You can do some swimming from the beach at Marina del Cantone, but to really enjoy the sea, renting a boat (with or without a skipper) is a must: It allows you to discover small beaches, inlets, and hidden bays otherwise inaccessible from the high cliffs. The seashore here is a protected marine park, Area Marina Protetta di Punta Campanella (tel. 081-8089877; www.puntacampanella.org), extending all the way from Punta del Capo, near Sorrento, to Punta Germano, near Positano.
Our favorite excursion is the one to the Bay of Ieranto, a lovely cove with a magical atmosphere. Well-known to the ancient Greeks who named it Hyeros Anthos, meaning "Sacred Flower," this bay was declared a protected area in 1984 and, as a result, it remains an unspoiled haven. Cut into the cliff, the cove of clear water ends in a beach, Marina del Cantone, where a few boats are usually moored. In the afternoon, oblique sunlight creates the odd illusion that the water has disappeared and the boats are suspended in thin air, a phenomenon we love to watch.
Arriving by sea to this lovely cove is a striking and marvelous experience. Rent a boat and allow about a half-day for the excursion. From the beach, hug the coast heading southwest till you see the large Y-shaped promontory called Sedia del Diavolo, meaning "Devil's Chair," a particularly appropriate name when you see it during a flaming sunset. As you pass the first arm of the Y, with the medieval watchtower Torre di Montalto, there is a pretty little cove, which is an introduction to the more spectacular bay that awaits you farther along. Once you pass the second arm of the Y, the Bay of Ieranto opens like a fan in front of your bow and is closed to the west by Punta Campanella. Beyond starts the Gulf of Naples.
If you are moderately fit, we highly recommend hiking the local footpaths for breathtaking views. The area offers 22 marked and maintained hiking trails, for a total length of 110km (68 miles). One of the best hikes is the one to Punta Campanella, much more impressive than the drive there. From the village of Termini, take the small sloping street to the right of the central square: This road slowly descends to the hamlet of Cercito, and then continues down the Vallone della Cala di Mitigliano. This beautiful valley is filled with olive groves and typical vegetation (called macchia mediterranea), including scented mirto, a plant that is quite rare nowadays. The trail then crosses a plateau with large boulders and the ruins of Torre di Namonte, a medieval watchtower. Past the tower, the trail begins a steep descent toward the sea as the beautiful profile of Capri looms into view. You'll get clear views of Capri, with Monte Tiberio, Monte Solaro, and the Faraglioni, only 5km (3 miles) away. A modern lighthouse guards this dangerous cape and its waters, made treacherous by the many rocks in the Capri Narrows.
On the last part of the trail, you'll actually be treading the ancient Via Minerva, the original road that led to the Greek temple dedicated to Athena (called Minerva by the Romans). To be visible to all passing ships, the temple was positioned near the lighthouse. The olive groves in this area go back thousands of years and were originally planted by the Greeks: Believing that olive oil was a gift from Athena, the goddess of wisdom -- we tend to agree with that -- they brought gifts of olive oil to her temple.
Punta Campanella takes its name from the bell on Torre Minerva, the watchtower -- dating from 1335 but rebuilt in 1566 -- that warned of pirate incursions (campanella means "small bell"). Near the tower are the remains of a Roman villa. From a cliff to the east of the tower, you can look down into the wild, but sheltered, Bay of Ieranto. The trail goes from 300m (984 ft.) down almost to sea level; count on spending about 45 minutes for the descent and a bit more for the ascent. If you like a challenge, you could take the alternate trail to Punta Campanella: Starting from Termini, you first climb up Mount San Costanzo, at 497m (1,630 ft.) above sea level, before descending to the point. It is even more picturesque, but quite a bit longer and a lot more strenuous (allow about 3 hr. for this trail).
Another of our favorite hikes is the trail to the Bay of Ieranto. The terrain is quite steep at times and can be moderately challenging. The best time to go is early afternoon to have a chance to experience the water phenomenon we describe above. From Nerano, take the street at the right-hand side of the village, past the last cluster of houses. This street connects to a trail on the slopes of Monte San Costanzo, the westernmost peak of the Monti Lattari. The trail descends through macchia mediterranea and eventually descends the cliffs overlooking the sea, affording spectacular views. Budget a little over an hour each way.
One last hike we highly recommend is the one down to Fiordo di Crapolla and its beach. From the village of Torca, take Via Pedara, which eventually turns into a dirt path. The trail descends a steep slope among olive groves and old farmhouses, and then among the rocks of a narrow crack in the cliff. As you descend on the western side of the cliff, you will see the ruins of the 12th-century abbey of San Pietro. Once at the bottom, you'll find a small beach; the blue water beyond the cove is broken by many rocks -- the very ones, it is said, where the Sirens wrecked the ships of innocent mariners. By the beach, you can also see the ruins of a patrician Roman villa, where the ancient town of Capreolae (today Crapolla) was built. Figure on spending about 30 minutes on the descent.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.