In his travel essay Positano, John Steinbeck called the destination a “dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” That may have been responsible for bringing the first tourists to the famed Amalfi Coast in the 1950s and ’60s, when it was still a string of fishing villages. These days, however, the traffic on the panoramic coastal road is the stuff of nightmares. The drive itself is harrowing enough, with switchback turns and narrow streets hugging the cliffs, but add to that the summer traffic and the situation becomes maddening.
Now, after much campaigning by local associations and a petition with the signatures of over 10,000 residents, ANAS (Azienda Nazionale Autonoma delle Strade), the company responsible for Italy’s state roads and highways, is enacting new restrictions. During peak hours in the summer, cars traveling on the busiest part of S.S. 163 (the stretch of Amalfi coastline between Positano and Vietri sul Mare) will be subject to an alternate license plate system. On even-numbered days, cars with plates ending in an even number are prohibited from accessing the road, while on odd-numbered days, cars ending in an odd number will be banned.
Residents of the 13 towns along the coast, as well as taxis and NCC (cars with hired drivers), public transportation, and police and emergency vehicles will be exempt, but the rules will apply to rental cars. The restrictions will be in effect on weekends from June 15 through September 30 and the whole month of August from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. They will also be applied during Holy Week around Easter and the dates from April 24 until May 2, which includes Liberation Day (April 25) and Labor Day (May 1).
The new rules also ban vehicles more than 10.36 meters (about 34 feet) long entirely. Camper vans and vehicles with trailers will only be able to access the road between midnight and 6:30 a.m. Local police are tasked with enforcing the regulations and are expected to hand out fines, but it’s not clear how much the fines will be. The new rules will no doubt cause some confusion, especially for travelers dealing with rental car agencies. And even if visitors are able to get cars with the right license plate numbers, parking is a huge hassle. So, if you are planning to visit the Amalfi Coast this summer, it might be best to avoid driving and get around by boat, bus, or taxi instead.
“Our clients mainly come from the airport and we organize a private transfer for them. Our reservations department will of course advise the few that arrive with their own cars or rental cars about travel restrictions and eventually help them organize an alternative transfer—so these travel restrictions will not take anyone by surprise,” Antonio Sersale, owner of Le Sirenuse in Positano, the iconic hotel where Steinbeck stayed in 1953, told AFAR. “With time, we will see whether there will be any improvement in terms of diminished traffic on the road and of course this is something we would welcome. The main problem with these restrictions is our staff commuting from a 50-km range—that becomes even more complicated and difficult—but they are heroes and will overcome any difficulties.”
Alternatives to Amalfi along Italy’s coast
Prefer to avoid the crowds and traffic? With over 4,700 miles of coastline, Italy has plenty of appealing beach destinations if you’re looking for an alternative to the Amalfi Coast.
The heel of the boot, Puglia is a favorite summer destination for Italians thanks to its beaches, giving it the nickname “the Maldives of Italy.” The Valle d’Itria is home to a series of villages that have earned the designation of borghi più belli d’Italia (Italy’s most beautiful villages), such as Cisternino, Locorotondo, and Alberobello, which also earned UNESCO World Heritage status for its well-preserved trulli dwellings (distinctive white homes with conical roofs). It’s also home to luxurious resorts like Masseria Torre Maizza and blue flag beaches (an international designation awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education to beaches that meet stringent cleanliness and sustainability criteria) with pristine waters and swanky beach clubs.
Sicily is another option with plenty of beaches, charming towns, archeological sites, and delicious food. The eastern side of the island is lined with a string of baroque towns like Siracusa, Ragusa, Taormina, and Noto, as well as lively fishing villages like Marzamemi. In between them are a series of picturesque beaches to explore. On the northwestern side of the island, you’ll find the bustling city of Palermo—famous for its Byzantine chapel and busy open-air markets—as well as resort towns like San Vito lo Capo, the gateway to the Riserva Naturale dello Zingaro, Sicily’s first nature reserve; it offers ample hiking, sunbathing on coves, and swimming in clear waters.
Bay of Naples islands
If you want some Amalfi Coast vibes without the traffic, consider staying on one of the islands in the Bay of Naples, such as Capri, Ischia, or Procida. Yes, Capri will be crowded too, but it’s small enough that you can walk or take a taxi everywhere, and when the day-trippers leave in the evening, the island becomes much more relaxed. Ischia, meanwhile, is the largest of the three islands and still feels somewhat under the radar. It’s noted for the thermal hot springs that have drawn health-seeking visitors since the days of Ancient Greece. Procida, this year’s Italian Capital of Culture, also boasts picture-perfect colorful homes overlooking the sea and is a lovely destination for intrepid travelers hoping to practice speaking Italian.
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