"Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone." - John Steinbeck
Steinbeck wrote of Positano in a Harper's Bazaar article published in May 1953 and nearly 65 years later, the town remains mostly the same - the same houses still sit nestled into the hillside, the incredibly blue-green water still laps at the pebbled beach, and there is still only one narrow street to bring you down the mountain. Le Sirenuse remains one of the most famous hotels in this small Italian coastal town, where linen and sandal shops can still be found in abundance throughout the narrow alleys, only accessible by steep and winding stairs. The iconic orange and yellow umbrellas that have become synonymous with Positano line the beach along the bay, however the swimsuits have definitely gotten smaller since Steinbeck's visit, with both men and women leaving little to the imagination. Some restaurants have come and gone, catering to the tourists that now throng to the most famous of the Amalfi Coast towns, however the atmosphere and energy of Positano recalls a bygone era of classic glamour, a place that as Steinbeck said, doesn't seem quite real.
Although I only stayed two nights, it was just long enough to become completely enamored by the dream-like place but short enough to leave me wanting more, knowing I'll return again. Part of the magic can hands down be attributed to the warm welcome and beautiful views I woke up to each morning while staying at Hostel Brikette. As the only hostel in Positano, choice of affordable accommodation is limited; Hostel Brikette delivers however, with dorms, ensuites, and private rooms available. Although a room during high season will be nearly double the cost of accommodation that can be found in nearby Sorrento, it's worth at least one or two nights in Positano if only to watch the sunset from their balcony, while enjoying a glass of wine or three (at fantastic happy hour prices) with new friends. The hostel also offers healthy, made-to-order breakfast options, including egg white omelets and fresh juices, at an additional but reasonable cost. Perfectly located, it's just a quick ride down the road to the heart of town on Positano's local bus, with tickets costing just €1.60, purchased directly from the bus driver or ahead of time from a tabacchi shop.
As soon as you hop off the bus, you'll find yourself immediately surrounded by linen, lemoncello, and tourists. No longer the exclusive seaside hideaway of the rich and famous, crowds are unavoidable the majority of the year. I'd recommend booking a ticket for late spring or early fall, when the weather will still be warm but just missing the height of tourist season. A stop at Spiaggia Grande, the most famous of Positano's beaches, is a must if only for a photo opp of the colorful umbrellas. As the most popular beach, renting a chair here comes with a price tag to match; instead, we opted for the smaller Spiaggia Fornillo, which can be reached via a path from Positano harbor that features stunning sea views. While it will still cost you to rent a chair (a necessity on pebble beaches), it's only €5 and also comes with free wifi from the nearby snack and beverage bar. Looking for something more fancy but less crowded? Catch the free ferry over to One Fire, located in Praiano. Catering toward the young single crowd, €10 will get you a lounge chair and free welcome beverage at the fun beach club, where upbeat music and the afternoon "melon show" will keep you entertained throughout the day. If wasting the day on the beach isn't your thing, spend the afternoon in Capri. Only a boat ride away, you can either take a ferry from Positano's port for €26 one-way or sign up for an organized tour. Several different tours leave from the port, usually ranging from €80-€120 for a full day that includes stopping for a swim in the Blue Grotto, several free hours on Capri, and a boat ride back to port at the end of the tour. If you have a big enough group, I highly recommend renting your own boat for an hour or two and creating your own day on the water! Some girls I met had been talking about checking out Sirenuse, the legendary home of Homer's seductive sirens in his novelThe Odyssey, and I decided to tag along. We headed to the port where my friend Amy spotted Francesco, a dock hand she had chatted to the day before, and he was able to organize an hour boat rental for €100 - much better than the mandatory 2-hour limit for €250 the receptionist at the booking stand was insisting on. Our fantastic skipper Tony not only patiently guided us around Sirenuse (you aren't able to dock there since it's private), but also showed us several blissfully tourist-free grottos, and happily doubled as our photographer. Even though it was only an hour rental, it felt like two and we had a wonderful afternoon taking in the Amalfi Coast by water, with time to hit the beach again before sunset.
If you're looking for some late night entertainment, the Amalfi Coast is home to two famous clubs, both built into natural cliffs, creating a cave-like atmosphere. Located in Positano along the Spiaggia Grande, Music on the Rocks is known for playing popular pop and dance music, with the occasional celebrity sighting. Similarly, Africana is only a quick free shuttle away in Praiano, with both clubs known for their seaside views, expensive (but strong!) drinks, and staying open until the early morning. For a complete night out on the town, I suggest starting with a late dinner at Chez Black before heading to Le Sirenuse Hotel to take full advantage of their champagne bar and views. Remember, Italians are notorious for dining and dancing late, so reservations are a must and the clubs won't start getting busy until after midnight.
With my weekend in Positano coming to a close, I enjoyed one last breakfast on the balcony overlooking the stunning Amalfi Coast, and wondered if this place really was a dream; where legendary mermaids lived just a short boat ride away and prosecco was more common than water, where every sunset looked like a painting come to life and every sunrise was worth waking up for, where perpetual tans seemed to contradict the necessity of the iconic umbrellas that lined town's famed beaches. Steinbeck was right, of course - Positano does bite deep and it's not a mark or memory that fades quickly. If you are looking for la dolce vita, you will find it here.