and the Amalfi Coast
Whether you come by land or by sea,
perhaps half the charm of Amalfi is getting there.
Steep mountains, blue sea, charming villages and wild roads.....
There are a number of smaller European cruise lines that come to the town of Amalfi and tender, but most of the bigger cruise ships stop in Naples or Sorrento and do day trips to the Amalfi Coast. Most bus excursions cross the peninsula at Sorrento and then head east along the coast.
The Amalfi Coast road is beautiful - with steep cliffs down to the Salerno Gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Oleander blooms by the roadsides, bright purple bougainvillea hangs over stone walls and every corner (and there are many) brings new vistas. In some places, especially nearer to Salerno and through the villages, the road is very narrow and a bus can take a long time to maneuver past a truck with inches to spare (beside left).
The first small town coming from Sorrento is Positano.
Most cruise excursions by-pass Positano and follow the highway at the top of the village. If you get a chance to explore Positano, it has many lovely vistas as you can see above.
The next community is Vettica Maggiore, which is part of Praiano. Coming into this area is this little tunnel and the sculptures. The 'highway' through Vettica Maggiore is very narrow, but attractive - with flowers and charming buildings. Praiano is just around the headland. These towns are perched on cliffs above the ocean.
The waterfront in Amalfi is a very busy place! Here the highway is on the waterfront and there are parking lots for the tourist buses, lots of people and some restaurants. They have tried to make the area prettier with flowers and small park areas and statues, but it is still very busy. The fun begins when you go through to the village itself!
Go through the archway or the street just past it to the Duomo Square. The church of St. Andrew and the bell tower have a very interesting architectural style. The building began in the 9th and 10th centuries. It has been enlarged and remodeled over time, with Arab-Norman, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque elements, and finally a new Norman-Arab-Byzantine facade in the 1800's. We are used to the European (Norman, Gothic, Renaissance) design in church architecture, but the Arab and Byzantine influences give the church a different and exotic flavour. The bronze doors on top of the wide stairs date from 1061.
Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea is dedicated to the Apostle St. Andrew. His bones were said to have come here in 1206 with the crusaders, and these relics are in the crypt. The beautiful cloisters (Chiostro del Paradiso) are to the left of the bell tower and have Moorish arches. Next to the cloister is the original church, dating from 596 AD.
Back on the main street, the charm of Amalfi is evident.
As you walk up the main street, the valley is becoming narrower and the side streets now have stairs. Go up a few of these to see how the locals live.
Also, as you get further up the valley you will find parts of older buildings that have not been modernized (at least on the outside), and it becomes easier to see what the ancient city looked like.
Soon the cliffs on either side of the narrow valley appear, high above the street. There is not much room for buildings in the valley floor, and finally the valley expands again and the terraced grape arbours can be seen.
Here you will find the very interesting Amalfi Paper Museum, located in a 14 century paper mill. It is a history of paper making, and the ancient machines all work - and you can help make paper as it was made in the middle ages.
Back at the waterfront, you will see the lookout towers on the hills above Amalfi. These were built in the late 1400's to protect the towns from Saracen pirates. There is another tower on the headland to the east of the town - I am assuming it was built as part of the defences, but I can't seem to find the history of it. It is a privately owned villa and restaurant.
If you have been to Amalfi before and want to see something new, you can walk to the next town called Atrani. Atrani is close - .6 km./ .4 miles from the east end of the straight beach in Amalfi. Atrani is relatively unspoiled as most tourists don't know about it, and it is somewhat difficult to get to, even though it is very close. There are three ways to get there - first, walking on the road as far as the highway tunnel and then down to the beach level (this option is dangerous, as there is no room on the narrow road for pedestrians). Second, there is a 100 meter/ 325 foot pedestrian tunnel that goes through the hill, and the third option is to go up to a path (above the east side of Amalfi is a narrow street) that winds above the highway and around the point of land. This is all a bit complicated!
Perhaps these three pictures will help a bit. The first pic is at the end of the straight Amalfi beach. Up the stairs in the picture is the entrance to the pedestrian tunnel - and hopefully access to the path (street) on the hill - the third option, (although I am not absolutely sure of that....)
The second pic is the exit from the pedestrian tunnel, on the Atrani side. An underground parking garage is beside the pedestrian tunnel exit. Now you have to cross the highway - be very careful!
The third pic is the highway tunnel - do not attempt to walk through that - it is very dangerous and illegal. On the right side, just at the entrance to the tunnel, is a tiny cafe. Walk through it (apparently this is OK) to stairs down to a road that leads to the town.
This is all a bit tricky, but the distance is very short and the charms of Atrani will cheer you.....
When you come down the stairs to the road below, take the road closest to the ocean.
The large arches are holding up the highway, which goes above the level of the village streets. Walk until you come to the small archway (beside), which leads to the charming village square.
Beyond that there are a couple of streets that go from the square to explore the rest of the unspoiled town. One street/path goes up the valley, and at the end of the square are two narrow paths. Stairs go up to the largest church, on the right side of the town in the picture below.
There are a number of charming churches - six, I believe.
In the 10th to 12th centuries, the rich and powerful people of the Amalfi area lived in Atrani.
On a cruise excursion you will not likely stop in any of the other lovely towns on the Amalfi Coast. If you are making the circle back to Naples by going through Salerno, you will get a brief glimpse.
The Amalfi Coast is lovely, and should be on everyone's bucket list!