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Seductive and beautiful, Italy’s Amalfi Coast is headlined as an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape by UNESCO. Here, vast cloud-capped mountains mercilessly plunge into the sparkling sea in heartstring pulling panoramas flecked by sheer drop crags, colorful houses, and dreamy verdant woodlands.
Drama personified, Amalfi’s string of starry towns and villages conjure up the nostalgia of a quintessentially romantic Hollywood classic. There’s Amalfi Coast gateway Sorrento, a handsome clifftop mega resort with unrivalled views over the peaks of Capri. Jet-set Positano, a mystical buzzing fortress of pastel-coloured showy cascades hiding designer boutiques, chic restaurants, Insta-ready cafes and spritz-sipping poster girls lapping up the lazy hazy summer vibes of the town’s volcanic rich, blue umbrella riddled beach. Out east, ancient Amalfi stuns with its Arabic-Norman cathedral and nearby hiking trails, while up in the mountains, the charming town of Ravello stirs even the hardest hearts with its cultured streets, bewitching gardens and absolutely mesmerizing breezy sea views.
And thanks to a quartet of private yachts and speedy ferries, it’s effortlessly easy to bounce from one historical coastal nirvana to the other. Adored by literary greats, Hollywood royalty and the world’s most glamorous supermodels, here, we go on a luxe whistle stop journey lasting 24 hours, from Positano to Ravello via Amalfi, exploring and eating our way through some of Italy’s most famous restaurants, hotels, and iconic landmarks.
Where to stay
Make Positano your base and check-into Le Sirenuse—an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Cool, calm, and ever so chic, owners Antonio and Carla Sersale mastermind an elegant show packing in all the sorcery you’d expect to find in one of Italy’s, and indeed the world’s, great hotels. Once a former aristocratic villa, Le Sirenuse’ storied past tells a tale of romanticized Amalfi passion chronicling generations of the House of Sersale: beautiful furniture, curios, and antique mementos shine amongst an impressive collection of period and contemporary paintings, alongside art pieces courtesy of Martin Creed, Stanley Whitney, and Matt Connors throughout.
The rooms are just as literary. Charming balconies creep over the tumbling Positano landscape eyeing all the big sites from the grand Byzantine cathedral to the distant islands the Sirenusas; paintings, pictures, and prints hang over canopied beds; traditional tiled floors glisten from sunrise to sunset; and cutesy little cloth-bound books (Steinbeck’s article, a colouring book and mignon pencils, a book dedicated to Franco’s Bar) wait for perusing on the bedside table. Elsewhere you’ll find Instagrammable bars and terraces, a stunning pool and a chic spa, but the real draw is La Sponda, the hotel’s dreamy candle and bougainvillaea-clad dining room. Dine for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and savour the flavours of Amalfi with dishes ranging from simple but excellent pastas to super tender cuts of lamb and divine hazelnut tarts. Don’t leave without a ride on the hotel boat along the coast either – it pretty much sums up the Amalfi experience in just under two hours.
8 a.m.: Start early in Positano. Deluxe and ever so dashing, Positano is the Amalfi Coast’s annual September cover star. Precipitously picturesque and unapologetically showy, look beyond all the glitzy fashion and you’ll still manage to get a snapshot of everyday Italian life here: kids screaming for gelato (also me), young romances budding on the harbour and sun worshippers devouring pizza in every restaurant in sight. It gets busy here, especially during the summer when it can be near impossible to enjoy the town’s labyrinthine alleys in the scorching heat, so wander the streets fast to get a head start. A feature in practically every snap of the town is the exceptionally colourful majolica-tiled dome of its main church, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (and perhaps Positano’s only real landmark). The church is known for a 13th-century Byzantine Black Madonna and Child above the main altar and is one of the spots in southern Italy for happy couples to exchange their wedding vows. Artphiles should head straight for Franco Sensei , a trendy, bold, and minimalist gallery showcasing varied artworks, from life drawings to surrealistic landscapes, from numerous Italian artists and sculptors. Beach wise, both Spiaggia del Fornillo and Spiaggia Grande are ideal spots to catch some early morning rays.
11 a.m.: Get the Positano look. Aside from luxe hotel stays, yachts, fab eats, and lazing on the beach, Positano is all about the shopping. Nana Positano and Don Catello are great spots to pick up a pair of sandals, and if you are in need of a colour injection, the local Missioni boutique is on hand to cater to all your kaleidoscopic cravings. La Bottega di Brunella and Pepito have Positano style written all over them, while Emporio Sirenuse: The official boutique of Le Sirenuse Hotel, offers an expertly curated selection of men and women’s designer apparel and accessories. For all things Italian pottery, Emporio Della Ceramica, Always Positano and Ceramiche Casola will keep your credit card busy for an hour or two. Swimsuits? Luisa Positano Moda di Mandara.
1 p.m.: The one place to eat? If you’ve only got 24 hours here, then Da Adolfo is the one place to be (and be seen). First things first, reserve a spot way in advance as the place is so popular it’s often booked out weeks in advance, especially with the locals. The lovechild of Adolfo “Pinkerton” Bella, a Positano boy, and his American wife Lucille, the restaurant has been a go-to since 1966. A small complimentary boat will pick you up from Positano’s main pier between 10am and 1pm and you can also book private sun loungers before you dock Adolfo side. The menu here changes daily, but specialities include grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves, mussel soup, and fresh grilled fish. Locals wines are a must—go for a Fiano—and if you are unsure on what to eat, ask your waiter who will more or less tell you that pasta with anything and everything caught from the sea is the way to go. The one thing to know is that virtually everything here is good. Reservations can only be made by phone, not email.
3 p.m.: Post lunch and quick sea dip, make your way back on a water taxi to Positano’s port to board a high-speed ferry to Amalfi. Major perk? The fifteen-minute journey cuts out all the unnecessary waiting you’ll encounter while driving and you’ll also get to snap Amalfi’s coastline from an entirely different perspective. Tip: sit starboard aboard the boat to get the best shots, and if you can, grab a seat above deck to enjoy uninterrupted sweeping Mediterranean Technicolor panoramas.
3:30 p.m.: Amalfi itself is small, and if I’m honest, a filler pitstop during your 24 hours here. As you walk through it, you may find it mind boggling that this place was once a maritime superpower that was home to a population of more than 70,000. Best summed up as pretty and petite, it takes less than 20 minutes to walk from one end of the city to the other, and there are very few attractions, bar the stunning Arab-Norman Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea, that will take you longer than 10 minutes to wonder. The reason there is so little to see is, to put it bluntly, unnerving: back in 1343 a huge earthquake hit the region which saw most of Amalfi’s old city—and its city dwellers—disappear into the sea.
4 p.m.: Jump in a taxi to Ravello. As soon as you set sights on the charming hilltop garden paradise that is Ravello, you’ll instantly be put under its spell. Famous for its summer classical music festival, this sky-high Eden cured Richard Wagner’s writer’s block, provided the inspiration for DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and impressed American writer Gore Vidal so much that he became an honorary local for 30 years. Ravello, simply put, has an earth-shattering metamorphic effect on people, so much so that it had me screaming a joyous me muero for hours. Second to Positano in its beauty, begin by exploring its palatial square, Piazza Vescovado, the beating heart of the town and home to a daily roster of events and mic nights. Al fresco cafes serve superior espresso on tap for debonair diners to lap up, views of endless olive groves included. Opposite stands Ravello’s church, St. Pantaleone. Built in 1086, the building has had various facelifts, but the mammoth central bronze door – one of perhaps just two dozen in the entire country – has remained untouched since 1179. Inside you will find a collection of religious artefacts and a striking pulpit decorated with flamboyant mosaics.
5 p.m.: Shop! This is the place to spend your dollar on all things ceramics. Ravello Arte Ceramiche Artistiche on the Via Roma creates handmade pieces with the motto ‘craft becomes art’. Designs are typical of the region featuring everything from iconic Amalfi lemons to playful spins on Italian classics. Nearby Ceramiche Cosmolena on the Via della Marra is also well worth a snoop and specialises in made-to-order and personalized designs shipped the world over.
5:30 p.m.: After you’ve perused the shops head straight for the winding hillside alleyways leading up to Villa Cimbrone. Open until sunset, the refashioned 11th century villa (now a luxury retreat for the social elite) is home to a series of sublime gardens that were created by British peer Ernest Beckett alongside the valuable input of the English gardener Vita Sackville-West. Blossoming hydrangeas, blooming rose beds, tunnels of wisteria, temples, pavilions and a charming grotto pack in a feast for the senses, but the real draw is the view from the Belvedere of Infinity. At golden hour, romantically poised classical busts frame a dazzling backdrop of craggy crevices and pastel villages that line the coast. And while breathtaking is very much an overused word, this takeaway image of Amalfi’s pulsing Mediterranean tundra is, without doubt, guaranteed to leave you gasping for air. The villa (also well worth a peek) was the boho place to be in the early part of the 20th century: Greta Garbo, Virginia Woolf, Winston Churchill, DH Lawrence, and Salvador Dalí were all previously mega fans.
7 p.m.: Finish your Amalfi pilgrimage with a top-notch dinner. There’s only one place to eat here and that’s at the Belmond Caruso Hotel, another American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. The original ivy-clad building dates all the way back to the 11th century, and like Villa Cimbrone, drew in Virginia Woolf and other Bloomsbury set types, and later Jackie Kennedy and Humphrey Bogart. Feel free to snoop—the hotel staff welcome it—and don’t miss the mountainside infinity pool—one of the best Instagram shots you’ll get this side of Amalfi.
Aperitivo here is non-negotiable, especially at the hotel bar donning insane views over Ravello and beyond. Tommaso Mansi, the Belmond Hotel Caruso’s head barman, has crafted a mammoth list of cocktails to suit every palate, from Aperol twists to gimlets gushing with Amalfi par excellence. Request to sit by the arches for absolute panoramic romantic escapism. After, dine at the Belvedere Restaurant overlooking the bay. Chef Mimmo di Raffaele whips up everything from bulging pastas to local delicacies with highlights ranging from potato gnocchi with seafood, homemade ravioli, and mixed grilled fish and shellfish caught along the Amalfi coast.