Campania, a popular region with tourists, is known for its exotic seascapes and beautiful coastal villages. The noteworthy attractions in Campania include the towns of the Amalfi Coast ( Amalfi, Ravello, Positano to which we add Sorrento), the Isle of Capri, and the archeological wonders of Pompeii and Paestum. Naples is the area’s largest town, but it is also the least attractive of the destinations available in this area.
The Amalfi Coast
The Sorrento Peninsula is a fingerlike protrusion of land that separates the Gulf of Naples from the Gulf of Salerno. The Amalfi Coast, located on the south side of the Sorrento Peninsula, is an extraordinary natural treasure. Here, the hills along the Amalfi Coast flow sharply the sea, forming dramatic landscapes and spectacular coastal views.
Many of the towns in the Amalfi appear precipitously perched on small terraces, and the mountainsides appear almost stair-like as these terraces are layered to the edge of the shore. Note that most of the towns on the Amalfi are small both in terms of area and population (most have less than five thousand residents).
Tours of the Amalfi usually start in Sorrento when arriving from the north (Naples or Rome), or at Vietri sul Mare when arriving from the south (Salerno or Sicily)
Positano’s beauty is breathtaking.
Positano is, perhaps, the most beautiful and the crowded of the towns along the Amalfi. However, Positano is preferred by many as the best location for an overnight stay in the Amalfi. The town offers fine shopping, but lacks any buildings of historical significance. Like most of the coastal cities on the Amalfi, it is best seen from the water, so reserve some time for a local cruise.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Positano is known for its Byzantine era Black Madonna. (Use Google Translator on the website- or click on website’s the link to “Chiesa S. Maria Assunta” and then on the link “Galleria fotografica Interno” to see image of the church and the Byzantine icon of the Black Madonna and Christ child.)
The town of Amalfi has a dramatic setting
The town of Amalfi combines beautiful scenery with an interesting history. Its Cathedral of Saint Andrew is a popular attraction. Parts of the cathedral date from the tenth century and it contains relics of Saint Andrew the Apostle. Be sure to see its exquisite Cloister of Paradise.
You may also want to see the Emerald Grotto or take a boat trip so you can see the town from the sea. Remember that Amalfi was once a powerful maritime republic on a par with Genoa and Venice. You might be interested in a quick exploration of the Arsenal, the ruins of a what once was a medieval shipyard.
Amalfi is known for the unusually rich taste of its lemons, so look for the sorbet shops. Or if you like your lemon a little tangier, try Limoncello, a lemon liqueur that can be used to make some wonderful desserts.
Click for more information on visiting provided by the Amalfi Tourist Office.
Ravello is a small village that sits a distance uphill and is detached from the coast. It provides dramatic views of the Amalfi Coast and has been a magnet for the rich and famous over several centuries. Be sure to see the city’s two noted villas – the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone, both originally built by local nobility.
Information on visiting Ravello from its official tourism website can be found here.
Sorrento is not actually part of the Amalfi Coast (it is on the north side of the Sorrento Peninsula), but is usually included in the tour of the area, as it is the first major stop after Pompeii when heading to the Amalfi.
Sorrento is less scenic than the towns along the Amalfi, but it is a popular stop that attracts many travelers. It is also relatively flat compared to the towns further south – which means that you can walk the town with a minimum of exertion, a statement that cannot be made about the towns along the Amalfi.
The Old Town (called the Old City Center) offers several Palazzos (Veniero, Correale) and the beautiful cloisters of Sant Francesco). Along the coast you can tour the ruins of Queen Joan’s Baths (Villa Pollio Felice), which was an over-the-top villa during the height of the Roman Empire.
Click here for information on visiting Sorrento provided bythe city’s official tourism website, Sorrento Tourism.
Touring the Amalfi Coast
The best (and sometimes the worst) way to see the Amalfi coast is to drive it. Many travelers head south from Naples to Sorrento, followed by a trip across the peninsula to the towns on the Amalfi Coast that surround the waters of the Gulf of Salerno.
The circuit is usually closed by traveling uphill to Ravello and north to the Autostrada (A3). However, we recommend continuing along the coast to Salerno and heading south to see the amazing Greek temples as Paestum. Finally, you may hear the road along the Amalfi Coast described by some as the “corniche”, which is a French term for a road that winds along a steep coast or cliff.
Note than the traffic has taken its toll on the area. Several of the cities have created parking lots away from the centers of the towns, while other towns have taken more direct action. Positano, for example, is officially a “slow city (Cittaslow)”, which means that there are times when you cannot drive your car in the city, even if you are staying there. Be sure and ask about parking and road regulations when you book your hotel reservations.
The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist area and a seemingly mandatory inclusion on every travel company’s tour of Italy. Be prepared for crowds and smoke-belching buses if you drive the Amalfi Coast in summer, as the area’s population triples during the summer travel season.
Those having flexibility in their travel schedules, should opt to see the Amalfi Coast in late spring or early fall. If you really want to enjoy the area, you need to take a room and spend a few nights exploring the cities after the tour buses have returned to Rome or Naples.
One of the great drives in the world can be experienced by starting at Sorrento and touring along the Amalfi Coast through Positano, Amalfi and uphill to Ravello. Most settlements in this luxurious coastal area are terraced on the sides of steep hills and utilize every inch of land available. The winding roads that navigate these hills provide enjoyable views of the area’s spectacular coastline.
- Under the best of conditions, the roads, with their numerous hairpin turns, are not that easy to drive. Italian drivers, who are notoriously aggressive, can make driving the Amalfi a tension-filled experience for those who want to view the sights.We suggest that you consider taking a tour or hiring a local guide to help you explore the area. Make no mistake, hiring a driver for the Amalfi area is very expensive, but you have to decide whether you want to steam behind the wheel or let someone else do it for you.
- Another alternative, of course, is to visit outside of the high season, when the road is considerably less crowded. However, you may experience a fair amount of rain if you do so.
If you want to experience the real beauty of the area stay the night in Positano or Ravello. Savoring the Amalfi Coast after dark and without the crowds is a fantastic pleasure.
Relaxing in Capri
- The Isle of Capri is a great place to kick back and enjoy the high life – assuming you can afford the high life! (We daytrip it, we admit we are quite cost sensitive travelers.) In any event, the easiest access to the island is to take the hydrofoil or ferry from Naples or Sorrento.In addition to the pampering at classy hotels and time for fun in the sun, the island offers a number of interesting antiquities dating from times when Roman Emperors had their summer palaces on the island. Be sure to see the Piazza Umberto (La Piazzetta). Also, we suggest you take a boat tour for the best view of the island’s breathtaking coast.There is a lot to see in Capri, so be sure to explore our Capri Guide for photos and details on the beauty that awaits you there.
- For a little change of pace, you might consider a stay in Ischia, another delightful island, but on the north end of the Bay of Naples. See Ischia Online for more detailed information.
Pompeii and Vesuvius
Pompeii is a world-famous attraction for a reason and it should not be missed by any visitor to southern Italy. It can be visited as a long day trip from Rome, if your travel plans do not include stops in Campania..
- Frozen in time as a result of a cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which buried it under ash and volcanic mud, Pompeii’s history has been unearthed by archaeologists over the last two centuries. The time capsule-like nature of the remains of Pompeii provide interesting and poignant views of life in the Roman Empire.
- If you are going to venture as far south as the Amalfi, you should consider adding another fifty miles to visit Paestum. The three Greek Temples at Paestum are the best preserved ancient Greek buildings in Italy and perhaps, the world.
- The temples date from the third and fourth century BC and were part of a large Greek town known as Poseidonia that was later occupied by the Romans. For many centuries, the temples at Paestum appear to have “fallen” off the map, which accounts for their unusual state of preservation.
- Napoli (Naples), which is often featured in guide books as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, has lost much of its charm over the last few decades. While Naples is the largest town in the province, it suffers from a high crime rate and a deserved reputation as a place rough around the edges.Naples has grown quite seedy, and graffiti, which is a national problem in Italy’s big cities, seems unrestrained in this southern metropolis. Naples is low on our list of the best places to visit in Italy, but there are several reasons for a quick visit.
- If you are planning on touring the ruins at Pompeii, then you should know that many of the best preserved treasures from both Pompeii (and Herculaneum) are on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli in Naples (at the Piazza Museo, 19). The Museum includes an outstanding collection of early Greek and Roman Sculptures.
- Also, in Naples, the Museo di Capodimonte (Via Milano 2 in a gorgeous park area), housed in the former royal palace of the Bourbons, provides a delightful collection of art (the Galleria Nazionale) by some of the best known masters who lived during the 13th to the 18th centuries.
- The heart of these holdings is the Farnese Collection, which was owned by the Bourbon King Charles III. In addition, the decorative arts are well represented in the collection.
- Be sure to see the interesting display of porcelain and china from the Capodimonte Porcelain Factory and especially take time to visit Queen Amalia’s Porcelain Parlor.
- Finally, another, but lesser reason to visit Naples is that the hydrofoil from Naples is one of the quickest ways to reach Capri.
- Click here for the official tourism website for Naples