Italy's blue ribbon road

While you may not know the name of the road that runs along the famed Amalfi coast, you will certainly have heard hair-raising stories from drivers who have braved it.

Highway number 163's 50 tortuous kilometres means that most drivers see nothing but the road ands its twists and turns. With hands glued to the wheel and your heart in your throat, this is a journey through vertical villages full of poignant beauty, secret coves, astonishing views and a sea of ​​cobalt.

UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site with a thousand incredibly narrow hairpin bends, with only one lane in each direction, seemingly just centimetres away from vertiginous cliffs overlooking the sea and tunnels dug into the rock.

Let's do the trip the easy way. Read on...

Some precautions before you start: you need to have a certain skill behind the wheel and a good sense of measure. 

Always look at the round mirrors on the roadside and pay attention to the sound of the horns near the hairpin bends, as around the corner there is always some bus arriving (which is a good alternative to the car, and the driving skills of local drivers are amazing). 

Try to avoid the traffic jams of July and August, choose spring, when the colours are bright, or the end of September and the beginning of October, when the air is balmy, the sea is still warm and the crowds have almost disappeared.

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Sorrento

View from the top of the colourful Sorrento

Sorrento is the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Don’t miss a visit in its historic centre, nor the purchase of a typical inlaid wooden object, the first souvenir of the holiday. From here, take a section of the state road no. 145 and then enter the scenic road no. 163.

At the eight-kilometre a brief interruption of the guard-rail gives access to the descent that leads to the beach of Tordigliano , one of the most extensive Marine Protected Area of ​​Punta Campanella. The islet Gallo Lungo, the largest of the Li Galli archipelago; farther, to the west, Vetara and the barely marked outline of Punta Campanella. After a swim in the clear waters, come back for a few more kilometres.

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Positano 

The panorama of Positano at sunset

Here, a fringe of cubic, pink-peach-orange buildings, a little faded from the sun and clinging incredibly to a rocky wall, with bougainvillea and wisteria draping the walls. Positano is the coast's extreme luxury: expensive restaurants and boutiques parade briskly on the steep steps and narrow streets of the village.

Mix with the rich and famous and indulge in a crazy shopping. However, clues to a simpler daily life that existed here remain, too. Walk to the highest point of the town to enjoy the view of the gulf, otherwise the local bus is a good compromise, or head down to buzzing Grande beach.

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Praiano

The path of the Gods: lemon trees and breathtaking views

In contrast to the splendour of Positano, Praiano is discreet and silent, a quiet holiday resort with whitewashed houses and the green ridge of Monte Sant’Angelo in the background. To reach the sprawling village, high up, get ready to face hundreds of stairs, or 300 steps descending from the church of San Gennaro to the beach of the Gavitelli.

Here is the starting point of the Path of the Gods, linked to Greek mythology. The story is that the Gods of Olympus crossed the path to reach Ulysses and save him from the spell of the sirens that inhabited the Li Galli archipelago. To do this, get your trekking gear and gather your strength and determination because you start immediately with a challenging staircase that leads from the center of the village to the beginning of the actual trail, a 12 km route that winds along the ridge of the mountains (the Lattari), crossing natural gorges and terraces that plunge into the valleys and offer extraordinary views. 

And that is just the beginning. Make sure you discover the Grotta dello Smeraldo too.

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Amalfi

View from the sea of ​​the city of Amalfi

This tiny town has a glorious and powerful maritime past as well as surviving the earthquake of 1343 that caused a large part of the ancient city to slip into the sea. Today it has only 5000 inhabitants, but in summer it becomes the most crowded resort of the Amalfi coast.

Sant’Andrea, the Arab-Norman cathedral of Amalfi

Amalfi is charming, poised between sea and mountains, bordered by terraces of lemons, piazza del Duomo with the magnificent Cathedral of St. Andrew, Arab-Norman, the teeming alleyways parallel to the main road, with steep stairways, arcades and votive niches.

Via Lorenzo d’Amalfi is the shopping street: you probably won’t find a bargain, but the shops follow one after the other and are perfect to fill your bags with souvenirs, from limoncello liquor to local artistic ceramics, to craft paper items.

Stop for a meal or coffee in the lively square and do not miss the chance to taste the inimitable Atranese “sarchiapone”, long green pumpkin stuffed with minced meat, eggs and ricotta, first fried, then covered with tomato and baked in oven.

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Ravello

Ravello definitely deserves a detour. Five kilometres from Atrani take state road no. 373 and you climb up to aristocratic Ravello, 350 meters above the bustling coast.

Its shady gardens, quiet lanes and sense of faded beauty made Wagner, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Gore Vidal fall in love. Although even here it is almost all in the hands of mass tourism (including weddings), the pace is slow and the town is maintained perfectly, it is refined, romantic, seductive, almost perfect.

Don't miss the terraced gardens of Villa Rufolo: overlooking the sea and a riot of vivid colors, chosen as the frame of the Ravello Festival, historical summer festival of classical music, jazz, dance, cinema and visual arts. Villa Cimbrone, once a bohemian retreat of artists and writers is a corner of paradise, another must-see. 

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Cetara

The sandy beach of Cetara

This is the first true, authentic village on the coast, a taste of how the Amalfi Coast could have been before the tourist invasion. Unpretentious, a charming fishermen’s nest, with pastel-colored houses and an excellent local gastronomy visible on the signs of the shops selling tuna fish and anchovy sauce (to take home as a delicious souvenir).

Enjoy the atmosphere that is anything but confusing, sit at the tables of the restaurants of the marina and order a plate of fresh fish. At the end of the meal, do not be surprised if, together with your espresso, a glass of Pernod arrives on the tray: it is a custom imported by the Cetarese fishermen who emigrated in the past to Sete, the twin French fishing center.

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Vietri sul Mare

Villa of the City Council of Vietri sul Mare

A stone’s throw away, Vietri sul Mare proudly closes the legendary state road no. 163 and the Amalfi Coast. Sober and pragmatic, Vietri is the capital of the ceramic from the Campania region, extremely Mediterranean, intense and bold in its colors. In the historic center the majolica tiles decorate the exteriors of the shops, full of chinaware of all sorts.

More about this fascinating route.....

 


 

 

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