Postcard from Positano
The shining jewel of Amalfi Coast in Italy – Positano is a picture-perfect destination, exotically located between Sorrento and Salermo, with Capri only a short distance away
You can't hasten through Positano. Nor can you sprint through any part of Amalfi Coast, located in southern Italy – be it Sorrento, Salerno, Capri or Positano. Once you are off Naples, the coastline plays havoc with your emotions. Miles together, the beauty of the undulating coastal landscape leaves you enthralled. Clear blue water kissing gentle white breakers, gulls flocking in groups, drifting white clouds – absolutely intoxicating. No, you cannot race through any of these destinations. You must arrive with enough time and be prepared to write a postcard every day.
There are two types of fast trains from Rome to Naples. The state-owned national rail Trenitalia, and Italotreno run by a second railway company. We bought tickets on Italo online. At Roma termini, the announcement of departure came only 10 minutes before the scheduled boarding time. And, before we could finish a cup of coffee and short nap on board, we were in Naples! Garibaldi station at Naples Rail Terminus is one level below and tickets to Sorrento can be purchased here and further at a tobacconist. Though the train is shabby and slow, the beauty in motion outside the window more than compensates for the mild discomfort.
After Rome, a cosmopolitan, tourist-infested city, the train journey from Naples to Sorrento is refreshingly local in flavour. After many small one minute stops, came Pompeii. A group of tourists got off to see the ruins, desperately clutching umbrellas and cameras together while stepping into the drizzle. The train was nearly empty now. At the far end of the compartment, two men in their forties were talking animatedly. One of them noticed that we were listening to their conversation and asked, "India?" I nodded. "Not many Indians come to Amalfi Coast, you will like it," said the one with the dark glass and an Italian cap. I said, it is my second visit to Naples, though I have not gone beyond. Conversations are easy to initiate, offering you gentle welcome and warmth.
Sorrento railway station and the city have nothing in common. The shabby station gave way to a beautifully manicured city, which unfolded as we drove to our hotel in a Mercedes van, driven by a middle-aged soft-spoken Italian driver, happy to introduce us to his resident town. Our hotel on Via Capo was on the edge of the cliff, allowing a spectacular view of the Gulf of Naples. Without wasting any time, we walked our way to the ferry station to take a boat to the Island of Capri. At Capri, harbour buses leave every half-an-hour to Anacapri, the top of the mountain. Anacapri allows a breathtaking view of the gulf. You can sit in a restaurant by the cliff, order some white wine and nibble at the olives in the freshly prepared salad. From atop the cliff, boats to Blue Grotto and around the island looked like tiny toys, leaving trails of white spume behind them.
By evening, the weather had cleared and we were back to Sorrento by the last ferry. As we walked down the quaint streets of Sorrento's popular square, we were sure that we have not experienced anything as pretty as this little town. Buildings and shops complement each other in architecture, aesthetics and design. Locals are tourist-friendly, always ready to guide you around. Sparkling clean roads are filled with high net worth European and American tourists, who spend a good amount of time in the city, soaking in the good weather that they so dearly miss back home during autumn. Sorrento has everything to offer – a beautiful coastline with an active harbour, pretty apartment blocks, a majestic square with cosy shops and restaurants, departmental stores and big shopping malls, art galleries and up-market hotels.
We took a bus from Sorrento to Positano that fits 16 passengers. Smaller vehicles though also manoeuver well through narrow winding roads adjoining the coastline. On one side of the road is the rocky mountain while on the other side is a sharp drop of 1,000 meters into the Tyrrhenian Sea. As the bus takes sharp turns, you see villas perched at the top of the rocky mountain. Most of these are owned by celebrities, either Italian or Hollywood movie stars or millionaires from Europe. Occasionally, there are shops selling fruits and juices by the road. You can park and pick up something to cool off while enjoying the magnificent view of the coast. Far away, on the right, was a small island with a large villa. The guide pointed out and informed that this was once owned by Jacqueline Onassis, widow of the famous Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Jacqueline died of cancer in 1994.
Half way to Positano is the town of Amalfi, after which the entire coast has been named. We stopped by for a sandwich and coffee. The panoramic view of the city from the pier, with twin rocky mountains as the backdrop, is a photographer's delight. We took a short boat trip to see the expanse of Amalfi coast and the city. On the far left, as you face the beautiful city, is the famous villa of Italian film artist Sophia Loren, gifted to her by her husband Carlo Ponti. The steps from the sea go right up to the villa and also offer a gliding lift to take guests who do not want to walk up.
As you approach Positano, along the way are shops with scooters parked outside. Once off the bus, you walk down the narrow by-lanes of the picture postcard town. Shops along the lane are among the prettiest you will see anywhere in the world. Clothes, laces, hats, art galleries – all retail outlets lined up one after the other to entice you. We took the lane that takes you to the church and then finally to the beach. Positano has a black sand beach, created from the volcanic ashes of Vesuvius among others. We walked all the way to the water and then turned around to see the picture postcard town. The first thing that strikes you in the multi-coloured dome of the church. The colours of the houses perched on the mountain vary from white to light yellow to yellow to light pink to dark pink and to end with deep red. All of it together appears like a patch work of watercolour creatively arranged by an artist. So beautiful and breathtaking – you cannot take your eyes away; you will wonder about who perceived the idea of this settlement on a mountain which looks so unreal.
At the day's end, we checked into a small boutique hotel where our room had a tiny but pretty balcony, overlooking the vast expanse of Tyrrhenian Sea. Wrought iron table and chairs were laid out for guests to soak in the beauty and tranquility complementing the view.
After a day full of hectic activities, we finally settled down, stretched our tired legs, ordered some tea and looked ahead into the horizon. From the hotel terrace, atop the hill, the sea looked calm and boats static, as if the world just stopped still. The silence around was overpowering, lending a sense of emptiness, a vacuum that you don't want to escape from.