In some respects this stage-set of a medieval town is a secret treasure: set in a narrow valley between two cliffs, this is the smallest municipality in southern Italy and is refreshingly quiet compared to its much more popular neighbor Amalfi. Especially when viewed from the sea, the town looks like an amphitheater ready for a royal pageant. Its closely packed, dollhouse-scale backstreets are filled with pastel-and-white houses and shops, fragrant gardens, arcaded lanes, and spiraling scalinatelle. But the hamlet's stellar attractions are its medieval and Baroque churches, which dominate the skyline, as well as its charming beach.

Atrani is often overlooked by tourists, who drive right by it over the riverbed of the Torrente Dragone. It looks little changed from the days when it was closely linked to the Amalfitan republic, the residential choice of its aristocracy. In 1578 it gained its independence from Amalfi, with which it maintains a friendly rivalry.

Pretty Piazza Umberto I, entirely enclosed by four-story houses, is the setting for the basics of Italian life for Atrani's less than 1,000 residents: general store, coffee shop, bar, tabacchi, restaurants, and barber. An arcade to one side offers a glimpse of the beach, fishing boats, and the sea beyond. Often used as a filming location due to its historic character, find a place at a table in the piazza, sit back, and enjoy the authentically old-fashioned setting.

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Fodor's The Amalfi Coast, Capri & Naples

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