POSITANO & CAPRI
By: Jaime Cobas, Architect
Positano, like Capri is more of a way of life than a tourist destination. Located in the Campania region, on southern Italy, Naples is its gatepost, the third largest city in Italy, home of Mount Vesuvius, with Pompeii and the Herculaneum, cities that lay buried in ashes and preserved for centuries, now examples of classical antiquity. From Naples you can board ferries to Ischia, or Capri, but, to enjoy the region, it is best to take the two-hour drive to Positano, a spectacular fishing village at the head of the Amalfi Coast. It clings to the steep mountainside, the houses are colorfully painted; it is said so that the fishermen could pick them out on their return from an all night of fishing. Positano is a charming pedestrian place, mostly accessible by use of steep stairways, “ scalinatelle”, or ramped inclines, where automobiles are not allowed. Its center is the Piazza dei Mulini,
where buses stop on the way to other neighboring towns or in a loop around town, every 30 minutes, or so. This small square is the heart of town, surrounded by banks, souvenir shops, a drugstore, newspaper stands, a bookstore, banks and food stores. From there two paths can be taken, one, uphill, by way of a one way street, Via Cristoforo Colombo, leads to other commercial establishments, hotels, guest houses and access to private residences, atop, it connects to a bus stop that leads out of town, to the adjoining villages. The other passage, downhill, on a ramped pedestrian street, is populated by visitors and residents alike, it is a lane of boutiques, sandal stores, pastry shops and the Palazzo Murat, http://www.palazomurat.it where the former King of Naples came to spend his summers, and is now a hotel with a charming walled garden. Further along this winding path is a small plaza and the Church at Santa Maria Assunta; take a breather and enjoy the charming interior of the church with a gilded altar. Further down, is the Marina Grande, the small, main beach; (lisa, put he photo of the beach here) to the right are the ferries that connect to Capri, Ischia and Procida, and, right in front, is Positano Jet, (via del Brigantino 11, 089 811164) they run the hydrofoils that travel to Capri, three times a day, plus serves as a boat rental and cruise company. We took the “ Costiera” , leaving at 10:30 am, exploring the spectacular coast, along the way you will discover and visit bays and grottos, Praiano, Emerald Grotto, Conca dei Marmi and Atrani; you may stop and swim at the waterfall in Marmorata, the Pandora Grotto in Maiori, then arrive at Amalfi, around 1:30 PM for lunch and sightseeing. Depart Amalfi at 5:00 PM to return to Positano (on the way they will point out Sophia Loren’s villa with its private dock and cable car).
In Amalfi, lunch in “ Il Chiostro” is recommended, as the food is good and it is located next to the Duomo, the cathedral, which is the main attraction of the town. It is a masterpiece in the Arab- Norman style and worth exploring; the cloister with 120 Moorish style columns frame a lush green garden, from which you can glimpse the Cathedral’s bell tower, before proceeding to the treasure laden Cathedral and Crypt.
If you are staying in Positano for a brief visit, I would recommend “ Hotel La Sirenuse” http://www.sirenuse.it in the center of the main street; it is where John Steinbeck stayed, in 1953, when he wrote his famous article for Harper’s Bazaar; it is well located in the center of Via Cristoforo Colombo, facing one of the city’s best shops with well chosen modern items, and next to the Ristorante Bruno, a tiny establishment, so small that they serve you on the sidewalk across, with a magnificent view of the harbor with the outsize yachts and the twinkling lights of the fishermen who are catching your next day’s meal. Here you can enjoy an antipasto of marinated fish with vegetables, and grilled fish, simply dressed with lemon.
(The Palazzo Murat is convenient, but overrun with visitors to its gardens and the “San Pietro”, http://www.ilsanpietro.it another well known hotel, is a bit distant so they run a complimentary shuttle bus to the main square)It is a Relais et Chateaux property.
Dining is also recommended in “ Ristorante Max", set within an art gallery, where ravioli with clams and asparagus or zucchini flowers stuffed with salmon are a specialty for a pleasant, quiet and beautiful dining experience.
Capri is also a dreamlike event, when you arrive at the dock where a representative from your hotel greets you, you point out your luggage, and are advised to take a taxi. (The luggage will be delivered directly to your room) After a winding uphill ride, you will arrive to a debarkation point; it is not your hotel, it is as far as the car is allowed to go, for Capri is mostly pedestrian, where only service cars are allowed on the service streets, from there on you have to wind your way to your hotel, therefore do not lug heavy carry-on luggage.
An overnight or a weekend stay in Capri is necessary to enjoy its charms; because, unfortunately, Capri, like Venice, suffers from the day tourists that storm in on the first ferry and depart in the late afternoon. Therefore, enjoy the pool terrace or the bar and venture out in the late afternoon, since it is much cooler, less crowded and the shops are open until late at night.
The “ Grand Hotel Quisisana” (“where one heals”) http://www.quisissana.com; where your health and psyche are healed through pampering and coddling, where your wishes are their commands. Its Bar Terrace faces a major promenade. We had a ground level room with a private area that was immediate to the swimming pool, and we viewed the coming and goings of a royal British wedding, (Fergie was said to be a guest) with the “ fascinators” on the ladies and morning suits on the gentlemen. In contrast there was a Brazilian contingency of nonchalant guest in their bejeweled bathing attires, lolling around and we all enjoyed the music wafting from the wedding reception that characterized the continental tastes of the mixed group; Chopin waltzes, “ Girl from Ipanema”, “ Besame Mucho” and “ Strangers in the Night”.
There are many places to dine, mostly intimate with limited seating, making reservations essential. At “Al Grottino” a few steps from the “ piazetta” the main square, we savored a Caprese salad, of course, home made cannelloni, catch of the day “ al limone” lightly brushed with butter and a “ Tarta Caprese” for dessert, with a house wine. A must is “ Il Geranio” which overlooks the “ Giardini di Augusto”, and “ Farraglioni” (spectacular rock formations that vertiginously rise from the sea). We enjoyed the “ Pasta Yum Yum” (Tagliatelle, tomatoes eggplant and mozzarella) and breaded scaloppini that comes to the table resembling a sandwich – two slices of the breaded veal with a “ filling” of fresh tomato and mozzarella accompanied by crispy French fries. A complimentary glass of lemoncello was presented with the bill.
A visit to the legendary “ Blue Grotto” is ‘ de rigueur” and the best way is by a private boat that will provide a “ giro” a tour around the island, so that you will also see, the Faraglioni, close-up, the legendary Villa Malaparte, designed by the modernist architect, Alberto Libera, in the late 1930’s, much photographed for its trapezoidal roof that also served as a backdrop in one of the new wave movies- “ Contempt (1963). Past it is the “Arco Naturale” an arch eroded from one of the rock formations in the middle of the sea. You will avoid the crowds at the narrow entrance to the “ Blue Grotto” if arriving by private boat, and you will also visit the “ Grotta Blanca” and “Grotta Verde” (the color depends on the mineral deposits that impart their distinctive hues)
The entrance to the Blue Grotto is very narrow and low, therefore you all have to stretch out on the bottom of the rowboat that takes you in, even tucking in your hands so as not to scrape them; it is this narrow passage that keeps the interior dark, illuminated only by the sunlight that is reflected in the white sand of its bottom. Inside, you will be regaled with boatmen singing “ O Sole Mio” (which reminded me of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas) . Because the passageway is so narrow, the entrance is dependent on calm seas, therefore check beforehand on the weather conditions before embarking on this tour.
Due to the bad weather, we were unable to visit the Blue Grotto during our three day stay in Capri, however, on our return to Positano weather conditions improved and we took the “ Giro” around Capri in a private boat from Positano Jet rentals, with the added bonus that on our return we stopped at the “ Da Adolfo “ a restaurant on a secluded cove best reached by water (It is also reached via a steep drop from the hamlet of Laurito, on the road above). There one dines al fresco, under a straw covered canopy, where the tuna carpaccio is fresh, and the spaghetti with mussels and pumpkin savory accompanied by a bottle of the house white wine, “ L’altra Spiagghia” (the other beach) referring to this location. Also on the menu are freshly grilled fish, “ totani con patate” (squid and potatoes with garlic and oil). Many visitors come early, take a dip on the water and stay for the day. (You can also come in a private boat that departs from the Spiaggia Grande, (the main beach of Positano).
After this magnificent holiday you can depart by private car to the Naples or the Rome airport, depending on your travel destinations. We can recommend Salvatore Criscuolo at www.amalficar.it, they provide comfortable Mercedes town cars with knowledgeable and courteous English speaking drivers.
All photos by Jaime Cobas and Jesus Llanos
Piazza Duomo, Amalfi
Via dei Mulini 22
Via Longano 27, Capri
Via Matteott 18, Capri
Via Laurito 40, Positano