Positano – a jewel on Italy’s Amalfi Coast – is a two-edged sword. It is a beautiful riot of boxy buildings rising sharply upward along a natural notch in the vertical coastline. It has stunning panoramas. It has gorgeous hotels. It has mouthwatering eateries. It has ambiance out the wazoo.
It also has a lot of tourists. Like, a lot of them.
Perhaps it’s a sign of my advancing age, but I just don’t have the patience for crowds anymore. They get on my nerves. They get in my way. And they have every bit as much of a right to be there as I do.
I hate that.
So how can you enjoy this amazing gem without being swept overboard in a sea of tourists? The answer lies just 13 kilometers away in the cliff-side hamlet of Praiano.
Yes, you can have the best of both worlds by staying in Praiano and playing in Positano. And if you don’t feel like commuting, Praiano has enough to keep things interesting, especially if you’re interested in relaxation.
How to Get There
The most straightforward way of getting to the Amalfi Coast is driving your own car. Of course, navigating the winding, traffic-clogged roadway is a surefire recipe for strained nerves, strained braking systems, and if married, a strained marriage. Between double-parked trucks, speeding convertibles, and near-suicidal tourists on Vespas – not to mention the exasperation of trying to find a parking space – many opt to take public transport instead. It’s not as convenient as having your own set of wheels, but a little inconvenience is worth saving your marriage, right?
For those who favor sanity over convenience, a journey to the Amalfi Coast will likely begin at Napoli’s Stazione Centrale. From there, a few Euros will buy you a ride on the Circumvesuviana – a commuter train that runs the entire curve of the Gulf of Naples. Sorrento is the end of the line, and a tourist destination in its own right. Across the street from the station is a bus stop where you can catch a SITA bus toward Amalfi. The ride is a belly-twisting journey that will afford you some amazing vistas on your way toward Positano. Sure, you can get off along with the crowds, but if you hang on for another twenty minutes you’ll find yourself in the middle of Praiano town, looking down at the multicolor tiles of massive San Gennaro church and out at the twinkling lights of Positano.
What to Do
Let me start off by saying that Praiano, while more authentic and far less congested, is not of the same caliber as Positano. That said, the views are comparable, lodging is reasonable and the charm is pervasive. There’s a rocky beach a good half-hour descent below town, where you can splash in the turquoise water or rent an umbrella to protect you from the blazing summer sun. It’s a great place to relax, as well as suitable locale to regain your strength for the climb back up. If all that walking doesn’t appeal to you, there’s no shame in just sitting on your balcony and watching the mountains trail off all the way to Capri.
Getting to Positano
There are frequent buses between Praiano and Positano, with timetables available at most hotels and tobacco stores. Unless you’re specifically interested in visiting Positano’s larger and superior beach, Positano really comes alive in the evening. From the road, it is a pleasant downhill stroll past souvenir shops, charming eateries and one-of-a-kind boutiques all the way down to water level. There, circling the beachfront are a series of restaurants packed with enthusiastic tourists and all the associated energy. The scene while sipping wine beneath a flower-laden lattice under the glow of street lanterns is simply magical. So much so that you might even forget that you have to walk back up.
Things to Know
This being Italy, mid to late afternoon brings a lull in the action. This would be the time to take that nap and rest up for a late dinner. That rest will come in handy when you consider that all destinations will either be located above or below you, in a never-ending maze of stairways. Your reaction will likely mirror that of a man I met rounding a corner with his suitcase in tow, who upon seeing the meandering stairways trailing off into oblivion before him muttered – in heavy Neapolitan dialect – “Oh…Madon'” (an appeal to Jesus’ mother Mary). The upside is that by the time you leave, your calves and glutes will be firmer than when you arrived.
Positano in summer is both a dream destination and nightmare. But if you follow these few simple suggestions, you can have your figurative connoli and eat it too, even if it is about 13 kilometers away.
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