The Amalfi Coast remains an intriguing mix of sophistication and simplicity. A mere seagull’s spit from the super yachts, chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz and five-star hotels, another more rural reality exists. Around precariously stacked hill villages, farmers still cultivate small plots of steeply terraced land, and their wives make cheese; down on the coast, tiny fishing communities make a living from the sea.
Described by Paul Klee as ‘the only place in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis’, Positano is home to just short of 4,000 souls, although in summer thousands more pile in daily from Sorrento, Capri, Ischia and Naples. But in spite of the crowds, Positano remains utterly beguiling. You don’t come to Positano to see the sights; there aren’t any to speak of. You come to drink in the matchless views along with your Campari, to shop for flowing linen and handmade sandals, or simply to watch the passing parade of tanned women in gold sandals and immaculately groomed men in pastel shades, cashmere sweaters draped over their shoulders.
There’s always a buzz down here on the grey-shingle Marina Grande, where restaurants, bars and tall pines line the curve of sand. In summer, the serried ranks of sunbeds fill up quickly; for the best swimming, take a boat to explore the many small coves up and down the coast, a trip that can easily be combined with a stop-off for lunch at beach. For spectacular snorkelling in crystal-clear water, head to Li Galli, the archipelago of three tiny, jagged islands just off the coast where, according to Greek mythology, the Sirens attempted to lure Odysseus to his death on the rocks. Odysseus may have resisted, but Rudolf Nureyev was less successful: he made the largest island his home for the last years of his life. Hotels will arrange the trip (in their private boat if you’re staying at the right place).