The Amalfi coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This status protects its ancient marine and agricultural heritage as well as its unique architecture, with many colourful and traditional towns built into the cliffsides. It boasts 50km of colossal beauty and myriad stories, yet this compact region is one that is very susceptible to overtourism, erosion and climate change. Those are big issues for a small place. Driving along its iconic Strada Statale Amalfitana which clings to the shore between Sorrento and Salerno feels like you are in some sort of video game. Not surprising, therefore, that it features in the equally famous Gran Turismo. However, it is important to remember that the obstacles you face in tourism on the Amalfi Coast are in fact very real.


Congestion on the Amalfi Coast

Amalfi’s roads get seriously busy in summer, and these are far from modern roads. It was Giuseppe Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon who, as king of Naples and Sicily, built the road between Naples and Amalfi in 1806. Sometimes it feels as if it hasn’t changed since. Top Gear fans will gush over the hairpins and vertiginous drops of the iconic Strada Statale Amalfitana, but most tourists are either frightened by them or fed up with the coach loads of tourists on them. Italian bureaucracy has failed to come up with any real sustainable change, except for a bus system, called Sita. You can get the train as far as Vietri sul Mare from Naples, on board the rather brilliantly named Circumvesuviana train, which goes around Mount Vesuvius.

The train between Naples and Sorrento is a very cheap and quick way to travel between the two cities. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the worst in terms of pick-pocketing. So watch out for that. It remains a fantastic way to travel, though, and a must on any Amalfi Coast vacation.

What you can do

Don’t bring your own car, or even hire one, unless you are traveling out of the summer season and busy Easter week. On small group walking or cycling tours, you will usually travel with private minibuses or sometimes on public transport. When possible, travel out of season. Check your local and regional bus timetables on Sita’s website or do even better and get a train all the way there. – your tour operator will be able to offer advice.

Seafood, but don’t eat it all

Fish and seafood play a large part of the diet in Amalfi, and of any vacation there too. As with all over the world, however, it is important to remember issues around overfishing and to seek out fish or seafood that are seasonal and sustainable. Our consumption of fish has doubled in the last three decades and a very high percentage of species are disappearing. Laws are flouted, oceans are dredged and, in addition, pollution of the seas is poisoning many of the fish stocks. For example, you need be wary of datteri di mar, or date mussels, which are illegal to fish as they take so long to mature. They are sold all over the Sorrentine Peninsula, however. Fish to avoid in terms of overfishing include the following – in English and Italian:

Say ‘no’ to:
Salmon (salmone)
Red tuna (tonna rosso)
Eel (anguilla)
Scallops (capasanta)
Grouper (cernia)
Hake (nasello)
Skate (razza)
Swordfish (pesce spada)
Whitebait (bianchetti)

Say ‘si’ to:
Anchovies (acciughe and alice)
Grey mullet (cefalo)
Mussels (cozze)
Shrimp (gamberetto)
Leer fish (leccia)
Oysters (ostriche)
Bonito (sarda or palamita)
Pollack (pollack)
Turbot (rombo chiodato)
Mackerel (sgombro)
Squid (calamaro or totano)

What you can do

Support the invaluable work of the Marine Stewardship Council which lobbies worldwide to protect fish stocks and the marine environment. The MSC sustainable fish label is the most widely used and recognised label for certified sustainable seafood around the world. Read more about their work here in English and here in Italian. Only eat fish in season, when they are adult and have gone through the reproduction process; you can read more on the brilliant Slow Fish website about what to eat when. Here are some you can safely eat all year round: Gray mullet (cefalo) , striped sea bream (mormora) , and saddled bream (occhiatta) . Another great source of information is the WWF’s sustainable fish guide to Italy, Pesce Sostenibile , although it’s currently only in Italian.


Agriturismo businesses

The Amalfi Coast is well known for hosting chic brigades, celebrities and yachties. However, real life is very much a feature of this splendid landscape too, with plenty of traditional agriturismo businesses offering homestays, particularly inland. Preserving traditional agriculture is vital along the Amalfi Coast. Lemon, olive and grape growing are all part of the ancient ways here, and also protect the coast from erosion. Terraced farming has led to the building of stone walls over the centuries which protect the villages at the bottom of slopes from landslides. In addition, the traditional cultivation of lemon and olive groves also protects the region from flooding.

Agriturismo accommodation gives travelers the chance to keep things local, and often ingredients used at mealtimes will have come directly from the soil surrounding the property. Diversifying into tourism has allowed agricultural land owners to keep up traditional practices whilst still supporting each other through local cooperatives. This protects rural communities and fair wages and training opportunities at agriturismo businesses empower rural workers and help to create a healthy relationship between tourism and traditional practices. Recommendations for local markets, rural restaurants and authentic workshops are all part of this healthy picture.

What you can do

Support agriturismo businesses along the Amalfi Coast even if it is only for a night or two of your vacation. For so many reasons, we need the next generation of Amalfitani farmers to sustain their rural idylls.

Responsible tourism tips

Just as we know about the negative impact of giant cruise ship liners on Venice, many of them also stop off on the Amalfi Coast too. If you plan to explore by boat, we recommend a small ship cruise. Read more on our stance on giant cruise ships here. The Amalfi Coast has a history of wild fires, so take good care when out hiking in remote areas. The landscapes should have a ‘flammable’ sign on them because they become so dry. Don’t be careless with matches. Walking is one of the favourite activities of many of our Amalfi vacations, and if you’re hiking, please remind yourself of the Leave No Trace principles. As well as taking away everything that you bring in, be sure to stick to waymarked ways, walk in single file when possible to avoid path erosion and prepare for all weather conditions. Tap water is safe to drink here and many of the villages have public fountains for refilling your own water bottles or hydration backpacks, so there is no need to buy plastic bottles of water. Look for regionally produced wines bearing DOC or DOCG labels or, better yet, get friendly with a local family and see if they’ve got any home brew on the go. Every town and village will contain at least one or two churches. As you’d expect, peace and quiet is the order of the day with respect for worshippers and other visitors paramount to the experience. Dress relatively conservatively, cover shoulders, remove your hat and pay attention to signs forbidding photography. Familiarise yourself with the rules for different parks or protected areas such as Monti Lattari Regional Park or nearby Cilento National Park. Check in advance with your walking or cycling guide if you are going on a small group tour. You may be expected to stick to the main trails, and bathing in rivers or lakes is not always permitted. These rules are there to preserve the biodiversity and the natural beauty – please obey them!
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: jpitha] [Intro: Terry Ott] [Seafood: Annie and Andrew] [Agriturismo: Maarten Heerlien]