First Time in Positano



November 28, 2020
POSITANO “We’re Here”

 The Blue Sita Bus pulled into Positano sometime in mid-afternoon and stopped in front of the Bar International. Boy was I excited, “Positano at long last.” It was the end of the line for me. I hopped off the bus and got my bags and headed into the bar. I needed to use the bathroom, throw some water on my face, and then get a small bite to eat. I got a Prosciutto & Provala Panino and a glass of fresh squeezed OJ. I sat down to relax before heading down to the Villa Maria Antonietta. It was a good long walk down many stairs and through alleyways as I navigated further down to the lower part of town, always moving toward the Sea. I was carrying two pieces of luggage, and the going wasn’t that easy, except that I was a strong young man of just 23, and so it really wasn’t a problem. Nowadays at nearly 60, the same trip would be significantly harder, but I could still do it. I’d have to go slower though. Anyway, I finally made it to the spot somewhere near the area called Mulini and asked someone for directions. A man told me exactly where the little pensione was, and so I headed over. It wasn’t far at all, and in no time flat, there I was at Villa Maria Antonietta. I asked the lady if she had any rooms available. She did, so I checked in, but not before showing her the Letter of Introduction from Rene Ricard. She took a quick glance and then brought me to my room. Once inside, I took a hot shower and unpacked some of my clothes before heading out to explore this new town. Positano.

  I left my little hotel and made my way down towards the sea. As I walked, I looked around in astonishment, spellbound with every step. Everything I had heard about Positano it seemed was true. Yes it was beautiful, magical, and invigorating. Nothing was exaggerated. I felt like a kid on Christmas Day. I was filled with that kid of euphoria. “Do you know what I mean?”

 Yes, no one had overstated their thoughts of this enchanting little town. Everyone’s descriptions were true, and if anything, they had been understated, Positano was totally amazing, and for me, “It was Love at first sight.” 

   The houses and hotels in Positano were stacked one atop the other as they straddled and rose up the hills that make up the special characteristics that the town is known for. Down where I was, there were all sorts of cute shops and charming little boutiques, including; ceramic-shops, Custom Sandal-Maker Shops, caffes (bars), and restaurants. Of course there were hotels, locals homes, and private villas as well. There were outdoor markets, salumerias, and all sorts of fun things to see and do. The Blue Tyrrhenian Sea was just a few hundred feet away, and so off I went. 

   I walked down to the sea to look around. The water was quite lovely and there was all sorts of activity going on with people swimming, and lounging on the beach. Boats were arriving and departing from town. From down here as you look to the sea, there is a little beach at the center, with the town’s main boat-dock on the right, which is right next to the Cove dei Saraceni Hotel. Here you can catch ferry boats going to; Amalfi, Capri, Ischia, Naples, Sorrento, Salerno, and all points along the Amalfi Coast. From this spot the best beaches are off to the left or right of this center area from the little free beach which is not as nice as the two other beaches off to the far-left and far-right. There are a number of restaurants and bars down by the beach, including the famous Chez Black where they make Heart Shaped Pizza. There’s also Buca di Bacco with their beautiful terraced restaurant and bar, and the always welcoming Trattoria La Cambusa. If you turn your back to the Sea, you will see that the town of Positano just springs up out of the Sea, with the famous hill of a million pictures on your left, with houses stacked one-on top-of-the-other, they creep up toward the small hamlets of Montepertuso and Nocelle high above the sea. The same can be said for the hill to your right and the one directly in front of you, Positano rises from the sea and there it is smack dab in front of you, it seems as though Positano sours straight up to the Heavens. In fact, there is a famous path that is a popular place to hike, and the trail is known as “The Path of The Gods.” 

 Most of the town is sort of a large natural amphitheater. It’s quite an amazing sight to see, and it is just one reason that people have been flocking to this little town for years. They come from every corner of the world.

  After walking around the lowest part of town by the sea, I made my way back towards the center and found myself at the Caffe Zagara for some Gelato in their lovely little garden. La Zagara is in the Mulino area of town, and it’s smack-dab in the middle of Positano. Again, I was in 7th Heaven. I sat back with my gelato, and just aimlessly did nothing. I took it all in. The setting here is as magical as is any place in all of Positano, no matter which part of town you are in, Positano is always enchanting. Positano, there’s no escaping its beauty.

   After my gelato at La Zagaro, I headed down to the La Scogliera Beach Club to swim, relax, and just do nothing. “Now this is pure Bliss.” They have a snackbar / restaurant at this beach club, and I’d have a little something to eat for lunch or just a small snack. The rest of my time at La Scogliera Beach Club, is spent swimming, reclining on my chaise lounge, and sipping my Campari. I’d close my eyes and listen to those special beach sounds. You know those wonderful beach sounds don’t you? It’s the sound of Seagulls, waves crashing on rocks, music coming from the radios of those lying on the beach, the chatter of people talking, and it all blends together to make that very special kind of sound. Beach Sounds, I guess you could say. “You know what I mean, don’t you?” It’s especially nice when I just lie there with my eyes closed as if I were sleeping, but I’m not. I’m just relaxing and listening to the sounds of the sea, and all that goes with it.

  After the beach, it would be up to Bar DeMartino for my late afternoon aperitivo, before heading back to my room for a nice two-hour nap. After my little nap,  it was off to dinner at Da Vincenzo’s. I’d have some Octopus or Mussels (Cozze) then, as Rene told me, I’d eat a plate of the Worlds best Spaghetti Vongole, and again I’m in 7th Heaven all over again. After dinner at Da Vincenzo, it was back to Bar DeMartino to hangout and have a couple night-time cocktails (Campari) before going back to my hotel, sleeping the night away. And I always sleep quite well in Positano, with the fresh sea air making its way through the slatted shutters of my room at Maria Antoniette. The following year it would be at the Hotel Casa Albertina, right behind Da Vincenzo’s.

  The next day, I’d do it all over again, and so I did for 3 glorious days on my first trip to Positano, in the Summer of 85. The next Summer, I’d spend four days in Positano, after 3 splendid days on the Isle of Capri. After 3 glorious days on Capri, I took a boat from Capri to Positano. I was looking for a new hotel this time. I liked Villa Maria Antoniette that first time but wanted something a little bit nicer this time around. So, when I poked my head into the reception area at Casa Albertina, Lorenzo was there to greet me. He was very nice, and he said he’d make me a special “young person’s price,” and so he did. I paid $79 a night that first time at Casa Albertina in 1986. Casa Albertina is a beautiful little family run hotel, where you get luxury at a lower price. The guest rooms are very nice, and the public areas, including the sitting room, dining room, and bar area are all beautifully appointed. I stayed at Casa Albertina for four days, then I also took two days exploring la Bella Napoli. I’d do the same in the Summer of 1988, with two days in Rome, before heading down to Capri and the Amalfi Coast, Positano, and one more night in Rome before flying home the next day to JFK.

  I bought my first pair of Espadrilles on that first trip, as well as a great hand-made pair of “Positano Style” men’s casual pants that I wore every Summer for several years, and always bringing those pants back to Positano each year. Positano is famous for it’s Positano Style Clothing, especially women’s dresses and blouses, but they make shirts and a few things for the men as well, thus my Positano Pants. 

 I started my collection of local Amalfi Coast ceramics on that first trip. In the town of Vietri Sul Mare they make beautiful ceramic plates, and all sorts of ceramic objects that are typical of the area. I bought two beautiful plates in one of the ceramic shops in Positano on that first trip in 1985. I really loved those plates, and made some spaghetti that I ate on them as soon as I got back home. I ate on those plates all year long, and I’d buy a couple more the following year. But it wasn’t until 1988, when on my third trip to Positano,  I discovered that the plates were made in the coastal town of Vietri Sul Mare, at the most southern point of the Amalfi Coast.

  On that third trip (1988) to the Amalfi Coast, I rented a car one day to go to Pompeii for the first time, and also took a drive over to Vietri Sul Mare to buy some of the local ceramics. I bought; plates, a water picture, and decorative ceramic pieces that included a Virgin Mary for my mother Lucia. I also got some creature’s of the sea wall decoration as well. I went to Vietri with a couple of ladies that I had met in Capri. We had a wonderful day visiting the ancient Roman Ruins of Pompeii, going to Vietri to buy ceramics, and having dinner in Minori. After dinner, we hopped in the car and back onto the Amalfi Drive. We didn’t get very far, as when we drove into the town of Amalfi, we decided to stop and see what was going on. I parked the car and we went to an outdoor caffe for some evening cocktails.  After Limoncello Cocktails we strolled around Amalfi. It was The Feast of Santa Anna  and the Piazza del Duomo was abuzz with music and activity of tourists and local revelers. It was happy and festive, and the girls and I had a nice little time there. 

  This was the first time I ever drove the famed Amalfi Drive, known as one of the World’s great driving-roads. And it certainly is, with its unmatched beauty, and its  famed hairpin and horseshoe turns. The Amalfi Drive is quite the road to drive. I surely savored the chance to drive it, taking all those crazy turns, and marveling at the beauty of it all. It was a wonderful experience, and being such a young man, I enjoyed it all the more. It’s a day I shall never forget.

  On my second visit to Positano (1986), I was lucky in that I was staying at Casa Albertino during the time when the hotel holds its annual cocktail / dinner party for their guests, and that’s when I met my sweet friend Nicoletta. The party was wonderful. There was a big buffet table with wonderful treats from the Hotel’s Chef, The buffet table included : Prosciutto, Provola, Croquettes, delicious Arancini, Gnocchi, Ravioli, and other culinary delights. I drank Campari and Biancolella local wine, it was all quite wonderful. At the party, I met and chatted with several other hotel guests, and we all had a delightful evening. All courtesy of the Cinque family of Casa Albertina.

  Yes, I was quite lucky to walk into Casa Albertina and meet Lorenzo that day. He gave me a special room rate far lower than the regular price, and I got to stay at the Cinque Family’s beautiful hotel. In the dining room where the party was, the next day I had lunch with Nicoletta and her friends. 

  My days spent at Casa Albertina, I’d awaken from lovely nights sleep, take a shower, get dressed, and go downstairs for breakfast on the terrace. My mornings breakfast consisted of; Cappuccino, fresh squeezed Orange Juice, yoghurt, fresh Peaches, and a fresh baked Cornetto with apricot jam. And with one of the World’s most spectacular views, I’d soak-up the warm Amalfi Coast Sun, before heading down to the beach for a day’s swimming, and lazily lounging under the warm Positano Sun. “What more could I possibly want for?”

  After breakfast, it was down the pathways to make my way towards the beach. I’d go to my favorite beach in town, the Lido La Scogliera next to Music on The Rocks. Yes, I paid more to be there, but it was worth every penny, for those times are precious memories I have to this very day and beyond. It’s not material things but wonderful times and memories of them that count in one’s life. I have a good number of those. “Yes I am quite Blessed.”

  For lunch I might go to La Cambusa, Buco di Bacco, or Chez Black right down by the beaches. These restaurants are all good choices as they all put out tasty dishes of local cuisine. The food will please anyone. Let’s talk about my favorite. OK, so back to Da Vincenzo. Da Vincenzo has always been my favorite restaurant in town, ever since my very first visit. Da Vincenzo is up on the Via Pasitea next to Bar DeMartino (no longer there). It’s an easy 15-minute walk up from the beach. The food and ambiance of Da Vincenzo is just about as good as it gets, and Jesse (the owner) has always been a most gracious host. You might want to know a quite curious thing about Da Vincenzo, is that the restaurant is partly set into the mountain, I kid you not. Yes the back walls of this restaurant are actually rocks of the mountainside, which has always amazed me ever since I went to the bathroom at Bar DeMartino next door to Da Vincenzo (now Bar Positano), and there they were, the rocks of the mountainside as a walls in the bathroom, same as I would discover later on when I saw the same thing at Da Vincenzo. The restaurant was, quite literally, built into the mountainside. Anyway, Da Vincenzo has a warm wonderful ambiance, combined with friendly service, and excellent local cuisine, including what is one of the best dishes of Spaghetti Vongole to be found on the Amalfi Coast or anywhere in the World. And when you are there, the Spaghetti Vongole is an “absolute must item for you to eat.”

  So, when eating at Da Vincenzo, I tend to go there for dinner, more so than lunch, although in 2015, on my first time back in a few years, I did have lunch at Da Vincenzo. Anyway, most of the time for lunch, I usually go to a restaurant closer to the beach. My preferred restaurants down by the beach are La Cambusa and Buca di Bacco, either one will always do.

 Lunch at either La Cambusa or Buca di Bacco, both right down at the main beach and near Lo Scogliera. At either place, I might start with a fresh Insalata Caprese, which is often followed by a plate of Spaghetti Vongole or I can choose to opt for a tasty plate of Linguine con Cozze (Mussels). And to go with lunch, I’ll have a glass of local Biancolella or Falanghina wine.

  Another lunch option would be to go for a Pizza, (Chez Black) while other times I’d pick up a Panino and some fruit at one of the great little salumerias (Italian Deli) and bring it to eat right at the beach. Sometimes I’d get an Arancino (Rice-Ball) and Frittata from one of my favorite Salumerias along the way, and I’d be all set for a tasty little inexpensive lunch at the outdoor dining room that is at one of the beaches in Positano itself.         

   After lunch I’d go back to the beach for two or three hours for more swimming, pondering, daydreaming, with a nice nap or two, and some good beach reading. OK, and now I’ll admit, that in the Summer of 86, I needed something to read at the beach, a good beach read, so to speak. Well there’s no book store in Positano, but they did have some best selling paperback novels at one of the shops, where I spotted Jackie Collins “Hollywood Wives.” So I got a copy, I took it to Lo Scogliera, and enjoyed reading it in the Summer of 1986. OK, I admit it, I read Hollywood Wives, “Sue me.”

   So as I’ve already briefly stated, after the beach I’d head to Bar DeMartino for an aperitivo of Campari and Soda. I didn’t know about Aperol back then, nobody did. I did however discover Aperol and the Aperol Spritz way back in 1995 at a Bacaro (Wine Bar) in Venice one night when I was looking for a little night-cap before heading back to my room at the Hotel Gueratto. I saw people drinking them and asked the bartender what they were? He replied, “Aperol Spritz,” and I told him I’d take one. That was about 18 years before the Aperol Spritz Craze that hit the shores of New York and America around about 2015 or so. I was already drinking them in Venice way back in 1995. And as for the Negroni, I discovered that sublime cocktail at the grand Caffe Giacosa in Florence ten years before, in that splendid Summer of 1985. Now guess what folks. Here’s another thing that has become a “Thing.” This thing is the Aperol Spritz, it’s all over, thousands of them. You can’t pass a caffe, bar, or restaurant that has tables outside anywhere in Sorrento, Positano, Capri, and anywhere along the Amalfi Coast or any coastal town in Italy that there aren’t people drinking Aperol Spritz’s, it’s the new thing. When did it become a “Thing,” I don’t know. All I know is, I’ve been drinking them since 95, years before drinking an Aperol Spritz actually became a “thing.” And yes, I still drink them, and Campari & Soda or OJ, and a Negroni or two, but now, more often than not, I’ll be sipping on an Amaro. My favorite Amaro is Lucano, but I like Nonnino, Averna, or Rucolino from nearby Ischia, And speaking of Amaro Lucano and the Amalfi Coast, I shall never forget the Spring of 2018 when I took a trip with cousin Tony and introduced him to Amaro Lucano and Ferrari Perle, and we drank those two things all the trip long. It was Tony’s first intro to Amaro and he fell in love with the stuff. And Ferrari Perle as well. Both such lovely things to drink on the Amalfi Coast, wouldn’t you think? “Yes they are.”

  Now, for my times spent at Bar DeMartino and my ritual late afternoon aperitivo on the Amalfi Coast. Yes, most often I’d get a Campari & Soda or Campari OJ, a glass of local white wine, or a nice refreshing Lemonade, made with the great Amalfi Coast Lemons that we all love. Bar DeMartino was a great little family owned bar (caffe) that was the first tier up as you walked the main road, the Via Pasitea, to the middle parts of Positano. As you are walking up the Via Pasitea you will reach the Hotel Poseidon at one point, and Da Vincenzo is just about 300 feet more up the road. By the way, the Hotel Poseidon is a really wonderful hotel with a beautiful pool on a huge terrace where the Ristorant & Bar Tridente is located, and this is a great place for lunch, or dinner, and best of all it’s one of th best places in Positano to go for an afternoon or early evening aperitivo. The view from the terrazzo is one of the most beautiful in town. You will then come upon the part of town by Da Vincenzo, Casa Albertina, and where De Martino used to be. In this part of Positano, you have enough height to look down to the main part of town and the center with the beach, as well as the church of Santa Maria Assunta and its glorious ceramic dome that dominates the lower part of town. You will see this view in a million pictures of Positano all over the place. So, you start walking up the path past the Zagara and the area of Mulini. You then hop on the road, the Via Pasitea. You walk up the road, past the parking lot, and up by the Hotel Poseidon and Hotel Reginella. It’s an easy walk with a gradual incline. You will come to Bar DeMartino (now Bar Positano) on your right, and their terrazzo is across the street from the bar. There, you can sit at an outdoor table as I’ve always loved to do. There are also outdoor tables up against the bar, across the street. Da Vincenzo Ristorante is right next to Bar DeMartino (Bar Positano) and the stairs and pathway that lead to my favorite hotel in town, Casa Albertina is in-between Da Vincenzo and The Bar Positano.

  So I’d sit there with my Campari and take in the spectacular view there as you look down to lower Positano, the Sea, the church, and all the homes and buildings as they climb the mountain town, one-atop-the-other, and up to The Path of The Gods. If you are in there, you might ask yourself, “could anything or any place be more beautiful than this spot right here?” I think not. To this day, I’d have to say that those times I spent sitting there on the Terrazzo of Bar DeMartino, sipping my Campari as I gazed across the way and down to the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea and the whole of Positano, those were some of the most wonderful feelings I’ve ever had in my entire life. They were absolutely perfect little moments in times, Times that I shall never forget, sitting there, savoring the World’s most beautiful view. Yes, I sat there looking and pondering Positano, perched in that little bar, a Campari in hand. It’s times like those, that are  the simple little pleasures in life. Just a brief moment in time, and oh so wonderful. Yes, now and then, you have to live the charmed-life, and those moments at Bar DeMartino, many years ago, were the charmed life for me. “How bout you? Will you do the same?”

  As I mentioned previously, after my afternoon cocktail, it was back to my room, just a few feet away. I’d look out my balcony a few minutes, then get comfy in my bed, and a nice peaceful afternoon nap.

   There’s nothing quite like a late afternoon nap after a day at the beach. Being in Positano with its sweet fresh flowers, the air fresh from the sea. It’s all quite wonderful.

  My nap finished, I’d jump in the shower, get dressed, and head out for a drink or two at the terrace of the Poseidon Hotel.

  Evenings in Positano have their own special magic. Some nights I’d be sitting outside on the terrace of the Poseidon Hotel for cocktails, and I’d be gazing out upon the sea below, my eyes set upon the town and the sea below. Positano is lit up with the twinkle of many lights and Moon Beams spread out across the sea. This is a whole other feeling, so if you ever get to this enchanting little spot, I can guarantee you that the magic of Positano is real. Chatting with friends, sipping my Negroni and breathing in that special Positano air. The air is filled with the scent of blooming Jasmine that mingles with Calamari cooking on the grill and Pizza baking in wood-burning ovens. All these scents blending with the heady aromas that lingered in the night air. “This is my Positano.”

   Dinner at Da Vincenzo, and my very first time. I walked in and Jesse greeted me for the first time. He sat me with his Uncle Victor in the top room of the restaurant. Victor took care of me. Now you know I’m going to have a plate of their Spaghetti Vongole? But what else for my dinner. I chose the Insalata Frutta di Mare that was made with Calamari, Octopus, and Mussels and dressed with Olive Oil, fresh Amalfi Coast Lemon, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. It was quite refreshing and tasting of the sea. “I loved it.” And when it came to the main event, the Spaghetti Vongole, and it was as Rene Ricard had told me back on the streets of New York, “the best Spaghetti Vongole in the whole wide World.” Thanks Rene.

   I had my dinner that first time at Da Vincenzo, I met Victor and Jessie and I had a most wonderful time, and as I’ve always said, “I felt like a King.” That’s how I feel when in Positano or on my beloved Isle of Capri, I feel like an absolute King. Well at least once a year anyway. Believe me, it’s a good way to feel. And so you shall. Just make your way to Positano, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast of Italy. 

  Yes, my first dinner ever in Positano, at Da Vincenzo was a memorable one. One that I still remember to this very day, some 33 years gone by. Capri, Naples, Positano and the Amalfi Coast where you always eat well, with plates of; Cozze (Mussels), Polpo, Fritto Misto, Mozzarella, Melanzane, all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with the Fruits of The Sea, Gelato and crunchy crispy Sfogliatelle for dessert. I’ve eaten at Grottino, Buco di Bacco, and the Cove di Saraceni as well as a couple other places including a cute little trattoria that I can’t recall the name of any more. Some places have come and gone, and many remain, like; Buco di Bacco, Chez Black, Le Tre Sorelle, Da Vincenzo, La Cambusa and others.

  At La Zagara besides the gelato and tasty Italian Pastries that they are well known for, a little known secret is that they make some of the tastiest Arancini to be had on all the Amalfi Coast. These Arancini (Rice Balls) are wonderful to bring to the beach or as a snack anytime of the day and whenever you might be just a little hungry in-between your meals. The Arancini at La Zagara are along with the ones made by the people at the Salumeria Capri on Capri, are the best you will find in the entire region. Yes, they are that good.

   Anyway, go to Positano. Go to Capri and the Amalfi Coast. Take my advice, I’ve been going a long time, but make some of your own little discoveries on your own. That’s what I do. I’ve been doing it since 1985. I do what I did on these my first few trips, but I find new things too. New discoveries. You’d be surprised how much you can do. Most of all, eat, drink, explore, and just relax. You will have the time of your life.


Excerpted from POSITANO The Amalfi Coast Cookbook & Travel

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