Romantic Amalfi Coast

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Romantic Amalfi Coast
With its breathtaking scenery, air of retro glamour, picturesque villages, and fabulous hotels, the Amalfi Coast is a serious contender for Europe’s most romantic destination.
By Nicky Swallow, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Gianluca Moggi
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    Picturesque Positano
    Positano, an impossibly picturesque cluster of pastel-hued houses clinging to a hillside, is the first town you hit on the coastal route arriving from the north. The only level street in this town is the beach sidewalk—you'll need to climb steps to reach anywhere else. You can visit the church of Santa Maria Assunta, which is home to a black Madonna, but visitors mostly come to Positano for the ambiance and to experience la dolce vita. Start the day with a cappuccino freddo at Buca di Bacco, then alternate between time on the beach (Positano's Spiaggia Grande), eating limone popsicles, shopping for souvenirs (over-the-top glamorous goodies, practical and pretty ceramics, or a little something hippie-chic) or relaxing on any of the hotel or restaurant terraces.
    Photo by Gianluca Moggi
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    Romantic Gardens
    Ravello, a romantic little town that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has long been popular with artists, musicians, and writers. Many visitors come to see its two magnificent garden estates—dreamy, serene places where you can wander for hours. Richard Wagner drew inspiration for his opera Parsifal from the tangled garden of Villa Rufolo, with its Roman ruins and geometric flowerbeds. In the 1930s, Greta Garbo and her lover, Leopold Stokowski, took refuge in the Villa Cimbrone. The famous Terrazzo dell'lnfinito (Terrace of Infinity) provides unobstructed views of the sea. If you make it out to Ischia, don't miss the lush, exotic gardens of La Mortella, designed in the 1950s for English composer William Walton by his wife Susana.
    Photo by Sebastiano Scattolin/age fotostock
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    The Dramatic Amalfi Drive (and HIke)
    For the 23 miles between Positano and Vietri sul Mare, the Amalfi Drive (SS 163) or the "Road of 1,000 Bends" hugs the edge of soaring cliffs and deep gorges, slicing through olive groves, lemon terraces, and whitewashed villages while rising and dipping above the shimmering, azure sea. To make the most of the extraordinary views, you should drive the corniche from west to east, starting in Positano. This spectacular stretch of coastline is also a paradise for walkers, and the very best views are from high up in the hills. The whole of the Sorrentine Peninsula is criss-crossed by a network of tracks and old mule paths, plenty of which are accessible from the road between Positano and Amalfi. Routes range from easy strolls of an hour or so to whole-day walks that are much more challenging. The most famous of all is the Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods), a footpath that follows a vertiginous, panoramic ridge between Bomerano and Nocella, just above Positano.
    Photo by Terrance Klassen/age fotostock
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    Amalfiā€™s Papermakers
    Amalfi and the surrounding area has been a papermaking center for centuries. Its natural setting, wedged into a gorge that opens onto the sea, is perfect for the craft: Steep hillsides with forceful streams supplied the power to drive the water mills that drove the machines. The production of charta bambagina, a thick, heavy parchment made from cotton and linen rags, dates back centuries. By the 1900s, the area was full of paper mills, and though there are only a couple left today, you can still buy the paper with its characteristic ragged edges and beautiful watermarks at La Scuderia del Duca, and you can learn more about the history at the Museo della Carta.
    Photo by Kristen Fortier
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    Island Romance
    Capri. Just the name conjures images of glamorous jet-setters living la dolce vita in an island playground. Hop over from the mainland for the day or, even better, stay overnight. Visit Emperor Tiberius’ Villa Jovis, which dates back to 27 C.E., or go to laid-back Anacapri to see Villa San Michele, which was purchased in 1887 by Swedish doctor Axel Munthe. Take a boat to the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), a deep sea cave off the coast of the island, so named for the brilliant color of the light reflecting off the water. Buy handmade sandals and Capri pants, and finish the day with a Campari on the Piazzetta.
    Photo by Val Harrison
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    Walk in the Footsteps of Famous Visitors
    Starting with Phoenicians and ancient Greeks, this picturesque coastline has always attracted outsiders. Whether it’s to plunder or to trade or to buy a villa and play Italian royalty, the Amalfi Coast makes visitors want to belong. In the 19th century, poets and painters like J.M.W. Turner and D.H. Lawrence came to find inspiration. Later, celebrities came to rediscover simplicity and to escape relentless cameras. Jacqueline Onassis vacationed here and took pleasure in the local beauty and lifestyle. (Her enthusiasm for the local Capri sandal helped make it a worldwide trend.) Other 20th-century visitors of note include Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren, Humphrey Bogart, Vita Sackville-West, and famously, American writer and Amalfi Coast expat Gore Vidal, with whom Onassis shared a stepfather. Those calm days are over: The region’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous has made paparazzi are as common as yachts in the local marinas.
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    Music in Ravello
    Every summer, music lovers descend upon Ravello for a steady stream of live performances by an international line-up of musicians (from classical to jazz and pop) in L'Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, a futuristic structure built to showcase the coastal panorama, and in the gardens of Villa Rufolo, where a large stage is suspended over the cliffs. Listening to music with a backdrop of the sun setting along the coast below is an unforgettable experience, but perhaps even more magical are the orchestral concerts held at dawn. Look out for concerti all’alba.
    Photo courtesy of Fondazione Ravello
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    Candlelit Dinners
    The entire region makes a romantic setting for a candlelit dinner, but in case you need guidance, here are some highlights. Ristorante Villa Margherita offers the rare combination of seriously delicious food, gorgeous views of the sea, and reasonable prices. From a perch high above the coastline, Ristorante Santa Croce has incomparable views of the coastline below and serves traditional regional dishes tasty enough to match the setting. In Amalfi, Da Gemma has the white tablecloths and impeccable service that suit its standing as one of the oldest and most respected restaurants in town, but its kitchen continues to innovate and experiment with local recipes.
    Photo courtesy of Sirenuse Hotel
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    Bringing Home the Memories
    You can choose to bring home the scent of the region—the essence of lemons, sea spray, and flowers is captured in a bottle at Carthusia. Opt for something less ethereal by bringing home some strappy sandals or a colorful caftan, or if all of this is too subtle, go all out and buy a scarf or wrap imprinted with the image of Capri at Laboratorio Capri. Some of the distinctive ingredients found in the regional cuisine can come home with you, too. While fresh seafood doesn't travel too well in your suitcase, you can pack a lot of local flavor by bringing back a flask of the umami-loaded colatura di alici from Ristorante AquaPazzo and a jar of white Cilento figs preserved with walnuts and wild fennel from Pasticceria Sal de Riso.