As you journey down the fabled Amalfi Coast, the route takes you past rocky cliffs plunging into the sea and small boats lying in sandy coves like brightly colored fish. Erosion has contorted the rocks into shapes resembling figures from mythology and hollowed out fairy grottoes where the air is turquoise and the water an icy blue. White villages dripping with flowers nestle in coves or climb like vines up the steep, terraced hills. Lemon trees abound, loaded with blossom or fruit-and netting in winter to protect the fruit. The inhabitants jest that they look after their lemons better than their children. The road must have a thousand turns, each with a different view, on its dizzying 69-km (43-mi) journey from Sorrento to Salerno. Venture north, and you can fall under the spell of Pompeii's silent streets, frozen in time under the dust of 25 centuries.
Until the mid-20th century Sorrento was a small, genteel resort favored by central European princes, English aristocrats, and American literati. Now the town has grown and spread out along the crest of its famous cliffs, and apartments stand where citrus groves once bloomed.
Basilica di Sant'Antonino. Gracing Piazza Sant'Antonino and one of the largest churches in Sorrento, the Basilica di Sant'Antonino honors the city's patron saint, St. Anthony the Abbot. The church and the portal on the right side date from the 11th century. Its nave and side aisles are divided by recycled ancient columns. Among the paintings, is the one on the nave ceiling signed and dated by Giovan Battista Lama in 1734. Piazza Sant'Antonio.
Convento di San Francesco. Near the Villa Comunale gardens and sharing its view over the Bay of Naples, the convent is celebrated for its 14th-century cloister. Filled with greenery and flowers, the Moorish-style cloister has interlaced pointed arches of tufa rock, alternating with octagonal columns topped by elegant capitals, supporting smaller arches. The convent is now an art school, where students' works are often exhibited. Piazza S. Francesco.
Duomo dei SS Filippo e Giacomo. Ancient, but rebuilt from the 15th-century right up to 1924, the town's cathedral follows a Latin-cross design; its nave and two side aisles are divided by thick piers with round arches. A Renaissance-style door and artworks, including the archbishop's 16th-century marble throne and ceiling paintings attributed to the 18th-century Neapolitan school, are easily viewable. The delightfully florid three-story campanile, topped by a clock and a belfry, has an open arcaded base and recycled Roman columns. Largo Arcivescovado at Corso Italia.
Marina Grande. Via Marina Grande turns into a pedestrian lane, then a stairway leading to Sorrento's only real beach at Marina Grande, where fishermen pull up their boats and some good seafood restaurants are found. A frequent bus also descends to the beach; tickets are sold at the tabacchi (tobacconist).
Museo Correale di Terranova. In an 18th-century villa with a lovely garden, on land given to the patrician Correale family by Queen Joan of Aragon in 1428, this museum is a highlight of Sorrento. Magnificent 18th-century inlaid tables by Giuseppe Gargiulo, Capodimonte porcelains, and rococo portrait miniatures are reminders of the age when pleasure and delight were everything. Also on view are regional Greek and Roman archaeological finds, medieval marble work, glasswork, old-master paintings, 17th-century majolicas-even the poet Tasso's death mask. Via Correale 50. Admission charged.
Sedile Dominova. Enchanting showpiece of the Largo Dominova-the little square that is the heart of Sorrento's historic quarter-the Sedile Dominova is a picturesque open loggia with expansive arches, balustrades, and a green-and-yellow-tile cupola, originally constructed in the 16th century. The open-air structure is frescoed with 18th-century trompe-l'oeil columns and the family coats of arms. Largo Dominova, at Via S. Cesareo and Via P.R. Giuliani.
Once a pleasure dome to Roman emperors and now Italy's most glamorous seaside getaway, Capri (pronounced with an accent on the first syllable) is a craggy island at the southern end to the bay of Naples.
Anacapri. A tortuous road leads up to Anacapri, the island's "second city," about 3 km (2 miles) from Capri Town. Crowds are thick down Via Capodimonte leading to Villa San Michele and around Piazza Vittoria, the square where you catch the chairlift to the top of Monte Solaro. Via Vinestrale leads to the noted Le Boffe quarter, centered on the Piazza Ficacciate. It's a good starting point for walks, such as the 80-minute round-trip journey to the Migliara Belvedere, on the island's southern coast.
Certosa di San Giacomo. You can window-shop in expensive boutiques and browse in souvenir shops along Via Vittorio Emanuele, which leads south toward the many-domed Certosa di San Giacomo. You'll be able to visit the church and cloister of this much-restored monastery and also pause long enough to enjoy the breathtaking sight of Punta Tragara and the Faraglioni, three towering crags, from the viewing point at the edge of the cliff. Via Certosa.
Giardini di Augusto (Gardens of Augustus). From the terraces of this beautiful public garden, you can see the village of Marina Piccola below-restaurants, cabanas, and swimming platforms huddle among the shoals-and admire the steep, winding Via Krupp, actually a staircase cut into the rock. Friedrich Krupp, the German arms manufacturer, loved Capri and became one of the island's most generous benefactors. If you find the path too challenging you can reach the beach by taking a bus from the Via Roma terminus down to Marina Piccola. Via Matteotti, beyond monastery of San Giacomo. Admission charged.
Monte Solaro. An impressive limestone formation and the highest point on Capri (1,932 feet), Monte Solaro affords gasp-inducing views toward the bays of both Naples and Salerno. A 12-minute chairlift ride will take you right to the top (refreshments available at the bar), where you can launch out on a number of scenic trails on the western side of the island. Picnickers should note that even in summer it can get windy at this height, and there are few trees to provide shade or refuge. Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri. Admission charged.
San Michele. In the heart of Anacapri, the octagonal baroque church of San Michele, finished in 1719, is best known for its exquisite majolica pavement designed by Solimena and executed by the mastro-riggiolaro (master tiler) Chiaiese from Abruzzo. A walkway skirts the depiction of Adam and a duly contrite Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, but you can get a fine overview from the organ loft, reached by a winding staircase near the ticket booth (a privileged perch you have to pay for). Piazza San Nicola, Anacapri. Admission charged.
Pompeii. The site of Pompeii, petrified memorial to Vesuvius's eruption on August 24, AD 79, is the largest, most accessible, and probably most famous excavation anywhere. A busy commercial center with a population of 12,000-15,000, ancient Pompeii covered about 160 acres on the seaward end of the fertile Sarno Plain. Today it's choked with both the dust of 25 centuries and more than 2 million visitors every year. Only by escaping the hordes and lingering along its silent streets can you truly fall under the site's spell.
To get the most out of Pompeii, rent an audio guide ($; you'll need to leave an ID card) and opt for one of the three itineraries (2 hours, 4 hours, or 6 hours). If hiring a guide, make sure the guide is registered for an English tour and standing inside the gate; agree beforehand on the length of the tour and the price; and prepare yourself for soundbites of English mixed with dollops of hearsay. You can prebook an excellent guide at www.vesuviusvspompeii.com or www.contexttravel.com. €11, tickets are valid for one full day Pompei-Villa dei Misteri.
When John Steinbeck lived here in 1953, he wrote that it was difficult to consider tourism an industry because "there are not enough tourists." It's safe to say that Positano, a village of white Moorish-style houses clinging to slopes around a small sheltered bay, has since been discovered.
Palazzo Murat. Past a bevy of resort boutiques, head to Via dei Mulini 23 to view the prettiest garden in Positano-the 18th-century courtyard of the Palazzo Murat, named for Joachim Murat, who sensibly chose the palazzo as his summer residence. This was where Murat, designated by his brother-in-law Napoléon as King of Naples in 1808, came to forget the demands of power and lead the simple life. Via dei Mulini 23.
Santa Maria Assunta. Built on the site of the former Benedictine abbey of Saint Vito, the 13th-century Romanesque structure was almost completely rebuilt in 1700. The last piece of the ancient mosaic floor can be seen under glass behind the altar. Note the carved wooden Christ, a masterpiece of devotional religious art, with its bathetic face and bloodied knees, on view before the altar. At the altar is a Byzantine 13th-century painting on wood of Madonna with Child, known popularly as the Black Virgin, carried to the beach every August 15 to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. Piazza Flavio Gioia. Admission charged.
Spiaggia Grande. The walkway from the Piazza Flavio Gioia leads down to the Spiaggia Grande, or main beach, bordered by an esplanade and some of Positano's best-and priciest-restaurants.
Via Positanesi d'America. A staircase leads to this lovely seaside walkway, and halfway up the path you can find the Torre Trasìta, the most distinctive of Positano's three coastline defense towers (once used to warn of pirate raids). Continuing along the Via Positanesi d'America you pass tiny inlets and emerald coves until the large beach, Spiaggia di Fornillo, comes into view.
Sorrento's main shopping street is Via San Cesareo, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with dozens of shops selling local and Italian crafts, as well as fruit and vegetable stands. Corso Italia has more modern boutique offerings. Wood inlay (intarsia) is the most-sought-after item, but you'll be surprised by the high quality of embroidery and metalwork. Keep your eye out for stalls selling tiny crèche figures that go beyond the traditional Nativity participants-miniature Pulcinella, hunchback dwarfs, and elaborate market scenes. Local crafts, but in line with a contemporary art spirit, can be found in Via Fuoro, while some classic antique dealers are in Via P.R.Giuliani. You may also want to stop in one of the many shops selling limoncello, the famous lemon liqueur. Piemme and Villa Massa are recommended brands; the latter is exported to the United States.