Not many seashores claim the kind of prestige enjoyed by Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the Sorrentine Peninsula’s southern riviera along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Dreamlike towns—Positano, Amalfi, Ravella—drape themselves over sharply plunging slopes; tawny beaches shimmer in cliff-walled coves; shady lemon groves make a hillwalker’s mouth water for a little post-ramble taste of local limoncello; and brave motorists somehow negotiate the crowded and tight-turning seafront road, one of the most stupendous anywhere.
The same topographic characteristics that make the Amalfi Coast so pleasing on the eye have challenged road-builders and out-of-shape walkers. Here the Sorrentine rises steeply from the sea to its limestone spine, the Lattari Mountains (Monti Lattari)—named for the Latin word for “milk,” long sourced from the range’s goats. Wander up from the seaside restaurants and promenades into those heights, and you’ll be wandering back in time amid pastures, orchards, and hamlets well insulated from modern hubbub by the rough terrain.
It’s easy enough just to be stupefied by the majesty and romance of the Amalfi Coast’s almost fantastical setting. When you’ve managed to nudge your jaw shut again, here are some outdoor activities to get you out and about in this legendary corner of Campania.
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There’s no better way to experience the Amalfi Coast than by foot. Away from the major towns and the thronged roadway, you get to steep in the Sorrentine Peninsula’s splendor at your own pace. There’s an extensive and longstanding network of footpaths lacing the rugged countryside, which makes it easy to plan outings of any length: from short jaunts out of town to extended loop hikes. Many of these venerable routes—some still caravanned by mules—are paved in stone and surmount steep slopes via long stairways.
The coast and seascape views are certainly distracting, but the immediate landscapes of Amalfi Coast hikes have their own intoxicating beauty: the dense, fragrant Mediterranean maquis shrublands, hillsides spangled with blooming wildflowers, the terraced vineyards and orchards (including plentiful lemons), olive groves, the higher forests of beech, pine, oak, and chestnut in the Lattari Mountains as well as their rocky barrens. And in the canyon of the waterfall-scattered Valle delle Ferriere Nature Reserve, the vegetation has a pseudo-tropical cast to it—not least in the primordial beds of giant chain fern.
The vistas get especially good when you’re ridge-walking in the Lattari. Monte Faito (named for its beech woods) is an excellent hiking hub; you can use the cable car accessing its summit as a starting or ending point. It’s possible to hike down to Positano from Faito, or to trace the crest of the Lattari to their 4,737-foot high point: the jagged peak of Monte San Michele, commonly called “Molare” for its toothy visage. Those who summit Monte San Michele can, in clear weather, feast on a viewshed stretching from Mount Vesuvius to the isle of Capri.
Perhaps the single most celebrated Amalfi Coast hike is the “Path of the Gods” (Sentiero degli Dei), a four- or five-hour trek between Agerola and Positano. Some stretches are narrow, cliff-hugging traverses with dizzyingly grand views, so the vertiginous may want to avoid the full route.
The main attractions of the Amalfi pathways for nature enthusiasts are of the botanical variety—including those free-growing aromatic Mediterranean herbs so familiar from the kitchen, such as thyme and rosemary—but sharp-eyed hikers can also spot wildlife. Lizards and snakes often sun themselves on trailside rocks (or the pathway’s stones themselves), while peregrine falcons slice along the cliffs between their precipitous aeries and hunting grounds.
No trip to the Amalfi Coast is really complete without some quality beach time. Sand-and-sun worship on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea is perhaps best pursued around Positano, edged with many topnotch beaches, including Marina Grande (the main one), Arienzo (nicknamed the “300 Steps Beach” for the descent), and Fornillo (a bit calmer than the others).
You might consider taking a boat excursion along the Amalfi Coast to admire its loveliness from offshore. A boat’s the only way to visit one of the coastline’s signal landmarks, the Emerald Grotto (Grotta dello Smeraldo) along the Conca dei Marini. This flooded cave, illuminated by a submerged opening and festooned with stalactites and stalagmites, is ethereally beautiful.
There’s much else to see along the Campania seaboard beyond the Amalfi Coast. The sublime island of Capri, situated off the southwestern tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula, ranks among Italy’s most celebrated getaways. The Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneam, famously devastated by the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, lie between Sorrento and Naples. And Naples itself is one of Italy’s most bewitching cities: big, rowdy, and colorful. Southeast of the Amalfi, meanwhile, lies the similarly fetching Cilentan Coast, which includes the marvelous Cilento National Park.
Among While some gluttons for punishment bring a personal vehicle to the Amalfi Coast, you should strongly consider making your life easier by relying mostly on bus and foot to get around. The twisty, bumper-to-bumper roads are famously harrowing to drive and parking’s limited. A seat on a bus allows you to give the jaw-dropping scenery—and the prowess of your steely-nerved bus driver—your full attention.
You won’t be able to see or do it all in one visit to the Amalfi Coast, but that’s all right: What you are able to see and do will be enough to have you planning your return visit. Come check out one of the prettiest swaths of coastline on Earth—and be sure to toast it with a few Italian coffees and limoncellos in the process.