There’s possibly nowhere that does beach time quite like Italy. To me, visiting Italy in the summer without going to the beaches is totally missing out on everything that is summer in Italy. There are countless choices: locals-only locations like Forte Dei Marmi, international jet-setter scenes like Sardegna’s Costa Smeralda, and impossibly romantic spots like Portofino. But for old-school Italian glam (as in, Loren, Taylor), it's all about Positano.
When I lived in Italy, I'd spend every free summer weekend seaside, but it would often just be a quick jaunt to the nearest beach. Classic places like the Amalfi Coast are reserved for bigger vacations, even for Italians.
Positano is a place whose mere mention gets people all wanderlust-y as they picture the turquoise water, the cliffside town, the umbrella-clad beach, and some of the most postcard-perfect views anywhere. And the history—a laidback fishing town frequented by A-listers of days past—makes it that much more glam.
Positano has a reputation that very much proceeds it and the expectations get set seriously high. Despite a lot of tourists (many Americans) during the high season (summer months), it doesn’t disappoint. Whether you have a few hours or ten days, here are my tips for how to do the Amalfi Coast:
Stay Somewhere Spectacular
Positano is not the place to look for a deal. Sure, the right time of year, you might find something affordable, but it’s worth saving up so you can go all out. And, on this recent trip to Positano, we splurged. As in rented a storied villa—Torre Di Clavel—where Picasso and Depero (aka the artist who designed the original Campari label) used to hang. I could go on and on about Torre Di Clavel—how it is the only watch guard tower on the Amalfi Coast with a geometric architecture, thanks to the Egyptologist-owner; how there are secret passageways and underwater caves; or how chef Nicola and I would cook together everyday, be it a cinnamon ciambelle or eggplant Parm.
Even if you’re not staying in a villa, there are a hotel options that are just as jaw-dropping. Le Sirenuse is a luxury boutique hotel just small enough that it feels intimate but large enough that you have everything you need. On the other side of town is Villa Franca, a boutique hotel with a pool that has one of the best views in the city. For an intimate tea cup-sized boutique property that’s historic and gorgeous, head just a few minutes out of town to Villa Tre Ville. But the most renowned hotel in the area has to be the San Pietro with its cliffside elevator and private beach.
Explore The Town
The town of Positano is thoroughly Italian. Okay, yes, it’s shoulder-to-shoulder with tour groups during the day, but the locals are there too and they're super friendly. Wake up at sunrise to see the local fishermen come into dock with their catch; sidle up to the beachside cafes for a midday coffee; stroll the town at sunset to see the older generation arm-in-arm as they do the passeggiata; and make sure to look out for all the photo opps (which, btw, is pretty much around every corner).
Walk and Walk and Walk
Definitely schedule a morning walk sometime during your stay; the summer gets humid and hot, so you’ll want to do any serious walking before about 11 AM or you’ll be miserable. If you’re really motivated, look into the Hike Of The Gods trail that goes seemingly forever along the coastline; otherwise, just walking the town and its many stairs and winding streets is rewarding in itself.
Shop and Shop and Shop
Positano is known for having some of the best shopping on the Amalfi Coast, so take advantage, especially for treats like pottery, linen, and leather sandals. Skip the touristy shops with tchotchkes and head instead to local boutiques like Safari for handmade sandals, La Bottega di Brunella for luxe linen, and Emporio Sirenuse for chic resort wear.
Get In The Water
Positano’s main beach has a lively scene but to really get a feel for the local scene, you’ll want to head out on the water (where you’ll get spectacular views back on the town, by the way). Start your day off with a little exercise—a sea kayak or stand-up paddleboard down the coast are perfect ways to explore the various coves, caves, and beaches. And, FYI, you can rent anything from stand up boards to kayaks at Pupetto Café on Fornillo Beach.
And Hit Up The Beach Coves
The various beach coves up and down the coast are one of the major gems of Positano, so be sure to explore them. Some are little beach inlets where you can paddle up for a private swim while others (like the one at Torre Di Clavel) have full-on grottos. If you’re like me, you’re going to want a purpose to your paddling so head south to the cove that houses the Bagni Arienzo beach club. This quiet cove is the perfect place to sunbathe or to grab a Spritz.
Another must-visit cove is the one with arguably the best lunch spot around, Da Adolfo. Take a shuttle from the main beach and plan to spend the afternoon. Da Adolfo is a place where you eat whatever is freshest so trust in what the waiter recommends (the swordfish pasta, grilled anchovies, and lemon leaf mozzarella were all excellent).
Boat Around For A Day
If you’re staying in Positano for a few days, plan on doing one day in a boat. You can charter a boat at Lucibello (I used them repeatedly and highly recommend them) and they’ll take you wherever you want to go. Just wandering around in the boat for the day would be fun enough, but try to do lunch at Lo Scoglio. It’s a family-run joint on a deck halfway between Positano and Sorrento and the food never disappoints.
Day Trip To Capri
You could do Capri a lot of different ways. You could go and hang with all the cruise ship tours and be miserable. Or you could do it right.
And, one place to do it right is the beach club La Fontelina (which is so picteuresque, Gray shot it on his last trip). Honestly, I think I’ve been daydreaming about hanging it since I was last there—that’s how much I like this beach club nestled in the rocks. Yes, it’s not cheap. And, yes, you need a reservation a thousand years in advance, but the atmosphere, the view, and the whole experience is worth it.
But, even more important is that you head to Anacapri and go to La Gelsomina for a meal. I didn’t get there this trip but sent my family and they have not stopped talking about the pasta and the service.
Day Trip To Ravello
Another one of my favorite day trips from Positano is heading south to Amalfi and Ravello. There is a direct (20 minute) ferry to Amafii from Positano then it's a 15 minute (though pricey) cab up the hill to Ravello. I’m partial to the historic hillside town of Ravello where there is seemingly always an art or music event going on. I think some of the best views on the whole Amalfi Coast are at the Hotel Caruso, where you can have a cliffside lunch or just wander their gorgeous gardens. Also be sure to check out Villa Rufolo for live music, the grounds at Villa Cimbrone for incredible views, or head to Mamma Agata for cooking classes.
Eat The Regional Food (And Drink The Local Wine)
I don’t like to play favorites, but I gotta call a spade a spade and admit that this region has some of the best food in Italy. And, with classic dishes from here that use tons of tomatoes and eggplant—Caprese Salad, Pasta Alla Checca, Eggplant Parm, and Margherita Pizza—the food is especially on point in the summertime. The seafood is also exceptional here so be sure to order local tuna, anchovies, and calamari when you see them on the menu. And the local wine goes great with the food—my favorites were the whites made with Aglianico or Falnghina varietals.
Especially The Pizza and Pastries
For some of the best pastries, pizza, and coffee in Positano, you’ll want to head to the homey La Zagara. Grab a few slices theirr pizza (especially the zucchini with ricotta and the spicy salami) stop by the adjacent deli for some wine and a salad, and do an easy picnic lunch down by the water.
And Seek Out The Seafood
The seafood up and down the coast is some of the best you'll get in Italy, but, in Positano, some of the best we had was Le Sirenuse (see below), Da Adolfo (see above), Bar Bruno, and Next 2.
What Bar Bruno lacks in décor, it makes up for in its super fresh seafood. The restaurant is a bit more laidback than some of the other places in town, but still has good service and better food. Some of the bites I loved were the marinated seafood the Sorrento-style gnocchi and the Classic Caprese Salad.
While Bar Bruno is on the homey side of the Positano dining scene, Next 2 is on the chic side. The all-white restaurant has great service, a sophisticated scene that’s not too scene-y, and a creative menu that’s a mix of regional specialties and twists on classics.
Go For Aperitivo
Even if you don't stay at the swanky hotels, be sure to head there for drinks. Any of the hotels I mentioned above are great options for sunset drinks so you can't really go wrong. But if I had to choose, I'd say make a reservation at the Champagne & Oyster Bar at Le Sirenuse Hotel so you can sip on some bubbles and try seriously fresh local fish while the sun sets over the Mediterranean. Or, for a more intimate aperitivo, head to Villa Tre Ville—it’s a tea cup-sized boutique property that’s historic and gorgeous and the perfect place to watch sunset.
And Go Out At Least Once
Positano is more about long days and longer dinners, but there is a teeny bit of a night scene. For drinks under the stars, head to Franco’s, where I had one of the best Gin & Tonics I’ve ever had in Italy. If you want more of a scene, head to Music On The Rocks—even if the music is cheesy, you’ll still be on the cliffs of Positano so it can never be too bad!
Check out Sophie Elkus's advice on what to pack for the Amalfi Coast!
Photos by Chris Kalima and AIda Mollenkamp