09.01.2021. Best of the Coast
The Amalfi Coast is full of insider secrets. Positano itself has plenty, from the handsome upper district of Liparlati to Le Sirenuse’s site-specific contemporary art collection. But there’s one Amalfi Coast insider secret that is a whole town: Praiano.
Praiano is the first place of any size that you come to as you head along the winding coastal corniche from Positano towards Amalfi. Topographically, it’s Positano in reverse. Whereas ‘Posi’ is shaped like an irregular Roman theatre, hugging the scoop formed by two steep-sided valleys and the rocky spur that divides them, Praiano is a wedge, draping itself on either side of the hill that plunges into the sea at Capo Sottile.
So distinct in aspect is the western part, which looks towards Positano, that it even has a different name, Vettica Maggiore, though these days it’s considered to be a frazione of Praiano rather than a separate town. In mid-December, they don’t see the sun in Vettica until around 10am, but they get to enjoy some stunning sunsets over Capri. Both parts of town are a joy to explore. There’s very little tourism here and few hotels, and the whole place is dotted with kitchen gardens and orchards.
Praiano should be explored on foot. Begin at the parish church of San Gennaro, just below the main road, and follow the pedestrian lane of Via Masa and then Via Gavitella all the way down to famous One Fire Beach (338 350 8555), a lido whose jaunty orange ombrelloni and sunbeds are arranged on a concrete platform just above the rocky beach. After a rest and maybe a swim, head towards the quiet upper part of town, which clusters around the mother church of San Luca. From the westernmost edge of the settlement, a long flight of steps leads up in just under an hour (depending on your fitness level) to the isolated convent of San Domenico, situated in a breathtaking position with views down the coast. If you continue to climb from here – on a rocky path best tackled in proper trekking footwear – you soon reach the Path of the Gods and the house of goatherd Antonio Milo.
The Luminaria di San Domenico is an annual four-day town festival that culminates a dawn procession to San Domenico on the first Sunday in August and fireworks later that evening. Meanwhile, the piazza in front of San Gennaro is illuminated by 3,000 candles while a light show is projected on the church façade. If you’re on the Amalfi Coast at this time of year, it’s not to be missed.
As you walk through Praiano, you’ll notice a series of ceramic works of art embedded in the walls lining the paths. These are part of a project called NaturArte, which has turned Praiano into an open-air museum. There are eight routes, each one displaying the work of one of the region’s leading ceramic artists, each one exploring a theme that tap into the culture and folklore of the Amalfi Coast. Among these are the playful anchovies, octopuses and other sea creatures of Lucio Liguori, whose work is often showcased at the Emporio Sirenuse stores in Positano, and Enzo Caruso’s vivid Janare panels – le janare being witches that are said to emerge at night and take possession of fishing boats. More ceramic art is on show, and on sale, in the delightful atelier of artist and poet Paolo Sandulli (339 440 1008), located in a romantically-sited watchtower, Torre Asciola, not far from legendary dolce vita nightclub L’Africana.
Praiano has some great places to eat. Down on the main road, family-run La Brace (089 874 226) is an enduring classic, with simple pasta dishes like paccheri with mixed seafood, good grilled fish and excellent wood-oven pizzas, all served on a panoramic terrace. Also in the lower part of town, just below the main road, Il Pino (089 813 004) does creative things with fresh local ingredients – as for example in the scialatielli pasta with clams, zucchini pesto and walnuts – and the service is super-friendly. In the high part of town, head for Kasai (089 874 108), a chic place with pavement tables and a cute bohemian-rustic interior, where a young crew dish up plates like stuffed peppers (a family recipe, not to be missed), tagliolini with truffles and a good range of fishy and meaty mains. For a sunset aperitivo, you can’t do better than Café Mirante (366 171 8593) on the path down to One Fire Beach, a friendly, breezy bar with an al fresco terrace and amazing views, where they do a mean mojito.
Photos © Roberto Salomone except Praiano Wall Poem & Liguori Tuna/Anchovies © Lee Marshall