Amalfi Drive ★★★

The cliff-hugging SS163 Amalfiatana, Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Coast, Italy (Photo by David van der Mark)
The cliff-hugging SS163 Amalfiatana

An overview of the amazing, spectacular, gravity-defying, cliff-hanging scenic road along the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Salerno

The Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Coast, Italy. (Photo by Brian K YYZ)
View along the Amalfi Coast Drive, Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Coast, Italy. (Photo by Holly Hayes)
An Amalfi Drive viaduct, Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Coast, Italy. (Photo by pixxiestails)

This white-knuckle thrill ride is one of Italy's greatest wonders, 30 miles of narrow, S-curve roadway strung halfway up a cliff with the waves crashing below, green slopes all around, medieval pirate watchtowers on the headlands, and colorful villages tucked into the coves.

Welcome to the undulating, world-famous Amalfi Drive, otherwise known as the Amalfitana and by its official handle SS163. It lies along the south side of the Sorrentine Peninsula that forms the southern arm of the Bay of Naples.

How to get to the Amalfi Drive

To get to AmalfiPositanoRavello, and the other villages and towns of the Amalfi Coast, you'll need to get to the south side of Sorrento's peninsula, which means your first order of business is reaching Sorrento, a middle-class resort town atop a cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples (on the north side of the peninsula).

Sorrento has plenty of hotels and other tourist infrastructure (this is where many bus tours put up to explore the region), but only a fraction of the charm enjoyed by the smaller villages on the Amalfi Coast itself. My advice is to hop on a bus (be sure to sit on the right for the best views) and head out to explore the Amalfi Coast itself.

If you are driving directly to the Amalfi Coast, you can bypass Sorrento» more

From Sorrento to Positano (18km; 35–45 min.)

This is a relatively uneventful ride, south from Sorrento and mostly inland over the tall hills of the peninsula to the Amalfi Drive on the southern side of it. The first views of the coast as you come down a hairpin road are pretty spectacular, but the not much else happens until you reach the first major stop—that postcard child of the Amalfi Coast, the chichi resort town of Positano.

This tumble of white and pale pastel houses stairsteps up the hillsides of a tight cove, a charmingly disorderly stack of sea-view terraces picked out with bougainvillea. A multitude of these old fisher homes and summer villas have been transformed into hotels or B&Bs, and though the hoipalloi (us regular tourists) now know about it, too, Positano still exerts almost as a strong pull on the rich and famous as it has since the heyday of the 1950s Jet Set.

From Positano to Amalfi (19km; 45–60 min.)

About 3km (2 miles) beyond Positano is its sister hamlet of Praiano, also a trendy resort (only much smaller and still little-known) with a majolica-domed church (and an excellent hotel called the Locanda Costa Diva).

Past the village of Furore the bus pops out of a tunnel to ride a bridge across one of the coast's most dramatic gorges, the Vallone del Furore.

At kilometer-marker 24, outside the fishing community of Conca dei Marini, are the stairs (or elevator) down to the Grotta dello Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto). This cavern was formed above sea level, then partially sunk below the water, and the effect of light inside causes the water to glow an eerie green.

A detour from Amalfi to Ravello (7km; 25–30 min.)

Seven kilometers inland—and 1,155 feet up—from Amalfi perches Ravello, a tiny town of crumbling villas whose flower-filled grounds and lush pleasure gardens have become public parks hosting concerts under the stars.

From Amalfi to Salerno (25km; 60–75 min.)

As you make your way east on the Amalfi Coast toward Salerno, you'll pass though several more small villages—Atrani, just beyond Amalfi, is the cutest—and a few sprawling resort towns with decent (but crowded) beaches that are favored by Italians on week-long packaged vacations. Minori has a bit of old-school charm; Maiori now consists primarily of a depressingly unbroken seafront line of identical low-rise hotels; skip it.

The one town most worth getting off the bus for is at the tail end of the coast: Vietri Sul Mare, these days practically a Salerno suburb and chock-a-bloc with studios turning out hand-painted ceramics.

The Amalfi Drive ends at Salerno, a busy and bustling—but (for the tourist) relatively bland—working port city. Sadly, World War II bombs were not kind to Salerno, leaving it but a few historic sites, though enough to amuse you in case public transport connections strands you there for a few hours.

Photo gallery
  • The cliff-hugging SS163 Amalfiatana, Amalfi Drive, Italy (Photo by David van der Mark)
  • The Amalfi Drive, Amalfi Drive, Italy (Photo by Brian K YYZ)
  • View along the Amalfi Coast Drive, Amalfi Drive, Italy (Photo by Holly Hayes)
  • An Amalfi Drive viaduct, Amalfi Drive, Italy (Photo by pixxiestails)

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