The Best Way to See the Amalfi Coast Is on Foot — Here’s Why
Steer clear of the crowds and work off those pasta dinners.
When I imagined how my boyfriend, Philippe, and I would spend our romantic getaway on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, I didn’t picture us trudging up a mountain in 80-degree heat, the sparkling coastline at our backs and the sweat pouring from our brow.
“Will we make it back to the hotel in time for lunch?” I asked our guide, Marco.
“If we go fast,” he said, forging ahead.
I stopped for a chug of water. Why had I signed up for this again?
I'd gotten the idea to hike the Amalfi Coast a few weeks earlier, over dinner with our friends in New York. They'd shown us photos from their recent trip to the region: glistening plates of seafood linguini, parasol-dotted beach clubs, subtropical gardens abloom with hydrangeas and pink oleanders. I could practically smell the sweetness in the air. Then they showed us videos of them riding Vespas along Amalfi’s sliver-thin coastal roads, the toy-like scooters hugging the highway’s hairpin turns, scarcely teetering off cliff’s edge. My stomach dropped; I am not a confident driver. Surely there was another way to see the sights.
After ruling out a private driver (too pricey) and a tour bus (not aerodynamic enough to handle those tight turns), I came across the website of On Foot Holidays, a U.K.-based tour operator that works with locals to design self-guided hiking itineraries across Europe. The company does the heavy lifting — planning the route, identifying the best overnight accommodations, transporting your luggage — in addition to providing on-ground emergency support.
That all sounded great, but frankly, the thought of going on a multi-day hike in Italy depressed me (I wanted to pack chic bathing suits and wide-brim sun hats, not spandex and anti-chafing cream). So, when I found out that many of the region’s top hotels offer guided day tours of the region’s best routes, I was in disbelief: Why weren’t more people hiking the Amalfi Coast?
Which is how I found myself ascending a steep path lined with chestnut trees and prehistoric ferns into the Valle delle Ferriere, a mostly uphill route that was carved out by farmers and merchants in the 14th century. Beginning in the mountains of Scala and ending in the village of Amalfi, the dirt path is named after the iron-wheeled carriages that was used to transport Ravello silk and Amalfi paper to the port. Our hotel, the exquisite 17th-century Monastero Santa Rosa, had arranged the experience, connecting us with our guide, Marco, who worked for the local outfitter Cartotrekking. Marco was born in Naples, spent his childhood summers in a small mountain village in the Amalfi Coast, and had earned his master’s degree in environmental science, with a focus on the landscape and economy of the region. In other words, he knew these trails like the back of his hand.
With the sun beaming down on my face and last night’s pasta dinner threatening to come back up, I plodded along, trailing behind Marco and Philippe. After so many days taking in the jewel-toned coastline from the hotel’s perch high above the sea, I was restless, craving more of the region’s in-your-face beauty. But as we plunged deeper into the valley, stopping to admire little clusters of yellow flowers and the 14th-century ruins, I stopped fixating: my thoughts began to clear, my breaths became deeper, and, most noticeably — perhaps for the first time since we touched down in Italy — I didn't feel the constant desire to pull out my iPhone and document everything.
By the time we made it to the Valle delle Ferrier nature reserve, which is located just past the route’s halfway point, I had stopped looking at my phone altogether. I scanned the area, staring up at the dramatic waterfalls and the spongy, moss-covered rocks, which shimmered in the midday light.
Sensing our wonderment, Marco dug into his backpack and dug out a thermos of espresso and a tray of cookies. We sat around a picnic table and chatted, bonding over everything we had seen so far.
Later that day, after saying our goodbyes to Marco, we devoured plates of lemon pasta, lounged by the hotel pool, and explored Ravello’s lush, manicured gardens. Looking back, the afternoon was a bit of a blur, like so many of our luxuriant, sun-soaked days in Italy. But in those moments we spent with Marco in the cool, humid valley, the leaves swirling down from the treetops and the scent of lemon drifting in the air, time slowed down. It was one of the highlights of our trip.
Three Other Must-do Hikes in the Amalfi Coast
Pathway of the Gods
If you Google “best hikes in the Amalfi Coast,” the Pathway of the Gods (or Sentiero delgi Dei) is one of the first hits — and for good reason. The four-mile-long path winds 1,640 feet above the Amalfi Coast, offering jaw-dropping views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the craggy coastline. The hike takes about three hours; to avoid the crowds, hit the trails early. For unique access, book a guided hike with Le Sirenuse, Positano’s ultra-luxurious boutique hideaway. A guide will lead you through coastal forests and shady caves while providing historical insight on trailside attractions like the San Domenico monastery.
Torre Dello Ziro
You’ll climb 500+ steps on this pleasant hike to the historic Torre dello Ziro watchtower, which was constructed in the 15th century to guard against pirate attacks. (Fun fact: In the 16th century, the Duchess of Amalfi, Giovanna D’Aragona, was imprisoned in the tower after being accused of an affair — which explains why the locals all consider it to be haunted.) As you make your ascent, you’ll be rewarded with scenic views of the terraced gardens of Ravello, the terracotta rooftops of Amalfi, and the umbrella-lined shores of the Atrani Beach. For easy access to the route and a history lesson on the historic watchtower, stay at the Palazzo Avino, an elegant boutique hotel set inside a 12th-century villa in Ravello.
Commanding views of Capri are only one of the draws of this scenic trail, which, as legend goes, is where Ulysses met the Sirens and erected a temple in the name of the goddess Minerva. The route begins in the hamlet of Termini and stretches to the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula. Beginners can embark on the two-hour hike over undulating countryside, while more advanced hikers can ascend the peak of Mount San Costanzo, where there are remains of a historic hermitage. The concierge at the Agriturismo Antico Casale, a working farm and four-room hotel perched on the hills between the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, can point you in the right direction.