When Laura Thayer first visited the Amalfi Coast in 2007, she didn’t know the trip would change the course of her life. “I immediately fell in love with the beauty of Amalfi…and my tour guide!” she says. Ms. Thayer, an American writer and art historian, moved the following year and started her popular blog Ciao Amalfi to share insider tips, stories and glimpses of daily life on the coast.
“After 12 years here, I am more passionate than ever about capturing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast and helping travelers discover it for themselves,” she says. “I’m fascinated by the interplay of words and images so it’s a joy for me to write about a place I love.”
Ms. Thayer’s new guidebook, Moon Amalfi Coast: With Capri, Naples & Pompeii (2019), transmits her passion for the region and covers everything you need to discover the best of the Amalfi Coast, Naples and the nearby islands. Here, she shares advice on unique experiences you shouldn’t miss, local cultural traditions and her favorite places to eat, drink and relax on the coast.
The Amalfi Coast is considered the ultimate summer destination but what do you think about off-season travel? When is the “best” time to visit?
The “best” time of year on the Amalfi Coast depends on what you’re after. If it is long days lounging by the sea, July and August are the months for you. September can also be a surprisingly good month for swimming with warm weather and fewer crowds at the beach. April to June are my personal favorites, starting with the wisteria blooming in April to the prettiest spring days in May and the height of summer festivities in Amalfi in June.
What should visitors do and see in the cooler months?
Naples is the place to be during the winter as there are so many museums and historic sights to explore indoors. Unlike the Amalfi Coast and islands, the hotels and restaurants in Naples remain open throughout the winter. Ferries run to Capri year-round from Naples, so if you’re planning an off season visit to the island you can easily set off from there.
Christmas is a colorful time to visit Salerno, which is decked out in holiday lights for the Luci d’Artista from early November through mid-January. Amalfi also has a spectacular firework display over the sea on New Year’s Eve.
What are some of the best “off-the-beaten-path” towns along the Amalfi Coast?
The Amalfi Coast is made up of 13 towns and many of them have smaller villages in the mountains or set in seaside coves. One of my favorite spots is Minori, a coastal city just east of Amalfi that is full of small-town charm. Cetara, a fishing village that is famous for its gastronomic traditions like colatura di alici, an anchovy oil, is also worth a visit.
Scala, a peaceful town in the mountains above Amalfi, is perfect for a nature break. You can hike to the Valle delle Ferriere above Amalfi where you’ll find waterfalls, lush forests, and ruins of the town’s once busy paper mills.
Salerno is also conveniently located near the Amalfi Coast but very much off the tourist radar. It has a fascinating history, a young buzz and great shopping and dining options that make it an appealing choice for travelers who like an urban setting. It’s also ideal for independent travelers because there’s a ferry service to the Amalfi Coast and Capri – and frequent train connections to Naples and the rest of Italy.
Tell me about some of the most unique cultural traditions in the region.
Amalfi’s paper making tradition, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is close to my heart. You can learn more about the history at the Museo della Carta (Paper Museum), evocatively located in a 13th century paper mill. Stop in La Scuderia del Duca to buy beautiful paper that is still handmade in Amalfi.
In Sorrento, you’ll find artisans continuing the local tradition of detailed inlaid woodwork, called intarsia, which is incredible to admire close up. My favorite spot to do this is at the Museobottega della Tarsialignea with its exquisite collection entirely devoted to intarsia in Sorrento. Colorful ceramics are also a common sight on the Amalfi Coast, with the strongest tradition based in Vietri sul Mare. Strolling through town where the shop displays spill out onto the street is a tempting affair. One of my favorite shopping spots is Milleunaceramica in Amalfi where you’ll find a beautifully curated collection of ceramics made by local artisans.
A common design element on all those ceramics are the famous lemons of the Amalfi Coast. For six generations, the Aceto family have tended to their terraced lemon gardens above Amalfi. You can walk among the organic gardens, find out more about the local production of lemons, and taste homemade limoncello on their Amalfi Lemon Experience tour.
Many travelers are surprised to find excellent wine in Campania. Along the Amalfi Coast, grapes are grown in a surprisingly extreme vertical setting at Cantine Marisa Cuomo in Furore. Wine enthusiasts will want to explore the wineries in Tramonti like Tenuta San Francesco where wine is produced from century old vines.
Tucked away in a scenic spot in Ravello, Mamma Agata and her daughter Chiara, along with Chiara’s husband Gennaro, are keeping the local home cooking traditions alive at the Mamma Agata Cooking School. You’ll feel just like family as you learn cooking tips and then sit back and enjoy the recipes on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Amalfi Coast.
What are your favorite places to eat, drink and relax on the Amalfi Coast?
Right in Amalfi, I love Ristorante Marina Grande on the town’s main beach for beautiful dining and a relaxed atmosphere. If I’m meeting friends for an aperitivo, my go to spot for a Spritz is the Gran Caffè overlooking the harbor. For a day away from it all by the sea, I hop on the wooden boat and go to Da Teresa at the Santa Croce beach club west of Amalfi. It’s my favorite spot to lounge at the edge of the sea and at lunch time climb the steps to the breezy dining area for freshly caught seafood washed down with local white wine and peaches.
For something sweet, I head to Pasticceria Pansa, a fifth-generation family run bakery and café in Amalfi’s main square. Outside of Amalfi, Trattoria da Lorenzo in Scala is an excellent spot for seafood, especially if you’re staying just across the valley in Ravello. I can’t go to Positano without stopping in at Casa e Bottega for a juice or fresh, light lunch. On Capri don’t miss Ristorante Michel’angelo in the center of Capri town for local Caprese dishes and the friendliest service from owners Gianluca and Holly.
You’re just as spoiled for choices with where to stay in the Amalfi Coast area. The panorama from the Monastero Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini is the definition of heavenly. Travel dreams do come true at the remarkably beautiful and secluded Villa Treville in Positano. Palazzo Avino has those famous Ravello views as well as a seaside beach club, a rare feature for a hotel in Ravello. Hotel La Minervetta in Sorrento is a picture out of my design dream book. On Ischia, head to Albergo della Regina Isabella in Lacco Ameno for Italian elegance at its best complete with onsite spa and top notch seaside dining.
Moon Amalfi Coast: With Capri, Naples & Pompeii (2019) by Laura Thayer is out now.