Intent on following in the footsteps of writers and film stars and soaking up Italy’s most ravishing coastline? Hunkering down in luxury and enjoying the views from afar could be your best bet, says Cheryl Caira
The Amalfi Coast’s curves and cliffs are the stuff of novelists’ fantasy. There’s the famous John Steinbeck quote that so many others have referenced – but who could really put it any better? Visiting the area for a travel piece in 1953, the American author said: “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.”
It’s difficult – whether it’s your debut or your visits have preceded into double figures – not to approach the famously picturesque town and go all misty-eyed with the sight of its cove dotted with chalky houses, toppling over the shimmering sea. You don’t become a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nothing, and the Amalfi Coast is an example of dramatic topography at its finest.
It goes without saying that Positano is a must-see. The reality is though, that during high season, the Amalfi Coast’s poster child can become a scorching, tourist-crammed challenge. Putting all your effort into climbing the narrow, upward-winding streets while trying to make the most of the sights and shops can wilt your energy levels within the hour. Visiting outwith the summer months when it’s quieter or wandering around early doors or later in the day when the cruise ships and ferries have departed, is a better bet for some semblance of tranquillity.
While there are some top-notch hotels in Positano, staying just a short drive down the coast in one of the nearby towns means you can dip in and out of the hubbub as you fancy. Praiano, once a fishing rival to its glitzy neighbour, still has the feel of a quiet seaside village. The favoured retreat of medieval Amalfi dukes, wandering this small part of the coastline will reveal bountiful treasure: there’s a flourishing local arts scene, shops selling artisan wares, and plenty of laid-back trattorias to enjoy seafood and homemade pasta. The baroque-style San Gennaro church at the centre of the Praiano bluff has beautiful stucco detail and tiling inside and an expansive piazza for quiet contemplation of the stunning coast.
Casa Angelina: the goddess on the rocks
If Positano is supposedly named after Poseidon, God of the sea, then one of Praiano’s crowning features, the five-star Casa Angelina, could be the goddess at his side. Praiano’s original latin name was Pelagianum, meaning ‘open sea’, and the views from this neck of the woods are just glorious: an all-revealing perch that captures just why the Sorrentine Peninsula is so breathtaking. Embedded into the craggy cliffs, the boutique hotel has a vista that sweeps out across the Tyrrhenian Sea, past the verdant hills and over to the best view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast.
Great white hope: Décor is soothingly minimalist – designed as a calm, boutique retreat, the bianco-on-bianco walls and furniture create an airy feel of relaxation as soon as you arrive. Murano glass artworks punctuate the swathes of white with jaunty character, alongside sun and moon ceramics by Mexican sculptor Sergio Bustamante and bronze sculptures by French artist Etienne.
Room with a view: The boutique hotel’s Relaxing Rooms are spacious and have their own balconies with sunbeds, table and chairs. They all have sea views – a vision at sunrise, and at sunset when the last of the boats leave a trail across the water and the night lights of Positano begin to appear.
Mod-cons: You’re well accommodated with a king-size bed, Nespresso machine, flat-screen TV and iPad & iPod dock, with nice touches like flip flops and a beach bag so you’re set for venturing to the pool, and luxury L’Occitane products in the bathroom.
Fine dining finesse: Casa Angelina’s top-floor restaurant, Un Piano Nel Cielo, is a foodie experience worth booking in for even if you’re not a guest at the hotel. It’s not difficult to see why it’s full of honeymooners. The candlelit, al fresco tables teamed with gorgeous coastal scenery are a prime romance opportunity.
The menu sports classic dishes from Campania with a twist, using seasonal ingredients. Seafood is a star contender, with dishes across the board perfectly meeting the mark, such as herb-crusted red tuna on caponata, John Dory with citrus fruit and potato flan and a genius tagliolini pasta with shrimps, lemon and liquorice.
Delicious starters and mains aside, there are tantalisingly tasty amuse-bouches in-between, and this is before you’ve even contemplated dessert. Save some space for the impressive chocolate trolley, from which you can sample three different artisan varieties. Sommeliers give top advice on the diverse wine list, comprised of local award-winners and a strong international selection.
Pool position: You have the option of an indoor pool and sauna, or an infinity pool where you can bask outdoors with the shade of lemon and lime trees above you. If you fancy heading to the beach, there’s the harbour at Marina di Praia, a pretty inlet at the foot of the 800-year-old Torre a Mare watch tower, or the hotel has access via an elevator to La Gavitella. It’s a fun beach spot with live music, and facing west, it has the benefit of the sun’s rays until late into the evening.
If you’re taking the trip into Positano, the hotel run a shuttle service back and forth, although getting a speed boat across from La Gavitella is a scenic thrill. If you’re travelling on to the Bay of Naples’ most legendary island – Capri – the boat will drop you off right next to the ferry port so you’re all set.
Rooms at Casa Angelina start from £390. It’s an adult-only property, with children welcome from 12 years of age. More info at casangelina.com