A Treasure Missed by Most

This small hamlet receives merely a fraction of the visitors that descend on its famous neighbors, despite its intimate hotels, charming restaurants and quiet beaches

By Nick Boulos*

Dinner was a well-deserved feast served on the terrace of La Strada, a restaurant carved into the rock face and overlooking the craggy coastline. The jagged peaks of the Lattari Mountains, rising to heights of 4,700 feet, faded into the darkening sky. In the foothills, the distant lights of Positano began to twinkle.

“Praiano is a treasure missed by most,” said the English-speaking woman at the next table. “All the world flocks to Positano, but here it’s peaceful, and there are still secrets to discover.”

As I glanced over the menu, one dish in particular stood out: grilled sea bass in “crazy water.” Baffled, I quizzed the waiter. “Ah, it’s a special broth of tomatoes, garlic and parsley. It was first made by local sailors in the 12th century, and the original recipe used seawater. But things have improved a lot since then,” he was quick to assure us.

Our anticipation was running high — not just for the crazy water (which proved delicious and not at all salty) — but also for the following day’s walk along the famed Sentiero degli Dei (Path of the Gods)… it’s the unequivocal highlight of walking the Amalfi Coast.

Rushing away from Praiano too hastily, however, would have been a mistake, for down the road was another effortlessly beautiful bay by the name of Praia. The dazzling teal sea lapped hypnotically against countless light-gray pebbles as Speedo-clad swimmers capitalized on another sunny day. Fishermen, wearing more conservative attire, huddled together waiting patiently for a catch.

Dominating the bay was a tall and slightly lopsided cylindrical tower called Torre a Mare — the Sea Tower — one of several built in the Middle Ages during Amalfi’s darkest chapter...

A closer look at the stone defense tower revealed that the door was ajar. Inside, charcoal portrait sketches covered the walls, and abstract sculptures crammed the sideboards. In the corner, hunched over a piece of clay, was Paolo Sandulli.

An artist famed for his cheeky caricatures of local fishermen, Paolo is something of a local celebrity. For the past 20 years, he has sat on Praia beach quietly sketching anglers and later molding them into figurines.

Paolo was born in Avellino, on Italy’s east coast, but holidayed in Praiano as a child. “I was blown away immediately. The colors of the water, all the beautiful fish, the lovely villages,” he reminisced. “My mum and I would wait for the fishermen every morning and took great delight in choosing what we would have for dinner that evening. The beach was our supermarket.”

“Back then, there was only one hotel here and only two restaurants,” he said. “So it’s changed a lot, but I still see beauty everywhere I go.”

I could have spent all day listening to Paolo’s tales of Amalfi’s bygone days and admiring his humorous works of art, but a heavenly ascent along the Path of the Gods beckoned.

© The Washington Post Company

* Nick Boulos is a London-based travel writer

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Amalfi Coasting is a “pet project” of a community organization started in the town of Praiano in 2013. We developed this web site as a tool to invite people from all over the world to get to know our town, discover its "secrets" and embrace it not just as a great tourist destination but also as a community, with its people, its traditions and all of its offerings.