This classic Italian destination has limited tourist access

Julia Buckley, CNN

With its road carved into the cliffs, dramatic turns and drops to the turquoise sea below, the Amalfi Coast has become an iconic road trip destination.

A bit too iconic, perhaps — because nowadays it’s become as legendary for its traffic as it is for its spectacular setting. Stories of mile-long backups abound, as do stories of drive times doubling and tripling, thanks to everyone enjoying those views.

The growing number of large vehicles, including vans full of tourists on the road – which is sometimes single-lane with tight switchbacks – is compounding the agony.

But things could be about to get better with new rules introduced on Wednesday that are expected to halve tourist traffic on the road – while wreaking havoc on people’s holidays.

An alternative license plate system has been launched which means cars can only access the famous 22 mile stretch between Vietri sul Mare and Positano every other day, during peak season peak times.

Only vehicles with license plates ending in an odd number can drive the road on odd dates, while those with license plates ending in an even number can drive it on even dates.

These rules apply between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. throughout August, plus weekends from June 15 to September 30. Holy Week around Easter and dates from April 24 to May 2 are also included.

Residents of the 13 towns along the coast are exempt, as are public transport vehicles, taxis and NCC cars, which are rented with drivers. Regular rental cars are however included in the ban.

“Often it’s completely blocked”

The lengthy rules – imposed by Anas, who manages the roads – also completely ban vehicles over 10.36 meters (around 34ft), as well as caravans and vehicles with trailers from 6.30am to midnight, all year round. Vehicles over 6 meters (about 20 feet) long and 2.1 meters (almost 7 feet) wide can only use the road at certain times and are prohibited on peak dates.

The local police will be responsible for enforcing the rules, with the possibility of sanctioning any infringement. It is not yet known how high the fines will be.

The order was originally scheduled to take effect in April 2020, but objections filed locally, as well as the pandemic, have slowed the process.

Angela Infante, deputy mayor of Vietri sul Mare, the gateway town to the coast, told CNN the new rules have been needed for some time.

“It started again this year – you can’t drive on weekends, people are stuck at home,” she said.

Before the pandemic, she said there would sometimes be backups up to 6 kilometers (nearly 4 miles) along the coast.

“You have to drive incredibly slowly because there are so many cars, and often it’s completely jammed,” she said.

“Apart from anything else, you could have an ambulance [in that traffic] and anything can happen – we have to limit heavy traffic.

Infante, owner of a bed and breakfast in the town, said she always advises guests to travel the coast by ferry to avoid traffic, or by bus – because even if you arrive at your destination, finding a parking space may not be possible.

“If they choose to drive, often they come straight back because they couldn’t find a parking space – they can’t even stop for a bottle of water,” she said.

Fausto Salsano, owner of B&B Vietri Centro in the city, agreed the new rules were necessary, even at the expense of his own business.

“We basically get flooded four or five months out of the year, and locals struggle to park and use the car to get from one village to another, he told CNN.

“Unfortunately, the beauty of the Amalfi Coast is in its location, with the towns built along the cliffs, so parking spaces are minimal and there is rarely any wiggle room.

“Once I tried to get to a dentist appointment in Minori [10 miles along the coast] and it was a disaster. The only way to get anywhere now is with the ferry, and this way you can easily get to any town along the coast.

“Of course we will lose customers, but it is for the good of the municipalities. If you don’t restrict traffic, the roads are blocked and you can’t find parking. There is no other option.

“It discourages tourists”

Others, however, are not so happy. In an open letter to Anas, Antonio Ilardi, president of Federalberghi Salerno, a local association of hoteliers, called for rules to be changed to allow tourists to drive overnight to their hotels, and employees of the hotel who live outside the coast to reach their place of work.

Politics is a “disaster,” he told CNN.

“It discourages tourists. It is impossible to stay an odd number of days. If you arrive on Wednesday, you cannot leave on Thursday.

“It’s not like you can return your rental car to Amazon.”

He offered a compromise, keeping the system for arrivals, but allowing tourists to leave the coast whenever they want.

“Tourists need to be able to leave whenever they want – to get to the airport, to the train station or to Salerno,” he told CNN.

“It’s not always easy to travel the Amalfi Coast by public transport, especially at lunchtime. So we’ve written to request a change for this season – to make the policy valid when entering, but not leaving, the coast.

Hoteliers on the coast risk being “put in a tough spot”, he said, if guests arrive in rental cars with the wrong license plates, risking a fine.

“They will notify customers, but it’s not our job to notify people of this – it’s the public body’s job,” he said.

“The rules are written in a bureaucratic way, they are not easy to read. Maybe the car rental companies won’t know, or maybe the visitor won’t mention where they’re going. So they will get a car with the wrong plate and be fined on arrival.

There are also questions about whether car rental companies will be able to provide vehicles with the correct plates. Post-pandemic travel has been marked by chaos dubbed “carmageddon, with a severe shortage of vehicles leading to skyrocketing rates and low availability.

The mayors of Amalfi and Positano, the two most popular towns on the Amalfi Coast, did not respond to a CNN request for comment, although Daniele Milano, mayor of Amalfi, previously told local media that he was in favor of the measures.

The rules would have been established with the blessing of the town councils of the coast, with the exception of Minori and Maiori. The mayor of Minori declined to comment.

One board, at least, is happy – perhaps because he might see more visitors thanks to the new rules.

Vietri sul Mare had major traffic problems around its port until a new car park was built, explains Angela Infante. (At the start of the coast, Vietri has more building space than towns further out.)

And she was not deterred by the idea that the town will now see more traffic, as tourists wishing to take the coastal route will be stopped at Vietri.

“It will probably create problems [in terms of more traffic] but we have parking so they can take the ferry,” she said.

Main Image: Alamy

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