Amalfi Coast
On the south side of the mountainous Sorrento peninsula, just round the corner from Naples, the Costiera Amalfitana (that's the Amalfi coast to
you and me) faces the sun across the glittering Gulf of Salerno. Even for Italy this dramatic spur of Campania has extravagant landscapes. Seen from offshore, the Amalfi coast seems to rise sheer from the sea, with scattered villages clinging to the cliffs. As you get closer, more layers of height emerge from the haze, as the peaks of Monti Lattari rise quickly to 4,900ft (1,500m). Amalfi itself, a sizeable town, is dwarfed by its backdrop of parched limestone, which in turn looks minute against the mountains behind.
The physical impact of this fantastic coast is intensified by the history and romance. Colourful things have been happening here for a very long time. Amalfi was a wealthy trading port in the early centuries of the Byzantine empire. A few miles to the west, under the towering cliffs, the tiny Galli islands seem the likely home of the Sirens, whose bewitching voices Odysseus was warned about by the enchantress Circe. And hovering like a mirage off the peninsula tip is the magical profile of Capri, Italy's most famous island and an escapist's dream since AD27 when the Emperor Tiberius held court here between notoriously lurid orgies.
This corner of Campania is well south along Italy's west coast, more or less opposite the middle of Sardinia and only 150 miles from the Strait of Messina. With a comfortablesized boat and a month to spare, the Costiera Amalfitana can be reached in easy stages from the French Riviera, skirting the Gulf of Genoa via San Remo and La Spezia. From Spezia, you can follow a tempting trail of harbours and marinas south towards the Gulf of Naples some chic and expensive, others unassumingly Italian. The port of Naples is no place for yachts, but there are several yacht harbours around the gulf. Sannazzaro is a good bet for larger boats, just west of Naples, and Marina Vigliena is quite snug, a few miles to the east. The best two bases for savouring the Amalfi coast are either Salerno at its east end or Capri Marina Grande off the west tip. Salerno is a favourite of mine, partly because the harbour is well protected but also because the place feels so pleasantly ordinary. The two Salerno marinas are about a mile apart, with the Porto Nuovo pontoons in the main harbour nearest the old quarter and the Porto Turistico further east along the seafront.
Salerno is not too touristy and the old part is a warren of back streets, hidden piazzas and gently crumbling buildings. The long seafront is lined with palms and in the evenings locals are out in force. As the sun sinks over the western hills, the sound of Italian chatter rises to a crescendo along the promenade.

As you leave Salerno heading west, the town's spectacular setting becomes strikingly clear. The hills rise steeply behind the harbour, with the railway and main Naples road perched on the cliff side. Near the peak of Monte San Liberatore stands an old convent with a prominent cross.
Pilotage is straightforward along the Costiera Amalfitana and you can cruise close inshore to savour the magnificent views. We passed the tiny harbour of Cetara, home to a few fishing boats with no space for visitors. Rounding Capo d'Orso, we could see Maiori and Minori, two seaside settlements that have retained their local charm and are casually littered with Roman remains. Hanging above Minori is the amazing village of Ravello, one of the most visited stops on Italy's tourist trail. Clustered 1,150ff (350m) above the sea, Ravello feels very old and, despite its invasions of visitors, curiously serene.
The Villa Rufolo dates from the 13th Century and its garden terrace is the centrepiece venue for Ravello's summer music festival, when the audience can gaze out beyond the orchestra to the sea below. The Villa Cimbrone is more contemporary, built in the 18th Century and later landscaped by Lord Grimthorpe, one of countless English aristocrats captivated by Italy's charms, climate and people.
Beyond Minori and Ravello, Amalfi's colourful town and harbour look enticing from the sea. The old quarter is a mosaic of white villas stacked up from the waterfront, crowned by the elegant tower of San Biagio church. The lower town is packed around a flamboyant cathedral, whose dashingly Moorish belfry peeps above homely red pantiles. The east side of the harbour curves out to a headland guarded by a sturdy Saracen fort and above this promontory are the Romanesque arches of a monumental cemetery.
The glitzy superyachts moored to the breakwater represent the decadent tip of a long maritime history. Amalfi was trading by sea from the 8th Century, dealing throughout the Mediterranean with the Byzantines and North African Arabs. The Amalfi merchants were highly organised and established trading enclaves abroad that were virtually colonies under their own jurisdiction.
Now Amalfi harbour is equally well run in its apparently laidback business of shuttling tourists around the coast. Ferries of all kinds arrive and leave almost continuously and everything seems to run to time. A special morning and evening delight is the arrival of the traditional 'slow' ferry to Capri, an elegant old ship whose two slowrevving diesels have been running implacably since the 1950s.
One of the charms of Amalfi harbour is the extraordinary mix of boats moored around you and buzzing about. The seaward end of the breakwater is where the big boys lie in opulent splendour, gazed upon with incredulous envy by strollers on the promenade. In high summer you'll see plenty of superyachts cruising this coast and Amalfi is on the luxury circuit. Further along are visiting boats of all kinds, power and sail, fast and sedate, and beyond them the inner pontoons where locals squeeze in.
Popular with Italian holidaymakers, Amalfi is alive with family chatter, café terraces and the inimitable buzzing of scooters. You enter the old town through an arched gate La Porta della Marina emerging into a gracious piazza where a wide sweep of steps leads up to the cathedral. Beyond the piazza, the main street begins its sinuous climb to the upper town, with mysterious alleys and steps leading off to secret corners.
Good trattorias are plentiful and you'll eat well almost anywhere. Campania is well known for its fine produce and cheerful wines, while the Amalfi coast lands some excellent fish. The Trattoria da Gemma has been a renowned eatery here since the 1930s and their traditional fish soup is a divine concoction, although it ought to be at €85 (approx £58) for two.
Cruising west from Amalfi, you pass the most mountainous stretch of this coast around Capo Sottile, where the harsh slopes of Monte San Angelo seem almost vertical as you approach Positano. This fashionable resort has no real harbour except for the jetty where the ferries land, but the anchorage in the bay east of the town is one of the most spectacular in the Med. The superyachts that laze here look like models below the soaring 4,900ft (1,500m) of San Angelo, while Positano itself seems insignificant against such vast country.
The anchorage is practical as well as sensational because of a shallow coastal ledge that skirts the bay between Positano and Capo Sottile. This inshore strip has modest depths between 12 and 15m, which makes anchoring straightforward and secure.
Positano is worth exploring and you can land by dinghy at the ferry jetty or on the beach opposite the town. Many wealthy Italians have substantial holiday villas on the quieter fringes of Positano, which lend the place a rather stylish atmosphere, although tourist shops around the waterfront attract seething masses in summer.
Climbing above this honeypot, you soon leave the mêlée behind and become pleasantly lost in the steps and alleys of the upper town. Here the surroundings are old Italian in welcome shade, with always that background of lively talk echoing through open shutters.
Three miles southwest of Positano, a tiny cluster of low islands looks strangely out of place against the mainland peaks. These are the Galli islands, the highest tips of an underwater mountain peeping above the sea. You'll find a lotuseaters' anchorage between the largest island and the islet of La Castelluccia just east of it. The Isolotti Galli seem barely much larger than lonely rocks, but they have two notable associations one very ancient and one contemporary.
The ancient link is with Homer's epic Odyssey,
whose puzzle of Mediterranean settings has occupied scholars for over 2,000 years. Most now agree that Isolotti Galli were the fabled islands of the Sirens: "they who bewitch all men. Whoever sails near them unaware shall never again see his wife and children once he has heard the Siren voices' Galli's more recent claim to fame is that the largest island was once owned by Rudolf Nureyev, who built a comfy villa here to escape his fans.

Cruising west from Isolotti Galli, you soon pass the rugged tip of the Sorrento peninsula and the lighthouse on Punta Campanella. Less than three miles offshore, looking exotic in almost any light, is the beckoning profile of Capri. This archetype of an idyllic Mediterranean island has retained its romantic appeal despite centuries of tourist invasion and arriving in your own boat gives you the firstclass experience. Approaching from the Amalfi coast, your first sight of Capri is the almost sheer east coast, whose limestone scars make passing yachts, ferries and ships look pretty insignificant. Rounding the lighthouse on Capo Tiberio, you follow the north coast close inshore towards the main harbour of Marina Grande.
The approaches are hectic with ferries, hydrofoils, yachts and speedboats, and there are usually plenty of boats anchored just west of the harbour. As you come through the pierheads, turn to port to enter the marina, where you lie sternto one of the quays with your bows pulled out to a mooring. This east end of the basin is relatively peaceful and you can enjoy the bustle of harbour life from a comfortable distance.
There are plenty of cafés and bistros on the waterfront, or you can take the funicular railway up to the town centre. This legendary and efficient conveyance was built in the 19th Century when tourism on Capri was gathering momentum. You emerge onto a colourful piazza with views over the harbour and across to the mountainous west end of the island. There are no cars up here, making it pleasant to explore the narrow alleys and winding steps.
If you stay several days, it's worth taking trips on the local buses to see the extremities of the island. High on the northeast corner stands the expansive Villa Jovis, the best preserved of Emperor Tiberius's dozen or so Capri residences with heady views across the Gulf of Naples. Enemies of Tiberius were able to savour these vistas briefly before they were pushed over the 'Tiberius Jump'.
On the west side of the island, the small town of Anacapri is reached by bus along a hairraising mountain road with vertigoinducing drops on its seaward side. The 20minute ride is worth the nervous tension just for the views and when you reach Anacapri it's not far to walk back to the peaceful Villa San Michele, built on the cliff edge in the 1890s by the eccentric Swedish physician Axel Munthe. The worthy chap's pots, pans and writing desk aren't too exciting, but he did create a memorable garden whose shady paths end in a stupendous pergola walk with a precipitous drop to the sea far, far below.
As you come out of Capri harbour, the Bay of Naples is a dazzling theatre of history that can't help but draw you in. Out to the northwest, three more islands form the outer arm of the bay. Ischia is the largest, its almost mystical silhouette coming and going in summer haze and drifting cloud. The natural breakwater is completed by Isola di Procida and its diminutive neighbour Viviara, and then the mainland curves in from Capo Miseno towards the long packed waterfront of Naples.
The closest stretch of mainland to Capri is the north side of the Sorrento peninsula, softer and more populated than the mountainous Amalfi side. This holiday coast is much visited by English package tourists who visit Pompeii and make forays into Naples. You can see why they come. Sorrento looks appealing from the sea with its straightedged cliffs, two animated harbours and rambling Italianate town. Visitors can moor safely in Marina Piccola 'the small harbour' (actually the larger of the two) but not in Marina Grande. Ashore, Sorrento is a fascinating puzzle of quiet streets, busy streets, unexpected squares and secret gardens.
On our recent foray along this coast, we found a memorable anchorage a couple of miles west of Sorrento under the crook of Capo di Massa. Here we swung off a secluded beach, where the water was clear and warm. On the west shore, a hospitable bar turned out to be the recently opened Karama Yacht Vela Club, where the barman mixed us cocktails. We'd landed on the fringe of a very old estate La Villanella thickly planted with olives, lemons and vines.
The restaurant up the track from the club turned out to be the star of our cruise, a culinary oasis converted from an old farmhouse with a terrace shaded by bamboo and fabulous views towards Capri. Here the tomatoes and olives were sensuously succulent and the fresh ravioli was out of this world. The wine came in unlabelled bottles red or white pressed from the grapes that grew all around. This was a rare find on a holiday coast, an anchorage where you could step ashore into 40 acres of secluded grounds and eat fresh food in such style.
Back in South Devon as I recall these hot, colourful places and late alfresco meals, the summer weather feels chill, the sky is grey and a strong westerly is driving heavy showers over sea areas Portland and Plymouth. The tomatoes are watery, the prosciutto bland and you can't find a piece of veal for love nor money.

Salerno: La Brace, at Via Lungomare Trieste 11, is a short stroll from Porto Nuovo. Excellent value, with a prodigious antipasti buffet. Their classic spaghetti con vongole is bellissimo (Tel: +39 089 225159).
Il Cenacolo, on Piazza Alfano, is near the cathedral in the old quarter. Traditional Italian cooking, executed with finesse (Tel: +39 089 238818).

Amalfi: Trattoria Da Gemma, on Via Fra'Gerardo Sasso, overlooks the main piazza and cathedral (Tel: +39 089 8711345). Da Gemma has a long reputation, especially for its fish soup. For a more economical evening, turn right up the alley just past Da Gemma to reach Trattoria San Guiseppe, with its improvised street terrace in a narrow junction of steps and alleyways. A reliable family trattoria where the local wine comes without labels.

Capri: Ristorante Buca di Bacco 'da Serafìna', at Via Longano 35, is a small but impeccable restaurant not far off the Piazzetta (Tel: +39 081 8370723). The best saltimbocca (dish prepared from veal and prosciutto) that I can remember.
Ristorante Aurora, on Via Fuorlovado, has a justified reputation for superb cooking (Tel: +39 081 8370181). Their waferthin starter pizzas are very special. The wine list is flamboyant to the verge of lunacy there are bottles at €350 (approx £240) so order with care.

Sorrento: Don't miss La Villanella on Capo di Massa. This unique restaurant above the sea uses fresh produce grown on the estate, including their own wine, olive oil and lemons. The homemade pasta is the finest I've tasted (Tel: +39 081 8075651).

Campania is a region of hearty cooking and its generous hot sunshine is perfect for olives, vines and those vital luscious tomatoes. Delicious panfried aubergines turn up on antipasto menus.
The homemade pastas are superlative, with raviolis a local speciality. Mozzarella abounds, although I'm not a great fan. The fish is usually tasty simply grilled, but also provides the base for rich zuppa di pesce and the lipsmacking sauces for spaghetti con vongole spaghetti with clams.
Campania is noted for its dark Aglianico reds and fresh Falanghina whites from the Telesina valley and the hot slopes of Taburno. The splendid reds from the Tauràsi DOC are the business with veal.
The Sorrento peninsula has some excellent local 'cruising' wines, which are cheap and cheerful to have on board. We stocked up on fruity unlabelled reds and whites from La Villanella. The sunny Caprese wines are convivial, especially the intense ruby Capri from the Piedirosso vineyard. Locals drink this with practically everything fish, meat or spaghetti.
The local lemon liqueur, Limoncello, is perfect after dinner, clean and sharp. It should be served cold from the fridge, but don't put ice in it.

Local public transport around this coast is regular, efficient and cheap. Bus tickets have to be bought in advance at a tobacconist or newsagent and must be stamped as you get on the bus or onthespot fines can be charged.
The local Sita buses, and the trains and buses of the Circumvesuviana, cover the whole area around Naples and the Sorrento peninsula. From Salerno or Sorrento it's easy to catch a train to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum. Buses career up the narrow hairpin roads from Amalfi to Ravello or over the mountains to Sorrento. Buses are the best way to explore Capri, shuttling frequently between Marina Grande, Capri town and Anacapri.
Regular ferries speed along the coast, linking Salerno, Amalfi, Positano, Capri, Sorrento and Naples. The ferries between Salerno and Amalfi or Amalfi and Positano are much quicker than the buses. If you are moored in Amalfi or Capri, it's easy to visit Naples by fast ferry.

The pilot book for this coast is Rod Heikell's Italian Waters Pilot, 6th edition published by lmray at £37.50 (ISBN 0852886276). > For background information on sights ashore, the latest newstyle Blue Guide to Southern Italy is worth its salt, published by Blue Guides at £15.99 (ISBN 0713662794).
For mouthwatering photography to make you want to head south immediately, immerse yourself in Robert Fisher's Escape to the Amalfi Coast, published by Fodorat £17.99 (ISBN 0679008454).
Admiralty chart 908 Golfo di Napoli and Golfo di Salerno; Italian chart 914/33 Porto di Amalfi.