Imagine the joy of waking up to a poster-perfect view of shimmering blue sea, bright blue sky, and pastel-painted villas perched dramatically on top of one another on Positano’s steep hills. From the large balcony of our simple yet amazing guesthouse La Tavolozza, next door to the legendary hotel Le Sirenuse, the glittering mosaic dome of Santa Maria Assunta stands out against the cerulean horizon.
The water’s sparkling shades of aquamarine, turquoise, sapphire and emerald are a mesmerizing sight and a source of inspiration to artists and designers. Patricia Highsmith based the tiny Mediterranean port in The Talented Mr. Ripley on Positano, while John Steinbeck, who stayed in Le Sirenuse in the fifties, famously declared Positano “a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” Most recently, Positano was the setting of love scenes in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun.
Located on the Amalfi Coast, at the bottom of Mount Lattari, 55 km from Naples, Positano is a world away. Exquisitely situated where the Sorrentino Peninsula meets the Gulf of Salerno, Positano is blessed with a temperate climate, crescent bay, picturesque hills, hidden coves, and scenic steps running from the sea level to the hills above.
There isn’t much to do in Positano other than eating, swimming and shopping. Although there are churches and ancient villas to explore in other parts of the coast, frequent visitors know that the pleasure of Positano lies in dolce far niente – the “sweetness of doing nothing.”
We stayed in Positano for five nights. A typical day starts with a caffè macchiato and a nutella croissant (cornetto) at La Zagara. Besides making a mean espresso, the pastry bar also serves tempting desserts like bavarese and lemon tiramisu – a perfect pick-me-up after a day of sunning and shopping. The owner would chat with me about his visits to Indonesia, where he’d escape in winter. He’s been to more places in my own country than I have.
Long, leisurely lunches are the focal point of the day. When you fall into the rhythm of dolce far niente, the hardest decision of the day becomes, “where to go for lunch?” Our favorite lunch place, Da Adolfo, is located in a hidden, private cove reachable only by a ride in the restaurant’s own boat or a long hike up the hills. Long favored by locals and visiting artists, Da Adolfo is a laid-back beach club and alfresco restaurant whose friendly patrons like to mingle and linger.
Everyday, we’d start with some antipasti of a simple tomato and rocket salad, followed by a first course of freshly made pasta, accompanied by a bottle of young local white wine. A second course of sweet, plump mussels or shrimps – the region’s specialties – is always a highlight. When there is no more room for dessert, we’d finish with an affogato (vanilla ice cream “drowned” with a shot of espresso) and a shot of ice-cold limoncello. Sergio, the son of owner Adolfo, would generously let us sample homemade liquors, including finocchio – a refreshingly spicy homemade concoction made of fennel. One time he brought us shots of a delicious Sardinian port, which he jokingly called “liquid orgasm.” It goes down so smooth and sweet, a perfect dessert wine to finish lunch. We’d stay at Da Adolfo till closing just before sunset and leave on the last boat back to Positano.
Positano’s quaint boutiques beckon in the lull before dinner. You can find Italian designer brands and relaxed resorts wear in the shops near Via dei Mulini. On Viale Pasitea in the upper part of town, Don Ciccillo’s truly “glorious sandals” are a unique find, whimsical and comfortable. Designed by Neapolitan Francesco Graffei, these dainty, colorful sandals come adorned with delicate handmade silk flowers.
Dinners were pleasant, somewhat noisy and expensive, but not as good as our leisurely lunches. Chez Black, located right on the main beach has a lively atmosphere and jovial service. We longed for the sublime simplicity of fresh pasta tossed with perfectly garlicky tomato sauce and the sweetness of salt and pepper shrimps cooked just right at Da Adolfo, after two nights of rich, so-so food at Chez Black and being serenaded by the house musicians playing the same routine every night.
Our last lunch at Da Adolfo on our last day in Positano was most memorable. A windy day, the place wasn’t as crowded as usual. The strong wind knocked my full glass of wine and threatened to blow away my pasta dish. Sergio joked that I should put stones in my pocket so I wouldn’t float off. A couple that we’d seen the day before tried, unsuccessfully, to keep their salad’s rocket leaves from flying off, while laughing hysterically. The wind died down not long after but the hilarity of the situation wasn’t lost and we became one big party, gathering together at a long table. I asked a retired banker from New York who now lives in Positano and goes to Da Adolfo daily, what makes Positano a special place. I can never forget his answer – incantevole – Italian for enchanting, beautiful, and mesmerizing.
Soon it was time to leave. Rocco the boat driver impatiently called us to board. He sang us Italian songs on the boat – a lovely end to our magical stay in Positano. I start craving for Positano the moment I leave it and agree with Steinbeck – Positano does bite deep.