Shhh… the secret little gem called Atrani
The Amalfi coast is one thing—dramatic, dazzling, and peopled with gorgeous arrivistes from all over the world. The little town of Atrani, lodged between Positano and Ravello (and right next door to Amalfi itself), is something very special even by Amalfi-esque standards. Its glamour is not dependent on Ray-Ban’d jet-setters but rather on the charm of the truly authentic small town. To this day Atrani feels like a salty fishing village. What you still see and feel and hear and embrace is the sort of place by the sea where Fellini might have set one of his heartbreaking stories about life in the fifties. It’s easy to understand why all the boys—and even the girls—who were born here might choose to never leave.
The Hotel Santa Caterina
“Crescenzo! Crescenzo!” the American lady at poolside calls to the handsome Alan Bates–looking Italian hotelier. “Do I really have to go to Capri today? It is so beautiful here, I never want to leave.” One can, of course, get to Capri from here. It is, after all, a mere 45-minute boat ride, but you have to ask yourself: Why would you ever want to leave the Hotel Santa Caterina? This 103-year-old hotel, owned by sisters Ninni and Giusi Gambardella and managed by Giusi’s son, Crescenzo Gargano, already has it all: a breathtaking location at the top of a steep tumble of terraced citrus groves and bougainvillea trellises, service that is attentive and friendly without being over-familiar, and a welcoming, lived-in feel that has a lot to do with the hands-on management and the fact that the antiques and artworks embellishing the bedrooms and common areas come from the family’s own collection. For romantic seclusion, check in to one of the stand-alone suites, which include the giddily perched honeymoon Romeo and Juliet chalet and the four lushly appointed suites in the new-for-2007 annex, Villa Il Rosso. There’s also a beach club with a seawater pool and fitness center, and a small but hardworking spa that offers everything from quick leg waxes to a chakra-stimulating lemon massage. From $690 to $2,760; 39-089/871-012; hotelsantacaterina.it.
They may ply visitors with the yellow liqueur at every turn, but locals consider limoncello to be strictly for the turisti, and the Costiera’s gourmet soul lies elsewhere. The very authentic A’Paranzi in Atrani (1/2 Via Dragone; 39-089/871-840) serves simply cooked seafood that is always fresh off the boat. Amalfi’s best restaurant is La Caravella (12 Via Matteo Camera; 39-089/871-029), a serious player that makes up for its lack of outdoor tables with chef Antonio Dipino’s subtly creative pasta and fish dishes. Sweet fiends should head for Pasticceria Pansa (39-089/871-065; pasticceriapansa.it) in Amalfi’s Piazza Duomo, a venerable bakery whose specialties include chocolate-coated almond biscuits and candied citrus fruits from the Pansa family’s own farm. It’s worth visiting Marisa Cuomo’s Gran Furor Divina Costiera Estate above Amalfi (39-089/830-348; granfuror.it) for her wines, particularly the white Fiorduva. Don’t miss a trip (preferably by boat) to the small town of Marina del Cantone, west of Positano, to eat at Taverna del Capitano (39-081/808-1028; tavernadelcapitano.it) and Quattro Passi (39-081/808-1271; ristorantequattropassi.com)—both are Michelin-starred. The more rustic but equally essential Lo Scoglio (39-081/808-1026) is famous for Nonna Antonietta’s cheese-laden spaghetti alle zucchine, which people yacht over from Capri for.
Crescenzo Gargano of the Hotel Santa Caterina says he hates to pick favorites, but...for a casual seaside meal he goes to La Torre Normanna in Maiori (4 Via Diego Tajani; 39-089/877-100; torrenormanna.net). For something a bit more elegant and gourmet, Eolo in Amalfi serves the most wonderful fish (3 Via Pantaleone Comite; 39-089/871-241; marinariviera.it). For sweets he walks down to Amalfi’s main piazza to Pasticceria Pansa—a place he’ll be visiting even more often since his wife, Annalisa, is opening a handmade sandals and bags shop next door (42 Piazza Duomo; 39-338/675-4847). To see Amalfi by boat—a must—Gargano calls Coast Lines and asks for Captain Maurizio Esposito and the 58-foot Riva Furama (39-089/871-483; amalficoastlines.com). For shopping he travels to Minori (just three miles from Amalfi) and always stops in at Ruocco, an antiques shop specializing in Neapolitan 18th-century antiques (Via Nazionale; 39-089/877-320). And for coral, gold, and cameos, he makes the short trip to the main square of Ravello and drops in at Giorgio Filocamo’s store Camo (9 Piazza Duomo; 39-089/857-461).