“Positano is never likely to attract the organdie-and-white linen tourist,” John Steinbeck predicted in Harper’s Bazaar in 1953. “It would be impossible to dress as a languid tourist-lady-crisp, cool white dress, sandals as white and light as little clouds, picture hat of arrogant nonsense, and one red rose held in a listless white-gloved pinky. I dare any dame to dress like this and climb the Positano stairs for a cocktail.”
Steinbeck was spectacularly wrong. A decade after his article, the Rolling Stones wrote music in Positano and Jackie Kennedy vacationed in nearby Ravello. The Amalfi Coast comprises 34 miles and 13 towns on the Italy’s southern coast. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1997, it quickly became a port of call for the subsection of rich people whose careers mainly entail broadcasting absurd luxury. For the sake of this article, I attempted to make an exhaustive list of celebrities who have vacationed in Amalfi, but it quickly became clear that even if I did this work until I died and left the task to my descendants, it could never be completed.
During the last two years, Google searches for “Positano” have spiked as dramatically as the cliffs into which the town is set. #AmalfiCoast has more than 330 million views on TikTok. “Everyone is on the Amalfi Coast right now,” comedian Kate Berlant reflected in her podcast Poog. “There it is—the poison of Instagram!” her cohost, comedian Jacqueline Novak, responded. “You’re walking around with this idea that everyone is on the Amalfi Coast right now?” And yet—this is how it feels.
A local Amalfi news site notes that this summer, tourism on the coast looks likely to break previous records—this despite the fact that the area usually enjoys high tourism numbers from Russia, whose citizens won’t be traveling this summer. The article credits social media for the boost. U.S. News and World Report ranked Amalfi number one in “Best Beaches in Italy,” number two in “Best Honeymoon Destinations in Europe,” and number 3 in “Best Places to Visit in Italy.” Brides magazine put it first in a list of romantic places to honeymoon. In March, Rebecca Serle released the book One Summer in Italy, set in Positano. It sailed onto the best-seller list like a catamaran on a breezy day.
Popularity has a price. All roads lead to Rome, but only one road leads to the Amalfi Coast. This means that travel during high tourist season is less “laughing merrily in your convertible” and more “hours-long gridlock nightmare as you scrounge in your tote bag for loose cashews.” A rule imposed this summer by the Italian government dictates that all throughout August and every weekend from June 15 to September 30, visitors to the area may only travel on the roads on odd- or even-numbered days, depending on the last digit on their license plate, CNN reports. The Italian economy suffered from the lack of tourism in 2020, during the height of the pre-vaccine pandemic. The influx of visitors since the country reopened to tourists is a mixed blessing.
The average price of a hotel room in Positano has increased more than 20% since 2019, Bloomberg reports (it’s now a sweet, sweet $618.38.) Airline prices are at historic highs. So how, exactly, is everyone on my timeline affording this vacation?
Many visitors are likely funding their spectacular vacations not through largesse, but debt. A 2019 survey from Credit Karma found that about a third of all travelers and half of all millennial and Gen Z respondents said they had gone into debt for summer travel (the majority reported that they would be “willing to do it again.”) A survey from Allianz found that this year Americans plan to spend $2,122, on average, for vacation, a 50% increase from 2019. Despite the reports that air travel this summer has been and will continue to be “hell,” the last Sunday in June saw more travelers than any day since February 2020, a TSA spokesperson reported. At a dinner party recently, a woman mentioned in a world-weary way that she has visited Positano three times. She sounded exhausted, as if instead of the Italian coastline, friends and bachelorette parties had dragged her to Trenton, New Jersey.
For so many years I did not think about the Amalfi Coast—I thought about Paris and London and Bora Bora, and when I thought about Italy, I thought of Rome and Venice and Milan and Tuscany. Sometimes I thought about Pisa, Pompei, Florence, and Siena. Later I thought about whatever area Call Me By Your Name was shot. I cannot believe there is another part of Italy I am supposed to be thinking about. And yet. “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone,” wrote Steinbeck. Or in the words of a Glamour staffer who visited once for six hours: “I follow every account and look at the webcam of Positano every night before I go to bed because it calms me.”
Through a proliferation of images the novelist could never have imagined, the Amalfi Coast has amassed real estate in hundreds of millions of minds. If everyone on the Amalfi Coast jumped off a cliff—into sparkling sapphire waters—would you? Yes, of course. As long as someone was taking a picture.
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