Positano positives: Following in the footsteps of John Steinbeck in the picture perfect Italian coastal town
John Steinbeck said of Positano in 1953: ‘It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.’
Steinbeck paints so appealing a picture of the Italian coastal town that he might send people there in their droves, yet adds that his initial impulse had been to ‘conceal it’.
‘You think,’ he writes, ‘if I tell, it will be crowded with tourists and they will ruin it… There isn’t the slightest chance of this in Positano… There is no room.’
Enchanting: The cliffside Italian town of Positano that climbs up from the Med
Modern tourism has found a way to prove Steinbeck wrong: the streets of Positano are crammed with tourists.
But even the crowds that fill the streets – me and my husband included – can’t quite diminish the wonder we all felt as we strolled down jasmine-drooped staircases and past bars with tables covered with Aperol spritzes.
Following in the footsteps of Steinbeck, we had arrived at Le Sirenuse hotel after a long and winding car journey along the Amalfi Coast, from Naples airport and through Sorrento.
Peaky after experiencing the lunatic driving of the southern Italians, we emerged from the car into Le Sirenuse’s cool, palm-filled reception. A bell boy grappled with our cases as we explored the three floors of communal space, each of them cast with hand-painted, multi-coloured tiles.
Ceramics are a big deal in Positano – a nearby shop had piles of tiles, bowls and plates packed in bubble wrap, thousands of euros’ worth of products, which had been bought by visitors who were shipping them back to Texas, Russia and China at enormous expense.
At Le Sirenuse we were led to the dining room for lunch. The ceiling was alive with grape vines and tiny lights.
You don’t tend to look up so much as gaze out, though: the view of the beige, yellow, pink and red building facades crawling up the hills is one of the most beautiful in the world.
It’s punctuated by the Duomo Positano, and gives way to bobbing fishing boats from which you can hear the shouts of the fishermen and tour guides.
Steinbeck described Le Sirenuse, then newly converted from an old family house into a hotel, as ‘spotless and cool’. He adds: ‘Every room has its little balcony and looks out over the blue sea to the islands of the sirens from which those ladies sang so sweetly.’
The local fishermen claim you can still hear the mermaids singing, as described by Homer, whose legend said that there are three islands, now called Li Galli, facing Positano, which are the bodies of three sirens.
So cool: Le Sirenuse’s swimming pool is adorned with lemon trees and looks out over the sea
The story goes that they killed themselves because Odysseus escaped the trap of their song.We couldn’t hear the song from our balcony, but we did have a perfect view of Li Galli: sitting out there with a glass of aglianico wine marked some of our happiest memories of Positano.
The hotel lays on a lot of complimentary activities: exploring on foot with a guide, a boat trip along the Amalfi Coast (with bellinis prepared for you after you’ve had a dip in the Med), and early-morning Pilates are all included.
There are also wine-tasting sessions and cookery courses. The hotel’s La Sponda restaurant must be booked in advance for dinner and lunch, too, if you want to glimpse the view in all its daytime glory.
We ate burrata and tomatoes, calamari, lamb and tiramisu, drank red wine and felt as if life couldn’t get any better. Until we arrived for breakfast – there’s a prosecco trolley and four kinds of mozzarella.
The thing about Positano is while you’re experiencing it, you know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s not easy to get to by car and the hotel prices are high.
But it’s worth it – even if Steinbeck may not have approved.
Le Sirenuse offers a seven-night stay, including flights from Gatwick with British Airways and private transfers, from £2,290pp. Further information: Elegant Resorts Reservations (elegantresorts.co.uk, 01244 897294).
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