentially one main road traversing it, resulting in some epic traffic jams—all of which can make a trip here…challenging. But skipping this iconic 30-mile stretch of coastline altogether is unthinkable, right?

Well, by narrowing your focus and not overextending your itinerary—perhaps sticking to say, five must-do things—you’ll not only have incredible experiences, you’ll have enough time to really enjoy them. One way to keep stress levels low is to have a centrally located base of operations. On a recent trip, I stayed at the year-old Anantara Convento di Amalfi Grand Hotel, housed in a former 13th-century Capuchin monastery. Its Amalfi town location was ideal for excursions, while its tranquil cliffside setting was a tonic when I needed to just chill. Additionally, your hotel can simplify things by making restaurant/attraction recommendations and reservations. Here’s how to have a good time on the Amalfi Coast—and stay sane while doing it!

Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas

Must Do #1: Spend the Day in Ravello

At the top of many Amalfi Coast itineraries is the mountaintop town of Ravello—and rightly so. This storied little spot, which has inspired the likes of Richard Wagner and D.H. Lawrence, is famous for its Bay of Salerno views, grand villas, and world-famous classical music festival. To reach it, you must drive inland on the SS 373 road with enough hairpin turns to cause whiplash.

Just off the main piazza, dominated by open-air cafés, is Villa Rufalo, a sprawling complex dating back centuries. Stroll the grounds that include an Arab-Sicilian cloister and two terraced gardens—the photogenic site of many festival concerts. Stretching from the square are narrow shop-lined lanes where lemon-scented lotions, pastel-hued tunic tops, and made-to-order bejeweled sandals beckon.

Overcrowding can be an issue so hiring a private guide can offer a more exclusive excursion. The Anantara, for example, works with Fra Marcus, one of two remaining Franciscan friars at Ravello’s Convento di San Francesco, founded by Saint Francis in 1222. Marcus, born in Germany but living in Italy since the 1980s, can show you historic relics, the library, and other areas off-limits to others, creating not only a one-of-a-kind tour but a respite in the middle of a busy—albeit beautiful—tourist town.

Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas.

Must Do #2: Cruise the Coast via Motorboat

Getting out on the water is a must while on the Amalfi Coast, and while a private sunset cruise is exactly what everyone else is thinking, don’t let that deter you—a good captain can navigate around bottlenecks crowding scenic coves. Rely on your hotel to suggest a reputable boat rental company (I cruised with Jack Boats and was not disappointed).

As you pull away from the Amalfi pier, one of the first things you notice are the many watchtowers up and down the coast. Once these stone lookouts warned against Saracen pirate attacks; today, many have been transformed into restaurants. As you glide west you can’t help but marvel at the various grottoes, hidden beaches, and natural rock arches, all leading to the jewel in the Amalfi Coast’s crown—Positano.

Even frequent visitors never tire of that famous view of tightly packed pastel-colored houses seemingly cascading down the steep hillside. Fairy lights on the waterfront trattorias look inviting, as do the striped umbrellas and loungers on the beach. Your glasses of prosecco clinking against an orangey-red sky complete the la dolce vita scene.

INSIDER TIPA sunset cruise won’t give you time to actually visit Positano—if you have your heart set on seeing this iconic resort then splurge for a half- or full-day trip.

Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas.

Must Do #3: Drive the Famous Amalfi Coast Road

Just as a boat tour is essential, so is taking a spin along two-lane SS 163, better known as the Amalfi Coast Road—but don’t feel compelled to drive its entire length. I got a good taste of the epic scenery on a 20-minute trip via taxi from my hotel to the neighboring village of Conca dei Marini. In addition to jaw-dropping sea views at every hairpin turn, you’ll pass clusters of lemon groves, gleaming whitewashed villas, and swanky hotels with sun-drenched dining terraces.

While you can certainly make the drive and turn right around, tiny Conca dei Marini does have a few attractions, including the Grotta dello Smeraldo or Emerald Grotto. This sea cave—toured via guided rowboat—is known for its greenish-blue waters that reflect off the cavern walls when sunlight filters through. While some enjoy a visit here, others call it a tourist trap. I didn’t see it on my visit and didn’t feel like I missed out.

Whether or not you visit the grotto, it’s definitely worth popping into Piccadilly Ceramics across the road. This high-quality ceramic store’s showroom spans two floors and everything is handmade and hand-painted in bright colors and patterns (expect a lot of painted lemons!), whether it’s serving platters, pitchers, or olive oil and vinegar sets.

Must Do #4: Explore Amalfi Town, the Coast’s Namesake 

The namesake for the entire coast, the town of Amalfi is a hub for ferries, buses, and boats for hire. While many folks immediately jump on buses or in taxis headed to Ravello or Positano, Amalfi has its own charms. Once a powerful maritime republic in the 9th century, today its most notable monument is the Amalfi Duomo, which dominates the main square. Beyond a spectacular neo-Gothic façade complete with huge bronze doors, the cathedral holds the remains of St. Andrew, the town’s patron saint.

Fanning out from the main square are retailers selling everything from leather bags and stationery on locally milled paper to the inevitable limoncello and gelato shops. At some point be sure to stop into Andrea Pansa, a beloved patisserie that’s been serving coffee and pastries since 1830. Early morning can be a good time to visit (not everything may be open but it gives you a chance to explore before day trippers arrive). When the midday heat and throngs threatened to overwhelm, I could simply walk back to the hotel for a breather—the Anantara’s lush infinity pool quickly became my happy place.

Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas.

Must Do #5: Indulge in Amalfi Coast Food, Wine, and Spirits

The cuisine of the Amalfi Coast is, at its heart, simple and fresh with an emphasis on local and seasonal. Expect plenty of seafood, from the catch of the day (perhaps sea bream or branzino) to anchovies and calamari, to clams, mussels, and shrimp. Of course, homemade pasta—cannelloni is said to have been invented in Amalfi town—is just as prevalent. Try tasty dishes like pasta with anchovy pesto and the ubiquitous linguine al limone, prepared using the region’s famous Amalfi lemons.

Winemaking has a long tradition along the coast, with steep terraced vineyards producing both white (falanghina and fiano are popular grape varieties) and red, as well as rosé. And it’s unlikely you’ll get through a meal without being offered limoncello, the traditional lemon-flavored liqueur served chilled in a shot glass, or in more creative ways. Anantara’s signature cocktail, the Il Convento, is a refreshing mix of limoncello and sparkling wine, adorned with edible flowers and served in a flute.

Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas.

Where to Stay

The Anantara Convento di Amalfi Grand Hotel, like many luxury hotels along the coast, had a former life as a religious building, in this case a monastery. An on-site Baroque chapel (which can be used for weddings) and a medieval cloister are just two of its many fascinating historical treasures. Central gathering areas including bars and restaurants are situated along the 300-foot-long terrace dubbed Monk’s Walk with an infinity pool at the secluded far end. Another source of serenity is the Anantara Spa, where, after a day of traipsing up and down steep stone steps, you can bliss out with the hour-long Convento di Amalfi, a full-body relaxation massage using local citrus oils.

The 52 rooms, many with sea-facing terraces, feature tiled floors, muted earth tones and natural materials including wood and leather, along with modern streamlined furnishings. The Suite del Priore, where the monastery prior once slept, has the added bonus of a 700-year-old fresco on its vaulted ceiling. The fine dining restaurant, Dei Cappuccini, helmed by Livorno-born executive chef Claudio Lenuto specializes in utilizing Campania’s seasonal ingredients, while La Locanda della Canonica Pizzeria from Neapolitan celebrity pizza chef Gino Sorbillo has a menu of eight signature pies.

If Amalfi’s cuisine inspires you to try your hand in the kitchen, you can assist in making your own lunch as I did during one of the hotel’s Spice Spoons cooking classes (a staple of all Anantara hotels). After touring the hotel’s lemon groves and herb gardens, it was time to make the cannelloni. Apron on, sleeves rolled up, I found myself kneading dough and feeding it into the pasta maker under the chef’s watchful eye. While our “masterpieces” baked, we sipped limoncellos, then sampled the fruits of our labor at an alfresco table.

In addition to gourmet cooking classes, other bespoke experiences include private tours, including ones on- and off-site with Fra Marcus (you’ll often see him in his brown robe conducting in-depth historical property tours), candlelit dinners in the cloister, wine tasting and lunch at a nearby vineyard, day trips to the ancient ruins of Pompeii or the chic island of Capri, and if you really want to go big—a private helicopter tour.

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