The Amalfi Drive: Sorrento to Salerno, Italy
Hugging the Curves on Italy’s Raciest Road
Most Italians don’t just drive; they race. They tailgate, pass other cars with inches to spare between them, and lean on the horn—all of which makes getting behind the wheel on Italian roads challenging at best and terrifying at worst. But their recklessness won’t stop you from taking the most adrenaline-inducing road trip in Europe. Just remember to drive carefully. Very carefully.
The hairpin curves on the Amalfi Drive (Rte. 163), running from Sorrento to Salerno, are racetrack worthy. This feat of engineering and construction takes you twisting and turning high above the spectacular Mediterranean coastline, so close to the edge that you might get a few twinges of vertigo. Don’t think about getting on a tour bus here; adventure junkies will want to be in control here, experiencing the tight turns, even if it takes a white-knuckled grip. (It does, however, help to have a trusted copilot with you, so you can take an occasional break and soak in the dramatic scenery along the way.)
Starting in Sorrento, the Amalfi Drive takes you up to Sant’Agata Sui Due Golfi along the Sorrentine peninsula, offering views of the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. As you follow along pavement that clings to the rock face, with few roadside railings to give any illusion of safety, you’ll gasp at the striking azure water and sandy alcoves far below, before being wowed by the quaint pastel-hued villages cascading down steep mountainsides.
When you arrive in Positano, stop over for a night or consider returning after you see more of the coast. The cafes and boutiques are admittedly overpriced here, but this village is the quintessential Amalfi Coast of postcard fame. Exploring the town by foot is a worthy side trip. You’ll pass olive and lemon groves as you hike upward, past donkeys and perhaps a pick-up soccer game. Make sure to enjoy a leisurely lunch at the unnamed restaurant in the hamlet of Nocelle.
From Positano, it’s about a 30-minute drive to Amalfi, a historically important trading port, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a chic beach resort area. Check out the breathtaking Duamo di San’t Andrea, and climb the steps to see its bronze door that was cast during the 11th century. It’s also worth taking some time to explore the town’s narrow side streets with their unique Moorish-influenced whitewashed houses.
Back in the car, heading east, you’ll have to negotiate a dramatic stretch of road that curves through the Valley of the Dragon for about 6km (33⁄4 miles) before coming upon Ravello, a town with a serious medieval history and views that inspired writers ranging from D.H. Lawrence to Gore Vidal. It’s probably best known for its gardens at Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo, which are both open to the public year-round. From here, you can complete the drive by continuing on to the port city of Salerno.
If you still haven’t had enough of the treacherous roadway, head back the way you came and spend some more time along the coast. For a faster and more direct route, opt for the tamer A3 highway, which cuts back toward Naples. Whichever way you choose, settle into a hotel for at least 1 night and as your heartbeat slows, reward yourself for surviving the Amalfi obstacle course with a well-deserved glass of wine and a heaping plate of linguini topped with fresh seafood.
Italian Government Tourist Board (www.enit.it) and the Sorrento tourist office, Via Luigi de Maio 35, Sorrento ( 081/807-4033; www.sorrentotourism.com).
When to Go: Anytime, weather permitting.
$$ Casa Albertina, Via Travolozza, 3 ( 39/089-811-540; www.casalbertina.it). $$$ Le Sirenuse, Via C. Colombo, 30 ( 39/089-875-066; www.sirenuse.it).