When you picture the Amalfi Coast you might imagine miles of perilously narrow roads that snake around cliffs that drop sharply down to an azure sea (perhaps you're driving an Alfa Romeo? We're imagining, right?), or maybe you're swimming in a cliff-top infinity pool gazing out over the sea; or perhaps you're about to have lunch: the sun is shining, the sea is sparkling and you've just been served a wonderful dish of fresh pasta and it will taste better than any you've had before because the tomatoes were picked just up the road and the mozzarella was made two miles away. Oh, and the sun is shining, did I mention that?
Happily, it's not a dream (well, perhaps the Alfa is a stretch) because the Amalfi Coast really is the most spectacular coastline in the world and the little villages that lie along it can truly lift the spirit.
Nestling in the Valle di Mulini (valley of the watermills), little Amalfi remains as small as it is thanks to its topography; the lack of a flat surface means it's difficult to build, so pretty houses stagger up the mountainside. The town is dominated by the magnificent Romanesque Duomo and a pretty little piazza. A museum is devoted to the town's paper-making history and there are some wonderful restaurants and artisan shops, so it's hard to believe that this little place was once a serious maritime power. These days the invasions tend to be entirely of the touristic variety.
A wonderful feat of engineering, Positano is a collection of delightful pastel-coloured houses that cling to the cliff in a triumph of faith over gravity. Frequented by the rich and famous, there is still a touch of La Dolce Vita here; there are no cars so you can wander along the charming narrow streets down to the seafront where a profusion of cafés and restaurants serve up the freshly-landed catch of the day.
Feeling like the slightly older and more sophisticated sister, Ravello is higher up the mountainside and, unsurprisingly, boasts some truly spectacular views. Ravello is also home to the Festival di Ravello – a season from March to November of wonderful open air concerts.