Dream destination: Italy’s Amalfi Coast is best visited in autumn

As its summer season recedes, the astonishingly beautiful Amalfi Coast has a very special quality, finds Kate Wickers

“I have bad news. My naughty fat cat ate the last portion of spaghetti and meatballs,” Enzo Manniello said, teasing my son, Freddie. “But don’t worry. I’m cooking the cat.”

We’re were in Sorrento at Restaurant O’ Parrucchiano (restaurant of the parish priest), which was established in 1868 by Enzo’s great uncle, a seminarist, who was also the creator of cannelloni. It is the oldest of Sorrento’s restaurants and Enzo’s affable manner and delicious pasta both endure through autumn and winter, as elsewhere on the Amalfi Coast the beach clubs pack away their sun loungers and the tourist boats dock. We sat in the vast garden amidst lemon, pomelo and orange trees strung with fairy lights.

During colder months diners can sit inside in one of three striking rooms, including a turn of the century iron-framed glasshouse, known as the veranda hall.

Long before Covid-19, as the leaves turned from lush green to bronze and yellow last October, we travelled along the Amalfi Coast – and learnt that autumn brings an entirely different flavour to the region, compared with the frantic summer months.

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Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria, which opened in 1834 and has long been family-run, sits grandly on the cliffs overlooking the Gulf of Naples to Vesuvius. With an immaculate interior of period furniture, 19th-century frescoed ceilings, polished marble floors and potted palms, it’s a glimpse of bygone luxury travel. The photographs in vintage frames of Luciano Pavarotti posing on the terrace and Sophia Loren strolling through the grounds say it all.

After a breakfast of lemon sponge cake and pistachio tart, we headed out in our rented Fiat along the scenic coast road, with its 1000 white-knuckle bends and zig-zag views, the mountains jutting out like the buttress roots of colossal trees. I’d last taken this route 10 years before and spent four miserable hours staring at the back end of an Italian tour bus, watching the kids on the back row giving me the umbrella gesture (look it up, it’s rude). This time we zipped along abbandono – unrestrained and free – all the way to Ravello. No question that Ravello is classy, with its genteel Piazza Duomo, luxuriant gardens and decadent villas. By autumn the wisteria has gone, but there is still bougainvillea, and the ivy and vine leaves were turning a rich crimson as we strolled through the cliff-side gardens of 13th-century Villa Rufolo and 11th-century Villa Cimbrone (now a luxury hotel), both with knockout coastal views.

In other months, you might be forgiven for skipping the nearby sleepy town of Scala, which looks down on Ravello from 400m above sea level and was founded by shipwrecked Romans en route to Constantinople, making it the oldest inhabited settlement on the Amalfi Coast. The Lattari Mountains that soar up above the town are awash with chestnut trees, and D H Lawrence, who hiked here in 1928, credited this sensuous landscape as his inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s meetings with her lover.

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