Day Trip to Praiano and Positano
Day Trip to Praiano and Positano
12th of April 2012
Although the weather was not the sunniest, after some hesitation, we decided anyhow to set off to the Amalfi Coast to visit beautiful Praiano and Positano.
We had heard and read many things about these two towns, considered among the most beautiful of the Coast, and despite the uncertain weather forecasts we could not resist our curiosity, so we got into the car and started our journey.
From Naples the best way to get to Positano and Praiano is going via Sorrento, that means leaving the motorway on Castellammare di Stabia exit, to cross the tip of Naples' gulf just above Sorrento, going through Meta di Sorrento. This drive is actually very nice, as when driving by Castellammare di Stabia, you can see Naples' Gulf from the opposite prospective as to what one usually sees in Naples, with Mount Vesuvius other side, and the city of Naples gently spreading all around it down to the sea. In fact this is actually the traditional shot of Naples' you will find on most postcards, with the Vesuvius on the right, and Monte di Procida and Baia, on the tip on the left.
The view was truly incredible, and really made me think how much I love that city and its landscape, so full of contrasts with a halo of poetry in every glimpse of it.
Unfortunately my dream-like thoughts were abruptly interrupted when, as we got into Meta di Sorrento we queued in traffic for about an hour, waiting to get to a very badly organised junction, connecting Meta with Sorrento and with the Amalfi Coast. I have been told that this type of jam in that spot is fairly frequent, and so it is important to take into account when planning your schedule in Praiano and Positano, which we hadn't done, and it kind of costed us an hour of trip...
As usual on the Amalfi Coast, even the worst inconvenient is usually repaid with something spectacular, and so it was. As soon as we managed to cross the junction, and got to the road to Positano, there was Li Galli Islands waiting to show itself to us, to make up for the aforementioned stress. When the islands appeared so suddenly on our horizon I had no doubt that mermaids still populate those rocks luring sailors with their beautiful voices.
The sight is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and it is exactly how I would picture it as a child, when Ulysses sailed past it, tied to his boat's pole.
I was so taken by the view on my left, that I hadn't realised that right in front of me and on my right, the landscape was changing very dramatically too. When I turned round, I was amazed by high cliffs, overhanging above us, almost leading the way into Positano. And finally we were there!
Positano really discloses itself slowly from the road, first there is a nice sign welcoming you to town, then there are some colourful fruit stalls, right by belvedere spots on the SS163, then a school buses parking spots, with yellow buses matching the lemons of the stalls a few metres before. Then you start seeing the first houses, and loads of flower and ceramic shops, dotting with colours the stern look of cliffs. The road becomes narrower and the driver starts being a bit more anxious, but then there is a sign, prohibiting honking, in any circumstance and in any part of Positano, and surprisingly that ban almost forces drivers to relax, and quickly adjust to the seize of the road, ad to local driving mentality.
We decided to drive directly to Praiano, and to return to Positano on our way back, to spend the afternoon by the beach. So we drove on, and in a few minutes we were in Praiano, where the natural landscape is very similar to Positano, but the architecture and structure of the town is somewhat different. We realised the peculiarity of the town's layout, almost immediately, as when we asked where the city centre was, they looked at us very strange, and answered that there is no centre in Praiano, but different levels, each one with its centre square and Church. As we could not find any parking space, on the the SS163 we followed the directions to San Luca, going uphill, to the higher part of town, with the idea of leaving our car there. We were very lucky and managed to find a parking spot where the road finishes before the arch leading into San Luca's square. The journey had been quite long and we really couldn't wait to get out of the car, and stretch our legs a bit.
With our greatest surprise, when we did leave the car, we discovered an incredible belvedere terrace right behind where we had left the car. From here the view stretches to the far left of the Coast and to the far west towards Positano. Beautiful!
The sun had come out too, so our visit to Praino could finally begin. We turned towards the sign indicating San Luca's square, and after a very short tunnel, we found ourselves in a gorgeous small square surrounded by chalk white houses, terraces, beautiful plants, and a priceless view. In the square there was a group of local men, enjoying the sun and the quiet on the benches on on the square, they were joking among themselves, greeting tourists, and playfully telling of local children running around the square playing a very quiet football.
The first thought that came to mind was that it must be very nice as a child to grow up in such a safe, quiet and beautiful dimension, where everyone knows you and sort of keeps an eye on you, there are no cars or other threats of that sort, and you can just be free to run around and do what you want.Nice!
I had these thoughts in the space of crossing the square to reach San Luca's Church, which from the outside is very simple and really fits in with the quietness of the square, as a silent, benevolent presence, taking care of children and adults alike. Inside San Luca's Church there is quite a marked more contemporary intervention in the decoration, and at times, the beautiful simplicity of the façade is enriched (too much for my liking) with decorations and bright colours. For me, the most interesting detail of the Church were the majolica squares set in the floor, as I was told by locals, that these gorgeous majolicas were taken from the “leftovers” of another Church's refurbishment and placed in San Luca to save them. This story, and the strong decorations, as well as the atmosphere in the Church gave me the impression that this religious site is still very alive, and still plays an important role in the local community, besides being a tourist attraction.
Before going to the lower part of Praiano, we spent some time walking around San Luca's area, continuing our walk along a small road at the back of the church, crossing a beautiful 1500 votive shrine, and spotting some beautiful glimpses of the terraces of the surrounding villas. As we were starting to get hungry, we went back to the car, and decided to take it down, to avoiding having to walk up the hill again later on. This was a bit of a gamble, considering that we understood that there aren't that many parking spaces around Praiano, but once again we were quite lucky and managed to find a parking spot on the road leading down to the SS163. The sun had come out, and was shining nice and high above a restaurant terrace right above San Gennaro's square. So without taking too long to decide, we stopped here to have a focaccia and a salad, and especially to enjoy the gorgeous view on Positano, Li Galli islands, the sea, and San Gennaro's square. Lunch was quick and modest, with a very pro-tourist approach service, with complimentary sorbetto and liqueurs at the end of the meal.
Now we were ready to visit San Gennaro's Church and to go up and down the hundreds of steps of Praiano.
The early afternoon sunshine had really come unexpected, given the thick clouds of the morning and the storm of the day before, so there were quite a few people enjoying the nice heat lying down in San Gennaro's square benched wall.
We wanted to share the relaxed atmosphere and took sometime to rest after lunch on the square with the rest of the tourists. However Positano was waiting for us, and I still had to visit the Church, so after a few minutes I made my way into San Gennaro's Church
The most striking element of San Gennaro's Church is by far the majolica floor, with beautiful drawings of birds of the sun and other natural elements each with a symbolic value. I was also very astonished by the San Gennaro's relic's shrines, where the Saint's relics can be seen very clearly, exposed on the left of the altar. Here too the rest of the decoration is somewhat rich, and not of my favourite kind, but certainly very impressive.
Now we ventured down the steps leading to Praiano's beach, along la Via dell'Amore, among small alleyways, with sudden wild vegetation, perched along chalk white villas and beautiful hotels. Positano was calling, so turned to go back, and face the steps uphill, before giving up on our plan to see Positano too.
Once we reached Positano we had to spend sometime looking for good spot where to leave the car, close enough to the steps leading to the city centre, where cars are not allowed to enter. Indeed, there are good chances of parking in the furthest parts of the SS163, but as we had quite a tight schedule, we really did not want to spend part of our visit in Positanom walking along a road filled with cars, and large buses driving past. After a thorough search, we found our ideal spot, and quickly made our way to Positano city centre.
The sun was starting to slowly go down, so the light on Positano was truly magical, and walking down the road to the centre of town we enjoyed a painting like view on the colourful houses of the west part of Positano.
I was rather amazed by the quantity of hotels, bed&breakfasts and general tourist accommodations all along the streets of Positano. Clearly the town is now totally oriented to cater for all sort of tourist needs, but I must say that this sometimes seems to have deprived Positano of its authentic atmosphere. At the same time though the colourful shop windows really brighten up every corner of town. Fashion and clothing is undoubtedly still one of the core features of Positano, with a wide variety of shops, for all budgets and likings. Shop windows, are beautifully arranged and some of them really compel you to stop and admire them, almost like an attraction themselves. Actually in certain parts of the centre, you kind of feel on display too, as every detail around you is perfectly and very tastefully arranged, the plants, the road signs, the wisteria pergolas.
The eyes are constantly being lured and captivated by so many colours and glimmers, that after a bit I started getting a bit dizzy, and really needed to find an open space where to freely gaze into the horizon.
Finally we reached Santa Maria dell'Assunta's Church, where there is a small square opening towards the sea, to release all the pressure from the small and colourful alleyways.
Santa Maria dell'Assunta's Church you will have seen in any postcard of Positano, with the beautiful yellow, green and blue majolica dome. It dominates and protects Marina Grande, and the crowds of tourists enjoying their time on the beach at any time of day and night. Inside I was most impressed by the elaborate stuccos on the ceiling, and the large and mighty pipe organ, shining high above the entrance door. The Church is decorated with a rich yet beautiful game of colours, ranging from gold to green, that I really appreciated despite my inclination for simpler details. I guess that the talent for arranging colours and shapes in Positano concerns all aspects of life, not only fashion.
Before making our way back to Naples, we were really eager to spend some time on Marina Grandebeach. We stepped down the last staircase of the day, and had a nice walk along the beach. The sun at this time, was really staring to set, and as it usually happens, this moment of the day becomes almost inevitably very evocative. The bathing establishments that usually cater for the beach, were still mostly closed, so people were freely enjoying the last rays of sun, and kids happily playing on the sea shore, running away from waves. The atmosphere was really nice, and the crowdedness of the Positano's centre, magically dissolved, everyone became quieter and more at peace. It was a very enjoyable moment for all! To make the most of it, we decided to have a drink in one of the few open bars by the seafront.
Sitting here, sipping our drink we started to understand the fascination for this town, indeed even if you don't like crowds shops, and too touristy environments, there is something special around here, that will make anyone fall in love with this place.
When we finally made peace with our conflictual first impact with Positano, it was time to leave. Only to come back again, maybe for longer, to let Positano disclose more of its secrets to us.