Driftwood on an empty beach. Ripe lemons and mandarins like Chinese lanterns in the twilight. A sunset rake washed clean of summer impurities, gilding a church dome and illuminating a famous pyramid of houses that feature in a thousand Instagram posts. On this January day, however, almost nobody is there to see the beauty, let alone take a photograph. Down by the port, a line of little wooden ticket booths have been pulled up away from the shoreline, their promises of ferry rides to Capri and Amalfi seeming, in this ghost town, like something out of a dream. Later that night, after dinner, we realise why they were moved: the wind is whipping in from the south, and huge breakers foam up off the front of the quay like geysers.
Welcome to Positano in winter.
Between November and mid-March, the Amalfi Coast resort goes into hibernation, hunkering down until the bella stagione comes back around in spring. Hotels shutter up, restaurants become storerooms for tables, chairs and patio umbrellas, boutiques and craft shops cling on for a few weeks, or open only at weekends for the daytrippers from Naples. But Positano is far from empty, and far from inactive. The sound of hammering and drilling is everywhere: in this humid, maritime climate, wooden fixtures and fittings must be restored or replaced, walls need to be whitewashed, boats caulked and revarnished. Le Sirenuse is a hive of activity, buzzing with decorators, marble restorers, garden consultants and the winter staff at work in the back office, taking reservations and preparing the ground for the 2018 season, which is just two short months away.
Only three restaurants are open in the whole of Positano in the mid-January doldrums. They’re surprisingly well attended – but they have something of a captive audience, as not all positanesi want to eat at home for four straight months. Even the Latteria on Viale Pasitea – purveyor of panini and bottled water to generations of visitors – has taken to closing in the afternoon. Only the Delikatessen, the historic grocery store up a flight of steps just before Palazzo Murat on pedestrian Via dei Mulini, keeps regular hours. Locals call it ‘Palatone’ - nickname of the late owner, Luca Cinque. At lunchtime, workers in town for the cambio di stagione or seasonal overhaul come here for a lunch of simple pasta dishes and vegetable contorni, chosen from the array behind the deli counter and served in the bar downstairs, next door to the bank.
One day, returning from Praiano, we stop to give a lift to an elderly signora who waved us down as we approached (even the buses scale down at this time of year). She lives a mile or so down the road, she tells us as she arranges her shopping bags on the back seat. It seems easy to start talking about the weather – so we start talking about the weather, which hasn’t been great. She concurs, but adds a proviso: “Qui, comunque, esce il sole ogni giorno”. She’s right. However much it might rain or cloud over, the sun somehow manages to come out at least once every day. Long after we’ve said goodbye, the warm glow of her words lingers in the winter air of Positano, and we can scent the spring hatching in the damp earth.
Photos © Roberto Salomone