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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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
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.