The Amalfi Coast is one of the most splendidly beautiful--and historically significant--areas in Italy. The area is comprised of the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, south of Naples and part of the province of Salerno. In the northern coast we find the town of Sorrento, from which the Peninsula derives its name, and along the southern coast we find the region's main towns of Positano, Ravello, Atrani, and Amalfi. The island of Capri, located nearby in the Bay of Naples, is also considered part of the Amalfi Coast.

The rugged coastline, sunny brilliance, and high mountain towns of the Amalfi Coast--as well as its proximity to Naples and the major archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum--have made the area a favorite with tourists, artists, and writers. Sorrento, Capri, and Positano have flourished as a home base for wealthy expatriates, particularly since the end of World War II. The town of Amalfi itself was at one time an important port in the region during the Middle Ages, and much more populated than it is today.

While the area can be difficult to navigate, particularly if one is driving (the winding, twisting roads among these cliff towns are notorious), each town has its own individual charm and history. Positano, where the houses are stacked along the steep cliffs, is not unlike Capri in that it has an international reputation for drawing the wealthy. Its surplus of expensive, three-star hotels and restaurants and shops are indicators of that. A big draw in Positano is the beach area.

Amalfi, which was, as previously mentioned, a one-time maritime power, now runs at a much slower (and smaller) pace. It also boasts some beautiful and arresting architecture, including the colorful Duomo located in the town's main piazza. Atrani, a kilometer east of Amalfi, also has impressive architecture worth exploring.

Ravello, located higher than Amalfi, can be difficult to get to, but worth it for the astonishing views of the sea, and the sense of peace and quiet that pervades the town. Once an important trade town in the Renaissance, Ravello fell upon hard times afterward, but has retained its considerable historical charm. There are many fine examples of architecture here, as seen in the churches and villas, that are flavored by Eastern (i.e., Arabic and Greek) influences.

The region also includes the town of Vietri sul Mare, known as the capital of southern Italy's handcrafted ceramics industry.

Finally, the town of Sorrento is the western entry point for the region, and has been well established as a tourist haven since the nineteenth century. The town still retains that feel today, as it is dominated yearly by an influx of largely British tourists--their presence is seen in the number of pubs visible in the area. Still, Sorrento is a good base from which to explore the Amalfi Coast because of its location and the fact that it serves as a transportation hub in and out of the region.