Occupying the southern side of Sorrento’s peninsula, the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) lays claim to being Europe’s most beautiful stretch of coast, its corniche road winding around the towering cliffs that slip almost sheer into the sea. By car or bus it’s an incredible ride (though it can get mighty congested in summer), with some of the most spectacular stretches between Salerno and Amalfi. If you’re staying in Sorrento especially, it shouldn’t be missed on any account; in any case the towns along here hold the beaches that Sorrento lacks. The coast as a whole has become rather developed, and these days it’s in fact one of Italy’s ritzier bits of shoreline, villas atop its precarious slopes fetching a bomb in both cash and kudos. While it’s home to some stunning hotels, budget travellers should be aware that you certainly get what you pay for here.
Ravello’s annual arts festival dominates the summer months, with performances all over town from the end of June to the early September. Concentrating on classical music, dance, film and the visual arts, it makes the most of the town’s settings and attracts an increasingly high level of international performers. From March to October, the Ravello Concert Society also hosts several concerts a week in the Anunziata Church.
Immediately south of Paestum, the coastline bulges out into a broad, mountainous hump of territory known as the Cilento – one of the remotest parts of Campania, with dozens of small coastal havens with beautiful beaches.
About 45km south of Salerno, the ancient site of Paestum spreads across a large area at the bottom end of the Piana del Sele – a wide, flat plain grazed by the buffalo that produce a good quantity of southern Italy’s mozzarella cheese. Paestum, or Poseidonia as it was known, was founded by Greeks from Sybaris in the sixth century BC, and later, in 273 BC, colonized by the Romans, who Latinized the name. But by the ninth century a combination of malaria and Saracen raids had decimated the population and left the buildings deserted and gradually overtaken by thick forest – the site wasn’t rediscovered until the eighteenth century during the building of a road through here. It’s a desolate, open place even now (“inexpressibly grand”, Shelley called it), mostly unrecognizable ruins but with three golden-stoned temples that are among the best-preserved Doric temples in Europe. Of these, the Temple of Neptune, dating from about 450 BC, is the most complete, with only its roof and parts of the inner walls missing. The Basilica of Hera, built a century or so earlier, retains its double rows of columns, while the Temple of Ceres at the northern end of the site was used as a Christian church for a time. In between, the forum is little more than an open space, and the buildings around are mere foundations.
Top image: Positano, Italy. Amalfi Coast © ronnybas frimages/Shutterstock