“Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone” – John Steinbeck
Steinbeck writes that on the narrow, corkscrew wrote to Positano he and his wife “lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically”. We, too, watch with trepidation as the local buses knock into wing mirrors and slice apart signs. Yet with each hairpin turn the Amalfi seascape opens up before us and, at last, we reach a small bay where azure waters break upon a pebbled beach and multi-coloured, sun-bleached houses cling to the cliffs. Positano. This town may famously attract affluent tourists but it becomes quickly apparent that the local community does not measure wealth in terms of money. Instead, people here treasure family and food. Such simple values ensure that Positano has remained a haven largely untroubled by the demands of frenetic, modern lifestyles.
Here are my recommendations for the perfect retreat:
Above the top of the stack upon stack of houses that comprise Positano, you will find the small village of Monterpertuso. Five minutes further along a wooded track lies Colle Dell’ara, a serene guesthouse set among expansive gardens of sun-sweet tomatoes and lemons the size of melons. There is no need for air con because Clean, sparse rooms are cooled by the breeze that sighs through large wooden shutters. Below, the long terrace offers a view that rolls out over Positano and away, away down the Amalfi coast. Colle Dell’ara is a simple, sustainable home where even the wifi password, one of modernity’s few intrusions, reminds you to take life slowly.
The terrace is the focal point of guesthouse life. In the mornings, it is here that we eat a breakfast of homemade cake and fresh fruit; in the evenings, we drink house liqueurs looking
out at the lights of little coastal towns. It is on the terrace, too, that our hosts serve guests a dinner made entirely with produce from their gardens. Our glasses refill with Lacryma Christi, a gentle, stone fruit-flavoured white from the slopes of Vesuvius, and we enjoy four starters before the main course arrives: spaghetti cooked in lemon-infused water and stirred through with local provolone cheese. The pasta is fragrant, delicate and, like all life at Colle Dell’arra, reminds us that the simple things are often unsurpassed.
The lauded La Tagliata in Monterpertuso has sadly turned from authentic, family-run trattoria to a business enterprise intent on seating as many tourists as possible. Instead, try Il Ritrovo down the road, which retains its family atmosphere. Inside, the walls are piled with wine bottles and an open kitchens offers a sight of remarkably calm chefs, but for romance be sure to request a table outside on the candlelit, curtain-draped terrace with coastal views. Start with complimentary processco and tasters – perhaps bruschetta or parmigiana – followed by antipasti and an excellent house red. Stay for the soft, handmade pasta with borlotti beans and truffles or the substantial seafood stew. Share a tiramisu for dessert.
The people of Positano may enjoy their food, but they need the fuel for climbing the steep steps that one faces on even the shortest journey. The most famous walking route in the area is the Sentiero Degli Dei, or Path of the Gods, named for its position on the edge of a precipice high above the Tyrrhenian sea. The uneven path can be unforgiving on your legs, but the scramble is more than worth it for the spectacular panoramic view. You can do the route in either direction – we hiked from Nocelle to Bomerano, took the thousand steps down to lovely little Praiano and caught the bus back to Positano for a pizza. Good walking shoes, water and a camera are essential – not to mention a well-deserved ice-cream at the end!