A Guide to Praiano
Sometime around mid-June, Positano transitions from a quaintly bustling seaside borgo into a chaotic mass of humanity one might expect to find on the bow of the sinking cruise ship. This pandemonium lasts roughly four months, reaching a fever pitch on Ferragosto, the national August 15th holiday. On that day ever year, nearly every citizen of the Republic of Italy ventures to any precious strip of land facing water and there they pitch tents, umbrellas, buffets, bouncy castles, picnic tables, and improvised barbeque pits that will later turn into unlikely but nonetheless potent improvised explosive devices. The annual Purge in Positano is particularly noteworthy. For that reason, every August 15th, I lock myself in the closet for 24 hours until I am sure the fire works and fire pits have ceased exploding.
Avoid Positano throughout this period, especially if you have an aversion to crowds or spending gobs of money. Unless you plan to spend roughly the equivalent to a down payment on a mid-sized condo in Boca Raton on a week’s lodging in one of the more restive hotels in town (Villa Treville), you will be miserable. If you are aiming for a generally pleasant Amalfi summer holiday without having to auction off a kidney to afford it, I suggest heading to Praiano.
Putting it that way makes Praiano seem inferior to Positano. It is not. It is simply less famous and therefore less expensive. Praiano features the same sun dappled mosaic church domes and Seussian terrain that her neighbor Positano also enjoys. It just happens to cost about half. Which by the way, does not make it cheap. It makes it less stratospherically expensive.
Praiano gets her name from the Latin word pelagium, meaning open sea. Later the same word would evolve to mean beach in both Spanish (playa) and Portuguese (praia). Praiano consists of two main parts. Vettica Maggiore which lies lower on the coast and Praino on the upper part of this vertical town. The main road SS 163 Amalfitana slices through the two neighborhoods. Nobles throughout the days of the Amalfi Republic summered here and today you can affordably rent family villas in Praiano with dazzling sea views.
Strangely while her name tends to suggest an abundance of beaches, Praiano boasts scant beaches in the classical sense. What she does have are dramatic platforms that jut into the sea. It is here you will find ‘free beaches’ where you can spread your towel over a patch of cement or drape over jetty rocks. If you prefer something more civilized, you can bathe at one of the town’s platform beach clubs with cleverly constructed piers that extend over the sea. However you plan to spend your holiday in Praiano, don’t do it in heels. This town is vertical. And this means stairs!!
What to Do
This blue and white tiled church dome is the most iconic on the Amalfi Coast. While there is not much of a central piazza in town, the little square in front of this church is a natural meeting point. Built in 1589 on the ruins of a previous religious site, the Church honors the patron saint of Naples, Gennaro, whose blood liquefies three times a year. Throughout the first week of August, Praiano celebrates the Luminaria of San Domenico and the church and its piazza become ablaze with thousands of votive candles and artistic light projections.
On the scenic Marina di Praia, Kayak Praiano runs daily kayak excursions throughout the summer months. You can rent a kayak for 10 Euro per hour for a single or 15 Euro per hour for a double. Alternately, I suggest you sign up for a daylong excursion, which costs 80 Euro per person and includes lunch. These small group tours depart on Thursday mornings and venture to the mystical Galli Islands and Ieranto Bay. There is no more naturally beautiful way to experience the Amalfi Coast than by kayak.
If trekking is your thing, you can wander all the way up to the highest part of town where you will find an old cobble stone staircase that leads through the Monti Lattari Mountains, all the way to the town of Agerola. This involves over 2,000 stairs so plan your day accordingly and prepare to experience wobbly sea legs once you arrive in the mountain town of Agerola. The views from this trek are spectacular.
Where to Stay
On the curve that leads out of Positano and into Praiano, sits the prominent Hotel Tritone. Offering private beach access and large sea facing rooms, Hotel Tritone is a Praiano classic. Considering its historic stature, it is not particularly bank breaking. Leading well into June, you can find rooms for 250 Euro per night here.
The devil’s in the details at Casa Angelina where they curate every possible moment of your vacation. One notable highlight is the onsite ceramics classes they offer guests through Ceramiche Parlato, a local atelier. Think Color Me Mine with better wine and views. With private beach access, spa services and an excellent fine-dining restaurant, Casa Angelina is drenched luxury. Come here for a romantic get-away. And don’t bring the kids.
The best way to spend a week in Praiano is in a private villa and my favorite rental firm is SMAAC. The same family who owns the fantastic beach club, Il Pirata, also runs this agency. They have villas all over town but my favorite is a little jewel box that is perched directly above the beach club Il Pirata.
Where to Eat
The best beach club in Praiano is Il Pirata which contains a series of multi-tiered platforms that soar above the sea. The service here is all-inclusive and excellent. And the best part is the restaurant. With beautiful tables that stretch from the internal natural caverns of the restaurant to right above the sea, Il Pirata features local seafood dishes. When available, order the sea urchin spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs. It is the best version of this dish I have tated the on the Amalfi Coat. Anything with vongole verace clams is also ideal.
Almost every restaurant in Praiano has a view so saying that Franchino has the best is really saying something. While Pirata is a beach club that permits you to dine in a sarong, Franchino is fancy. The seafood risotto here is par excellence and must be ordered for a minimum of two people. Enjoy it with a Greco di Tufo wine. I eschew the more wildly modern secondi main dishes here in favor of the mixed fry of fish. It is both light and not overly composed. Order anything with lemon for dessert.
It’s a bit off the beaten path and up the road from the main center, but Open Gate is too thoroughly charming to resist. The wisteria covered terrace is the reason I first stopped here years ago, and I have kept coming back as a special treat to myself ever since. The food, as opposed to Franchino, tastes more casereccia or rustically homemade. The best way to enjoy Open Gate is a tranquil lunch. Order whatever primo the server tells you is the special of the day. If you are lucky it will be the sciatelli fresh pasta with seafood. Have a lemon sorbet for dessert.
Where to Party
You might have never guessed it, but this charming little town on the Tyrrhenian is home to the most notable nightclub on the Amalfi Coast. Its name would tend to suggest that it is, well, famous and perhaps it is to the local yokels. Frankly I had never heard of Africana Famous Club before moving to the Amalfi Coast. The Africana is built into a grotto overlooking the sea and features visiting DJs like Paris Hilton. So you know, plan accordingly. Shockingly, you will find quite a lot of white leather divans and Russian billionaires here. Once, on what is probably one of the top Amalfi Coast nights of my life, I observed a spindly trophy wife in stilettos crash to the ground when she drunkenly walked over a metal grate. Like I said, don’t wear heels in Praiano. This is a wedge town! Beware that Africana issues consumption cards containing bar codes when you enter the club. You pay for terribly over priced drinks with this card. If you lose the card, it is very bad. You might have to auction off that kidney after all to pay the fine. So should you party at Africana? Yes, at least once in your life and pray that you will be as lucky as me to be able to observe a melting New Jersey housewife crash to the floor in her ill advised footwear. Bonus points if you wear all white or animal print on your visit here.
If you feel the urge to party by day, come to One Fire. On the beach platforms of Vettica, One Fire is a wild daytime party spot. To reach it, you can either walk down a very steep staircase (remember you will also have to walk back up) or you can take a free boat here from Positano. The DJs at One Fire are better than at the Africana and in general One Fire is more fun and far less self involve than her Africana sister club. Don’t come here if you are hungry or looking to relax (go to Il Pirata). You have been warned. The food here is shit. Order the watermelon and mojitos. Actually One Fire hosts a bizarre watermelon cutting ceremony every day around 4:30PM in which scantily clad sun bathers gyrate around a man cutting a watermelon. I suggest that melon be the only food you consume here. Bring yourself a panino and prepare to get blotto.
What to Buy
At the end of the scenic footpath connecting Marina di Praia to the Africana, there is an old stone Saracen tower known as Torre Asciola or Torre a Mare. Inside this tower you will find artist Paolo Sandulli who creates wonderfully surreal paintings and sculptures. These are not your local tchotchkes, but highly sought after works of art that are singular in their representation of the Amalfi Coast. Plan on stopping at Il Pirata for a breakfast of caffè and cornetto (croissant) and then stroll to the tower to meet Sandulli and enjoy his evocative artwork.