Amore on Italy's Amalfi Coast

by John.Law

If love is in the air, you certainly won’t find many places more romantic than the dramatic and beautiful Amalfi Coast of Italy

On my last visit, the peaceful little hillside town of Ravello was running alive with newlyweds or couples enjoying some other celebration. As we sat with a drink in the shade in the main Piazza Duomo, my wife and I watched an excited local wedding party emerge from the cathedral, the bride wearing a stunning meringue of a dress and her new husband resplendent in designer black suit. Later, enjoying our own anniversary candlelit dinner on the hotel terrace, we spoke to a honeymooning couple from south London who thought it the most romantic place on earth.
So what makes Ravello special? Well, the stunning scenery certainly helps. American writer Gore Vidal, who lived there for 33 years, described the view across the citrus groves and coastline from the Villa Cimbrone gardens as the most beautiful in the world. Few would disagree as they stroll through the shade of the cypresses and umbrella pines high above the Tyrrhenian Sea and gaze out across the bay. Nearby are other splendid gardens at Villa Rufolo, where open-air evening concerts are held throughout the summer amid the glorious bougainvillea and hibiscus.
There are some plush five-star hotels, such as the Palazzo Sasso and Hotel Caruso, but we stayed at the charming Villa Maria, where you can relax beneath the vines on the terrace and admire the view across the olive trees and pines lining the valley down to the sea.
A town that is popular with celebs like Brad Pitt and Hugh Grant is hardly likely to be cheap, but there are inexpensive places to stay and eat out. The Hotel Graal is good value and if you’re looking for a fun place for dinner, try Cumpa’ Cosimo, commonly known as ‘Netta’s’ after the bubbly owner.
If you’re seeking a livelier base, there are other towns along the Amalfi Coast with strong romantic appeal. For a very different atmosphere we took the 20-minute winding bus trip to Amalfi, the bustling little resort town below Ravello. The volcanic grey-sand-and-shingle beach isn’t the best and soon gets crowded, but the view of the town from the bay makes a swim more rewarding.
Above the centre stands the landmark green-domed bell-tower of Sant’ Andrea, Amalfi's magnificent 11th-century cathedral. Surrounding it are mellowed terracota, cream and pink-washed buildings clinging to the cliff-face and rising up the hills through the lemon groves. There are plenty of good-value restaurants, one of the best being Da Gemma. Hotels here range from the modestly-priced town-centre Hotel Amalfi to the splendid five-star Santa Caterina
A few miles along the coast is Positano, the smart-set resort, with winding streets of chic boutiques and shops selling locally-produced fashions, leatherware and colourful ceramics.
The island of Capri has been a honeymoon favourite for decades, but today the place heaves with tourists. It’s worth a visit, though, if only to catch the chairlift up Monte Solaro. We glided above terraced vineyards and pine trees to the rocky upper slopes, taking in the magnificent spectacle of the Gulfs of Naples and Salerno. From the ruins of a 19th-century fortification built by the English, we gazed down through green, flower-filled hillsides to a craggy coastline of hidden coves and mystical grottoes.
In Capri Town, reached by funicular from the ferry port, there are the designer delights of Gucci, Hermes, Prada and the rest.
Biggest and liveliest resort on the Neapolitan Riviera is Sorrento, an ideal centre for visiting Pompei, Vesuvius, Monte Cassino and Caserta Palace by bus, and the smaller resorts of the Amalfi Coast and islands of Capri and Ischia by boat or hydrofoil.
In fact, the region has good bus, train and ferry services that will save you a fortune on expensive taxis or self-drive. Bus rides along the twisting coastal road with its precipitious drop into the sea on one side can be quite exciting, but it’s less stressful than facing those infamous Neapolitan white-knuckle drivers in a hire car.
Sorrento has a decent choice of shops and restaurants. Try Ristorante Tasso or, for an inexpensive lunch, wander along to the delightful Marina Grande. Down at the water’s edge, we sat outside the friendly little Trattoria da Emilia tucking into a delicious grilled fish and salad with a carafe of the house wine.
Sorrento has plenty of hotels at all prices. The Bellevue Syrene is good, but if you’re after somewhere special, check out the five-star Excelsior Vittoria, a grand 19th-century haven of tranquillity overlooking the harbour. It was a real treat to sit on the terrace with a pre-dinner drink enjoying the vista across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius opposite, while the sun set behind the hills of Capri to the west. Bella Italia indeed.