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For our recent week-long family trip to Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy, we carefully chose Cetara as our home base. We had already visited Cinque Terre in the north for our honeymoon in Italy several years ago and loved it, but this time wanted to try somewhere a little more off-the-beaten-track (looking back on both trips, here are major differences we found between Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast).
Compared to the Amalfi Coast stars like Positano and Amalfi, Cetara is far lesser known by foreign tourists, and you can expect very little English to be spoken there.
Yet this tiny, laid-back fishing village of 2080 people has much to offer the visiting traveler. Cetara has a history going back over 1000 years and some beautifully preserved historic buildings. The village’s tonno rosso (red tuna) industry is world-renowned and Cetara is though to have the best seafood on the Amalfi coast, especially anchovies.
Cetara is also famous for colatura di alici, or “anchovy drippings,” a local specialty that dates to Roman times, when a similar sauce called garum was enjoyed. In Cetara restaurants, the sauce is put on spaghetti and various other dishes (even pizza!) and is truly delectable.
Due to its thriving seafood industry, Cetara remains the most traditional of the main Amalfi Coast towns because it is the least dependent on tourism. Besides offering the chance to experience authentic local food & culture, Cetara also has a few fine beaches, gorgeous churches, and is easier to get to than most other Amalfi Coast towns.
If you are looking to get off the beaten track on the Amalfi Coast, soak up some sun and charming atmosphere, and stay in an authentic Campanian coastal village, but still have access to the sights and other more famous villages (and even more off-the-beaten-track ones like neighboring Erchie) of the region, then definitely consider making Cetara your home base on Amalfi Coast, or at the very least include it in your Amalfi Coast itinerary. And of course, any visit to Amalfi Coast should include a visit to Naples, one of the best food cities in Italy.
Below I’ve compiled all the information you need to visit or stay in this quintessential Mediterranean village, including how to get to Cetara, where to stay in Cetara, things to do in Cetara, and the best places to eat in Cetara.
For more general information on the region, see this detailed Amalfi Coast guide.
A Brief History of Cetara
The name Cetara is derived from the Latin word cetaria, an ancient method for trapping Bluefin tuna, or cetari, meaning fishmongers of large fish.
The village occupies the mouth of a valley at the eastern end of the Amalfi Coast. The village was originally settled by Arabian pirates in 880. As early as the year 1000, the fishermen of Cetara paid a tribute of 1/10th of their fish to the bishop of Amalfi.
Cetara was later subjugated to the Normans and a series of Abbeys. The large watchtower (Torre di Cetara or Tower of Cetara) occupying the east end of the beach and dating to the 14th century, is a testament to this turbulent period of history. In 1543, the town was attacked by Turks and mostly abandoned.
After the end of the Amalfi dukedom, Cetara joined the municipality of neighboring Vietri sul Mare (a village today famous for its ceramics), from which it gained independence in 1833.
Today Cetara is known by Italians across the country for its seafood restaurants. Its small beach is crowded with beachgoers like any other on the Amalfi Coast in summer, but it remains largely unknown to most foreign visitors.
When we visited in mid-October, the town was pleasantly quiet, but the weather was still warm enough to attract beach-goers. On the weekend during our stay, it became very crowded with locals from Naples and beyond, and every restaurant was fully booked, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like in summer, when Napolitanos and foreign visitors descend en masse to the Amalfi Coast.
We saw but a sprinkling of other foreign visitors during our stay.
How to Get to Cetara
Cetara is located six kilometers west of Salerno, the capital of the province of the same name, in the Campania region of southern Italy. For reference, the Amalfi Coast is 40 kilometers in total, stretching from Positano in the west to Salerno in the east.
Getting to Cetara from Salerno, travelers will first pass Vietri sul Mari, famous for its pottery, and much smaller Raito and Albori. Continuing west past Cetara would bring one to tiny Erchie, followed by Maiori, Minori, Atrani, Amalfi, Praiano, Positano, and finally Sorrento, the western access point to the Amalfi Coast on the Bay of Naples.
It only takes 30 minutes to reach Cetara from Salerno on the SITA bus, costing 1.5€ (+ 1.2€ per large piece of luggage). Salerno has direct connections to Naples and Rome by bus and train. Tickets or 1/3-day passes can be purchased from the tour office at Salerno train station.
Coming from the other direction, the SITA bus takes about 45 minutes from the town of Amalfi. Coming from Positano by bus or ferry, visitors need to transfer in Amalfi. If you’re leaving Cetara by bus, you can buy a ticket from the electronic machine at the single bus stop at the center of the town (coins only).
If you’re coming from the Naples airport, you can either catch a bus or hop on the local train (45 min) to Salerno and transfer to the SITA bus. Alternatively, you can book a private transfer to save the trouble and get dropped off right at your hotel. If you can afford it, it’s even possible to get a private transfer all the way from Rome.
Travelers should be aware that Amalfi Drive (SS163) along the Amalfi Coast is an extremely narrow, winding road. The bus ride is notoriously uncomfortable for those who suffer from carsickness, with unforgiving drivers, and buses are often jam packed, especially in summer or on warm weekends.
A great alternative to the bus is the ferry from Salerno to Cetara (5€, children 4€, under 4 free). Ferries also run from Cetara to Maiori, Minori, and Amalfi, from where you can transfer to Positano. See the ferry times and book your tickets on the ferry company’s website, or just show up and buy your ticket 20 minutes before. The ferries run from April to October, and don’t run in poor weather.
The ferry ticket office in Cetara is hidden between the small playground near the waterfront and Armatore restaurant.
If you’re arriving by car, there’s a large (but often full on weekends and in summer) parking lot beside the harbor.
Cetara Town Orientation
Cetara is a one-street-town, so it would be pretty difficult to get lost. The main street runs gently uphill from the beach to about two kilometers up the valley. Amalfi Drive runs right above the main road, and the bus stops right at this point.
The main road is called Corso Garibaldi from the highway down, and going uphill from the highway, it is called Corso Federici. Most of the restaurants, sights, and shops are on Corso Garibaldi, but you may want to walk further up Corso Federici for a casual stroll or to reach the town’s post office.
Cetara port (Porto di Cetara) and the main parking lot can be accessed by turning right at the waterfront, while turning left is the short, pedestrian-only Via Marina.
There are some lovely and characteristically Amalfi coast lanes and staircases running off the main road that you can explore, with houses built impossibly into cliff walls, connected to bridges and sections of road, and so on.
Where to Stay in Cetara
One of the many reasons we chose to stay in Cetara for our week in the Amalfi Coast was that we found such a great deal on accommodation that was exactly what we had been hoping for.
Marinella Casa Vacanze (see prices and read reviews) is a newly renovated apartment on the ground floor of an ancient three-story building that is RIGHT on the beach in Cetara. And guess what? It was even cheaper than we had been aiming for, and we were traveling on a low budget.
The apartment was extremely small, and we are already used to small living spaces in Taiwan. It was extremely cute, though, and we were almost certain we were the first ones to stay in it because it was so clean. Everything was tastefully decorated in blue and white, with a gorgeous tile painting of Cetara above the stove.
The bedroom had a large bed for us and bunk beds for the kids. We made espressos every morning with the coffee machine, and the room even had a variety of colorful lights, which the kids loved (see the pics on the booking listing).
But the best part of all? We could open our front door and walk 10 meters across pedestrian-only Via Marina to the main beach of Cetara. This was great because we could let the kids play out front without worrying about them getting hit by a car, and watch the sunset in the evening from out little patio.
We didn’t see any other hotels on the waterfront, so we truly felt we had the best possible spot in town. All the town’s great restaurants, amenities, and attractions were a short walk away, and it was less than five minutes to the bus stop. If you are looking for a lazy beach holiday on a budget, this is for you!
Further up from the sea, Stella Maris House (see prices / read reviews) is a homely choice with kitchen, laundry facilities and terrace, while Sotto un Tetto (see prices and read reviews) is a highly rated B&B with really cute balcony.
For those looking for complete solitude (and assuming your have a vehicle), try Tenuta Bosca (see prices and read reviews), a holiday home up the valley, which offers is surrounded by greenery, offering fine views and a patio with a hot tub and BBQ.
For more accommodation options in town, here are the best Airbnbs in Cetara.
If you are looking for a luxury stay, you’d be better off staying in Positano or elsewhere on the Amalfi Coast.
Cetara with Kids
We visited Amalfi Coast with a 4 and 5-year-old, and this is one of the main reasons we chose Cetara. Our hotel was right on the waterfront, and we had to do very little walking to visit the beach, sights, or restaurants in town. Cetara is also practically flat, much unlike other Amalfi Coast towns. Positano, the most famous town, is particularly steep and not suitable for travelers with young kids.
The kids loved exploring the staircases and maze of streets behind our hotel, yet the stairs were never too intense. Because we were staying right on a pedestrian square, there were always local kids playing around, and our kids were intrigued by them. There was even a little playground in town right by our hotel.
Another reason Cetara was great with kids is because it was a very short drive (or even shorter ferry ride) from Salerno, yet we could visit other Amalfi coast towns as easy day trips.
One difficulty we had is that restaurants in Cetara, like elsewhere in Italy, open very late for dinner. Our kids are accustomed to eating at 5, but literally nothing was open until 7. We had to either make our own dinner, or feed our kids snacks to make them try to last until dinner.
Even for lunch, some restaurants didn’t open until around 1, which is also really late for us. When it comes to restaurant times, you can ignore whatever it says on GoogleMaps. Most restaurants seemed to open whenever they felt like it, and often had much shorter hours than what was indicated on GoogleMaps.
For more information on visiting the region with little ones, see my detailed guide to Amalfi Coast with kids.
Things to Do in Cetara
While you won’t find as many things to do in Cetara as in more popular towns like Amalfi and Positano, for us that was part of the appeal.
Our favorite way to pass the days was by lounging on either of the town’s beaches, exploring the main cobblestone road (Corso Garibaldi) and tiny narrow passageways and staircases branching off from it, following the local custom of taking a prolonged afternoon rest, and watching our kids attempt to befriend local children in the town squares.
Still, there a handful of worthwhile things to do in Cetara, not to mention the fact that the village is very close to some other interesting towns, so we did several half-day trips during our stay.
If you’re in town for a while, drop in to the small tourist information center, labeled Pro Loco Cetara – Costa d’Amalfi on GoogleMaps, to pick up an excellent English map, but don’t expect them to speak any English. There’s also a small information booth at the waterfront that’s only open in summer.
1. Torre di Cetara (Tower of Cetara)
This ancient watchtower dominates the eastern end of the beach at Cetara. Dating back to the 14th century, it has been built upon layer by layer. The original, cylindrical part of the tower is closest to the sea.
Today the top of the tower is a private residence and houses a small, free museum showcasing local artists and history that is open from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (May to September). The tower also provides fine views of the town and coast.
The tower cannot be accessed from the beach. If you walk to its base on the beach, you’ll find a large closed off tunnel, and a collection of rocks where locals like to fish.
Instead, follow Amalfi Drive through town until it reaches the tower. On the way back to town, we also discovered that the tower can be reached via a series of staircases that started in a small square right called Piazzeta Grotta behind our hotel. To find it, watch for an arch leading to a small square on Via Marina.
Continuing past the tower, there’s a walking path that follows the coast all the way down to a secluded beach called Spaggia de Lanio, but it looked quite dirty from what we could see so we didn’t go all the way down to it.
2. Cetara Spiaggia (Cetara Beach) and Porto di Cetara (Cetara Port)
Besides eating, most locals come to Cetara to spend the day lounging on the beach. Cetara’s main beach is divided into three sections: the two larger ones are paid entry for sunchairs and umbrellas, called Lido Night & Day (the blue umbrella section) and Lido Cetara (the white umbrella section). They charge an exorbitant 10€ per person for the day, and an even more ridiculous 18€ for foreigners. Save your money and get a dozen espressos in town instead!
The third section, furthest from the Tower of Cetara and nearest to the harbor, is a small slice of beach that fills up pretty quickly.
In summer or when the weather is warm enough, boats can be rented from Sea Sun di Aguirre Figliola near the beach.
Cetara Port is worth a stroll to peer down at schools of fish in the water, and if you walk the whole way around, you can enjoy picture-perfect views of town, especially in the morning when the sun is at the right angle.
The port is also where ferries from Salerno and Amalfi arrive and depart.
If you walk past the port and adjacent parking lot, there is larger free beach called Port Beach (Spiaggia del Porto Cetara) that is popular among locals for swimming and usually less crowded than the main beach.
Note that like most Amalfi Coast beaches, Cetara’s beaches are made of pebbles that aren’t extremely easy to walk on. You may want to bring beach sandals that you can wear into the water.
3. Cetara’s Seafood and Local Specialties
As the fishing capital of the Amalfi Coast, it comes as no surprise that you can feast on fine seafood in this small town. Of course the local specialties of colatura di alici, anchovies, and red tuna feature prominently on menus, and you can also buy these items to take away.
Besides seafood, the valley above town also produces lemons and various vegetables, which are also featured on menus. We loved buying produce from the local vegetable stand and cooking it for stay-at-home meals; during our stay we enjoyed delicious carrots, zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes, giant mushrooms, peaches, pears, and even a kind of edible cactus.
We also dined at many of the local restaurants during our stay; see our recommendations in the “where to eat in Cetara” section below.
4. Church of St. Peter the Apostle (Chiesa Di S. Pietro Apostolo)
The town’s most prominent and visually stunning church is dedicated to St. Peter, patron saint of Cetara, who was himself a fisherman. It is located one minute up from the waterfront, and its dome is visible from afar.
With a history going back to at least 988 AD, this is the oldest Catholic Church in Cetara. The current building is in the baroque style and dates to the 18th century.
The church features a gorgeous green and yellow majolica tiled dome and a neoclassical façade. Check out the set of bronze doors created by artist Battista Marello in 2005. The doors depict the saint casting a fishing net. The large, beautiful organ inside above the entrance dates to the 19th century.
The church is open daily during evening mass (around 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.). I tried the doors a few times during our stay, and one morning I found them open and quietly wandered in to take a quick look.
If you happen to be visiting on June 29, you will find a grand procession here for the Patron Saint’s feast day.
5. Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (Chiesa di Francesco d’Assisi)
Another minute’s walk past the Church of St. Peter the Apostle, the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi is on the other side of the road. The church is nearly as large but less visible from the road, as it sits above Piazza San Francesco.
The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi is not even marked on GoogleMaps, but the restaurant physically connected to it, Al Convento, is (see the “where to eat in Cetara” section below”).
The church is a part of a convent that used to be much larger, but now parts of the convent are used to house the town hall and restaurants. Like the Church of St. Peter the Apostle, I just tried the door one morning and was able to walk in and take a few pictures.
The original convent dates to 1585 and features beautiful 16th century frescoes. We found that its bells were rung frequently (and, it seemed, at random intervals) throughout every day of our stay.
Processions from the church take place on October 4 and December 8 every year.
6. Walking and Hiking in Cetara
It only takes a few minutes to walk up Corso Garibaldi from the beach to the bridge where Amalfi Drive runs over it, but there is always lots of activity and things to see along the road, including several shops, cafés, restaurants, produce stores, and a community hall where elderly men hang out and play games.
Beyond Amalfi Drive, there is a water fountain in Piazza Martiri Ungheresi, after which the main road (from here up called Corso Federici) loses all visible marks of tourism, and feels very much like a typical local village, with elderly folk lounging about and children running around in the piazzas.
I’d recommend at least walking up the road about 10 minutes to the small Church of Saint Mary of Constantinople, also not marked on GoogleMaps (though you can see the structure of the church and its dome if you look closely on the map). It is on Piazza Europa, which seemed more like a road than a piazza to me.
The church is pastel pink and has a lovely bell & clock tower. It dates to the second half of the 19th century. It was rebuilt after massive flood that destroyed most of Cetara in 1910. A statue of Madonna and Child from the church is carried through town on a procession on June 9-10.
For this church, I wasn’t so lucky, and found the gate closed when I visited.
If you’d like to go hiking in Cetara, there are five hiking trails starting in Cetara, ranging from one to 6.5 hours; for more information, pick up a map from the “Pro Loco Cetara – Costa d’Amalfi” tourist information center. Each of the trails are indicated on the map, along with their descriptions.
7. Sip an Espresso or Spritz while Facing the Sea
If you really want to live like a local, then sipping on an espresso (anytime of day), glass of white wine (lunch/afternoon) or spritz (late afternoon/sunset) is a must.
The best café in Cetara to do so is Bar Che Remi (Barcheremi on GoogleMaps), which happened to be next door to our hotel. It was so close to our room, in fact, that we likely bothered its guests with our noises that families tend to make.
The bar has the best patio with sea view and cocktails in town, which come with a complimentary plate of breads topped with anchovies and other tasty things.
A few steps past Bar Che Remi, Ò Chalet/Bar/Paninoteca e Caponte has an equally good view, while Bar Miramare at the intersection of Via Marina and Corso Garibaldi seemed to be popular simply because it was the right on the corner.
8. Shopping in Cetara
Obviously you aren’t going to find outlet malls or Gucci stores in Cetara, but the town’s handful of tourist shops stock copious amounts of the local specialties: colatura di alici, tuna, and anchovies.
You can also find typical Amalfi souvenirs like bottles of bright yellow limoncello. The three main shops we saw open every day were Cetarii di Gennaro Benincasa on Via Marina just past our hotel, Delfino Battista Srl. on the main road near the waterfront, and Antico Borgo Saraceno a few steps up from there.
Besides these few specialty grocery stores, you won’t find the tacky souvenir stores typical of the other larger Amalfi coast villages.
9. Erchie Beach
Tiny Erchie is only a 35-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride west of Cetara. It is even smaller and more off-the-beaten track than Cetara, mainly because ferries don’t stop there, and the bus doesn’t go right into town. It’s a 10-minute walk downhill from the bus stop to the beach. Read my detailed guide to Erchie here.
The town features a larger beach than Cetara, also pebble, and it has a medieval watchtower of its own. But with less than 100 permanent residents, it is an extremely quiet town, although the beach does get packed with (almost entirely local) beachgoers in summer.
When I visited one morning during our late September stay, I found there were only a couple restaurants and cafés in town, and a handful of people and fishermen on the beach.
If you have a car, you can drive most of the way down to the beach, so I would assume it gets busy with local beachgoers during the day just like everywhere else on the Amalfi coast, and there were a few vendors just starting to set up sun chairs for the day when I visited.
10. Vietri sul Mare
Vietri sul Mare is halfway between Salerno and Cetara, so it is only 15 minutes from Cetara by Sita bus.
The town is practically synonymous with ceramics in Italy and is a household name across the country, as it is a major manufacturing center of traditional polychrome majolica (or maiolica) ceramics.
There are ceramic workshops and stores all over town. Visitors can also find a few churches, historical sights, beaches, and some great restaurants in town, making Vietri sul Mare a perfect half- or full-day trip from Cetara.
Best Places to Eat in Cetara
Reading reviews of the best restaurants in Cetara before we arrived, we were very tempted by many choices in town. In the end, these were our personal favorite places to eat in Cetara, in no particular order.
1. Ristorante Cetara Punto e Pasta
The restaurant’s signature dish, cheese ravioli tossed in colatura di alici and topped with stewed yellow tomatoes, is to die for. The restaurant’s tiny patio has cute colorful tables right on the main road of Cetara, and the family who runs it was working their asses off to deliver what was probably our best meal in Cetara.
2. La Frittura del Golfo
This was the first place we ate in Cetara, and we loved it. The waitress exuded passion. According to one reviewer, she is the daughter of the 75-year-old owner, who goes fishing every morning for the restaurant’s menu and makes his own colatura di alici.
We loved the deep fried anchovies, calamari and shrimp (which is available from several restaurants in town, but this one seems to do it best), as well as the seafood ragu pasta and pasta il conventuale (with slow cooked anchovies, pecorino cheese, and parsley). There was a great wine list as well.
3. Pane e Coccos’
Just past the highway bridge, and with a romantic view of it, this was yet another great meal we enjoyed in Cetara. Surprisingly, our server spoke fluent English (he said he was an Australian traveler who’d got stuck in Cetara for several months).
Thanks to his English, we were able to ask the kitchen to make our kids’ favorite (a simple creamy pasta), and I enjoyed a delicate tuna steak pan seared in anise and other spices, while Emily had pasta with clams.
4. Il Piennolo Pizzeria
We have no idea why this place seldom seemed to have guests during our visit, because the pizza here was fantastic. The dough was the perfect texture and thickness, and toppings were generous. The price was also very reasonable, and they have a selection of beers. It’s in a quiet corner by the harbor.
It’s worth walking five minutes up the main street to this cute little café, bakery, and chocolaterie. The cream and chocolate filled pastries we took away for breakfast one day were mouthwatering.
There are several restaurants we never made it to this time, but you should still know about:
– Al Convento: Traditionally this was the most popular restaurant in town and has a famous chef. It’s housed in a part of the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi with a patio over looking Piazza San Francesco. We had read a few poor recent reviews so we gave it a miss.
– Ristorante S. Pietro: Another restaurant traditionally considered one of the town’s best, but it looked a little pricey for us.
– Ristorante Acquapazza: We read it is famous among locals (and expensive) because it was featured on some television shows.
– Armatore: The top rated Cetara restaurant according to Tripadvisor at the time of writing. We really wanted to try it, and it’s built right into the cliff wall on the side of the Cetara port. But every time we tried to go there, it was closed and the waitress was just sitting out front. GoogleMaps says its open 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., but when we tried for lunch, they said they didn’t open until 1 p.m., and when we tried for dinner they didn’t open until 8 p.m!
– Marepizza: This is the most famous pizzeria in town, right by the waterfront, for take away or to dine in. Their pizzas are reasonably priced and they also do deep fried seafood. We had it in our eating schedule, but on Sunday it was overrun with visiting domestic travelers, and on Monday they were closed, so we never made it.
Well, that concludes my not so brief guide to Cetara, Italy. I hope you’ve found all the information you needed and more about this little Amalfi Coast gem. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below!
I never travel without a good guidebook! Here are the top Italy and Amalfi Coast guidebooks: