Renowned as the jewel of the Amalfi Coast, Positano has been welcoming the rich and famous for centuries. Originally a site for wealthy ancient romans to build coastal retreats, Positano has also accommodated the likes of director and producer Franco Zeffirelli, (who famously lived at the Villa Treville for 35 years) Mick Jagger, songwriter Shawn Philips and German pianist Wilhelm Kemff. In more recent times it’s become the go to European destination of Insta models Tash Oakley, Olivia Culpo and Olivia Palermo who have all instagrammed its pretty rainbow coloured houses sitting in the cliffs above the sea. Remaining one of the premier hotspots of the Amalfi Coast we’ve looked to travel bible Condé Nast Traveller to guide us through their top picks for visiting the area.
Visiting in 1953, John Steinbeck enthused: '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.' Today, it is no less enchanting. Lying an hour and a quarter south of Naples, the drive to Positano takes you past Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, past Sorrento and then along the mountain coastline until the vertiginous descent to the town begins.
Seen from below, the buildings seem to have been stacked one on top of another, climbing from the tiny crescent bay towards the cliffs that loom precipitously over the town. The pastel colours - primrose, pink, terracotta, peach and white - give the town a theatrical aspect that couldn't be mistaken for anywhere else. In the mid-1950s Positano became desirable as a holiday destination and, for a while, rivalled Capri as the playground for the rich and famous. Patricia Highsmith based the little port of Mongibello in The Talented Mr Ripley on Positano, although Anthony Minghella chose to film that part of his adaptation in Ischia. A low-wattage celebrity still glimmers here and there and, with world-class restaurants and ultra-luxe hotels, the town still attracts a glamorous, affluent crowd.
WHERE TO STAY IN POSITANO
The world-famous Sirenuse is a patrician house which has been turned into a family-run hotel. It takes its name from the islands of the Sirens which it overlooks. It has a feeling of comfortable, lived-in elegance, with a beautiful majolica-covered third-floor terrace and small swimming pool. It also boasts one of the best fish restaurants in town: La Sponda and an exceptionally cool spa. For more information on the area, see our guide to the Amalfi Coast. £££
Via C Colombo 30 (00 39 089 875 066).
IL SAN PIETRO DI POSITANO
Two kilometres out of Positano on the Amalfi road, the Hotel San Pietro is the coast's star hotel, worth a visit in its own right, even if you don't stay there. The view from the terrace surveys an expanse of vivid turquoise sea on one side and the stacked slopes of Positano on the other. From this vantage point the town looks particularly beautiful. A lift plunges down to reception, beyond which is a wide, hibiscus-strewn terrace. The rooms - each with private terrace and almost all with Jacuzzi - spill down the hillside, and are connected by a warren of stairways. A second lift emerges at the private beach, bar and tennis court. Open from April to November. £££
Via Laurito 2 (00 39 089 875 455, ilsanpietro.it).
HOTEL PALAZZO MURAT
Down towards the beach, the Palazzo Murat has no view to speak of, but with its 18th-century charm and plant-strewn courtyard it is a magnet for a high-spending clientele. Open April to October and over Christmas/New Year. ££
Via dei Mulini 23 (00 39 089 875 177, palazzomurat.it).
The Hotel Poseidon Positano is a beautiful villa surrounded by luscious gardens. The philosophy of the hotel is to offer a discreet and refined hospitability, in harmony with the image and tradition of Positano. The original idea was to build a small intimate villa for the owners to spend their holidays. However, inspired by their love for Positano and their entrepreneur spirit, the family transformed the villa into a small hotel with 48 rooms and two suites. ££
Via Pastia 148 (00 39 089 811 111; hotelposeidonpositano.it).
WHERE TO EAT OUT IN POSITANO
BUCA DI BACCO
This is the harbour front's main café and a Positano institution. Sip a Prosecco in the shade of the front's main café, the Buca di Bacco, and watch passenger ferries stopping by to gawp on their way to Capri.
Via Rampa Teglia 4 (00 39 089 875 699, bucadibacco.it).
RESTAURANT AL PALAZZO AT HOTEL PALAZZO MURAT
Creative Mediterranean cuisine served al fresco in the beautiful botanic gardens of the hotel.
Via dei Mulini 23 (00 39 089 875 177, palazzomurat.it).
Just above Positano, this family-run restaurant serves delicious country food and fantastic home-made pasta, and has live music.
Via Montepertuso 97-99 (00 39 089 811 806, drpositano.com).
DON ALFONSO 1890
Regional Med cuisine, modern cooking techniques and organic ingredients from the restaurant's own farm. The famous dish is pasta with green pepper, sardines and oregano.
Corso S Agata 11, Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi (00 39 081 878 0026, donalfonso.com).
THINGS TO DO IN POSITANO
There's no cinema, or anything much in the way of cultural diversion, so hire a car and explore the numerous delights of the coast, go for walks or just laze in cafes.
The shops that line the descent offer ceramics, watercolours, trinkets and colourful clothes. These are mainly beachwear and holiday T-shirts. One or two trendy boutiques hide away on back streets, but there are none of the covetable names you will find on the main square in Portofino.
If you have time, take a trip up to Montepertuso, a village perched 3km above Positano. The next town east along the drive from Positano, Praiano, could be Positano's little sister, with a similar beach and church, but not quite as charming as its neighbour. After Praiano, keep an eye out for the most impressive natural feature along the drive, the steep, impenetrable Furore Gorge.
See our guide to the Amalfi Coast for more.
HOW TO GET TO POSITANO
The nearest international airport is at Naples, from which it is about one hour 15 minutes drive to Positano.
AIRLINES FROM THE UK
TRAIN AND BUS
Take a Circumvesuviana train from the station on Corso Garibaldi in Naples. It runs about every 20 minutes, takes one hour and 10 minutes to Sorrento and costs about €5. Once there, catch a blue CITA bus to Positano from right outside the train station. It runs about once an hour and costs about €1.50. A word of warning: the roads are very twisty so those with weak stomachs should elbow their way into the front seats to stave off nausea.
The Metro del Mare runs from about April to October. Check metrodelmare.com for further information. When the weather is cooperating, this is by far the nicest and quickest (about 40 minutes) way to get from Naples to Positano.
Many hotels in Positano offer their own airport- collection service for guests (for a fee) and the journey takes about one hour 15 minutes. If you wish to book your own car and driver, Le Sirenuse hotel recommends the Positano Car Service (00 39 089 875 541) which costs €100 each way.