1. Amalfi Coast
The Costiera Amalfitana, or Amalfi Coast, is widely considered Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline, a landscape of towering bluffs, pastel-hued villages terraced into hillsides, precipitous corniche roads, luxuriant gardens, and expansive vistas over turquoise waters and green-swathed mountains. A UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997
The Amalfi Coast lies along the southern flanks of the Sorrento Peninsula, a cliff-edged promontory that wanders out from the mainland at the southern end of the Bay of Naples. Its most famous towns—Amalfi, Positano, and Ravello—have captivated and inspired artists for centuries.
Begin in Salerno, a busy port – from Autostrada A3, you pick up the SS163 at Vietri sul Mare, a village with sweeping views of the dramatic coastline and skirts the villages of Maiori (sandy beach) and Minori (ruins of a first-century A.D. Roman villa) before a junction close to Atrani (two churches) whisks you inland to Ravello, considered one of the most romantic and beautiful small towns in southern Italy. Perched on steep, terraced slopes with lush gardens, quiet lanes and a lofty setting—1,198 feet (365 meters) with unforgettable views over the azure coast below. At its heart lie an 11th-century cathedral, the Villa Rufolo (built in the 13th century, views from its idyllic gardens are magnificent) and the Villa Cimbrone.
Dropping back to the coast from Ravello, the corniche road brings you to Amalfi, in its day one of Italy’s four powerful maritime republics (with Venice, Pisa, and Genoa), controlling all sea trade in the Mediterranean. Today, the town’s scenic seafront setting, many cafes and shops, and mild climate make it a hugely popular resort with high prices and high-season crowds. The Duomo di Sant’Andrea, a cathedral’s and the Chiostro del Paradiso (1268), or Cloister of Paradise are the main sites. To escape the bustle of Amalfi, hike into the hills above town or take the popular walk along the Valle dei Mulini, a steep-sided ravine dotted with ruined watermills—mulini—once used to make paper, an industry for which Amalfi was, and still is, famous.
Continuing west from Amalfi, the increasingly spectacular corniche road passes Grotta dello Smeraldo, a marine cave that you can visit by boat, elevator, or rock-cut steps. Just beyond it, the road passes the Vallone di Furore, one of the coast’s most impressive gorges (worth exploring on foot), before arriving at the villages of Praiano and Positano, two more scenic and majestically situated coastal villages. From here the road runs around the tip of the peninsula to Sorrento, a popular package tour resort. Other roads to Sorrento and the peninsula’s northern coast—notably the SS366 from Vettica Minore near Amalfi—provide firsthand views of the interior’s beautiful Lattari Mountains.
Locals recommend planning a drive of the Amalfi Coast during the shoulder tourist seasons, mid-September to October and May, when the road is less crowded and lumbering tour buses are fewer.
2. Stelvio Pass, Alps, Northern Italy
Shooting to fame after being featured in Top Gear in 2008, Clarkson and co. called the Stelvio Pass the “greatest driving road in the world”. That was before they tried Transfăgărășan (see above), but Stelvio remains a place of pilgrimage for petrolheads. At an elevation of 2757m this is the highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps. The road has a heart-clutching 48 hairpin turns, and connects the Valtellina Valley with the mid Venosta valley and Meran.