drive-of-a-lifetime-2

Drive of a Lifetime

387823966_21274e24d7_d-1346144The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana, is in Italy’s Campania region, to the south of Naples. This breathtaking piece of coastline is said to be the most beautiful stretch on the Mediterranean. A trip along Amalfi Road, linking Sorrento to Ravello, is filled with dramatic views of steep limestone cliffs reaching to rocky shorelines set against an azure sea, with glimpses of sandy inlets, medieval towers, and olive and lemon groves. Villages of pastel-coloured houses cling to the cliffs and seem ready to slip into the ocean at the slightest tremor.

Many travellers consider a journey along the Amalfi Road to be one of Europe’s classic road trips. Unfortunately, this is not only due to the beauty of the area. The journey itself is part of the adventure – the road is a marvel of engineering, with 500-foot drops down sheer cliff faces in places and roadside barriers that leave a lot to be desired. The road is very narrow with hundreds of hairpin bends, and scores of cars, buses, vans and scooters to contend with. In some places, the road is so narrow that passing vehicles miss each other by a hair’s breadth. Amalfi Road is an expansion of age-old walkways and footpaths and driving along this stretch of road can be nerve-wracking.

Off-Season Travellers are Rewarded

During summer, the road is so busy that locals take turns using it, with cars bearing even-numbered licence plate numbers allowed on it one day, and the odd numbers being given their chance the next day and so on. Buses and tourists are exempt from this arrangement. In the off-season, there are far fewer buses and other tourists on the road, making the trip slightly easier and more relaxed. However, the locals are known to speed and cross the centre divide, with scooters carrying cargo like groceries and pets nipping in and out of traffic. Anyone attempting this drive must be confident about driving in Italy. While renting an automatic car is more expensive than renting a car with manual gears, it makes the journey far easier because it cuts out the need to change gears constantly.

Feast Your Eyes on Sorrento

Most people start the trip from Sorrento, a city with a population of 20,000, perched precariously on a ledge between mountains. Sant’Agata Sui Due Golfi and its views of the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno, and the three-Michelin-starred Don Alfonso restaurant, is a steep climb away. The villages of Positano, Praiano, Amalfi, Minori, Maiori, Catera, Vietri Sul Mare and Ravello lie on the Amalfi Road and are perfect places to rest, do some widow shopping and have a leisurely lunch. While all the villages share the beautiful views and scenery, Amalfi is a popular stop as it was once the biggest trading port in southern Italy. In 1343, an earthquake caused most of the town to slip into the sea and the town never recovered. Today, Amalfi is the size of a village, but the grand cathedral, Dumo di Sant’Andrea, is a reminder of its earlier wealth.

Because not everyone is brave enough to drive along the Amalfi Coast, there are tour bus operators who offer a guided journey along the cliff tops. The local bus service also runs through all the villages along the coast. If the spectacular views aren’t enough to convince you to attempt the trip, you don’t have to miss out. For the more careful tourist, cruises are available from Naples to Salerno.

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Hannah writes for medwelcome. The Amalfi Coast is just one offering of medwelcome.

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