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Positano Christmas Adventure

Positano Christmas Adventure

By jsanty
Trip Plan Tags: 
arts + culture,
day trip,
family,
festival,
food,
new years,
shopping,
transportation,
wine
Destinations: 
Amalfi Coast,
Europe,
Italy,
Rome

Celebrating our Italian heritage, spending time with children and grandchildren, cooking, touring, having a great time.

ITEMS

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See + Do

Ancient Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

The Roman Empire was ruled from the Capitoline. Business was done in the Forum. Movers and shakers built grand homes on the Palatine. And the mob was entertained at the Colosseum. An unparalleled wealth of historical and artistic treasures clusters in a small area at the heart of the Eternal City. At the top of the cordonata (sloping road of steps) up from Piazza Venezia lies the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio, with a modern copy of a statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at its center. The first century A.D. original is now spectacularly displayed in a new wing of the Palazzo dei Conservatori—to your right as you enter the piazza—which also houses massive chunks of the ancient Temple of Capitoline Jupiter.

One of the world's oldest galleries, the Capitoline Museums (comprising the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo) host a worthwhile collection that ranges from some fine ancient Roman sculptures (check out the Dying Gaul in Palazzo Nuovo's Room 14) to canvases by the likes of Caravaggio and Velázquez (39-06-6710-2071; www.museicapitolini.org; Tues.–Sun. 9 am–8 pm). There is a breathtaking view over the Forum from the Tabularium, the ancient Roman archive building that joins the museum's two halves.

The Forum can be a bewildering jumble of masonry, but stroll along the Via Sacra—the ancient main drag—and up to the Palatine hill, which rises beyond. Here, the Horti Farnesiani gardens are a verdant haven, and the enormous dimensions of ruined imperial villas become easier to grasp (39-06-700-5469; daily 9 am–one hour before sunset).

Five thousand wild beasts were slaughtered during the Colosseum's inaugural party in A.D. 80. Nowadays, the battle is against fellow visitors, who pack into this monument in colossal numbers. (Note that tickets for the Palatine also cover the Colosseum and allow you to jump to the head of the interminable lines.) Climbing to the top is the only way truly to appreciate this feat of ancient engineering (39-06-3996-7700; daily 9 am–sunset).

Shop

Almost Corner Bookstore

45 Via del Moro, Trastevere
Rome 00153
Tel: 39 06 583 6942

It would be hard to imagine how owner Dermot O'Connell could squeeze even one more slim volume into this tiny, long-established English-language bookshop in a picture-pretty alley in Trastevere. But you'll find all the latest fiction titles here, plus a host of works on art, architecture, history, and archeology—everything you need, in fact, to appreciate Rome's treasures to the utmost. The shop's bulletin board is a mine of information for anyone seeking lodgings or work in the Eternal City.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 1:30 pm and 3:30 to 8 pm, Sundays 11 am to 1:30 pm and 3:30 to 8 pm.

Shop

Designers for Less, Italy

Rome, Italy

You've window-shopped along Via Condotti, your credit card has wilted, but your spirit's willing. So where do you turn? Rome's city center stock houses won't always have the outfit you're dreaming of, but a rifle through the rails at Il Discount dell'Alta Moda may turn up some heavily reduced Prada, Miu Miu, Gucci, or Roberto Cavalli. Gucci bags are the main draw at sister store Il Discount delle Firme, along with significant markdowns on Alberta Ferretti, Versace, and others. The discount is generally 50 percent, rising to 60–70 percent during sales.

Il Discount dell' Alta Moda
16A Via Gesù e Maria
Spanish Steps
Rome
00187
Tel: 39 06 361 3796

Il Discount Delle Firme
27 Via dei Serviti
Barberini
Rome
00187
Tel: 39 06 482 7790

$400 or more
Editor's Pick
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Hotel

Rome Cavalieri, Italy

101 Via Alberto Cadlolo, Monte Mario
Rome 00136, Italy
Tel: 800 445 8667 (toll-free), Tel: 39 06 3509 1
Email: reservations.rome@hilton.com
Website: www.romecavalieri.com

Recently dropping "Hilton" from its name as part of its Waldorf-Astoria Collection rebranding, this 1960s classic on lofty Monte Mario may be a fair hike from the sights (a 20-minute taxi ride to the Vatican, for instance), but there's regular shuttle-bus service, and the payback is the amazing view over the centro storico—plus the city's largest hotel pool, attached to a huge spa and fitness center. The 370 rooms are lushly decorated, all with balconies, and even the standard Deluxe doubles feel spacious. But for the full luxury experience, check into one of the 25 suites, or any of the Imperial Rooms on the top two floors; the latter feature more opulent decor, choicer fabrics, a dedicated Imperial Club bar and breakfast room, and even a separate elevator, which whisks guests straight up past the plebs—and as you'd expect, the penthouse is pretty spectacular, too, with some of the best views in the city. The owner, Angelo Guido Terruzzi, is an art collector, and many of his purchases are scattered around the hotel. They include a cycle of paintings by Tiepolo in the lobby, for which Terruzzi paid $8 million in May 2006. The eighth floor hosts La Pergola restaurant, fiefdom of German super-chef Heinz Beck.

Eating

Da Vincenzo, Italy

178 Viale Pasitea
Positano 84017, Italy
Tel: 39 089 875 128
Website: www.davincenzo.it

This historic family restaurant has long been one of the most reliable places in Positano for a good-value meal. Its location, about halfway up the near-vertical stack of houses on the west side of town, makes for a thigh-testing climb from the beach, but it's well worth the effort, as Da Vincenzo is much better than any of its waterside rivals. This is a serious family restaurant with affable waiters who know a thing or two about wine, and a real dedication to seasonal local cuisine. Though the secondi are good, most habitués go for a selection of antipasti—don't miss the skewered grilled octopus accompanied by crispy, deep-fried artichokes—followed by a pasta dish such as the delicious, herby linguine with anchovies and wild fennel, perhaps finishing up with a homemade dessert made by Mamma Marcella. The outside tables are strung along the road, but close encounters with buses, scooters, and strolling locals are all part of the Da Vincenzo buzz.

Open Wednesdays through Mondays 1 to 3 pm and 7 pm to midnight, November through April.

Eating

'a Paranza, Italy

2 Traversa Dragone
Atrani 84010, Italy
Tel: 39 089 871 840

Atrani is Amalfi's smaller and more modest next-door neighbor. One of its attractions is this ultra-authentic trattoria, which offers one of the best traditional seafood meals anywhere along this coast. All the tables are inside, but the thick walls and barrel-vaulted ceilings keep things cool except on the hottest days. There's no fancy stuff: The Proto brothers, who run the place, know that the best thing to do with a fish if it's fresh is to grill it, so secondi consist mostly of swordfish, or turbot, or pezzogna (spotted bream, a local variety) grilled to perfection. But many people never even get that far, distracted as they are by the abundant spread of antipasti (which might include lightly stewed baby octopus or zucchini flowers filled with sheep's cheese) and by tempting, succulent pasta dishes such as scialatielli 'a paranza (thick, handmade spaghetti with mussels, clams, prawns, and tomatoes). Service is informal but friendly, and the whole ambience feels grittily local.

Open daily July through mid-September; Wednesdays through Mondays end of September through June.

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See + Do

Amalfi Drive

The corniche road, Amalfi Drive, provides one of the world's hairiest and most scenic motoring experiences—veering vertiginously around the jagged edge of the Lattari Mountains, twisting and tunneling and hairpin-bending, providing vista after stunning vista of gorges, bridges, cliffs plunging vertically into the glassy Tyrrhenian Sea, and sudden improbable villages tucked picturesquely into the landscape. Of course, the designated driver will miss the scenery, being too busy concentrating on the white knuckles: John Steinbeck, who used to come here in the 1950s, claimed the Amalfi Drive was "carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side." From the east, the route begins in Salerno, a working port city with a Norman Duomo. Beyond the town of Vietri sul Mare, famous for its colorful ceramicware, the road skirts the imposing bulk of Monte dell'Avvocata, passing Cetara, a salty fishing town that represents the Amalfi Coast at its least touristy. After the low-key resorts of Maiori and Minori comes the historic town of Amalfi, the coast's unofficial capital. Worthwhile stops between Amalfi and Positano include the Vallone di Furore, pictured, a rare Mediterranean fjord, whose steep rock walls shelter an enclave of fishermen's houses and their tiny harbor; and Praiano, a pretty, low-key alternative to the glitz of Positano. West of Positano, the road enters its most spectacular stretch: The nine-mile Nastro Azzurro, which clings to the side of the cliffs as it climbs to Sant'Agata sui Due Golfi: From there, it's a steep descent down into Sorrento on the other side of the peninsula.

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See + Do

Positano, Italy

Positano, Italy

Clinging improbably to the near-vertical coast about halfway between Amalfi and Sorrento, Positano is the best-known resort of the Costiera Amalfitana. Achingly picturesque, with its tumble of pastel-hued houses ranged in stepped ranks like spectators in an amphitheater, the town specializes in promenaders' activities—shopping, eating, sipping, boat-hopping, and, especially, people-watching. The gray shingle beach is fine for a quick dip, but most serious sun-worshippers take one of the regular boats to and from a series of smaller coves along the coast. If you're driving, be warned that the whole town has a painfully slow one-way system that can take the best part of an hour to negotiate: Best advice, if you don't have the benefit of a hotel parking lot, is to leave the car at the first space you find (not an easy task in high season) and walk—or hop on one of the regular buses.

See + Do

Valle delle Ferriere, Italy

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Most visitors think of Amalfi as a seaside town—and it's true that the Republic's glory days in the early Middle Ages were founded on its maritime prowess. But to really understand the place, you need to run the souvenir-shop gauntlet of the main street, Via delle Cartiere, until you emerge in the quieter upper part of town. There, a series of abandoned paper mills bear witness to one of Amalfi's two "inland" trades—you can learn more about the history and technique of Amalfian paper-making at the Museo della Carta (24 Via delle Cartiere; www.museodellacarta.it). The other was the smelting of iron ore, which was brought from Elba or Puglia and carried up the valley by donkey convoy. Today, the Valle delle Ferriere, or "valley of the ironworks," is a protected nature reserve and an enchantingly cool, green spot even in the height of summer. Take a seat at one of the picnic tables surrounded by waterfalls and rock pools, rare species of orchid, and giant fern. A footpath leads to the hamlet of Pontone in around 90 minutes (www.valledelleferriere.com, Italian only). From here, a paved staircase provides an easy shortcut back down to Amalfi.

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See + Do

Ravello, Italy

Ravello, Italy

Perched high above the hustle and bustle of the seaside, peaceful Ravello has always been the gentleman scholar of the Amalfi Coast. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the town had a thriving mercantile community, but with the end of Amalfi's maritime supremacy, the town went into rapid decline, turning it into a crumbling, atmospheric medieval Pompeii. Rediscovered by 19th-century Grand Tourists, Ravello was adopted by artists, musicians, and writers. Wagner turned the romantic gardens of Villa Rufolo into the magic garden of Klingsor, the setting for Act II of his opera Parsifal, and D. H. Lawrence wrote parts of Lady Chatterley's Lover here. Later, Gore Vidal adopted Ravello as his home. Buses from Amalfi climb the hairpin bends of the narrow Dragone Valley and deposit their cargo just outside the underpass that leads into Ravello's main square. Founded in the 11th century, the Duomo contains two exquisite 13th-century pulpits, one with delightful mosaics of Jonah and the Whale. Nearby Villa Rufolo is a historical pastiche, artfully assembled from the surviving fragments of the original medieval structure by a Scottish nobleman who bought the place in 1851. It has magnificent views over the Bay of Maiori and Gulf of Salerno and heavenly gardens that host classical music concerts between April and October. The other must-see garden in Ravello is Villa Cimbrone, a 15-minute walk through the lanes of the old town, with its rose-flanked walks and Belvedere view, lined with classical statues. The main villa (now a hotel) was the love nest of Greta Garbo and conductor Leopold Stokowski in the 1930s.—Updated by Lee Marshall

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See + Do

Amalfi, Italy

Amalfi, Italy

Amalfi, the town that gives the coastline its name, lies about halfway between Sorrento and Salerno. Its name is derived from that of the nymph, Amalfi, loved by Hercules—legend has it that he buried her in the world's most beautiful spot after she died. Though it's entirely given up to tourism today, this was once a proud maritime republic, founded in the ninth century, which rivaled Genoa, Pisa, and Venice in stature and power. The bustling, café-lined port is served by hydrofoils to and from Salerno, Positano, and Capri, while the bus terminus on the quay offers road connections to Salerno, Ravello, Positano, and Sorrento. Buses to the latter two towns also pass by the upper entrance to the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a famous cave with 33-foot deep, crystal-clear waters that shimmer with emerald-green light thanks to an underground crevice. From the harbor area, pass under the Porta Marinara gate into Piazza del Duomo, pictured, Amalfi's open-air living room, which is dominated by the magnificent Duomo di Sant'Andrea. It's well worth scaling the steps to see the cathedral's splendid bronze door, cast in Constantinople in the 11th century, and its 13th-century Romanesque-Arabian cloisters, the aptly named Chiostro del Paradiso. You should also try to get away from the touristy main street into the narrow pedestrian streets above, which offer a glimpse of the town's unusual, Moorish-influenced vernacular architecture, with its whitewashed houses linked by arches and vaults—some of them so long that they turn certain lanes into tunnels.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.