We fly into Naples on a clear Spring morning and have a private transfer organised to Positano. We number five, as our group has split for 3 days to explore other places. We drive past the silent spectre of Mt Vesuvius. It looms – and I feel quite strange. All my life I have wondered about the legend of this powerful volcano. We drive past the Pompeii ruins and I feel my little girl’s heart lurch. I have wanted to visit Pompeii since I was a child. We will get there at some stage over the next five days.
We descend into Positano and we are told we will have to walk down to our hotel at the beach. Porters with little motorised carts will take our suitcases for 5 euro a piece. We can’t be bothered taking anything but our handbags. The luggage is piled on. We follow the little cobbled street down to the hotel, Buca di Bacco which is almost directly on the beach. It has a beautiful terrace overlooking the water. The staff are amazing here and our favourites are tall Luigi and short Luigi.
Short Luigi asks us where we are from. We say, near Melbourne. He says, ‘Where? Near Sorrento, Rye or Frankston?’ We all laugh. No, three hours west, near Hamilton – how do you know FRANKSTON, for heaven’s sake? He smiles. ‘I follow girl to Sydney and live there. I love it. I want to go back. I know Melbourne.’
Positano is a tangle of shops and buildings grazing the cliffside in rather chaotic fashion around a small cove with sand the colour of granite. The difference between Australian beaches and here couldn’t be more obvious. I wonder what some of these Italians would think if they saw our vast stretches of pale sand? But there is an unmistakable charm with a collection of boats and orange and yellow umbrellas on the shoreline.
There are Americans everywhere. I think it so strange that we watch a lot of American television and the accent is familiar – but when placed in an environment like this, pitched against the musical Italian it sounds almost absurd. I guess we must sound like that, too.
Our best meal here is at a restaurant called Max. It doesn’t have a view, but the restaurant is like stepping into an understated and well appointed Italian villa. Paintings of Venetian scenes and mirrors and modern portraits in elaborate gilt frames grace the walls. There is a large marble bust of Julius Caesar and a serious, frowning one of Marc Anthony. There is a pocket, containing a little library, candlelit antique tables and padded dining chairs. The is a vast glass cabinet filled with sparkling wine glasses. The food is exquisite and one of the best on the trip. I have a seafood risotto, which is beautifully cooked and not too large….we all just say out loud…The stock! What incredible flavour!
We in fact go back, when the other girls rejoin us – and all choose other dishes. Fiona is is direct line with grumpy Marc Anthony – and in the only way an Australian can, she hops up and shunts him around so he is turned away.
The maitre’d doesn’t seemangry and says, ‘I am sorry for Marc Anthony,’ Fiona replies, ‘I can’t look at him. He’s staring straight at me.’ The waiter replies, ‘He is silent. That’s good for a man, yes?’
We make a day trip to a mountain village called Ravello via a ferry to Amalfi and a crowded bus up the mountain. I don’t look. It’s like going on the Mad Mouse ride at the Melbourne Show. The driver seems to drive straight to the edge of the cliff and at the last minute swings the wheel. Once we arrive, SJ and I immediately spy the shady garden and building of the Villa Rufolo and pay our 5 euro to enter the exquisite grounds. There is a medieval tower, which is unfortunately closed, but the various terraces have breathtaking views over the Amalfi coastline and church-like cloisters we are able to wander through. There’s also a gallery inside the villa with beautifully plastered pale pink and white ceilings. I’m a little disappointed that the rooms are not set up as they would have been, if the family had still been in residence. The villa had been restored by a Scot, Francis Neville Reid, in the early 20th century, who is responsible for saving the wealthy Rufolo family’s home.
We meet the others at a little restaurant, recommended by Amanda Tabberer in her book. It’s tucked down a little side lane. We eat a good meal but then we are ripped off about 20 euro by the nona owner. We can’t be bothered arguing.
There are some incredible hotels here – including some recommended by Conde Nast. We arrange a private transfer back, eschewing the crowded bus, and we have a fabulous driver who points out seaside villas belonging to Sophia Loren and the 5000 euro a day villa that Russell Crowe rented. ‘You know that Australian actor, who was Gladiator?’ He explains.
We pass tiny fishing villages in protected coves way below us, before being dropped back into the Positano hub.