Leaving Amalfi this morning for the EuroStar train from Napoli to Firenze, I felt a tinge of regret for not having an opportunity to motor out to the island of Capri. Heavy seas caused by North African winds kept all tour (and dive) boats at bay so we spent our time yesterday in the colorful town of Positano. It was a worthy consolation.
Despite the cool sea winds, it is hot here in May so our group got out early to explore the city streets so we could relax at Hotel Onda Verde during siesta when shops close and Italians seek refuge from the scorching heat. The town itself blooms up along the terraced hillsides from the central Spiagge beach where vacationers sun beneath colorful striped umbrellas. Here the day boats connect the mass of tourists bussing along the snake-like coastal SS163 to the offshore refuge of Capri. The boutiques that line the spiraling streets of Positano – often a stampeding maelstrom of scooters, tour buses and SmartCars – cater to tourists with an array of clothes, galleries and restaurants. The town itself has a reputation for its unique beach sandals and I ended up coming home with a pair of wine-colored leather sandals that were, nonetheless, made in Spain.
We escaped the sweltering heat that rises to crescendo at midday by ducking into the air-conditioned comfort of Ristorante Bruno to enjoy a pasta lunch with proscuitto and mozzarella. The orange Interno Positano bus shuttled us north to “the Toaster” and we survived the many hair pin turns en route back to the hotel.
One of the highlights of the trip without a doubt was the afternoon swim in Praiano Bay. My stepbrother and I jumped off the cliff below the hotel and swam among the moored fishing boats and into the rocky cove known as Praiano beach. The sound of rocks lolling up and down the strand in the crashing tide will stay with me for many nights to come. Here on Praiano Bay, we met Rafaelo, a local divemaster and boat captain. “Here we dive the walls because it is so deep here,” he said. “Only one shipwreck but it is in Positano.” Earlier that morning we had seen dolphins feeding among the breaking waves among the boats dotting the seascape.
Once tiny fishing villages, Positano and Amalfi further south are known for the lemon groves that speckle the cliffside as well as hand-painted ceramics. Along with an olive oil marinade, the fresh Amalfi lemons are a wonderful compliment to seafood dinners of fresh prawns, anchovies, calamari and snapper. They are the key ingredient in the ice-cold Lemoncino aperitifs that, along with gelato, complete many Italian meals.
I had a great time along the Amalfi Coast but the real gemstone of the experience was my afternoon in Ravello, perched seven kilometers north of Amalfi. It was here that I met the duo Reno and Blanko, the Italian equivalent of wine sherpas who have scoured all regions of Italy to bring back the best wine for their shop, Wine & Drugs in Ravello.
“You want to try some wine?” asked Blanko when he eyed me pausing to make a picture of the “Wine & Drugs” wooden sign. “I think I would,” I answered without hesitation and soon all five of us were sipping Chianti Classico, Rosso, Brunello as well as dessert wines and grappa. I bought a bottle of 2003 Sorugo from Brunello that I hope to pack for the trip back as it was one of the best Italian wines that I have ever enjoyed. “This is the drugs,” said Blanko of the Brunello. He was right.