The most exclusive stretch of coast in the world boasts tiny bays, vibrant villages, and stunningly situated hotels with breathtaking views. Yet, Positano and Ravello offer more than just superlatives; they are home to archaeological finds, museums, and historical villas with accompanying gardens.
Positano is a place that seems unreal, yet it exists
With a broad smile, Antonio, the owner of the stunning Hotel Le Sirenuse, quickly shatters my dream. At a price of 400 euros per square meter, the houses are almost unaffordable. And if they're ever on the market at all, because you don't find any realtors around here. "By the time they're up for sale, these houses along the coast are already gone," says Carla, Antonio's wife. "Moreover, Positano residents don't like their homes being showcased." Exclusivity, as I mentioned before.
"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, the renowned American writer, about Positano.
A budget-friendly sun vacation is out of the question here. Perhaps that's for the best: the locals prefer not to see their picturesque streets clogged by tour buses. Not only do these bus passengers spend far less than their convertible-driving fellow tourists, but these buses also pose a mobile hazard on the winding coastal road. Several times, we had to fold in both side mirrors and risk our vehicle as we backed up the steep hill to make way for one of these behemoths.
Ninety percent of the clientele of the many luxury hotels on the Amalfi coast used to be Americans a few years ago, but now other nationalities with deep pockets have also found their way here. They don't mind shelling out 500 euros per night (or more) on their hotel room. But even those who opt for more modest hotels or guesthouses feel like royalty here.
The roughly 62 miles of coastline are bursting with culture to start. We begin in Naples and, due to time constraints, bypass Pompeii. It's regrettable, I know, but we came here to test out some of the luxury 5-star hotels (it's a tough job, but someone has to do it).
We start our exploration at the hotel Le Sirenuse in Positano. Can anything be more captivating than the mermaid-themed hotel in the village of Positano, loosely clinging to the mountainside? During our drive along the coastal road, which has rightly served as the backdrop for many car commercials, we were treated to one unforgettable view after another. But witnessing the azure blue sea dotted with the white of sailboats change hues from our princess-like room at Le Sirenuse is a whole different experience. Normally, you should save the best for last, but we're being pampered so decadently here that we can't help but think everything post-Positano might be a letdown. Or so we assume.
In the '60s, Vogue discovered the Positano look, dubbing it timeless boho chic, lightweight and easy to wear. The fashion style seems somewhat stuck in the era when my mom was turning heads in tie-dyed Indian dresses and raffia sun hats.
Still, we find a few cool spots, and I manage to snag some white vintage Valentino shorts for 30 euros. Alessandro, a charming Italian we meet at the only non-designer boutique (which, of course, is Armani!), invites us for lunch (pranzo in Italian) at one of the busy restaurants right on the beach. The place is called Le Tre Sorrelli, and Luigi is our host for the day.
Here we enjoy the most delicious pasta alle vongole and drink wine until our faces are as red as the langoustines on our plate. It must have been the sun, which, even in April, beats down mercilessly. In summer, the temperature can soar close to 104°F. It's something to keep in mind, along with the fact that in August many shops close as the owners themselves seek relief on the beach.
Positano, the museum, and excavations of the Roman 'Villa Ozio'
Beneath the stunning church of Santa Maria Assunta, a Roman villa was discovered that was completely covered with lava during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The villa has recently been fully excavated, revealing vibrant frescoes beneath the oratory and crypts from 600 AD. The church itself is noteworthy due to its dome shimmering in sunlight with its colorful majolica tiles. Yet, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
An archaeology team made several discoveries under the church. Firstly, a 35-square-meter triclinium with walls towering at 5 meters, entirely adorned with vividly colored frescoes. This portion of the Roman villa is now open to the public, with hopes that more sections will be uncovered soon. Alongside the triclinium, a museum trail has been created showcasing parts of the crypt and various artifacts like bronze and iron utensils discovered in the villa. Visit this website for a comprehensive overview and more pictures of the excavations.
After two full days of navigating the steps in Positano (I ask Alessandro how elderly Italians manage it, to which he replies, of course, that they zip up on their Vespas) and hundreds of pictures of breathtaking views later, it's time to head over to Ravello.
Dining out in Positano
Finding good food in Positano isn't a challenge. Even the beachfront spots during peak season offer decent meals! But I'd like to recommend a few places. Try to reserve a table in advance since Positano is small, and you surely won't be the only one wanting to dine there.Le Tre Sorrelli, see above, Via del Brigantino, 27-29-31, 84017 Positano SA - http://www.letresorellepositano.it/
Wine Dark House. A simple kitchen but very friendly staff in the heart of the village. Specialties include Risotto di Mare and other seafood dishes, but for those who like adventurous wine with their meal, this is highly recommended.Wine-dark House, Via del Saracino, 6/8, 84017 Positano SA Phone: +39 -089-811925 -
Next2. A refined restaurant with a highly creative seafood-based menu. If you want fantastic spaghetti aglio, olio, this is the place to go. Their fish soup is also quite good. Wide selection of wines but on the pricier side.Next2, Viale Pasitea, 242, 84017 Positano SA - http://www.next2.it/
Ristorante La Serra. One of the current top spots, a beautiful new seaside restaurant. It's part of a hotel, but don’t let that deter you. Some must-tries include Risotto with bergamot, fish, capers, and licorice. The fish involtini, a ristretto of fish, the assluto di melanzane (eggplant) and the tuna with oyster and lobster sauce.La Serra, Via G. Marconi, 169, 84017 Positano SA - https://la-serra-hotel-le-agavi.realitaly.top/
La Tagliata. The trattoria is well-known in this area, located outside of Positano in Montepertuso and has been run by the same family for years. Almost all ingredients they use are local, with vegetables and meat even coming directly from their own farm. The dining here is good and affordable. Specialties are grilled dishes and meats, but there's plenty of choice, like eggplant meatballs with Parmesan cheese, delicious!La Tagliata, Via Tagliata, 32B, 84017 Positano SA - https://www.latagliata.com/
Hotels in PositanoLe Sirenuse*****L, Via Cristoforo Colombo, 30, 84017 Positano SA - Check it out or make a reservation
For those who don't have pockets deep enough for one of the famous palace hotels, these are good three-star alternatives. Of course, book early.
Hotel Casa Albertina. Perched high up, meaning you’ll have to climb stairs if you want to get to the village center. The inn's owner, Luigi Pirandello, has been welcoming guests since 1930! It's simple yet elegant and has a fantastic view.
Hotel Casa Albertina, Via della Tavolozza, 3, 84017 Positano SA - Check it out or make a reservation
Positano Art Hotel Pasitea has about thirty rooms, and they're basic but comfortable enough. No two rooms in this hotel are the same, but fortunately, they all have great views.Art Hotel Pasitea, Viale Pasitea, 207, 84017 Positano SA - Check it out or make a reservation
Ravello, the village of heavenly gardens and views
A stroll through Ravello inevitably leads you to Villa Rufolo, probably the most photographed spot where it looks as if you can dive straight into the deep blue water below you through the umbrella pines. Many shops sell ceramic tiles and porcelain in the central plaza. From here, several narrow paths wind their way through the mountainsides to the Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Windmills), lined with terraces filled with lemon and orange orchards.
This former jet-set village, where Greta Garbo once married, had been neglected for years, until the bohemian chic rediscovered it and unveiled the romantic spirit of the mountain village anew. Ravello gives off a very different vibe compared to the upscale Positano. Of course, it isn't by the sea, doesn't have the same mild microclimate, and certainly fewer fashion boutiques, but the village still exudes a kind of weathered grandeur.
Especially if you're fortunate, like us, to stay in the majestic Palazzo Avino. 'Buon giorno, principessa!' I greet my traveling companion from the lawn below (by the ultra-luxurious outdoor fitness) as she opens the window of our suite to let in the sun and enjoy the expansive view reaching to the Bay of Salerno.
Dining in Ravello
Some might advise against dining in Ravello (there isn't much and what's there is usually part of a hotel) but that would be a shame. Here you will find the Michelin-starred restaurant Rosselinis of the luxury hotel Avino (mentioned above). I've dined there several times, and it's a must-visit for food lovers. For a special dinner, reserve a table on the terrace, one of the most romantic spots in the world. Expect to pay around €150 per person for an outstanding culinary experience.
Other restaurants I'd recommend include the ultra-luxurious restaurant of Hotel Caruso, the Belvedere (Tel. +39 089 858801). Naturally, you can dine exquisitely here, with various menus to choose from starting at around €60 per person or simply a la carte. Another top spot is Il Flauto di Pan (Hotel Villa Cimbrone Tel. +39-089-857459), located at a dreamy spot surrounded by heavenly gardens with a sea view. The food is excellent, but you mostly pay for the ambiance.Restaurant Rosselinis, Via S. Giovanni del Toro, 28, 84010 Ravello SA -The Belvedere, Piazza S. Giovanni del Toro, 2, 84010 Ravello SA Il Flauto di Pan, Villa Cimbrone, 26, Via Santa Chiara, 26, 84010 Ravello SA - https://www.hotelvillacimbrone.com/it/il-flauto-di-pan/
Staying in Ravello
I'd recommend:Villa Cimbrone****, 26, Via Santa Chiara, 26, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservationRufolo****, Via S. Francesco, 1, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservationPalazzo Avino*****, Via S. Giovanni del Toro, 28, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservationVilla Fraulo***, Via Giovanni Boccaccio, 7, Via S. Giovanni del Toro, 18, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservationGiordano***, Via Santissima Trinità, 14, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservationVilla Maria***. Via Santa Chiara, 2, 84010 Ravello SA - Check it out or make a reservation
How to get to Portofino and Ravello?
Check out the information page about the Amalfi coast