The port town of Amalfi is the perfect home base for exploring the rest of the Amalfi Coast, but it’s worth some time by itself. Though smaller than Positano, Amalfi contains the Coast’s signature pastel buildings that almost look like they’re floating down the cliff face toward the Mediterranean Sea. It’s busy during the tourist season, but it’s still a small village with its own tiny beach and hilly pedestrian streets.
You’ll see Limoncello shops everywhere and lemon-scented soaps, as well as brightly colored ceramics, and you can sample the local specialty—vermicelli pasta with lemon, anchovies, and parsley—at one of the many restaurants. Once thing is for sure, you can’t leave Amalfi without eating a dish that uses the huge, amazing lemons grown on the Coast. They’re actually a different type of lemon than what we see in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock/Medioimages/Photodisc)
The best dining options offer you great food and a view. Lido Azzurro specializes in pasta and seafood and has a romantic terrace right at the harbor. Da Gemma is another high-end restaurant with a terrace. Try their Amalfitan lemon risotto with steamed and raw red prawns for your first course. (Photo courtesy of Lido Azzurro )
There are some sites of historical significance, too. The architectural centerpiece of town is the 9th century Christian Cathedral of Amalfi in the Piazza Duomo. It’s an excellent example of North African Moorish style architecture with its mosaic façade, striped marble and stone archways and columns. Look for the lace details on the arches. There aren’t many churches in Europe that remain in this style, so it’s quite a sight at the top of the 62 steps.
Take photos from the foot of the Cathedral, and then, climb the stairs to visit the inside. Notice the bronze doors at the entrance that date from the year 1066. The interior of the Cathedral has been remodeled many times and is now a mixture of Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, and Baroque architecture. The crypt purportedly holds the bones of Saint Andrew, Jesus’ first disciple, and they say the bones were brought from Constantinople in 1206 during the Crusades.
For more history, visit the Museo della Carta on Via Delle Cartiere for a lesson in the progression of handmade paper-making. The Arabs brought the art to Amalfi, and the locals developed their own technique, making Amalfi a European center for paper-making as early as the 12th century.
When you’re ready to leave Amalfi for other towns on the Coast, you can easily hire your own driver to take you wherever you want to go. I don’t recommend renting a car since there are few places to park in these coastal towns. Plus, the hairpin turns on the roads are daunting if you haven’t driven them before, and you have to pass by buses with barely an inch between you.
The locals come around the turns fast, so if you aren’t ready for them, the results could be disastrous. I was told there are surprisingly few accidents, but an experienced driver will allow you to relax and just enjoy the views.