If you want athe real Amalfi Coast experience for a fraction of the coast, visit Agerola, says Joan Gill.

Renowned for its breathtaking views, the crystal-clear waters of the mediterranean and picturesque towns carved into the mountainside, the Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amalfitana, in Italy attracts thousands of holidaymakers each year. Featured in the book   1.000 places to see before you die: a traveller’s Life List, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this rugged stretch of coastline is one of  Italy’s biggest attractions.

Due to high number of visitors, particularly during peak season in July and August, the Amalfi Coast can make for a coastly break, particularly in hotspots such as Amalfi, Capri and Positano, where both accommodation and food prices are high. As a heaper and more authentic alternative, more and more tourists are opting to stay in Agerola, a small italian town home to 7,500 residents. Thanks to its desirable location, tucked away in the mountains, overlooking the coast, Agerola has the best of  both worlds. By day, visitors can head to the nearby beach areas of Amalfi, Capri and Positano, then return to relax in Agerola’s cool mountain air at night.

Agerola’s biggest attraction is perhaps its small town feel, and the friendly locals welcome visitors with genuine warmth. Head to the central piazza and you’ll find residents playing cards, chatting and sipping their morning cafè and cornetti. You may have to queue at the bakery as regulars exchange more than mere pleasantries with shopkeepers and catch up on family gossip, but this laid-back attitude provides an authentic taste of italian village life.

While holidaying in the Amalfi Coast is all about relaxing, enjoying the sun and eating as much as possible, there are plenty of tourist attractions nearby if you are feeling energetic. A 20 minute bus ride down the hill will bring you directly to the port of Amalfi, where you can go by boat to Positano, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia, Salerno or even Naples. All of these l0cations can also be reached by bus from the port at Amalfi, but the open boat ride is much more fun. From Naples, Salerno ro Sorrento you can hop on the subway to the Pompeii ruins or the lesser known, but better preserved, ancient town of  Herculaneum, wich lies at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

If you prefer to explore on foot, then stroll along one of Agerola’s 22 hiking trails, the most famous of which is “Il Sentiero degli Dei” (the Pathway of the Gods). Attracting 40.000 walkers annually, this seven kilometre hike will take you through the mountains to Positano, the place that writer John Steinbeck helped popularise in the 1950s with an enthusiastic essay in Harper’s Bazaar. You may recognise the beach and town, which is built into the hillside, from the 2003 film “Under the Tuscan Sun”, or 1994’s “Only you”. Other trails vary in lenght and difficulty and include Marina di Praia (approximately one-and-a-half hours), Colle Serra (half an hour) or Furore (40 minutes).

In addition to its considerable hiking opportunities, another Agerola highlit is its ancient churches, many of which house historic murals, mosaics and statues.

Try typical Agerolese dishes such as the local cheese, “fior di latte”, as well as “pane biscottato”, hard , black bread made from wholewheat eaten with honey or tomatoes and salt. The Amalfi Coast is also known for its exquisite selection of fresh seafood , notably cuttlefish, sea bream and sea bass, and Pizza is of course a specialty of the area.