The first time I took this drive, I was looking for the fastest way to get from Sorrento to Amalfi. I had slept in after too many limoncello the night before. With the extra sleep and a clearer head, I wanted to meet back up with my friends, who had taken an earlier ferry to Amalfi. The pensione owner, who patted my hand in a grandfatherly way each time I asked for help, went over the bus schedule with me and told me where to catch the bus. As I headed out, he handed me a napkin full of biscotti and blurted something quickly in Italian. All I heard was "mal di stomaco" (upset stomach). I said, "grazie" and blushed, thinking he must have known I drank too much the night before.
As it was my first time in Sorrento, and Italy, family and friends gave me a laundry list of "must dos and sees" for each city. The list was so long that I would have had to spend all my time seeing other people's favorites instead of creating my own. After maybe one day of trying to do that, I decided to ignore the list and find my own favorites. My notes on the list next to the Amalfi Drive read, "Take the bus from Sorrento to Amalfi - nice view."
Nice view doesn't quite describe the bus ride. It started out a little slow and bumpy as we ambled across the peninsula. (Sorrento is on the northern side of the Sorrentine peninsula. At the tip of this peninsula, the gulf of Naples ends and the Amalfi Coast begins.) I saw lemon groves, houses, and hotels tucked away among more lemon groves as we crossed the peninsula. Once we arrived at the coastline, things changed dramatically.
The ride went from bumpy to winding. After the first few curves, I understood why the pensione owner had said, "mal di stomaco" and given me the cookies. The two-way highway is a narrow winding road, barely wide enough for two buses to fit next to each other when coming from different directions. (More than once, one bus had to back out of a turn because both buses wouldn't fit.) On one side of the highway is a steep wall of rock climbing farther up and back. The other side, the coastal side, is an even steeper drop, hundreds of feet, down into the blue sea. A small railing winds with the highway road. It's the only barrier between the road and the drop.
The bus hugged the railing as we wound our way along the coast. At every curve the bus driver tooted the horn to announce its entrance into the even narrower turn. The bus driver's gray hair and beard gave me comfort. At the time I thought this showed his experience and success with driving this road. Looking back, I think the stress from this drive several times every day might have caused him to gray prematurely.
My coast-side window view drew my attention away from the barf bag-inducing push and pull of the road. That view, throughout the entire ride, made my mouth drop deep like the cliffs from which we drove. The sapphire blue sea. Stark white or pastel colored villas, topped one upon another, clung to the hillside. Bougainvillea climbed walls and terraced patios in full fuschia-colored bloom. There were more lemon groves and also small secluded beach coves nestled in the curves of the rocky coastline.
That first trip was years ago. Each time I return, I take this bus ride. Each ride is like my first, awestruck I gawk out the window. Yes, I could rent a car and drive myself, being able to stop whenever I choose. I'd rather let someone else, who is more experienced with the road and Italian drivers, drive while I look. You can rent a private driver, but the bus is a great deal for such a view. Last summer the roundtrip fare from Sorrento to Amalfi was 7.50 euros. Luckily, I almost never get carsick, but I still pack a few cookies and a water with me each time, just in case. These photos are from my most recent trip in the summer.
Yes, the drive is a "nice view," indeed. This is one piece of "must see" advice I'm glad I took, although accidentally. And, limoncello continues to play an important part in some of my most memorable travel experiences.
Information on using the buses:
The SITA bus website gives you information on bus routes and schedules. There are buses that run from Sorrento to Amalfi, stopping along the way at Positano.
From the main bus stop in Amalfi, you can pick up another bus to ride along the rest of the coastline to Salerno.
Bus schedules change throughout the year, but you can easily pick up a current schedule wherever you're staying, the tourist office in Sorrento Positano or Amalfi, and at the bus ticket offices in each city. Many tabacco shops (Tabacchi) and cafes along the coast also sell bus tickets.
What "must see" travel advice are you glad you took? Is there one "must see" you wish you hadn't?