My new favorite beach…

“This is my second favorite beach in the world,” proclaimed my friend Suzanne with a contented sigh. I didn’t ask her what her most favorite was. Mainly because I’d already decided that Spiaggia di Laurito was at the top of my list.

We found ourselves at this little paradise after a friend and Positano local asked me about our beach plans. When I said we planned to Fornillo, Positano’s small beach and my preferred spot, she scoffed. “No. You have to try Laurito.” Suzanne and I looked at each other, shrugged and agreed, why not? After convincing the shuttle boat to take us a half hour earlier than the next scheduled voyage, we were on our way for the 15 minute scenic trip to Laurito and Da Adolfo, the most favored beach side restaurant. We were greeted immediately from stepping off the boat and settled into sun lounges. (A happy fact: The daily rental for sun lounges is cheaper at Da Adolfo than Spiaggia Grande or Fornillo!)

Da Adolfo looks like a jammy little beach hut but in fact serves some of the best food in the area. Locals know that if they spend a day off at Da Adolfo they are in for a three-hour lunch extravagana. In addition to the obvious grilled whole fish, Salvatore serves up chef specials daily like eggplant parmigiana. Not what you would expect for a hot day in the sun, but surprisingly rich and satisfying.

On my second visit to Da Adolfo with my friend Antonio, I let him take the lead (as any wise woman would do) in ordering.  The result? Mozzarella on grilled lemon leaves, seafood salad, carpaccio, grilled whole fish – “The cheek is the tastiest part” – and white wine with sliced peaches. You can usually tell if I’ve had a particularly spectacular meal when there are nearly no photos to show for it – I was too busy wallowing in foodie bliss with morsels in each hand to be bothered taking pictures that would surely not do it justice.

With Laurito and Da Adolfo, you must have time for an all-day leisurely affair. The boats leave every half hour or so from Positano’s marina and there’s a hiatus between about 1 and 4pm for lunch. (Not a bad life for the boat skippers, I must say.) As the sun begins to disappear in this little cove, the last boats return to Positano around 6pm.

There is another restaurant/hotel on Laurito but no one seems to trouble themselves there – Da Adolfo steals the show. And rightly so.

Da Adolfo
Via Laurito, 40
Positano, Italy 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

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Una Buona Forchetta

At a dinner party in Positano, a friend’s four-year old daughter cleaned her plate of mozzarella and tomatoes, octopus salad and anchovies and asked her mother for more, twice, before the main course even came out. I was simultaneously impressed and charmed.  A girl of my own heart. I asked, “How do you say ‘good-eater’ in Italian?” “Una buona forchetta.” A good fork. Yes, I can certainly relate.

I often tell people that eating is my hobby. A far more poetic description is that for me, meals solidify memories. The most memorable meals of my life, I can tell you not only where I was, what I smelled and what I tasted, but who I met and how I felt.

So not surprising then that my life in travel revolves around food. 🙂  During my summer in Positano, I had the pleasure of adding to my restaurant recommendation list.

Il Ritrovo: After a beautiful hike on the Path of the Gods, we ended back in the main piazza at Montepertuso for a late lunch at Il Ritrovo. Chef Salvatore and his lovely brother Paolo made me feel right at home bringing me a glass of refreshing prosecco as I looked out to the ocean from our table on the terrace. I started with a beautiful grilled octopus recommended the chef and sampled a few of the sautéed local shrimp – to die for. Then Chef Salvatore surprised me with bruschetta and zucchini flowers (after saying they were my favourite) and for a main course sautéed mussels and clams. Fresh ingredients are the star here : On my most recent visit, Paolo convinced me to have a special pasta made with mushrooms he had gathered that day.  I don’t have a picture because I was too much immersed in bliss, savoring this creation to come up for air, but it was quite possibly the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had. I heard this sentiment echoed by a whole group at the table next to me. Il Ritrovo is about a 10 minute drive above Positano but like most restaurants in Montepertuso, it has a complimentary shuttle that will pick you up and drop you off if you make arrangements. It’s definitely worth getting out of Positano center for this gem.

La Sponda: Smack in the center of Positano at the famed Le Sirenuse hotel, is Michellen-starred La Sponda. Admittedly I was always intimidated of both the hotel and the restaurant on my early visits to Positano but I really had no need to be. I first visited the Champagne and Oyster Bar a couple of years ago and was surprised at how even in the most elegant atmosphere the staff put me at ease.  It’s the same in the restaurant as the maitre d’ welcomed me warmly and showed me to my table where sommelier Cristian greeted me with a visit from the champagne trolley.  The champagne, Jack Legras, was a creamy delight that was the most beautiful champagne I’ve ever tasted. Normally I would choose the tasting menu with wine pairings but I actually felt that it was too much food for me on that particular night so I chose to order a la carte and let Cristian choose wines to match each course. I had a lovely tuna starter, then pasta with fresh fish (again convinced by my server), John Dory with saffron sauce for a main and then finally the lemon soufflé with lemon granita. Every course was presented beautifully by the attentive staff and everything was tasty and fresh.  My one criticism is that the soufflé was a bit too eggy in texture for my liking, but otherwise tasty. La Sponda prides itself on the romantic atmosphere – lit by 400 candles nightly according to their website – and on this particular night when rain kept the outside dining terrace closed, it created an intimate glow. Now I did have some special treatment, my visit arranged by the sommelier himself, but I can attest that everyone is made to feel special at La Sponda. The staff doesn’t take for granted that a restaurant of this calibre and reputation is an occasion destination and they endeavour to make everyone have the once-in-a-lifetime memories every night.

Casa Mele: Opened in June 2014, Casa Mele is Positano’s newest culinary offering. Just off of the main road up from the Sponda bus stop, you’ll first notice the chalkboard painted pig greeting you at the entrance. The interior is clean-lined and modern with a few vintage touches like the floral lampshades arranged into a chandelier. There’s no sea view or terrace here, but Chef Raffra does one better with his sleek open kitchen and huge window so you can watch all of the action. I went with three other diners on my visit so we were able to share and sample a range of dishes.  To start, we were treated to a little cheese with peppers and tomatoes. Then it was on to the seafood salad and fresh grilled vegetables.  A seafood risotto followed. For a main, I had a beautifully cooked seabass while my friends shared the seafood soup. You can’t usually go wrong with seafood on the Amalfi Coast as its freshness lends itself to simple preparations which allow the ingredients to shine. Chef Raffra elevates even the simplest ingredients with attention to flavor combinations and elegant preparations. For dessert, I chose my favourite delizia al limone, a local lemon cake which Chef Raffa serves in a kind of deconstructed version of light cake layered with lemon crème. I find that most restaurants in Positano, while skilled at savory selections, struggle with desserts – the exceptions being the tiramisu at Da Vincenzo and basically everything at Casa e Bottega.  But Chef Raffra excels in his inventive takes on regional classics. Bravo, indeed.

Il Ritrovo
Via Montepertuso, 77
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-812005

La Sponda
Via S. Sebastiano, 2
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-875066

Casa Mele
Via G. Marconi, 76
84017 Positano, Italy
Phone: (+39) 089-811364

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”

Is it any wonder that an Italian said this? And not just any Italian, but Galileo Galilei. Because wine would make stargazing a lot more interesting, I expect. 😉

Having lived in Sonoma County, California, I’ve been on a few wine tastings. But a wine tour? I wasn’t exactly sure what a wine tour even entailed until meeting Positano native and professional sommelier Cristian Fusco. The idea is not simply fork over a few dollars to swirl, sniff, sip and spit, but to completely immerse yourself in the vintner’s world from cultivation through production to consumption.  And at Swirl the Glass, a tour culminates with a tasting experience including the art of complimenting wine with food.

On a recent trip to the Amalfi Coast, I joined Cristian on a tour to boutique winery Tenuta San Francesco in Tramonti. Just a 45 minute drive outside of Amalfi, we began our journey wandering through the vines themselves while Cristian discussed the benefits of pergola cultivation, the weather and seasons dictating the conditions of a great wine, and the requirements for DOCG and DOC wines in Italy. Cristian also discussed the lack of synthetic irrigation and the necessity of dry soil to produce a complex and flavorful wine. This concept harkened me back to one of my favorite quotes from the movie “Bottle Shock” (a fabulous film telling the story behind the famous 1976 Judgement in Paris):  “‘A comfortable grape, a well-watered well-fertilized grape grows into a lazy ingredient of lousy wine.’ ‘So through hardship comes enlightenment.'”

After meandering in the vines, we came inside the winery building for a look at the modest if only in size, not in technology, fermentation room before admiring the beautiful French and Austrian oak barrels in the cellar. Cristian’s explanations were not overly technical but instead explained the life cycle of a great wine, which only built my thirst to try some. 🙂

Cristian conducted the tasting over a superb homemade lunch cooked for us in the winery kitchen and served at a communal table with a huge open window overlooking the vines. We started with Tenuta San Francesco’s Spumante, or sparkling white wine, “Alta Costa”. The crisp white “Tramonti Bianco” accompanied our first course of panzanella (Italian bread salad with fresh tomatoes), fior di latte mozzarella and ricotta. Our pasta course was a local specialty, gnocchi alla Sorrentina, served with the lovely “4 Spine” or “four thorns” red. Finally, it was roasted chicken with Mediterranean vegetables served with the “E Iss” – “This is it” in Neapolitan dialect – red made from just one grape varietal found only in the Tramonti region. For dolce, a tiny tiramisu-like custard cake.

My favorite part of the Swirl the Glass experience was this delicious lunch, clearly made with love by the women of Tenuta San Francesco, accompanied by great wine and conversation with fellow travelers. That day, I shared the table with an Australian journalist living in Dubai, her mother who lived in Indonesia, a couple from Dublin, and another couple from Brisbane. Our afternoon was luxurious and unhurried and was conducive to our understanding and enjoyment of the wine.

Cristian’s gift is not only his passion and knowledge for wine, but the way he makes it accessible to even a wine novice like myself.  My friend Emily once said, when describing her knowledge of Italian wines, “I know about prosecco. And when I say I know about it, I mean I know I like to drink it.” Cristian whole-heartedly agrees with this sentiment. For him, Swirl the Glass experiences facilitate the most important factor to any wine tasting – knowing what you like and enjoying it. Salute to that!

Swirl the Glass
phone: (+39) 329.42.19.392
email: info@swirltheglass.com 
www.swirltheglass.com

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

First a detox and then some dolce at Casa e Bottega

Seeing as I’ve been at Casa e Bottega nearly every day since arriving in Positano, it’s about time I wrote the glowing review it’s due. 🙂

Just walking into this calming little oasis, you can already tell it’s going to be a refreshing change from much of the standard fare in town. Half design shop, half café, there are only a few tables but my favorite place to sit is at the bar to watch Tanina, Rosalia and the rest of the lovely ladies prepare the light and delicious dishes to order. Tanina prides herself on sourcing the best local and organic ingredients and as a result, all of the food is incredibly fresh and flavorful.

Start with a detox water with lemon and mint and the amazing “sole liquido” or “liquid sun” smoothie, a combination of spinach, green apple, kiwi and lemon. Next choose from one of the huge salads either on the menu or the special salad of the day. The Casa e Bottega salad with tuna and avocado is a winner. I added chicken to a special salad with apple, beetroot and strawberries.

For aperitivo, the selection of charcuterie and cheese is delicious and satisfying. The platter comes with bruschetta made the way only the Amalfi Coast can make it, with pomodorini or cherry tomatoes so sweet they taste like candy.

And after all the healthy goodness, you can feel a little less guilty indulging in Tania’s incredible desserts.  My favorite is the Delizia al Limone, a lemon cake traditional to this region, but Casa e Bottega’s version was more like a layered profiterole topped with lemon curd and cream. Light and luxurious at the same time.  The ingredients are the star here, so even the cakes have a bit less sugar than you’d get anywhere else.

If the food weren’t reason enough to make this a standby for your breakfast or lunch in Positano, the lovely ladies of Casa e Bottega will make you feel at home immediately.  Tanina is a well-known restaurateur in town, with her more formal dining option, Next2, set in the hill on the Fornillo side of town. Watching her at work is like watching a dance, and you can see how much pride she takes in her business and the customer experience.

Grazie per tutto (tutti i giorni), belle ragazze! 🙂

Casa e Bottega
Via Pasitea 100 
84017 Positano 
+39 089 875225

Open for breakfast and lunch. Closed Tuesdays. 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

 

Positano Favorites: Mediterraneo

“You be careful,” the English woman scolded, looking at me nervously. “You’re just the kind that these Italian boys love.”  “Don’t worry,” I replied. “They’re my friends. They’re taking care of me not hitting on me.”

I understand her concern given that when I arrive at Mediterraneo I often feel like I am disturbing the other diners with our antics. At this point, I’m hesitant to even call myself a customer at Mediterraneo; they are my little local crew.  I usually end up having multiple meals here and definitely drop by as well for a coffee or a drink.

The Esposito family owns the restaurant so their son, Lorenzo, is usually the first face you’ll see. And if you don’t see him, you’ll most certainly hear him, either singing along with Pietro Rainone, the regular musician, or shouting orders back to the kitchen and bar.

I dream in zucchini flowers and Mediterraneo has the best, so be sure to start your meal with those.  The mussels are also so fresh and flavorful, they are a standby as well.  The seafood risotto is a favorite and you can’t really go wrong with any seafood from this area.

Most people I meet at Mediterraneo return at least once during their trip to Positano, and I have no doubt you’ll see why when you visit for yourself.  Even if you start with a quiet, romantic meal, I’m sure you’ll get drawn into the atmosphere quickly and be singing along with Pietro or greeting fellow travellers at the next table.

Say hello to Enzo, Lorenzo, Rodrigo, Antonio, Salvatore, Diego and the rest of the crew and tell them Lorenzo’s “cugina” says ciao!

Mediterraneo
Via Pasitea, 236/238
Positano, Italia
+39 (0) 89-8122828

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Positano Favorites: Le Tre Sorelle

“This isn’t mine,” I said confused as Paolo placed what seemed to be a giant calzone the size of a dinner plate in front of me. “Are you sure?” he said with a mischievous grin. “Look inside!” I peeped under a paper-thin layer of bread and my lasagne was nestled inside. Call me crazy, but I think the best presents are those that are edible. 😉

The wonderful staff (and my friends!) at Le Tre Sorelle always have little surprises like these to brighten my visit to Positano.  Usually, the meal starts with an amuse bouche of a heart-shaped pizza dough pocket filled with mozzarella and tomato and a little glass of prosecco. And the meal always ends for me with Paolo’s homemade limoncello.

After six years of visiting Le Tre Sorelle, my favourite waiter Gaetano knows my order by heart: For antipasto, the caprese salad made with cherry tomatoes.  For the main course, the fresh fish (ideally red snapper) cooked in the oven with potatoes, cherry tomatoes and capers. And washed down with my favourite wine from Campania, Taurasi from the Aglianico grape.  On this visit, my travel companion Becky chose the octopus salad with potatoes. Warm and tender, if you thought you didn’t like octopus in the past, you’d be wrong after trying this. And for main course, Becky chose the ugly to look at but decadent monkfish.

Situated right on the Spiaggia Grande in Positano, Le Tre Sorelle is a beacon of quality amongst what appears to be a tourist-trap dining scene. They take pride in their fresh seafood and will happily show you the selection and make a recommendation (like a sommelier for fish) before you choose your meal. They present it to you again when it’s cooked. Then again when it’s de-boned and ready to enjoy.

Service is paramount here and you can count on Gaetano, Paolo, Luigi and the rest of the Le Tre Sorelle family to make your lunch or dinner here truly spectacular. I look forward to my time here on every visit. 🙂

Le Tre Sorelle
Via Del Brigantino, 27/29
Positano, Italia
+39(0)89-875452

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Positano Favorites: Apertivo at Le Sirenuse

It was the most perfect prosecco pour I’ve ever seen.  Served table side, the manager confidently and expertly poured my prosecco from a fresh bottle until it bubbled to a perfect foamy dome on my Riedel glass.  All that was left to do was cheer, “Salute!”

Le Sirenuse is the most famous and iconic hotel in Positano and to be perfectly honest, it always intimated me a bit. But two years ago I was visiting Positano on a solo trip and I decided to embrace decadence and brave Le Sirenuse for apertivo. While admittedly elegant, the approachable and comfortable atmosphere throughout surprised me.  Great service is paramount here and you can tell that Le Sirenuse prides itself on it’s welcoming reputation.

The restaurant, bar and pool all share Le Sirenuse’s large terrace, and own some of the most spectacular and unspoiled views of Positano’s tiled duomo. It’s a great treat to sip a cocktail here while watching the sunset. Unhurried, you could sit for hours and still be catered to by the caring staff.  During the afternoon, you’re bound to share the terrace with sunbathers at the pool, so if you’re squeamish about that, save your visit for later in the evening.  At the bar, your cocktail is served with complimentary juicy green olives and warmed marcona almonds.  This has become my apertivo ritual before heading down to dinner at my favourite beach side restaurant, Le Tre Sorelle.

Thank you, Le Sirenuse, for a memorable experience every visit!

Le Sirenuse
Via Cristoforo Colombo, 30
84017
Positano, Italia
+39 (0) 89-875066

http://www.sirenuse.it/en/13/deafult.aspx

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Honorary Mayor of Positano

“We saw you down in the street kissing a handsome guy hello,”  said one of my new American friends.  “Well, that was a friend of mine,” I laughed in reply.  “After all, I’m basically the mayor of this town.”

A couple of days earlier, I met said Americans while waiting in line for the SITA bus from Sorrento to Positano.  English-speakers flock to each other when traveling I’ve found, so it’s not surprising that two couples from Kansas City heard me talking to my friend Becky while waiting for the bus and decided to strike up conversation. First it was to ask me if they were getting on the correct bus.  This being my sixth trip to Positano in as many years, I confidently gave them directions and chatted a bit about the town. Then when I asked them where they were staying in Positano, they told me, “We have to go to the Mediterranean restaurant and ask for Lorenzo.”  I rolled my eyes and started laughing, and they looked understandably shocked when I said, “Lorenzo’s my friend. I’ll take you there.”

Positano itself has less than 4,000 residents which is about twice the size of my high school, except that instead of four years together, the residents here have more often than not spent their entire lives together. Everyone knows everyone, and if you visit as often as I have, everyone knows you too.  Which in all honestly is why I love it so much.  When I arrived to my Pensione Casa Guadagno, the lovely Vanda greeted me in Italian telling me how good it was to see me again and how happy I looked.  And when I went to my standard Mediterraneo for dinner, my friend Antonio hugged me tight, saying, “Welcome home.”

Positano is a bit of a resort town, often depicted in movies like “Only You”, “Under the Tuscan Sun”, and “Nine” because of its idyllic landscape and views. And while I love a little taste of luxury, like apertivo at the bar at the iconic Le Sirenuse hotel, I find this town much more wholesome and authentic in its every day and spend much of my time there living like a local. Incidentally, I find traveling this way leads to the best adventures and stories, right Emily and Becky?!?!? 😉

This time, I planned my trip around the Festa del Pesce, Positano’s annual fish festival held on the Fornillo beach.  For five Euro you can choose a plate of fresh seafood prepared by the local vendors. There’s live music, dancing and fireworks to round out the evening before the young folk head to the town’s one and only club, Music on the Rocks. After scarfing some fried fish washed down with crisp Nastro Azzuro, Becky and I decided to check out the band.  It was as if every little nonna and nonno in town decided to go dancing that night.  Our favourite was a little signora clapping her castanets and dancing for hours at the very front of the stage.  She saw us swaying on the side, grabbed Becky’s hand, and pulled us out to dance with her.  Becky described it best the next morning, “It’s as if they are saying, ‘This is our town and we love it here!’ They want to show it off.” And living in a place like this, why wouldn’t they?

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2013.

Positano Perfection

It’s just as wonderful as the last time I was there. 🙂  I am struggling with anything else to write in this post because that’s pretty much it. 🙂

But, as that does not make good blog reading, I’ll say that I did try a new place in Positano, the bar at Le Sirenuse hotel.  It’s probably the most famous hotel in Positano, where the fancy and monied stay, and features prominently in the movie that introduced me to this heavenly little town, “Only You.”  The drinks are definitely spendy, but worth it when you factor in that you also get served dishes of beautiful plump green olives and warm, salted marcona almonds while taking in the most spectacular views.  I went back two nights in a row. 🙂

I also visited my favorite restaurants, Le Tre Sorelle and Mediterraneo, as well as the little Latteria up the hill near my hotel that makes the most amazing and huge panino with tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto for about 4 Euro. My favorite shop is Profumi di Positano, up the hill from Le Sirenuse, which makes lovely fragrances and lotions.  I stocked up with plenty for me and gifts for my friends.

I think it’s essential while I live in Europe to visit Positano at least once a year, though I’m already thinking about when I can visit again in the Spring. 🙂

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2011.

Non Vedo l’Ora

Before we left for Italy, my Italian-speaking friend introduced me to a new phrase, “Non vedo l’ora,” meaning “I can’t wait to see you.”  That perfectly sums up how I feel about Italy and the friends I’ve met there.  I can’t wait to see them, and almost as soon as I board the plane home, I can’t wait to go back.

Fortunately, Giovanna and I visited some familiar favorites for me in Positano, Sorrento and Rome.  We practically made a nuisance of ourselves at Mediterraneo and were treated like princesses at Le Tre Sorelle.  The wonderful Vanda and Annalisa at the charming Pensione Casa Guadagno truly treated us like family.

We visited some places for the first time as well and I’m happy to update Good Traveler Karma with the fruits of this labor.  A very special thanks to Pietro and Jennifer at Taverna Allegra in Sorrento.  Go visit Pietro for a delicious and entertaining dinner when you’re in Sorrento and support his musical talent and buy one of his CDs.

It was a truly memorable experience traveling with someone who speaks Italian fluently.  While I’m friendly by nature and always seem to meet people when I travel, having more of an insight into the language and culture of this country I love so much really defined the experience. 

When I visit Italy I try to do my best to exemplify the Italian mindset of living each moment as it comes.  This was one of the first vacations that I actually felt relaxed and satisfied throughout.  We slept, sunned and swam, ate, drank and flirted.  It was only when I boarded the plane home that I started to think about life back in New York.  I was truly sad to leave Italy and I miss it now that I’m home.  I’m ever more convinced that a life of an American ex-pat awaits me.  🙂

Special thanks to the people who truly made our trip once in a lifetime:

Vanda, Annalisa and the famiglia Guadagno; Enzo, Lorenzo and the entire Mediterraneo/Saraceno d’Oro family; Luigi and Giovanna at Le Tre Sorelle; Pietro and Jennifer at Taverna Allegra; Giorgio and the staff at La Piccola Maison; Giampy and team at Alitalia. 🙂  Grazie mille, amici!  Non vedo l’ora.