Positano Town and Dining Recap

Hotel: Villa Franca

The main draw to Villa Franca is its location up and away from the hectic tourist bustle of the Marina Grande beach. The hotel is situated at the top of the “vertical village” of Positano, and offers spectacular views of the town and the sea below from its rooms’ terraces, its dining areas, and especially its panoramic rooftop pool. Aside from being a potential home base for various day trips around the Amalfi coast, there isn’t a lot to do in Positano besides eat, drink and enjoy the surrounding beauty, and we found Villa Franca to be a luxurious option for that.

Its positioning away from the beach necessitates an atmosphere that can be enjoyed independently, and luckily we were able to spend many hours simply enjoying the pool, our terrace and the hotel lobby. If the atmosphere of the hotel itself was any less enjoyable, it could potentially be a problem, as getting down to the beach can be a bit of an ordeal, especially with a stroller. The hotel does offer shuttle service to and from a spot in the city center, but not always promptly and not at the most convenient times. Perhaps the greatest help that the hotel provided was talking me out of taking the ferry from Salerno to Positano (which would have been impossible) and ponying up for a €120 private transfer instead, which was well worth the money for the convenience. While we enjoyed our stay here very much, it came not without its fair share of kinks.

0426_PositanoRoomView

The good: For a reasonable €220 a night, we enjoyed a lovely (if small) room with a beautiful balcony overlooking the sea and the Fornillo Beach (Above). We kept the doors wide open every night and fell asleep to the sound of the waves crashing into the rocks below. The room itself is very up to date and the flat screen TV offers several hundred digital channels- my wife was even able to find Nickelodean Jr. in Italian, which kept our son occupied. In terms of amenities, the spa and workout facility provided a bit more leisure than our previous experience in Montalcino, and were decent enough considering that Positano is again, a very small town. Included in the rate is a full scale breakfast including bacon and eggs, pizza, fruit, pastries and coffee that was well worth taking advantage of, and in a couple of cases resulted in us not needing anything for lunch. The lobby, bar and restaurant area are all elegantly appointed and offer lovely scenic views of the hotel’s incredible surroundings. One particular bartender, Mateo, was one of the friendliest people we came across during our entire trip. But, as mentioned before, the real draw for this place is the amazing rooftop pool. (Below). We were lucky enough to have a few very warm days with which to enjoy it. I entered the pool on two occasions and took our son swimming for the first time in his life. I can only hope he wasn’t turned off from swimming altogether, as the pool temperature was approaching what I like to refer to as “Lake Michigan Cold.”

0426_PositanoPool

The bad: While the overall ambiance of the hotel lends comfort and relaxation and tends to overcome its less than ideal position relative to the city, the dining options leave much to be desired (which makes taking advantage of breakfast and loading up even more important). The fine dining establishment is not family friendly and appeared incredibly overpriced relative to even some of the better restaurants in the area, while the pool bar bordered on absurdity (€18 for a sandwich of lox on wonderbread, €16 for a well done burger sloppily presented, €7 for a beer).

This wouldn’t normally be a problem except for the combination of the fact that the staff doesn’t seem to be incredibly helpful in terms of assisting with more suitable dining options and that the town itself is quite difficult to navigate without said assistance. When I tried to confirm a reservation at Donna Rosa for dinner the morning of, I was informed by the lady at the desk that they can confirm our reservation but that the restaurant no longer offered a shuttle service to and from its premises. Since the place was a good distance away and I didn’t really want to deal with cabs after dark, this was a dealbreaker for me, so we made other plans, only to learn later that the shuttle did indeed come to pick us up. Unfortunately we were not there. When I tried to reschedule the reservation, the restaurant was understandably upset and refused to come to pick us up again, so we did not get to dine there. This was a major communication breakdown at the front desk.

It was also interesting to me, given that the staff could clearly see that we were traveling with a baby in a stroller, that every time I asked for directions anywhere, the answer always involved stairs. Indeed, the shortest route from Point A to Point B usually results from climbing up and down the town’s steep stair systems that create a straight line between points. However, did it not ever occur to them that I might be willing to take a slightly longer route in order to save myself the fatigue and moderate danger of climbing up and down hundreds of stairs with a baby and a stroller? I kid you not, it took me the full five days we were there to discover that by simply winding around down the single street the hotel was on, we could get all the way down to the beach. Perhaps that is on me, but I definitely got the feeling that the staff was actively attempting to dissuade me from leaving the hotel.

Another incredibly bizarre aspect of a hotel this seemingly luxurious was their general attitude towards the consumption of outside beverages anywhere on the premises. I can understand opposition to drinking my own wine at the bar or at the pool, but to go out of their way to make it difficult for me to drink bottles of wine I had bought in Italy on the comfort of my terrace that I was paying handsomely for left a bad taste in my mouth. First of all, there was no corkscrew in our room. I was told it should be in the mini-bar, and when I informed the front desk that it was not, no one ever came to my room to provide one. I was subjected to bringing my bottles down to the bar, one by one on a nightly basis, to Mateo, who happily opened them for me free of charge. Worse yet was when the lady at the desk informed me that I had to use the “plastic glasses” in the room to drink my wine and that I could not bring actual glassware there as it was “too dangerous for them.”

Too dangerous for YOU? Did something get lost in translation there? Look lady. I’ve got four bottles of Brunello that I just brought down here from Tuscany. I’m not drinking them out of a freaking plastic cup. You can bet after I ordered a glass of wine at the bar that night that I took the empty glass upstairs and kept it safely hidden for the duration of my stay. And that’s just silly. It shouldn’t be that way at a resort on this level of otherwise very high quality.

Town:

I think I can safely say that I’ve never seen anything quite like Positano. In terms of terrain, it’s most similar to the villages of the Cinque Terre on the northeastern coast of the country, with its steep cliffs and colorful houses hanging off the edges. But the Cinque Terre towns are quiet and peaceful. We were shocked at how busy, even before the high season, the roads in Positano were.

In terms of pure beauty, Positano probably has the edge on the Cinque Terre towns just by nature of its pure grandeur. The cliffs are steeper, the views higher elevated, the encompassing areas more vast. It takes on an especially unique beauty at dusk (Below). The town seemed bigger and livelier than I had expected. Winding down to the beach, you find more sets of stairs leading to boutique shops and the only three ATM machines in the entire town. We even killed some time at a little cafe called Bar Mulino Verde and received very friendly service while we waited for our shuttle. The Marina Grande Beach area itself is full of little bars and restaurants that always appeared packed whenever we went down there. The beaches are a bit dirty and look painful to lay on, with crushed rock rather than fine sand, but that isn’t atypical compared to a lot of what we’ve seen in Europe on the coast, and shouldn’t be surprising considering how rugged the terrain here is. The Marina Grande is linked to the Fornillo Beach by a convenient ramp that is worth hiking up at least once.

0427_Gabrisa3

Due to the overall difficulty of getting all the way down to the beach, we never rode the ferry boats and opted instead to catch the SITA bus for our daytrip to Ravello (I was again told to go up the stairs, but instead took about a five minute winding uphill walk on the road). To say this was an experience would be an understatement. When the bus comes, the people waiting to get on rush towards the open doors in a frantic attempt to attain a seat while demonstrating a reckless disregard for humanity. We were lucky enough to attain a seat (I think a few people helped us because they saw we were with a young child), but the bus was packed with travelers forced to stand who hovered over us. It was difficult to enjoy the lovely views that this drive offered, but we did our best as it took 90 minutes to travel from Positano to Amalfi to catch another bus to Ravello. The return trip was even more daunting, as there isn’t really a bus “stop” in Amalfi, but instead globs of people surrounding random buses trying to guess which one they need to board. I nearly suffocated attempting to get on.

Even so, I don’t regret making the trip there. Ravello is truly one of the prettiest places that I have ever seen in my life. The lively square and and authentic cobblestone streets only add to the intrigue of this tiny town perched hundreds of meters above the sea. There are two main garden attractions in Ravello, the Villa Rufolo, which is conveniently situated right on the square, and the Villa Cimbrone, which requires a bit more of an uphill hike, but is not to be missed, especially after making the considerable effort to get there. From this high vantage point, I found most striking the relative calm of the water below. Besides possibly Santorini, Greece, I’ve never seen anything like it. Like that island, this is a place I could see coming to later in life just to relax for a week or so. –

0428_VillaRufolo1

0428_VillaCimbrone4

Food:

Since the breakfast at Villa Franca was so substantial, we ended up having only five sit down meals during our time in Positano. Each one had its own unique, generally amazing view, and unlike many tourist towns, these places didn’t use their view as an excuse to serve subpar food. Every meal we had was exceptional. Since we were eating while looking at the water, I reverted to my general rule of seafood and white wine, a dramatic shift from my dining style while in Tuscany.

Pupetto

After walking down to the Marina Grande Beach, we took a ramp up about 400m to Fornillo Beach and over to the Hotel Pupetto. We received very friendly service here and enjoyed a table right on the beach, where the sound of the waves crashing into the sand served as the soundtrack for our meal (Below).

0426_Pupetto2

We shared an appetizer of Fritto Misto, or fresh fried fish, which included squid, prawns and a local fish that tasted to me like sardines (Below). It was evident from the flavor that it was remarkably fresh, probably caught that morning.

0426_Pupetto3

For my main course, I enjoyed a large dish of spaghetti con vongole (clams), simply seasoned with tomatoes and herbs (Below). This dish is pretty straightforward but isn’t flashy by nature, but was quite substantial for the price.

0426_Pupetto1

Villa Gabrisa

We stumbled upon this hotel restaurant when wandering around down the hill from our hotel, and made a point to head back to it on one of our open nights. The unique positioning of its outdoor dining area sits looking over a massive cliff down to the sea below, and also offers a spectacular view of the hills to the east (Below). We were served by the daughter of the hotel’s owners and she was very friendly to us.

0427_Gabrisa

Since the combination of the table and the view were so perfect, we decided to go for it all here, and ordered a large appetizer spread of bruschetta and calamari, followed by fresh cod (which came with the head still attached, Below), sea bass with green olives garnished with orange (Below), and lemon pound cake, a specialty of the region. This was among the very best meals we had in all of Italy, and we enjoyed a bottle of local white wine that paired perfectly with the food, as well as the sunset.

0427_Gabrisa1

0427_Gabrisa2

Da Salvatore

On our third day on the Amalfi Coast, we took the aforementioned SITA bus ride to Ravello, and ended up at this magnificent lunch spot upon our arrival. For all the great dining views we had while staying in Positano, this one probably topped them all (Below).

0428_DaSalvatore

The menu at this restaurant is bursting with imagination and innovative dishes. I only wish that we could have had full blown dinner here as so many of the options interested me. If I ever make it back to Ravello, which I hope to do someday, you can be this place will be at the top of my list. I ordered a single course, the ricotta gnocchi in orange peel with walnuts next to veal cheek braised in red wine (Below). The gnocchi, having been made from from cheese rather than potatoes, was remarkably soft yet rich, and the contrasts of other flavors resulted in one of the more exciting dishes I tasted on this trip.

0428_DaSalvatore1

La Pergola

Looking for a family friendly spot among the restaurants that line the Marina Grande Beach following our long day trip to Positano, we landed upon this spot after a brief amount of deliberation. We spotted a table right on the boardwalk, and the friendly servers didn’t seem to mind as our son ran all around the restaurant. I decided to keep it simple since we’d had a long day, and just ordered a single course of seafood risotto , which was simply enormous.

0428_Dinner

Da Vincenzo

For our final dinner, I saved the best for last. Situated down the winding street of Ville Pasitea, Da Vincenzo offers outdoor tables with a fantastic vantage point overlooking the hills to the east (Below). This ended up being our most expensive meal of the entire trip, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Positano.

0429_DaVincenzoView

For a first course, I tried the highly recommended homemade ravioli with ricotta, sweet cherry, tomato and fresh basil (Below). The sauce created by the local tomato and basil was simply stunning. We wiped up the leftover sauce with our bread and were in awe of the flavors.

0429_DaVincenzo1

For my main course, I was going to order a simple grilled sea bass, but I let the waiter talk me into getting the parmesan encrusted sea bass for a 5 Euro upcharge. He was so insistent and friendly about it, like he wanted to make sure I was getting the best possible dish for my last meal on the Amalfi Coast, so I certainly wasn’t going to quabble over a slightly higher expense. Bring it on. And I was so glad I did. The presentation alone (Below) was simply beyond words. I also really enjoyed the addition of orange slices to sea bass in particular, as this was the second time in Positano that I recieved this presentaion. This is definitely something I will be trying at home this summer, as it is in stark contrast to the typical lemon or lime garnish that I am accustomed to with fish in general. Yum.

0429_DaVincenzo2

And so it ended, my dream trip to Italy, a trip that I planned for over half a decade with countless rewrites of itineraties, hotels, restaurants and traveling strategies. In the end, we kept it as simple as we could have, spending the bulk of our time in the two vastly different cities of Montalcino and Positano. Having our nearly two year old son with us certainly presented its challenges at times, but it is something that we will always remember as a family, and in all honesty, there wasn’t a single thing on my list of things to do on this trip that we didn’t end up doing. Interestingly, this was the longest vacation I have taken (14 days) since after I graduated college in 2002 and I backpacked across Europe (15 days) with my best friend before I moved to Chicago and entered the real world. All things considered, this trip was perfect. Now, if I can just get an IU Hoops NCAA Basketball Title and a Cubs World Series win, I can die a happy man…after a few more trips back to Italy, of course.

Explore posts in the same categories: Eats

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s