WITH TOWNS TUMBLING DOWN TO THE SEA, towering cliffs and views to die for, this is Italy at its most dramatic. Yesterday’s literati and today’s glitterati flock to the Amalfi coast, set in the midst of Campania.

Gravity-defying Love Heart-coloured villas gaze out from near-vertical hillsides, and you’ll need plenty of bottle to drive along the white-knuckle Amalfi Drive, a road only just built into the vertiginous cliff face.

The coastline is Italy’s most spectacular, stretching around 50 km east from Positano. There are enough secluded coves and romantic hideaways for everyone, and beauty spots include lofty Ravello, hovering at the top of a 1,000-foot clifftop. Chocolate-box Positano is also a must-see as the beautiful setting of John Steinbeck’s 1950s novel of the same name. The region’s islands Capri and Ischia are even more glamorous, and easily accessed by a boat or hydrofoil from Naples or smaller resorts.

The Amalfi coast has been a regular star of the silver screen. The Talented Mr Ripley, Goodbye Mr Chips and Agatha Christie’s Endless Night were all shot here.  Stars and wannabees continue to flock here in the summer months, drifting between yachts and luxury villas.

Sorrento was believed by the ancients to be home to mythical temptresses who lured unwitting mariners towards the cliffs with their wistful songs. The town seduces today’s visitors with stunning views over the Bay of Naples, and even celebrates its regional day on Valentine’s Day.

Ravello’s open-air music Festival, with its programme of al fresco opera nights in an exquisite setting above the sea,  offers the perfect way to spend a summer’s eve. If rain gets in the way, there are still plenty of courtyard cafes to wander into for a consoling shot of limoncello.

Naples is the gateway to the region so is the natural place to begin and end your trip.  Despite the city’s old reputation as something of a crime hotspot (it’s as well to hang on to your handbag)  it offers a wealth of art museums, Italianate squares and narrow lanes weaving through the centro storico. Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii, both remarkable places, are within easy reach as is the nearby Cilento national Park.

Be sure to visit Amalfi itself, sprawled at the foot of the cliff beneath hilltop Ravello, and take a boat ride out to the millionaire’s playground of Capri. While the island’s lower streets can heave with tourists in the high season, the crowds magically melt away in the upper village of Anacapri, whose cable car takes you right to the island’s peak.

Any visit to the region is incomplete without sampling a local calzone (stuffed pizza) and a plate of fritto misto, complete with clams, squid and octopus. Vine-laden hillsides and olive groves ensure local markets are piled high with fresh Mediterranean produce, while other must-tries include, octopus casserole, spider crab soup and shrimp sautéed or lightly fried in breadcrumbs. All washed down, of course, with a bottle of fine local Caserta wine.


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