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The terraced towns and rocky coast of this southern Italian favourite bring together a surprising variety of accomplishments. Architectural flights of fancy and outdoor concerts on balmy evenings make for a break well worth writing home about.

Arts and artefacts
Located between the colourful boutiques and lemon-themed ceramics shops of Positano, Franco Senesi is a gallery with several rooms showcasing more than 40 Italian modern painters and sculptors. The art on display ranges from exquisite landscapes to colourful surrealist works, and you can look around free from sales pitches (Via dei Mulini 16; Apr–Nov).

Defensive towers sit all along the Amalfi Coast. Many are empty but the 13th-century Torre a Mare at Praiano is a showcase for the sculptures and artwork of Paolo Sandulli. Most distinctive are his ‘heads’ topped with colourful sea-sponge hairdos. Also check out his sketches and sculptures of local fishermen and plump women playing tennis in miniskirts (Praiano; 9.30am–1pm & 3pm–7pm; admission free).

Since the 18th century, Sorrento has been famous for its intarsio furniture, made with elaborately designed inlaid wood. Wonderful examples can be found at Museo Bottega della Tarsia Lignea, housed in an 18th-century palace, complete with beautiful frescoes and a collection of paintings and photographs depicting the area in the 19th century (Via San Nicola 28; open daily; admission £7).

Architecture
Pretty much the only major sight in Positano, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta has a delightful Classical interior. Pillars are topped with gilded Ionic capitals, winged cherubs peek from above every arch and above the main altar is a 13th-century Byzantine ‘Black Madonna’ (Piazza Flavio Gioia; 8am–noon & 4pm–8pm).

Located just below the eastern approach to Ravello, the modern Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, which follows the natural slope of the hill, has attracted a love-it or hate-it controversy in town. Designed by the late, great Brazilian architect whose name it bears, it is built in the sinuous profile of a wave and hosts a variety of theatrical performances and concerts (Via della Republica; tickets for most events £17).

You can’t miss Amalfi’s fabulous Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea, sitting like a grand dame at the top of a sweeping flight of steps. It dates in part from the early 10th century and its striking stripy façade has been rebuilt twice. Although the building is an architectural hybrid, the Arabic-Norman style of Sicily predominates. The huge bronze doors were the first of their type in Italy, and the interior is of Baroque style (Piazza del Duomo; open daily).

Music
Located next to the Villa Communale gardens, Chiesa di San Francesco is one of Sorrento’s most beautiful churches, and is famous for its summer programme of concerts featuring talented performers from the Classical school (Via San Francesco; tickets from £8). If this strikes a chord, check out the schedule at the tourist office.

Between June and September, and often in the surrounding months too, the Ravello Festival turns much of the town centre of this hilltop beauty into a stage. Events range from orchestral concerts and chamber music to ballet, film screenings and exhibitions. Performances by Italian and international musicians are world-class (most tickets from £17).

A 14th-century tower marks the entrance to Villa Rufolo in Ravello, famed for its cascading gardens with panoramic views. They are known to have inspired Wagner – upon seeing them he declared they’d be the setting for the second act of his opera Parsifal. Villa Rufolo also hosts some of the most unforgettable events during the Ravello Festival (Piazza Duomo; 9am–6pm; admission £4.30).

Transport
BA, easyjet and Thomson Airways fly to Naples from Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, East Midlands, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted (from £100). From Naples to Sorrento, you can catch a 40-minute hydrofoil across the bay (£20 return) or take a one-hour train ride (£7). Roads along the Amalfi Coast are undeniably scenic, but can be rather hairy. If you’d rather let someone else take the wheel, frequent buses run year-round along the SS163 between Sorrento and Salerno, via Amalfi and Positano.

Where to stay
The best budget choice in Positano, Pensione Maria Luisa is run by Carlo, who’ll go out of his way to assist you. The rooms with private terraces are well worth the extra £8 for the bay view (Via Fornillo 42; from £70).

Positano’s Hotel California (unlike the one in the song) is housed in a magnificent 18th-century palace. Rooms in the older part have original ceiling friezes (Via Cristoforo Colombo 141; late Mar–Oct; from £130).

The Grand Hotel Excelsior is the Belle Époque old dame of Sorrento. Past guests such as Wagner and Sophia Loren have slept in rooms that vary from simple elegance to extravagant frescoed affairs (Piazza Tasso 34; from £235).

 

The article ‘Mini guide to culture on the Amalfi Coast’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.

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