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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#onemonthinItaly was just the beginning…

I’m convinced that in order to deserve spending now the vast majority of my summer in Italy, I must have rescued puppies from drowning in a previous life. I can’t just be lucky, right?

After a purely magical month of May in Positano (with a quick stop in Rome in the middle), I was back in Italy for most of July.  First, it was Franciacorta and Lago d’Iseo for my friend Giovanna’s wedding, back to Verona for the Opera Festival, then back to Positano. Because, again, the puppies.

The great thing about my summer in Italy is that it’s been a wonderful combination of new experiences and old favorites. So, dear reader, you’re in a for a treat: A series of posts about my favorite place on earth!

Starting with #onemonthinItaly in review – my month in Positano!

Positano is easy navigable by its two bus stops: Chiesa Nuova (at the top of town where the bus drops you off in front of Bar Internazionale) and Sponda (on the other side just up from Li Galli bar). In between there’s a one way road which winds through town, culminating at Piazza Mulini. I rented a gorgeous apartamentino in the Liparlati area of Positano, just a 10 minute hike up steep stairs from the center of town between Piazza Mulini and Sponda. I had a teensy Juliet balcony with French doors that opened on to blooming bourganvilla with a sea view and within chiming range of three churches. So you know, a shack really. 😉

I quickly got acquainted with my local market and vegetable shop. My friend Luigi drove me up to the fish market at the top of town, where Nicola and the crew expertly cleaned and filleted my fish for me, because I of course could not be trusted with such a feat of culinary expertise. But while I was self-sufficient as I could be, I soon found that working from home every day meant that social interaction over meals every day was essential. And so, a normal day looked like this:

  • 9am: Wake up, get ready, check some emails.
  • 10:30am: Walk down to Collina for a cappuccino and cornetto.
  • 11am: A quick little passegiata on the main beach.
  • 12pm: Back up to the apartment on the local bus to continue working.
  • 2pm: Lunch at home. My favorite: Clams sautéed with garlic and cherry tomatoes.
  • 4pm: A little rest at home or on the beach.
  • 5pm: More work until Italian dinner time.
  • 9pm: Back down to town for dinner, then drinks with friends.  If I had an earlier day and could finish around 7 or 8pm, I threw a little aperitivo in there for good measure.

I have a little collection of friends in Positano since I’ve visited once a year since 2007, but what a treat to meet i miei nuovi amici! There was always someone at the bar having an espresso or at La Brezza having a beer and I was always welcomed to join in. I thought I might get bored in this town of 4,000 people over the course of the month, but I settled in quite naturally to the slower pace of life complimented by the buzz of the social nature – what’s not to love about saying “Ciao!” to five or ten people on your walk to town?!

And because I wasn’t cramming my visit into four days and therefore only having time for my favorite restaurants – Le Tre Sorelle and Mediterraneo – I was able to try a whole host of new, both to me and in general, eateries. Tanina’s healthy fare and delectable sweets at Casa e Bottega was a multiple times per week occurrence.

More to come on the foodie adventures, but first, actual adventures! With all of this time in Positano, I knew I would make the compulsory trips to Sorrento, Amalfi and Ravello, but I also wanted to try some new things as well.

First it was off to Praiano, Positano’s sister town just a short 15 minute bus ride from Mulini. I rode the bus all the way to the top of town to take in the breathtaking views, then walked back down to the Chiesa San Gennaro with it’s majestic mosaic piazza overlooking the sea with Positano in the distance.  I visited on a Sunday so several of the shops and eateries were closed, and I didn’t make it down to One Fire Beach so I don’t feel that I experienced the best of Praiano, but that’s something to look forward to on the next trip! 🙂

My lovely friend Suzanne came to visit mid-month and as we sat over breakfast at Casa e Bottega, we got a recommendation to forgo Positano’s main beach and even the more low-key Fornillo, and head to Laurito.  This tiny beach is a 15 minute (free!) boat ride away from Positano’s boat dock – just look for the boat with the red fish sign for Da Adolfo, one of two restaurants on the beach.  You hop off unceremoniously from the boat and within seconds are ensconced in a sun lounge. Lunch is at the spectacularly tasty Da Adolfo which is nearly always packed.  It’s a bit comical really as tables are full at Da Adolfo and empty at the neighboring Le Sirene.  On my first visit, we stuck to chef Sergio’s special eggplant parmagiana which was creamy, cheesy and surprisingly satisfying for a hot day in the sun. When I went back with my friend Antonio, a Positano native now living in Milan, the spread was decidedly more of a celebration of local specialties: mozzarella on grilled lemon leaves, carpaccio, seafood salad, grilled local fish and white wine with peaches. With Laurito, boats start running at midday, stop between about 1:30 and 4 for lunch, then return to Positano between about 4 and 6pm.  Be careful on the weekends as this little oasis gets busy and you may be in for a let down if you don’t make a reservation for a sun chair or lunch.

Throughout my month in Positano I’d been asking around for a guide to take me to hike the Path of the Gods, renowned for the bird’s eye views of Positano. A friend offered to take me in lieu of an official guide the Monday of my last week, offering a much needed physical exertion after a few weeks of delicious food and gelato. We started from his home village of Montepertuso, about 10 minutes drive up from the top of Positano, hiked for over an hour toward Nocelle, then turned around and came back, where we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the incredible Il Ritrovo, just on Montepertuso’s main piazza.

Finally, on my very last full day, my friend Alberto picked me up for the drive to Praiano’s Praia marina, where he guided me on a private sea kayak tour to Laurito and back. It was my first time in a kayak, and after I got the hang of how to steer myself (and push myself off rocks when steering failed me, let’s be honest), we weaved through some spectacular little caves, waved to yachts and earned our 11am beer at Da Adolfo. The trip back to Praia was a bit rough due to wind and rolling seas, so poor Alberto had to tow me most of the way. I’m shocked really that he had the patience and energy to share a yummy lunch with me at Da Armandino (oh dear lord the lemon risotto with shrimp!) before driving me back to Positano.

The best thing about my new experiences in Positano is that I shared them with old and new friends! Thank you to Lorenzo, Luigi, Fanny, Suzanne, Antonio, Cristian and Alberto for making my month truly magical!

 

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Nostra Terrazza della Coppa di Vino

When we first discovered our little terrace at the end of Via Fieschi in Corniglia, we were the only people there. That’s probably why we had no shame in drinking red wine from licked-clean gelato cups. (Who are we kidding, we would do that anyway.)

There were a few more people this time and we were glad we classed it up a little with a bottle of prosecco and proper cups, but it was still as beautiful.  Corniglia’s main drag ends at this terrace with its spectacular views so I suppose it’s impossible to miss it, but it still surprised us.  It’s certainly a popular place to watch the sun set, but when dusk falls, it gets remarkably quiet. Becky and I made it a point to stay until the people thinned out and it was just us and the local cats enjoying the view.  It’s a must for us in Corniglia after our obligatory perusal at the fabulous Fanny Bazar ceramic shop (yes, that’s the real name). Really, this little terrace is a piece of paradise in Cinque Terre. We haven’t yet befriended the little nonna who lives in the last house before the terrace, but I’m convinced one day she’ll invite us in for dinner.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

I’m on a boat! To Portovenere…

We stood in a single file line on a staircase against the rocks watching the boat come into Riomaggiore.  There was no dock to disembark from, but a small metal gangplank which bucked precariously on the waves. The boarding process was an impressive dance with a careful rhythm: wait until the waves calm for a quick instant, then dart on the boat fast as you can. This went on for 20 minutes or so as the crowd on the steps waited anxiously.

After the boarding excitement, it was a warm, breezy but exceedingly pleasant ride to Portovenere, another one of the Italian Riviera towns Liguria is known for. Our journey to Portovenere included a bonus tour of the surrounding small islands, so we stayed aboard for the scenic ride.

Back in Portovenere, I gained more appreciation for the Cinque Terre’s rustic beauty.  While lovely, Portovenere is just another tourist town in my eyes. We had some focaccia and beer as part of our focaccia sampling mission and shopped for olive oil before refreshing ourselves with a gelato and prosecco in the town’s main piazza.  I think the best part of the day for us was simply being on the boat on a warm day and seeing Riomaggiore, Manarola, Vernazza and Corniglia from the water as we returned to Cinque Terre. If you have limited time in Cinque Terre, stick to the five towns and pass on Portovenere.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Cinque Terre Oasis: Buranco Winery

“Don’t come here. It’s terrible. And crowded…Just kidding, it’s heaven.” This was Becky’s caption as she posted a photo of Buranco Winery and I couldn’t agree more.

On the morning of her birthday, I found Becky sitting in the window of her room in our little Riomaggiore flat looking at the ocean. While I got ready for our day, Becky went to our favorite focacceria Te La Do Io La Merenda, and picked up some focaccia for breakfast on our terrace.  Fortified for the day, we headed out on the train to Monterosso, the largest of the five Cinque Terre towns, to locate Buranco Winery.

It turns out the vineyard wasn’t too hard to find, just a quick walk uphill from the center of town.  A cheerfully painted wine barrel greeted us at the entrance, and when we walked in, we saw the main house and a spacious patio looking over to the valley below and the vines on the hill above. When we arrived, there were only two other people visiting the winery: an American couple who departed shortly after we were served our first glass of the tasting. After that, it was just Becky and I soaking up the sun, looking out over the vines, and enjoying a generous wine flight and little plate of complimentary bruschetta. We then decided to sample Buranco’s olive oil and honey, and finally, one more glass of wine as we watched paragliders soar over the Ligurian hillside. The local wine was lovely, but instead of a bottle of red, I had to take home what turned out to be a very large bottle of grassy olive oil.  Well worth it to add the extra weight to my suitcase.

All told I think we were at Buranco a grand total of four blissful hours. The great thing was that the helpful staff had no interest in ushering us off – they were quite happy to have us visit as long as we wanted. And as a result, we really didn’t want to leave!  Becky and I really couldn’t believe our luck to have this incredibly beautiful place all to ourselves – such a great birthday present for Becky!  Buranco is also an agriturismo – a local inn on site of a working farm – and if the service for a tasting is any indication, I’m sure it’s a welcoming place to stay. I will have to try it on my next visit!

As the afternoon wore on, we decided it was probably best we continue Becky’s birthday in Manarola, as we wanted to have dinner at the home of the tastiest pesto we found on our last trip, Trattoria Il Porticciolo.  This was the point at which we decided it would be a great idea to take a boat to Manarola as opposed to the train. And this is when we ended up hitching a ride on a boat to Vernazza instead, refreshing ourselves with gelato at the other fabulous Il Porticciolo, the best gelateria in Vernazza. After a lovely afternoon in Vernazza, we made it to Manarola, only to find that Il Porticciolo was closed. We enjoyed the “magic hour” and sunset in Manarola, maybe the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre towns, before heading back to Riomaggiore. Dinner was at another of our favorite spots from the last trip, Veciu Muin, for a trio of spaghetti. Tasty and reasonably priced, this place is no frills but good quality, and easy stumbling distance from our Riomaggiore apartment.

I think it would be hard to have a bad day in Cinque Terre, but this was a pretty incredible day, to say the least. 🙂 Grazie, famiglia Buranco!

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2014.

Paradiso Rustico

Sometimes you just need to crash someone else’s vacation.  And enable them to drink heavily.  And calm them down when you miss the last train back to your town…

GoodTravelerKarma readers know that I am completely fascinated by Positano in Italy’s Amalfi Coast.  I have a beautiful picture I took of Positano on my computer desktop and I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked, “Is that the Cinque Terre?”  and then gone out to tell me a story about this beautiful place.  Both of these idyllic destinations lie on Italy’s western coast, one south and one north respectively, and are built into the hillsides.  When I found out via the power of social networking that my best friend from college’s sister, Becky, was heading to Italy and Cinque Terre, I had to invite myself along to see them.

Cinque Terre is part of what is often referred to as the Italian Riviera, the jewel of which is Portofino.  We didn’t make it to see the glitterati in Portofino but we did explore all five towns in the Cinque Terre, a much more rustic and humble place than the Amalfi Coast that lives in my heart.

“Cinque Terre” means “Five Lands” and the region is actually a national park encompassing the five towns and the surrounding hiking trails.  In years past, most tourists to the region hiked the trail that connects all five towns: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Tragically, on October 25, 2011, floods and landslides devastated the two largest towns, Monterosso al Mare and Vernazza, after days of torrential rain.  The trails are now closed between Corniglia and Monterosso and the towns are busy rebuilding.  When we visited at the end of April, there was still a lot of work left in both towns, Vernazza in particular.  But this is a hardy region and one that I have no doubt will come back from tragedy.  A tribute to the spirit of this beautiful place is the art that now covers so many of the boarded doors of business, pensiones and apartments in Vernazza’s main drag.  There were two restaurants open when we were there and a gelateria with the most incredible cinnamon gelato I’ve ever tasted.  To find out more about the region and how you can support the rebuilding effort, visit http://savevernazza.com/.

Becky and I stayed in Riomaggiore, at the opposite end from Monterosso, in a little apartment run by the fabulous Ugo.  Our favorite feature was the tiny bathtub that we affectionately called “the birdbath.”  Needless to say, after a few days in the birdbath, the power showers at our chic hotel in Milano enthralled us. 🙂

One day as we explored Corniglia, the smallest of the five towns with a population of only about 300, we discovered the epitome of paradise. At the end of the main drag of the town, there was a huge terrace with a panoramic view of the sea.  We sat, drank red wine from gelato cups and watched the sun go down until we again had to hike it back to the station to catch the last train to Riomaggiore. 

That was the night we did make it back.  The last night, we weren’t so lucky… or maybe we were. 🙂   More on that later.

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© Jennifer Konopasek and GoodTravelerKarma, 2012.