Delicately woven into the Costiera Amalfitana, the quaint town of Praiano sits perfectly halfway between Amalfi and Positano. As we drove along the twisting, panoramic road on my first visit to the Amalfi Coast, I looked out the window to catch surreal views of the sea. I was confronted with the obvious beauty of Praiano, who so modestly evades the crowds of its neighbouring towns. After venturing further into the paesino, I spent my days in the chilled turquoise sea and my nights climbing the endless stairs chiselled into the mountainsides.
Praiano is a place that is often overlooked by tourists, outshined by the glamorous reputations of spots elsewhere on the coast. The town is divided into two villages, the eponymous Praiano and Vettica Maggiore. They are situated on either side of a small headland: Vettica Maggiore faces west and Praiano east. Unlike other towns on the coast, which receive the same amount of sunshine throughout the day, the eastern front of Praiano has views of the sunrise and the brightest light of the moon in the evening, whilst the western front has a full view of the sunset.
Formerly a fisherman’s town closer to the sea, the inhabitants of Praiano were forced to relocate further up the cliffs due to natural causes and aggressions during the Angevin period, including raids from pirates and rival imperial powers. This also explains the purpose of the two defensive towers in the vicinity–the Torre di Assiola in Vettica and the Torre Grado in Praiano. The town therefore maintains the iconic look of a “vertical city”, which is often credited to Positano. The highest point of the village reaches 120 metres above the sea; one should be prepared for lengthy sets of stairs, hundreds in fact, to reach the most coveted locations of the area. As they say, there is no beauty without pain. In my pursuit of this beauty myself, I made my way past the eclectic blue and yellow majolica-style dome of the Chiesa di S. Gennaro, meandered past the white houses and descended closer and closer to my destination: the Cala della Gavitella, one of the most scenic beaches in Praiano. To my left, a small sign made of two tiles marked “Alla Spiaggia / To the Beach / Zum Strand” reassured me that I was headed in the right direction.
Below me, teal-coloured water began to peak through the trees, a relief as the sun beamed down energetically on my shoulders. Cala Della Gavitella is the only place on the zigzagged coastline that receives sun from morning until late in the evening, allowing one to truly reap the use of the stabilimenti until aperitivo hours. The day went by in a continuous cycle of diving into the sea and drying in the hot sun.
After the long trek back to our lodgings and a break to freshen up for the latter half of the day, it was time to embark on yet another hike. We walked along the Via Gennaro Capriglione, a small section of the infamous Amalfi Drive, to a set of stairs located next to the only little alimentari shop I had seen during our entire stay. I looked up and was faced with no less than one hundred stairs ascending above me. Dressed in dinner attire, we began the climb and finally reached what we thought was the top, only to find more stairs around the corner. But when I say these laborious hikes are worth it, I really do mean it. Once we reached the end, I turned around to a view of sky seamlessly blending into sea; a dusty blue hue blanketed the landscape as the sun set over the mountains towards Sorrento. The vastness of the scene–an expansive stretch of the Mediterranean ahead with no land in sight–created the illusion that Praiano was isolated from the world, a small paradise invisible and inaccessible to anyone but the fortunate. After aperitivo at La Moressa, whose views allowed us to indulge in the seascape for a while longer, we headed to dinner at Kasai. As we dined under vines and tea lights, enjoying the impeccable quality of the meal, I discreetly fed a cat beneath the table–small bites of the best fish he would ever have.
On another day, we decided to go to Il Pirata, a more energetic beach spot on the east side. On the way there, we stopped at Ceramica Lizart, a pottery store which collects classical pieces from the nearby Vietri sul Mare, a town known for ceramic creations. Expressing our admiration for the beautiful coastal Praiano, the older woman inside the shop responded, “Qui, a Praiano, siamo tutti una famiglia” (“Here, in Praiano, we are all family”). Everyone knows everyone, she told us, reiterating the familiar nature of life in small Italian towns. I never caught her name, nor did she mine, but I did happily leave the store with six blue tazzine da caffè, each painted with a bright yellow lemon on the side.
At Il Pirata, the mood was set by the low hum of 80s pop and everyone with a drink in hand. Marina di Praia glistened in front of us, and the cliffs in the distance pointed towards Amalfi. There was commotion near the water and a few curious beachgoers, including myself, peered into the sea: a group of pink jellyfish just beneath the surface. But it did not stop anyone from taking a dip; if anything, it served as a challenge for whoever was jumping in next. A net was provided to fish out any jellyfish in the immediate area, and every beachgoer (including myself) took turns at strategically manoeuvring the net to capture them without falling in. By the end of the day, a bright pink puddle of hundreds of jellies formed by the ladder to the sea. Mildly gross as it was, the presence of these creatures served as a bonding point for every individual at Il Pirata that day. Strangers laughed together, daring the next brave soul to take a plunge into the wild waters below. Groups of Neapolitan men chanted for their friends, emanating the warmth that is so typical of the people of Campania. As great food is just as typical of Campania, the savoury lunch we indulged in at Il Pirata served as a reward for the obstacles we had faced that day.
After some time, I understood the sentiment behind what the woman in the shop had told us: “siamo tutti una famiglia.” As testimony to her words, the women in Bar del Sole recognised us from our daily coffee-and-cornetto runs and wished us a safe journey as we stopped for one last pick-me-up before our drive back to Rome.
There was an irreplaceable time of day in Praiano, just before dinner, when I would stand on the hotel balcony, slightly sunburnt and regaining energy lost during the day of swimming and climbing stairs. I was surrounded by near silence: only muffled voices from the surrounding homes or the occasional chirping of birds permeated the stillness. I watched the sun set behind the faraglioni di Capri across the bay and fantasised about the days I had planned on the small island later in the summer. In the distance, I could see the lights of Positano flicker on, one by one, creating constellations on the cliffs as the sun slipped towards Sorrento. But for the moment, I had no urgency to go to neither Capri nor Positano: Praiano satiated my every desire for the quintessential Italian summer.