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Each one of the 13 towns from Positano to Vietri sul Mare is stop-traffic-beautiful, with mountains, sea and colourful buildings clinging to the cliffs. Each town has its own distinct charm and character. There isn’t a bad one in the bunch, but if we have to choose, these are our picks for the five most picturesque towns along the Amalfi Coast.
Positano is the queen of the kingdom. One of the most popular and well-known towns for sure, but there is a reason for that. The tumble of pastel houses that cascade down the mountainside forming a candy-coloured pyramid shape is the most iconic image of the Amalfi Coast. Descend the thousand steps from Piazza dei Mulini to the Spiaggia Grande, and you will see neatly organised rows of yellow and orange striped sun loungers and umbrellas stretched out in front of a turquoise sea. Turn around and take in the town’s Santa Maria Assunta cathedral, its dome covered with an intricate mosaic of green, yellow and dark blue tiles. From the pier where the ferries to Capri depart, find the shady paved pathway named Via Positanesi d’America and take a stroll to Fornillo Beach. This small stretch of beach has beach clubs, a sliver of public beach and a medieval tower that centuries ago was used to watch for pirate invasions.
Take the Via delle Signore footpath from Amalfi and discover Atrani, an endearing village wedged in between two hills that run along the Dragone River. You will feel like you are in an Escher drawing come to life here. Follow the artist’s footsteps and make the climb to the tiny Santuario Santa Maria del Bando for a dizzying view of the village and lemon groves down below. Wander the narrow alleys, stairways and under the arches through the town and have a drink at one of the cafés in the main square, Piazza Umberto I. Altrani’s beach is more sandy than pebbly, a rare find on the Amalfi Coast, and the main beach club’s blue and white striped umbrellas are particularly photogenic against the whitewashed buildings. For the best view of the only Rococo-style church on the coast, the Santa Maria Maddalena, head out to sea. Back on land, peek inside to see its ornate interior and the 11th-century bronze door.
Blink and you will miss it while driving along the 50km (30mi) of the SS 163, the twisty Amalfi Coast road. Conca dei Marini is tiny. You will find this fishing village in between Amalfi and Furore. The most striking attraction here is the Grotta dello Smeraldo (Emerald Grotto). Luigi Buonocore, a local sailor, made this a popular tourist stop in the 1930s. Take the quick boat trip to this grotto inside a cave where the sunlight hits the walls to create a viridescent effect on the water. This is also the destination for the traveller with a sweet tooth. The sfogliatella Santa Rosa is a flaky, orange-scented, ricotta stuffed pastry was created in the 17th century by nuns from the Convent of Santa Rosa.
This town sits high above the sea along the Lattari mountain range, 365m (1,200ft) to be exact. The views from Ravello are extraordinary. Start at the Villa Rufolo and take the quintessential picture over the Norman and Moorish-style tower and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Wind through the town’s pedestrian-only lanes to the Villa Cimbrone to visit the well-tended gardens and walk the precipitous and sculpture-lined Terrace of Infinity. The two-hour walk between the town’s main square Piazza Duomo and Piazza Fontana Moresca is filled with 11th- and 12th-century churches, romantic crumbling villas and gleaming restored hotels where celebrities and royalty once stayed on their visits to this exclusive destination. There is probably no music venue quite as scenic as the stage at the Oscar Niemeyer Auditorium. Suspended over the sea, international and Italian artists perform here on evenings in the summer months.
Cetara is a sweet sleepy fishing village at the Vietri sul Mare end of the Amalfi Coast. Anchovy and tuna fishermen repair their nets every day on the pier next to their painted fishing boats. There is a small beach across from the pier facing the beautiful Collata Bay. The Aragonese tower at the eastern edge of the beach once stood watch over the town from sea invasions of Saracen pirates. Today, there are occasionally art shows inside. Ask for directions to Lannio Beach – after a long flight of stairs down to the water you will find a small stretch of sand instead of pebbles. Cetara is famous for its salted anchovy sauce called colatura, which dates back to the Roman era.