If the Amalfi Coast is a playground of the rich and famous then Amalfi itself has to be the swings – an oldie but a goodie that has seen its fair share of highs and lows.
The town originally rose to fame as a maritime superpower, battling with Pisa and Genoa for navel supremacy. By 1100 the town had a population of 70,000.
Then the Normans came along and put paid to that, and an earthquake in 1343 was the nail in the coffin. For centuries Amalfi laid to waste and it wasn’t until travellers began trickling in during the 19th century that the fortunes of the coastal town took an upswing.
You can see why the town soon became a firm fixture on the tourist map. Set in a fissure, Amalfi climbs up the steep sides of the Valle del Mulini. Given its gradient, much of the town is made up of narrow, whitewashed alleyways and flights of steps, where you can easily escape the sun and, at the height of summer, the herds of tourists.
Most visitors congregate around the main piazza, a lively public space crowned by the cathedral of Sant’ Andrea. Referred to simply as the Duomo, the dazzling façade is more than enough to seduce you up yet more steps (57 in total) to explore the interior. Down in the crypt you’ll find a sarcophagus holding the remains of the eponymous St Andrew.
But the beauty of the town lies outside, wandering further along the Valle del Mulini, soaking up the rays on the shingle beach or simply sipping an espresso at a waterfront café.
It’s worth braving the perilous coastal road that winds along the Amalfi Coast – and not just for the spectacular backdrop of plunging cliffs topped by olive groves and vineyards. Each hair-raising bend will bring you to another picture perfect town complete with cobbled streets and bustling piazza.
This hill-top town is famous for its grand villas, and if you’re keen to see how the other half live, the crumbling Rufulo (once home to the composer Richard Wagner) and fabulous gardens of Cimbrone are open for inspection. Check out the market every Tuesday morning where you can snag a bargain on anything from mozzarella to Moschino jeans. Perhaps this is the secret to Ravello regular Jackie Kennedy’s fabulous sunglasses.
Looking more like a pile of bridesmaids dresses than a village, the pastel-coloured villas that make up Positano spill down a cliff stopping short of the sea. Like Amalfi, the gradient means flights of steps are often a substitute for streets so be prepared for a workout and definitely bring your camera. If you’ve got some spare cash don’t forget your wallet either – the calibre of visitor here makes for some classy boutiques and glam hotel bars.
If so much wealth on display is starting to make you uncomfortable, Praiano is the perfect below stairs escape. It’s not as attractive than Amalfi, but then the bar is set high in this part of the world, plus there are a few cheaper options when it comes to bedding down, including the sole campsite in the area. The Sentiero degli Dei (Walk of the Gods) starts here, leading the energetic up the cliffs for stunning views of the Amalfi Coast.