Julia Buckley, CNN
Updated: Thu, 16 Jun 2022 14:20:45 GMT
With its cliff-chiseled road, dramatic curves and sheer drops towards the turquoise sea far below, the Amalfi Coast has become an iconic road trip destination.
A little too iconic, perhaps -- because these days, it has become as legendary for its traffic as for its spectacular setting. Tales of miles-long backups abound, as do those of journey times doubling and tripling, thanks to everyone else enjoying those views.
Spiraling numbers of large vehicles, including passenger vans full of tourists on the road -- which at times is single-lane with narrow switchbacks -- is compounding the agony.
But things might be about to get better with new rules introduced Wednesday that should halve tourist traffic on the road -- while causing havoc with people's vacations.
An alternate numberplate system has been launched, meaning that cars can only access the famous 22-mile stretch between Vietri sul Mare and Positano every other day, during peak hours in peak season.
Only vehicles with numberplates ending in an odd number can use the road on odd-numbered dates, while those with plates ending in an even number can drive it on even-numbered dates.
These rules apply between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. for the entire month of August, plus weekends from June 15 to September 30. Holy Week around Easter, and the 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 hired with a driver. Regular rental cars, however, are included in the ban.
'Often it's completely blocked'
The lengthy rules -- imposed by Anas, which manages the roads -- also ban vehicles over 10.36 meters (about 34 feet) entirely, and caravans and vehicles with trailers from 6:30 a.m. to midnight, year-round. Vehicles over 6 meters (about 20 feet) long and 2.1 meters (nearly 7 feet) wide can only use the road within certain hours and are banned on peak dates.
Local police will be in charge of enforcing the regulations, with the ability to fine any infractions. It is not yet known how much the fines will be.
The ordinance was initially due to come into force in April 2020, but objections lodged locally, as well as the pandemic, slowed the process down.
Angela Infante, deputy mayor of Vietri sul Mare, the gateway town to the coast, told CNN the new rules had been needed for some time.
"It's started again this year -- you can't drive at weekends, people are trapped at home," she said.
Before the pandemic, she said that sometimes there would be backups of 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 blocked," she said.
"Apart from anything else, you could have an ambulance [in that traffic] and anything could happen -- we have to limit the heavy traffic."
Infante, who owns a bed and breakfast in the town, said that she always advises clients to travel the coast by ferry to avoid the traffic, or by bus -- because even if you make it to your destination, finding a parking space can be impossible.
"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, who owns B&B Vietri Centro in the town, agreed that the new rules were needed -- even at the expense of his own business.
"We're basically flooded for four or five months a year, and residents have difficulty both parking and using the car to get from one village to another," he told CNN.
"Unfortunately, the Amalfi Coast's beauty is in its location, with the towns constructed along the cliffs, so parking spaces are minimal and there's rarely room for maneuver.
"I once tried to drive 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 that way you can easily get to any town along the coast.
"Obviously we'll lose clients, but it's for the good of the towns. If you don't restrict traffic, the roads get blocked and you can't find parking. There's no other option."
'It discourages tourists'
Others, however, are not so happy. In an open letter to Anas, Antonio Ilardi, the president of Federalberghi Salerno, a local association of hoteliers, has called for the rules to be tweaked to allow overnight tourists to drive to their hotels, and hotel workers who live outside the coast to reach their place of employment.
The policy is a "disaster," he told CNN.
"It discourages tourists. It makes it impossible to stay for an odd number of days. If you arrive on Wednesday, you can't leave on Thursday.
"It's not like you can send your rental car back on Amazon."
He has proposed a compromise, keeping the system going for arrivals, but allowing tourists to leave the coast when they want to.
"Tourists need to be able to leave when they want -- to get to the airport or the train station or Salerno," he told CNN.
"It's not always easy to travel the Amalfi Coast by public transport, especially around lunchtime. So we've written asking for a modification for this season -- for the policy to be valid entering, but not leaving, the coast."
Hoteliers on the coast risk being "put in a difficult situation," he said, if guests arrive in rental cars sporting the wrong numberplates, making themselves liable for a fine.
"They will warn guests, but it's not our job to inform people of this -- it's the public body's job," he said.
"The rules are written in bureaucratese, they're not easy to read. Maybe rental car companies won't know, or maybe the visitor won't mention where they're going. So they'll get a car with the wrong plate and will be met with a fine on arrival."
There are also questions around whether car rental companies will be able to provide vehicles with the right plates. Post-pandemic travel has been marked by chaos dubbed "carmageddon," with a severe shortage of vehicles leading to rocketing rates and low availability.
The mayors of Amalfi and Positano, the two most popular towns on the Amalfi Coast, did not respond to a request for comment from CNN, though Daniele Milano, mayor of Amalfi, has previously told local media that he is in favor of the measures.
The rules are said to have been drawn up with the blessing of the town councils on the coast, with the exception of Minori and Maiori. The mayor of Minori declined to comment.
One council, at least, is happy -- perhaps because they might see more visitors thanks to the new rules.
Vietri sul Mare used to have major traffic issues around its port until a new car park was built, says Angela Infante. (At the start of the coast, Vietri has more construction space than the towns further along.)
And she was undeterred by the idea that now the town will see more traffic, as tourists wanting to drive the coastal road will be stopped at Vietri.
"It probably will create problems [in terms of more traffic] but we have parking so they can go on the ferry," she said.
Main image: Alamy